How Do You Define 'Worst'? by Alan Decker

Alan Decker (@CmdrAJD on Twitter) is back with his weekly Sunday blog.  Today he presents the first of two pieces discussing Star Trek films.

How Do You Define “Worst”?  (Part 1)

A week ago I said that, as a Trekkie, I might end up doing a Star Trek focused column one day.  A recent event has made one day today.  Over the weekend of August 9-11, the largest Star Trek convention of the year was held in Las Vegas, Nevada.  While there, the attendees were asked to rank the twelve Star Trek movies (with “Galaxy Quest” thrown in for good measure) in order from best to worst.  As covered by multiple news outlets, this year's “Star Trek Into Darkness” was named the worst movie of the franchise (I’m not saying it was the top story or anything, but yes more than one media outlet covered it).  The Hollywood Reporter’s take is here.

My first reaction upon hearing this news was “Seriously?” followed quickly by “Oh come on, folks.  Please don’t do this.”

I’m not going to say that “Into Darkness” is the best Trek movie ever.  As this poll shows (and popular opinion has held for years), “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” holds that distinction.  I actually put Khan and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” just about neck and neck with “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” and “Star Trek (2009)” close behind.  “Into Darkness,” while entertaining, has its problems.  

Before I get into defending the film, here are my Top 5 issues with “Star Trek Into Darkness” (As if it needs to be said, spoilers to follow):

#5 – You killed Pike, YOU BASTARDS!
#4 – Spock screaming “Khaaaaaan!” doesn’t work at all.
#3 – Carol Marcus’ character is pretty much pointless, and even one of the writers, Damon Lindelof, has admitted that the underwear scene was completely gratuitous.
#2 – For the third movie in a row, the climax involves the Enterprise battling a ridiculous super-ship.
#1 – The use of technology in the film doesn’t have rules that make sense to the point that the whole thing is almost science fantasy like “Star Wars” (Director J.J. Abrams’ next project) rather than Star Trek.  Yes, this REALLY bugs me.  Previous Trek had science advisors.  A science advisor would tell you that parking the USS Enterprise, an entire freakin’ starship, at the bottom of an ocean makes no sense AT ALL.  “Into Darkness,” however, seems to operate more on the principle of “If it looks cool, do it.”

Those aren’t my only issues with the film, but they also aren’t enough for me to say that it’s the worst Trek movie ever.

Let’s take a step back and consider what this statement even means because there are two ways to look at it.  First, which I’ll cover this week, is “Into Darkness” the worst movie of the group?  Then next week, I’ll take on is it the worst Star Trek movie ever?
Best and worst is, of course, a subjective measure for something like this.  However, in deciding what constitutes a good movie, the closest thing we have to objectivity is an aggregation of critical opinion as provided by a site like Rotten Tomatoes.  Here’s the list of films as ranked by the fans at the convention along with their critical approval ratings on Rotten Tomatoes:

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan          90%
Star Trek: First Contact                       92%
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country    83%
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home         85%
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock   78%
Star Trek (2009)                                  95%
Galaxy Quest                                      89%
Star Trek Generations                        47%
Star Trek: The Motion Picture            44%
Star Trek Nemesis                              37%
Star Trek Insurrection                         55%
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier            21%
Star Trek Into Darkness                      87%

What immediately jumps out at me is that the critics and the fans are in general agreement. The highest rated films by both groups are in the top half and the lowest at the bottom, with one glaring exception: “Into Darkness.”  In critical order, “Into Darkness” would rank #5, putting it ahead of both “Star Trek IV” and “VI” and just behind “Galaxy Quest” (Don’t get me wrong.  I love “Galaxy Quest.”  I think it should be required viewing for any Star Trek fan.).  By this measure, “Into Darkness” is a good movie.

Anecdotally, I can support this as well.  I saw “Into Darkness” with a group of nine people, ranging in age from 10 to almost 50.  To a person, we all enjoyed the film.  Out of the nine of us, only three (the two thirty-somethings and a 12-year-old) could qualify as Trekkies.

But maybe that was the problem.  Our group looked at “Into Darkness” as a movie rather than a Star Trek movie.  Are there some additional qualifications that are required to make a film a good Star Trek movie?   We’ll look at that next week.

- Alan Decker  (@CmdrAJD on Twitter)