The Five Greatest Pre-J.J. Abrams Star Trek Movie Scenes
With the release of the second Star Trek feature from director J.J. Abrams, Star Trek Into Darkness, earlier this summer it seems like as good a time as any to have some fun and remember the best Star Trek movie scenes from earlier films that are, well, just plain fun. I would assume that by now, you’ve at the very least seen one of the Abrams-helmed Star Trek films. Critical reaction for Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness was almost universally positive and each film found a receptive audience in both fans and non-fans alike. But, that wasn’t how most Star Trek films have traditionally been received. Apart from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the series hadn’t really produced an entry that could readily appeal to non-fans. While it’s true that Wrath of Khan and First Contact were popular movies, they were still mostly so with Trekkies and other sci-fi aficionados. However, Abrams and his team have succeeded in attracting the non-sci-fi geek as well as the non-Trekkie with the newer films. On more than one occasion I’ve heard from people who have absolutely no interest in sci-fi or Star Trek that have seen these two movies and enjoyed them.
But, as most Trekkies will undoubtedly agree (and have probably tried to convinced others of their whole lives), quality Star Trek cinema did not start with the Abrams films. There have been some really well-made films in the series (and, to be honest, some absolute dogs) and many of the earlier Star Trek films have produced plenty of singular moments. There have been thrilling space battles, fights with assorted Klingons, daring escapes from certain death, and plenty of pathos to give the series some much needed emotional depth. But what are the moments that Trekkies can point to and say to their friends: “See, there is good cinema here! Star Trek doesn’t suck!” In an attempt to single out the best Star Trek movie scenes – one’s that Trekkies can be proud of – I sat through all ten films (I did watch Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness but opted not to include anything from them as we’re focusing on the films before the reboot for this list). Some we enjoyed (thank you Nicholas Meyer) and others, not so much (we’ll just pretend that Insurrection and Nemesis never happened), but determination produced the following list of the five greatest pre-J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie scenes.
Honorable Mentions: The death of the Enterprise from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, “What does God need with a Starship?” from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the farewell of the original crew at the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Kirk and Picard saving the day in Star Trek: Generations, Spock’s resurrection in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
5. The Nuclear Wessels from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
This scene from The Voyage Home (known as the “Whale Movie” by the general public) features one of the more oft-quoted lines from the Star Trek lexicon. What is an innocent query to Chekov – looking for the “nuclear wessels” – is simultaneously a meditation on the Cold War (which was in full Reagan-mode when the film was released) and a damn funny fish-out-of-water moment. It’s interesting to note that the many passersby in the scene are not really actors but rather people who just happened to be on the street as the crew shot the scene guerrilla film style. The stone-faced motorcycle cop is also a real officer who was directing traffic for the day’s shoot. This is a great example of a Star Trek film at its best – entertaining and thoughtful (the clip below features a few other great scenes from the film before the “wessels” are brought up). It also speaks to the resonance of this scene that it is referred to so prominently in Star Trek.
4. More Colorful Metaphors from
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
This wonderfully-written scene from The Voyage Home incorporates pretty much everything that makes the first incarnation of the Star Trek films endearing. There’s a Vulcan neck pinch, a bit of wry commentary on modern society, and much more (though our clip only covers the neck pinch, you’ll get the gist). But, above all, it’s a scene that perfectly illustrates the relationship between Kirk and Spock, which is really what the series is all about. It’s also succeeds in being easily identifiable to the audience. Star Trek is at its moral best (as are most well-told stories) when audiences can associate, at least on some level, the events unfolding around the characters to their own lives. It’s also one of those scenes that almost everyone can agree expertly showcases the humor of Star Trek.
3. Picard Draws the Line in Star Trek: First Contact
This film is universally agreed to be the best of those featuring the crew of The Next Generation. It certainly helped that the best Star Trek villains since the Klingons are given top bill, but the film is simply an excellent sci-fi action-adventure flick (sure, it’s also got a few Star Trek lessons crammed in there, but that’s just part of the fun). While Patrick Stewart held his own in Generations, it wasn’t until this installment that he stopped sleepwalking through these films and proved himself capable of carrying the entire franchise and wrestled the mantle of top Star Trek captain away from William Shatner. In particular, it is in this scene that Stewart’s Picard truly takes control of the series. I doubt anyone will fail to get chills when he cries “The line must be drawn here!” The allusion to Moby-Dick is an added bonus and a nice nod to that novel’s frequent references in Wrath of Khan.
2. The Death of Spock from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
This may be one of the hardest scenes for any fan of the original series to watch. It’s made more so by the excellent performances of Shatner and Leonard Nimoy as they say goodbye to each other. The depth of Spock and Kirk’s relationship, which is achingly and brilliantly illustrated here (and echoed more joyfully at the end of The Search for Spock), is the cornerstone of the Star Trek universe and the lessons on friendship, loyalty, and duty have never been conveyed more powerfully than they are here. This scene, from the most adored Trek film to date, has also provided some of the more beloved lines from the entire canon. Spock’s declaration to Kirk: “I have been and always shall be your friend” is so poignant and perfectly Trekkian that it was not only revisited in The Search for Spock but in the Abrams films as well. Similarly, the claim that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one” has since taken on a life of its own and has become an example of the underlying message of Star Trek. Finally, Kirk’s eulogy of Spock is one of Shatner’s finest Star Trek acting moments and is one of the few times that genuine sorrow is acknowledged by the swashbuckling Kirk (though the clip below showcases only Spock’s death).
1. KHAAAAAAAAN! from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
This is hands down the coolest scene on this list. While that may be coming more from a fanboy perspective than a critical one, it’s still an awesome scene. It’s got a chillingly insane Khan played with absolute bravado by Ricardo Montalban and Shatner delivering his lines in his trademark staccato while simultaneously chewing every bit of scenery on the sparsely decorated set. Heck, he even manages to chew scenery when an exterior shot of a moon is shown on screen. Now that’s talent they don’t teach at the Actor’s Studio.