With the new Trek movie set to blast into theatres this weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at the others for some benchmark moments.
10) The launch of the Phoenix - Star Trek: First Contact
I still get a kick out of the scene in First Contact where Zefram Cochrane goes into a panic as the historic launch of the first human warp vessel is seconds away from beginning. On goes the Steppenwolf (rather than some soaring symphonic score) and the battered little scrap pile starts its historic climb. Not your typical Trek ship moneyshot.
9) The Klingon reveal/opening battle - Star Trek I: The Motion Picture
Sure the battle itself wasn't much of a battle: some blue-white energy spitballs de-rez a trio of Klingon battlecruisers, but for the first time, we saw Klingons we could take seriously. Forget those petulant goatee-sporting guys from the old series, these warriors looked alien and spoke something harsh that definitely wasn't English. A defining moment in the franchise: from here on out, we would never look at or listen to Klingons the same way again. Even the last of the TV series, Enterprise, had to do some backfilling to explain the discrepency between the appearance of the Klingons on the original series versus, well, everything else.
8) "Perhaps today is a good day to die!" Worf - Star Trek: First Contact
Pretty much everything aboard Defiant is shot, but as long as he's still got engines, Worf's got berserker guts aplenty and a will to do anything to take a piece out of the Borg cube. A quintessential Klingon moment.
7) Picard & Ahab - Star Trek: First Contact
What a great scene between Patrick Stewart and Alfre Woodard. After years of maintaining his stoic facade, Picard is starting to come apart as he can taste the nearness of a chance at vengeance against the Borg. Sure, he tries to cover it with 24th Century nobility, but Lilly sees right through it and isn't having any of his crap.
6) Reliant ambushes Enterprise - Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The first of two great space battles in this movie, and perhaps the best ship-to-ship slugfest in movie end of the franchise. Sure, many of the other movies had battles, but this one was gripping, full of suspense, brutal, and still raises hairs on the back of my neck. Say what you will about modern advances in special effects, those old models look solid and plenty cool.
5) Zefram Cochrane's dream - Star Trek: First Contact
Even when they're horsing around or having moments of vulnerability, I've always found the Next Generation characters to be a bit stiff. Not so with Cochrane. James Cromwell plays him with believable cynicism as a genius trapped in a world that's shot itself to hell. Forget noble dreams of exploration, laugh at the challenge of innovation, to hell with paving the road to the future, Cochrane's honest about what he wants out of life: money and an island filled with naked women. Not the most likeable guy, but certainly the most human the Next Generation has ever seen.
4) General Chang for the prosecution - Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
The Klingon trial of Kirk and McCoy is a scene where Christopher Plummer really shows what it means to be an actor, as his General Chang alternately conspiratorially cozies up to the accused then harries them at a full roar. There have been other actors who have played good Klingons, but in just 2 hours of film, Plummer played a great Klingon, giving the character the depth others so often lack.
3) The Enterprise reveal - Star Trek I: The Motion Picture
What a masterfully done scene at the beginning of the first Trek film, as Kirk & Scottie approach the dock with the newly refitted Enterprise preparing for launch. First we're teased with glimpses of huge expanses of white hull behind lights and girders, then the travel pod swings around front, the music builds to a crescendo, and we see the new Enterprise in all her glory. Oldschool fans may like their ship from the 60's series, and the younger crowd may have been brought up on D or E, but this has always been the true Enterprise to me.
2) Enterprise self-destructs - Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
I still feel awful when I watch this scene. As I mentioned in the previous blurb, this version of the Enterprise was always my favourite, and to see it blow itself apart and then what's left plummet into the atmosphere of Genesis is gut-wrenching. And yet, it was a pretty spectacular death for the old girl - and one that took out a whole bunch of Klingon badguys.
1) Spock's death - Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Another tough scene to watch - the death of a favourite character. But this was a brave and necessary thing for the writers and director to do. It showed that the crew of a ship like Enterprise can't go gallavanting around the cosmos forever without consequences - that death isn't something just for Red Shirts. In some ways, it set the paved new ground for other movies and shows to come (as did, in a non-SF way, MASH with the death of Col. Henry Blake), letting future directors and writers know that you could kill off a main character to make the point that saving the day is tough business and sacrifice sometimes literally means there must be a life given. Spock's death allowed Marcus to die in B5, Wash in Serenity, plenty of good people in BSG, and, back in the Trek franchise, Data and even Kirk himself. And Spock's death wasn't a cold thing. It was noble and sad. More importantly, it was well-acted. Not just by Nimoy (as we'd expect) but from a remarkably restrained Shatner. Spock's death was a key ingredient in making TWOK the best installment in the franchise, and as such it's probably one of the most important and defining moments of all the Trek films.