On Ranking the Star Trek Directors

Science-fiction author John Scalzi ranks the Star Trek film directors for American Movie Classics’ website. Who’s best, who’s worst?

Here’s Scalzi’s list (though without his commentary):

  1. Nick Meyer
  2. Leonard Nimoy
  3. Jonathan Frakes
  4. J.J. Abrams
  5. Robert Wise
  6. David Carson
  7. William Shatner
  8. Stuart Baird

The problem I have with Scalzi’s list is that he’s confusing whether or not the film is any good with whether or not the director was any good. Yes, the director is a big part of whether or not the film succeeds, but so to is the writer, the production design, the acting, the cinematography.

Ergo, I disagree with Scalzi entirely. :lol:

Here’s my list:

  1. Nick Meyer
    I can’t disagree with putting Meyer at the top of the list. Meyer’s direction for Star Trek II is more than adequate, but for Star Trek VI he had a distinct visual flair that amped up the intensity.
  2. William Shatner
    Say what you will about Star Trek V, but the film looked fantastic. Shatner had a great rapport with the camera, he elicited solid performances from the cast. Shatner’s film looked different in all the right ways. It’s unfortunate that his direction was in service of a less-than-stellar story.
  3. J.J. Abrams
    It’s really unfair to compare Abrams to the rest of the directors, because he’s coming at Star Trek from such a different angle. Much as Nick Meyer did, really. I thought Star Trek looked wonderful, he had a great sense of shot composition. The thing I really fault Abrams for is the lens flair. Hopefully, he’ll tone that down next time.
  4. David Carson
    Yes, his film was absolute shit, but it looked great.
  5. Jonathan Frakes
    I would actually rank Frakes higher if he hadn’t directed Star Trek: First Contact. Frakes’ direction on First Contact was dire, frankly, with uninspired camera set-ups and an overreliance on medium shots. I find First Contact a boring film to watch. Insurrection, on the other hand, has some truly wonderful camera work and Frakes makes a film that’s fun to watch. Unfortunately for Frakes, the film isn’t particularly enjoyable in other respects, but that’s largely down to Patrick Stewart gutting the script.
  6. Stuart Baird
    Baird’s problem, like Jenuet on Alien Resurrection, is that he had no feel for the material. Baird didn’t know Star Trek. In spite of that, Baird managed to shoot a film that has some moments of beauty and, dare I say it?, scope.
  7. Robert Wise
    There’s a reason the nickname for his film is “The Motionless Picture.”
  8. Leonard Nimoy
    As a director, Nimoy was awful. His shot composition is generally claustrophobic. He elicits decent performances, but there’s no visual style to Nimoy’s direction.

That’s my list. :)

2 thoughts on “On Ranking the Star Trek Directors

  1. Wow. You know I have loads of Internet love for you, Allyn, but I have to disagree with you on a couple of points. :lol:

    You thought Generations looked great? Really? I thought it looked decent half the time and too dark other times. Seriously, how did the crew not fumble around at spots? Not to mention the costuming gaffes (Riker is in the TNG uniform one moment, the next in the DS9 ones. What’s that about? Why the random switch in the *middle* of the movie?) and weak action sequences (the climactic Picard / Kirk / Soran action sequence was crap. 15 years later I can look back and feel good saying that.

    OK, I guess it was only one point. :lol:

  2. In Carson’s defense…

    The ship was dark because the television interiors wouldn’t have looked good on screen. Much like the TARDIS interior falling apart and needing a serious upgrade to HDTV, the bridge set, which was passable on video for television resolutions, wasn’t up to snuff for the 35mm camera lens.

    In ’94, I thought that was jarring, but taken on its own, the subdued lighting works for me. (On the other hand, the complete reconfiguration of the Enterprise bridge makes no sense.)

    The costuming I can’t really explain, except that they sank a lot of money into new costumes that they didn’t use. The TNG costumes had largely worn out, the new costumes weren’t used, so they put people in the DS9 costumes when and where they could. That wasn’t really a directing issue, though. That was a costume, production, and continuity problem and outside David Carson’s scope.

    The final battle was pretty static, I’ll grant you that.

    Otherwise, the quibbles I have with the film’s look are subpar f/x such as the really bad matte job they did on the Enterprise-D flying through space midway through the film and the reuse of some shots. Seriously, don’t reuse the destruction of Chang’s Bird-of-Prey and expect people not to notice. I can’t peg those on Carson, because those weren’t his choices or his responsibility.

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