Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)


I Know Engineers.  They LOVE to Change Things.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)In my video review for Star Trek Into Darkness, I suggested that J.J. Abrams may turn me into a fan of the Star Trek series were he to keep making such good movies from them.  Ever since I made that claim, something powerful has been brewing inside me.  It was my nerdiness.  It had overridden the bias that caused me to write off Star Trek lest my love of Star Wars be tested.  Also, the BluRays of the original movies were on sale just after the new movie’s release.  Inspiration enough for me!  I bought the original movies, but delayed watching them until I watched the entire original series on Netflix.  We’ll review those later.  TV series take much longer.  After finishing the TV show, I finally sat down and watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture, based on characters created by Gene Roddenberry, written by Harold Livingston, story by Alan Dean Foster, directed by Robert Wise, and starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Majel Barrett.

A monitoring station for Starfleet detects a massive cloud of energy that destroys some Klingon warships, and later the monitoring station itself, en route to Earth.  Starfleet sends out the newly refitted starship Enterprise as a test of her new systems.  Her former Captain, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner), comes aboard the Enterprise and takes command from Captain Willard Decker (Stephen Collins), citing his experience with the Enterprise as precedence over Captain Decker’s experience with the Enterprise’s new systems, creating friction between the two.  Elsewhere, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is interrupted from a ritual to purge himself of all emotion when he detects the cloud, and he rejoins the Enterprise to help find it.  The Enterprise encounters the cloud, where a probe is sent onboard that attacks Spock and abducts the navigator, Decker’s love interest, and Hair Club for Women model, Ilia (Persis Khambatta), who is later replaced by a robotic doppelgänger.  The crew of the Enterprise must work together to find out what this cloud wants before it destroys Earth.

I agree with the general population in saying that this was a less than substantial movie.  I kind of understand the problems with this movie, but I feel they pretty much damaged the movie beyond interest.  It was basically like watching a longer, prettier version of one of the less interesting TV show episodes.  It was mostly about getting the band back together on their new decked out ship, showing off that they have more money to spend on the movie than they did on the TV show.  But I didn’t understand that either.  Has time forgotten the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”  The Enterprise did great on the TV show, but you have to go and update everything and now nothing works?  Then I got bothered with the resolution to the movie.  Turns out the cloud surrounds a planet that itself surrounds the Voyager 6 probe that just wants to return to Earth to drop off its information, as it was programed to do.  But everyone thinks it’s called V’Ger because all of its nameplates are covered up coincidentally in exactly the same spots.  Then it ends with Decker fisting the Voyager and it decides that its mission is accomplished.  It’s something that would be done on the TV show, but didn’t really feel like it required a movie.

The look of this movie is really good for its time, but it’s also to the movie’s detriment.  It’s a great step up from the TV show, but I think they were a little too aware of it.  I have heard this movie described as a bunch of glory shots of the Enterprise, and it’s not a lot more than that.  They love showing off their pretty new graphics though.  The opening scene looked a lot like Star Wars mashed up with Tron.  Then they reintroduce the Enterprise, and Mister Scott takes Kirk on a three minute ride around the outside of the Enterprise, sitting quietly in a dock.  They do the same thing with pretty much every ship shown, even the space station that is doing absolutely nothing.  They also love to show random people floating out in space in space suits doing busy work for some reason.  It’s either done to pad out the film or just to show off how much more money they had this go around.  And it’s true that most of it is really pretty for its time, but there were a couple of things I found goofy.  For instance, the fact that the Klingon ship has a butthole cannon.  And, since we’re on the topic, the opening to the robotic planet that the Enterprise sits outside of for a long time looks like a giant, pulsating, blue anus.  But when travelling through it, it doesn’t look like you’d expect an anus to look like.  Instead, it looks like a series of screensavers.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the performances in the movie.  After playing the same characters in around 80 episodes these people are going to know how to do it better than anyone.  All of them still remember how to do what they’d been doing for so many years before.  Shatner is great.  I’ve made fun of his delivery before, but it just seems right when he’s doing it.  He may be overacting a bit, but when Shatner does it, I still like it.  I didn’t appreciate the changes in uniform as much.  I think the yellow, blue, and red shirts worked.  Plus, they had full sleeves and didn’t reveal that Shatner has unpleasantly hairy upper arms now.  I would also say that, as someone who just recently got turned into a Star Trek fan, I didn’t like seeing Kirk confused on the Enterprise.  I like him much better when he knows what he’s doing.  I think Leonard Nimoy is my favorite amongst the cast.  I like Spock.  He’s got super powers!  And the lack of emotion thing always makes the character more mysterious and interesting.  When Spock rejoins the Enterprise though, I thought he came off more as a dick than a Vulcan, but he eased up a bit on that.  I also love DeForest Kelley.  He’s kind of comic relief without being too overt about it.  Except in that outfit he’s wearing when he first shows up, as if they beamed him up straight out of Studio 54.  Persis Khambatta never really worked for me.  I assume they wanted me to be able to tell what she was saying because she might be saying something that would help me understand what was going on, but the greater majority of things she said did not compute in my brain.  At first it might have been her accent, then later the robotic quality they added to her already hard to understand accent.  Also, she was hot and looked great with that really high skirt, but women don’t really look good bald.  At least not on their head.

I am saying nothing new about Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but it’s all new to me because this is the first time I have seen it.  The story lacks substance and feels more like a longer version of one of the less interesting episodes of the show, and they wasted a lot of time staring at the Enterprise doing nothing to show off their new graphic capabilities.  I still like the greater majority of the actors playing the roles that they created, but they couldn’t do much with what they were given here.  I still look forward to what they can do with a good script, and I’ve heard good things about the next movie.  We’ll find out how that worked out later.  For now, Star Trek: The Motion Picture gets “No, Admiral.  I don’t think you’re sorry.  Not one damned bit” out of “It knows only that it needs, Commander.  But, like so many of us, it does not know what.”

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