The Star Trek Re-Watch – Star Trek: The Motion Picture
One of the positive consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been the ability for people to explore television shows and films they never got around to see. This of course comes with the caveat that one actually has time to do so. Depending on certain circumstances (i.e. children or lack thereof and the essential nature of your job) this may or may not be the case. Nevertheless, millions of people who didn’t have free time before now have the opportunity to watch every episode of The Wire or the entire Harry Potter series.
With that in mind I thought it was high time to explore some gaps in my film and television lexicon. So of course I completely scrapped that idea and decided to re-watch every one of the thirteen Star Trek films that have been released since 1979. So let’s commence at the commencement with one of the two most maligned films in the franchise, the one that kicked off the rebirth of Star Trek, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) Director: Robert Wise Written By: Harold Livingston Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Stephen Collins
Plot: Several years after the events of the original series, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise has broken up. Captain Kirk is now Admiral Kirk, head of Starfleet Operations. Dr. McCoy has left Starfleet entirely as has Spock. The remainder of the crew is now under the command of Captain Williard Decker and the Enterprise herself has undergone an extensive refit. When an alien entity known as V’Ger makes its way towards Earth destroying everything in its path, Kirk takes command of the Enterprise and ventures out to confront V’Ger. Spock departs Vulcan and the rite of Kolinhar (the purging of all emotion) feeling an unprecedented call from the entity. Before long the crew of the Enterprise make an astonishing discovery regarding V’Ger’s origins and its connection to Earth’s history.
Re-Watch Review: So as I mentioned, Star Trek: The Motion Picture often gets dragged through the mud in the annals of Star Trek history. The film experienced constant rewrites and at the time sported one of the steepest budgets ever at $44 million. Leonard Nimoy nearly didn’t come back for the film as he was pissed off about unpaid royalties from the original series. Eventually cooler heads prevailed and the band got back together.
The fundamental problem with Star Trek: The Motion Picture lies in its choice of director. Robert Wise is one of the most celebrated directors in the history of cinema, having won Academy Awards for both West Side Story and The Sound of Music. However, he was ill suited for a Star Trek film and it shows. The pacing of this film is slow to the point of lethargic. The scenes where Kirk and Scotty dock with the Enterprise and when the Enterprise actually enters V’Ger are overlong and boring and completely derail the film. Richard H. Kline’s cinematography is the very definition of plodding.
Furthermore, the tone of Star Trek: The Motion Picture feels decidedly off. The crew is adorned in uni-sex uniforms which lend an air of sterility and blandness to the film. Thematically the movie also comes off somber and not as optimistic as the original series. There’s also a distinct lack of chemistry between the original cast members, a certain spark that’s lacking. However, I don’t necessarily believe this had anything to do with the actors themselves but rather Harold Livingston’s tepid screenplay – at least when it comes to the characters. Shatner’s Kirk gets the lion’s share of development with the rest of the crew (aside from Spock) getting short shrift.
As much as I’ve denigrated the film thus far, it actually has some strong points. The special effects are top notch and hold up pretty well even after forty years. Kirk and Spock’s relationship takes front and center and the scene where Spock holds Kirk’s hand after his encounter with V’Ger and says “This simple feeling [friendship] is beyond V’Ger’s comprehension” is particularly impactful. Also the V’Ger story-line itself – that V’Ger is actually Voyager 6 from Earth that went through a black hole and came in contact with a race of intelligent machines – is, to quote the kids, “metal AF.” Having Captain Decker sacrifice himself at the end was a noble gesture. If anything I wanted to find out more about what happened with V’Ger after the events of the film. Additionally, Jerry Goldsmith’s score does an excellent job of recapturing the spirit of Alexander Courage’s original theme, even if it doesn’t add anything particularly new or interesting to the fray.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture is an oddity in of itself. While it occasionally works as a science-fiction film, it often fails as a Star Trek film. Having said that it certainly certainly succeeds in some respects and in my opinion isn’t nearly as deserving of the hate some have leveled at it. In retrospect it’s a good thing that the film was financially successful because if it hadn’t made almost $140 million at the box office, there’s a solid chance we never get anymore films. Can you imagine the repercussions? No Star Trek: TNG? No Deep Space 9? No Wrath of Khan? No T.J. Hooker? Thankfully the red-headed Klingon stepchild of the franchise was able to rise above it’s shortcomings. Despite its ignominious beginnings, great things in the franchise were yet to come…
My rating System:
0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
Star Trek: The Motion Picture rates: 5/10
Next Up: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan!!!!
Although I can see all its shortcomings, I also give it a pass. It’s a good thing that it didn’t bomb at the box office, and I’m glad it spawned a worthy series of movies!