In many ways Star Trek: The Motion Picture suffered a fate similar to Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Both were preceded by a large hype machine. Both had fans eager to see the continuing adventures of their favorite characters. Both had fans with very distinct notions of what those adventures should be like. Both films had directors that were shooting for something much different than the fans expected. Both got hit pretty hard by the fans upon release. Of course the big difference is that The Motion Picture didn’t have Jar Jar Binks.
When a mysterious cloud-like entity destroys three Klingon warships and a Federation space station, Starfleet becomes a bit nervous. When they determine that the cloud is coming toward earth they decide to send their flagship, the Enterprise to investigate. Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) pulls some strings to lead the mission, pushing aside Captain Decker (Stephen Collins). Along the way they pick up Spock (Leonard Nimoy) who has determined that pure logic may not be the answer to all his questions.
The Enterprise confronts the cloud and with it a strange energy probe that abducts Lt. Ilia (Persis Khambatta). When it returns her, she appears to be a mechanical replica that answers to a being called V’Ger. This being has crossed the endless voids to find it’s creator, and it will stop at nothing to do so. Can the crew of the Enterprise solve the puzzle of this mysterious being before it destroys Earth?
- Amazing visual effects that still hold up well today
- Jerry Goldsmith provides what I consider his masterpiece of film music
- Captures the awe and vastness of space exploration
- The characters don’t feel like the familiar group
- The movie takes its sweet time doing anything!
- The plot is recycled and thin
This movie needs to be rediscovered. It is the only Star Trek film to really embrace the spectacle and enormity of the unknown, and does it in a primarily visual style. It falls directly in line with the ideals and themes of the series, and avoids a direct comparison to Star Wars. While it’s not the best of the series, it is the most ambitious and most thematic of the films. Once you appreciate what it’s trying to do, the movie really works.
Scores (out of 5)
In Depth Review
|Boldly watching what no man has watched before.|
I will admit the film is flawed. It could have used a few more passes with the script, and tightened a few elements down. It could have made the characters feel closer to their television series versions with a bit more banter and camaraderie. It could have turned the story into something more crucial to the world of Star Trek, or to the characters (preferably both). Instead the film focuses on the themes more than the plot and characters and in that way is closer to 2001: A Space Odyssey than it is to Star Wars: A New Hope.
|The Enterprise in the belly of the beast.|
What is interesting to me is that the special effects created back in 1979 hold up today (for the most part). So much time and effort went into creating the detailed models, sets, and assorted visuals that most of them were reused and reconfigured for the most of the remaining franchise. A whole host of different visual effect techniques were used, from in-camera tricks, to full-blown composite shots using state of the art motion control techniques. The director’s cut adds a few digital clean up scenes here and there. But nearly all of them would have been possible if the production had a bit more time to smooth things over.
For me it’s the model work that impresses the most. The Enterprise is beautiful creation, and seeing on the big screen during its introduction is a real treat. The camera was able to get incredibly close to the model, because of it’s size (8 feet) and the amazing detail on it. In addition you have the detailed model for the V’Ger starship, and immense creation that dominates the middle portion of the film. It is an organic, yet mechanical design that is menacing and mysterious all at the same time.
|The Enterprise is dwarfed by V'Ger.|
For the directors cut in 2001 the intended sound mix was used. The one on the theatrical cut was actually a temporary track. The intended track actually brings a bit more power to key scenes. The starship sounds, from the proton torpedoes, to the engine room rumble are immersive. You also have a whole array of sounds for V’Ger, its probe and various elements within its inner workings.
|The music during the cloud exploration includes plenty|
of Blaster Beam sound effects
Unfortunately two elements are lacking in this film and keep it from top marks. The first is the script. The plot itself is very simple. Yes, the stakes are high, but there is nothing really demanding about the situation for the characters. Our main crew of Kirk, Spock and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) find themselves watching much of the action in the film and not entirely participating. In fact most of the original crew gets sidelined in the film.
|Guest stars Decker and Ilia get all the action|
Now, Spock and Kirk do have smaller arcs they work through. Kirk gets his ship back, and comes to understand what his role is as a leader. Obviously being an Admiral had made him a bit rusty on this concept. McCoy calls him on not trusting his crew to do their job and pushing too hard. It results in the ship nearly being destroyed in a wormhole. Eventually Kirk gets back into his groove and is able to figure out V’Ger’s puzzle.
|The admiral uniform in this film inspired the admiral|
uniforms in 2013's "Into Darkness"
For the most part the acting is solid. The script doesn’t allow much of the banter fans were used to, and so for many folks the performances seem stiff. However, I’ve always found the performances to be realistic to the situations that occur before the film. Kirk has been in what is essentially a desk job, McCoy was retired and Spock had gone back to Vulcan. So these three would feel a bit awkward around each other. Things thaw a bit as the film progresses, but everything seems so serious at times. Nimoy probably delivers the best performance, but his character is given an actual arc to progress through, so maybe it isn’t fair to judge the others against his performance.
|The probe brings the Enterprise to V'Ger.|
As much of an improvement the new editing makes, it doesn’t change the fact that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a slow, slow movie. It takes its time setting up the simple situation. It takes its time getting us to V’Ger and then delving into the mystery. I do think the exploration of the cloud and the being itself are visually impressive, but they really drag the thin story down. The main problem with the pacing is that it actually ends up reducing the tension in the film. There is no real urgency here, and it hurts the finale. I really believe that a few more passes with the script could have yielded a better result.
|The Enterprise survives for further adventures.|
In the end the flaws end up hurting the film for most viewers. They go in expecting an exciting space adventure, and instead get a slow moving mediation on man and machine. It’s a shame too, because I think the elements that set this film apart from other films in the franchise and to other films of the era are what make it appealing and fascinating to watch. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was aiming high, and even its pretentious title seems to indicating something grand in it’s vision. I admire the creative team for having lofty goals and creating something unique and interesting. It isn’t a perfect film and I think that the follow up, The Wrath of Khan is a more entertaining and better executed film. But for all its faults, this is one trek worth taking and the director’s cut is the way to take it.