There’s a well-known curse in the “Star Trek” universe that simply promises every other movie comes up a winner. Even-numbered films are heralded as action-packed fan favorites, while odd-numbered efforts go down as cringe-worthy failures.
But, then again, the curse could just be the stuff of overblown fan lore. Aren’t there any exceptions to the revolving rule? With the potentially unlucky 11th installment of the film franchise due to hit theatres Friday, that’s the multimillion-dollar opening-weekend question.
A curse is born
‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’
One viewing of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s maiden theatrical launch is enough to explain why otherwise logical “Trek” fans might cling to a curse theory. There has to be some supernatural force responsible for turning what was such a highly anticipated sci-fi reunion into a long, “conversations in space” yawn-fest.
The silver screen versions of the characters fans knew and loved hardly looked like themselves after trading in their primary colored uniforms of old for matching baby blue yoga sweats. The getups were almost fitting, given all the mellowed out anti-action revolving around a decommissioned space probe, rather than, oh, say, an actual baddie.
‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ Big screen prospects brightened when old-school “Trek” villain Khan Noonien Singh returned to unleash some well-fostered vengeance on his exile-imposing nemesis Captain Kirk. As expected, Kirk and the gang were in fine form when they had a real enemy in their sites (and real uniforms on their backs).
The death of Spock, the destruction of a race, and the rise and fall of an intellectual evil brought all the action and anticipation the first film lacked.
Verdict: The even-numbered winner that proved the rule.
‘Star Trek III: The Search for Spock’ It’s not that reanimating everyone’s favorite Vulcan is a bad thing, but there had to be a better way than the method offered up in this mess of a movie. After ship-jacking the Enterprise to retrieve their fallen friend, the crew found Spock alive and well and, unfortunately, ready for his first pair of Pull-ups.
Over the course of the film, fans watched ‘lil Spock slowly returned to his familiar form, the Enterprise completely scuttled, a case of stunt casting gone wrong (in the form of Christopher “Reverand Jim” Lloyd as Klingon Commander Kruge), and Kirk’s only son killed. OK, given the annoyance that was David Marcus, that last bit worked.
The search for exceptions to the rule
‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” At first glance, “The Voyage Home” packed all the hallmarks of a stinker. From Spock’s choice of a loose-fitting terrycloth dress, to the crew’s simplistic “save the whales” mission, right down to Chekov’s search for “nuclear wessels,” the curse was ripe for breaking.
That is until it all came together for a somewhat exciting and genuinely funny adventure. It’s no “Wrath of Khan,” but it’s possibly to best example of entertaining crew camaraderie in the entire series.
Verdict: Even better than expected.
“Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’ Is it possible for a film to be doubly cursed? Seems so, as “The Final Frontier” easily boasts the unofficial dishonor of worst “Star Trek” movie (or “Star Trek” anything else) to date.
The plot revolved around Sybok, an emotional mess of a Vulcan cult leader who happened to be Spock’s long lost half-brother. Sybok’s mission: find God.
As for everyone else, they just needed to find their dignity. Scotty, the best engineer in the fleet, suddenly couldn’t flip a light switch to save his life. And while Uhura effectively distracted some heavies with a burlesque number, let’s just say the past-her-prime striptease distracted for all the wrong reasons.
Verdict: Cursed X2!
‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’ The Klingons finally returned to their best bad form and gave Kirk, McCoy and even Sulu a worthy adversary in “The Undiscovered County.” General Chang, a dialed-down Khan-esque villain with a bolt-on eye patch, struck fear in the hearts of good guys and put the bumpy-headed masses back on the map.
In some ways “The Undiscovered Country” didn’t feel like the typical “Trek” adventure and was all the better for it. The restrained action framed an intriguing procedural crime twist, and all in all, it played as much-improved effort for fans who feared another “The Final Frontier.”
Verdict: Even numbers equal success.
It all falls apart
‘Star Trek: Generations’ James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard — together at last. That was the main attraction in “Generations” and frankly, that unlikely pairing made it worth the watch. Unfortunately, the sometimes clunky film failed to meet its full potential (What? No Spock and Data meet up?), but it served its purpose in bridging the gap from old “Trek” to the then-new “Trek.”
On the way-downside, Kirk met his maker “Generations” and not in the blaze of glory he so deserved.
Verdict: Film number 7’s so-so finish leaves cracks in the curse.
‘Star Trek: First contact’ Borg on the big screen! What’s not to love? The cyber-bullies went back in time and the crew of the Enterprise-E followed along for a chance to witness the creation of warp technology, humanity’s first contact with the great beyond, and of course, to beat the odds by beating back the Borg.
Verdict: Back to business as usual with this even-numbered victor.
‘Star Trek: Insurrection’ A peace-loving pack of luddite hippies, known as the Ba’ku, faced attacks by their homely, aggressive cousins the Son’a and a team of less-than-honorable Starfleet types. While Picard and Data removed the most menacing members of the opposition, in the end, forgiveness and cooperation saved the day.
Yes, “Insurrection” was just that boring.
‘Star Trek: Nemesis’ The first twist in “Nemesis” fooled no one. Those oh-so-evil Romulans craved a truce? That didn’t sound right. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t. What they really hoped for was a chance to take over Earth and show off their nifty-but-sickly Picard clone (who, by the way, looked absolutely nothing like Picard).
The only break in the predictable action came when Data finally embraced his long-sought humanity in time to sacrifice himself for his captain. Sniff. Oh, yeah, and Riker and Troi finally tie the knot — a boon for the few fans who ever cared about that chemistry-free hookup.
Verdict: With number 10’s failure, the even-numbered upswing died a slow, meandering death.
Boldly going back to the beginning More often than not, the curse holds true. But the most recent “Star Trek” flicks prove it’s possible to buck the trend. Time for an odd upset? It’s way too soon to call the new “Star Trek” flick a curse-killer.
Going back to the beginning and recasting the original crew is dangerous territory. Built-in comparisons can’t be avoided, and unless the fresh young faces on the final frontier find a way to make those tried and true parts their own, number 11 could just put the curse back on course.
Ree Hines is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com.