Total Recall: Star Trek By Tomatometer
In anticipation of the new Trek film, we compare the scores of the old ones.
After seven years and 178 episodes, Paramount felt the time was right to give the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation its cinematic debut -- and since some members of the Enterprise's original crew were either unwilling to return (Leonard Nimoy) or not well enough (DeForest Kelley), the seventh Trek movie seemed like the perfect spot for a changing of the guard. With a behind-the-scenes crew that included a number of Next Generation vets -- including producer Rick Berman, director David Carson, and screenwriters Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga -- 1994's Star Trek Generations should have been a slam dunk, especially given a plot that put TNG's Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) face-to-face with James T. Kirk for the first time, but alas, it was not to be; though it did well enough at the box office, slightly improving upon The Undiscovered Country's worldwide tally, Generations received a mixed reception from writers like the New York Times' Peter M. Nichols, who simultaneously criticized it as "predictably flabby and impenetrable in places" and praised it for having "enough pomp, spectacle and high-tech small talk to keep the franchise afloat."
With a full decade between it and the end of the original series, you might think 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture would have plenty of time to work out all the kinks -- but alas, as the movie's middling Tomatometer (and decades of fan gags about The Motionless Picture) can attest, all of Trek's time off didn't translate into an auspicious big-screen debut for the crew of the Starship Enterprise. The problem with the first Trek film -- aside from a dialogue-heavy storyline whose biggest villain was a cloud -- actually had nothing to do with the franchise itself; instead, it was a series of corporate shenanigans, including an aborted attempt at a second Trek television series, that left director Robert Wise with a patchwork script and neither the time nor the money to realize his vision. Although The Motion Picture didn't meet commercial or critical expectations (the Chicago Reader's Dave Kehr called it "blandness raised to an epic scale"), it performed well enough to justify a sequel -- and, in the bargain, kicked off one of the longest-running series in movie history.
After handling screenplay duties for Generations and First Contact, writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga disembarked from Star Trek's film voyage -- but at this point, the Trek creative universe had expanded to the point that producer Rick Berman had plenty of new collaborators to choose from. He settled on Michael Piller, with whom he'd created the Trek TV spinoff series Deep Space Nine, and together -- along with Jonathan Frakes, who returned to direct and reprise his role as Commander William T. Riker -- they put together Insurrection, a story that introduced new wrinkles for familiar characters (such as LeVar Burton's Lieutenant Commander Geordi LaForge briefly acquiring the ability to see without optical implants) while still holding true to the core themes of the series. Unfortunately, at this point, audiences were so used to seeing one Trek TV series or another that they needed something truly extraordinary to hold their attention on the big screen -- and Insurrection, as evidenced by a gross that fell short of First Contact's, wasn't it. Still, even if critics didn't find it to be the most compelling entry in the series, they weren't completely dismissive; as Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "[It] lacks the adrenalized oomph of its predecessor, but no adventure of the Starship Enterprise is without its gee-whiz affability."