Feb 24, 2012

[Movies] Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Since I've already completed my reviews for all the Star Wars movies, it seems only fair that I invest some time to post reviews for all the Star Trek movies as well. I have to admit that I've always considered myself a Trekkie first before being a Star Wars fan.

There's a lot to be said about all the Star Trek movies. Where the Star Wars franchise is a singular narrative that crosses from one movie to another, Star Trek, much like its TV series, is practically episodic in nature. While there are some interconnections between some of the movies, for the most part each one pretty much stands on its own. And whether that's precisely a good or a bad thing really depends on the individual.

This one was...strange, at the very least. It was not the first one I had ever watched - and that's probably a good thing given the general consensus about the quality of this particular movie. But it still plays an important role in the overall franchise since it kicked things off to begin with.

Plus from a practical standpoint, a lot of the footage proved very useful for some of the subsequent movies, hehe.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the very first movie in the Star Trek franchise that was released back in 1979 - 10 years after the original TV series had gone off the air. So yes, the Star Wars movies were already around and there was definitely an angle to all this that involved wanting to cash in on the whole science fiction movie mania. It was directed by Robert Wise with a screenplay by Harold Livingston as based on a story by Alan Dean Foster.

A mysterious energy cloud of sorts is moving through known space on a direct course for Earth. The strange vessel is able to easily deal with three Klingon K'tinga class warships along with a Starfleet monitoring station as it makes it way towards the Federation capital. On Earth, the Enterprise is in the process of a major refit with James T. Kirk (William Shatner), now an Admiral, working as Chief of Starfleet Operations. The Enterprise is the only vessel within range to intercept the intruder and thus the untested ship is dispatched with Admiral Kirk commanding.

This infuriates Captain Willard Decker (Stephen Collins), who is the Enterprise's current captain during the course of the refit, but is countermanded by the admiral. The new systems prove to be less than ideal with various malfunctions along with two of its officers killed in a transporter malfunction. With the loss of their science officer, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) arrives to assume the role of Science Officer and because he claims in his meditations he felt a consciousness in the cloud.

I felt the biggest challenge of the movie was the scale of the plot and the glacial pace of its direction. The pacing really killed a lot of the potential action and made it a lot harder to appreciate as a movie. Sure, Star Trek is not the action-packed world of Star Wars, but this was taking things to somewhat of an extreme. There were just so many beauty shots of the new Enterprise, so many silent moments with characters trying to stare one another down. The list goes on and on.

Persis Khambatta
Persis Khambatta (Image via RottenTomatoes.com)
The costumes weren't too bad - I guess the need to update the originals was part of the whole movie transition process after all. But at the same time it really set the movie further apart from the TV series than spawned it. And let's not even factor in Ilia (Persis Khambatta), the navigator who eventually comes back as a robot version of herself. That sentence alone just makes things weirder than necessary.

It was still nice to have the gang all back together. Beyond the initial WTF moment with Spock's arrival on the ship after leaving his isolation and meditation on Vulcan, the rest of it nicely felt like the old TV series for the most part. And that's really what most people paid to see - the original crew of the Enterprise brought back together for another mission. While the camaraderie was certainly there, the mission was a bit of a bomb.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture had a lot of goals in mind when it was being put together and the desire to do so much killed its chances of accomplishing them all. Even with my love for the franchise, I still struggle through this movie whenever I get the crazy idea to re-watch the darn thing, which says a lot. Still, it's a valuable moment in Star Trek history and it still manages 2 silly things the energy cloud does to prove its power out of a possible 5.

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