Director: Richard Wise
Original Release: 1979
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
A malicious energy cloud is approaching Earth. The Enterprise and her crew must race to intercept. The ship is not quite ready for prime time but the mission can't wait.
The old band is back together, though not without some effort. Kirk, now an admiral with a desk job at HQ, must work his connections to win command of the Enterprise away from a young upstart, Captain Willard Decker (Stephen Collins). Doctor McCoy, gloriously attired in Bee Gees jumpsuit and medallion, is brought reluctantly out of retirement to join the fun. Spock takes a break from his emotional purging ritual on Vulcan to do so as well. With Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, now-Dr. Chapel and even Janice Rand already on board, the adventure can officially begin.
|via Memory Alpha
The first Trek movie has been much panned ever since, especially in comparison with the more successful Wrath of Khan sequel that followed in 1982. I will admit that I didn't care for The Motion Picture myself when I first watched it on VHS late one night back in the '80s. In fact, that was the only time I'd watched it before this summer. I had the same issues most critics did: too slow; too much talk, not enough action; long stretches with no dialogue, etc.
However, I definitely enjoyed it a lot more this time. It's still in desperate need of thoughtful editing. The too long shots of astonished crew members staring at the view screen could easily be removed to no ill effect on the narrative. But I wasn't as bothered by the slow pace. The main reason: I know Trek a lot better now. Back in the day, I was thoroughly Star Wars devoted and it was years (decades?) before I fully appreciated Trek's different approach. Ethical dilemma is the heart of Trek, often resolved without a single phaser shot. Between them, Bones and Spock still provide Kirk's moral compass. The hostile antagonist is still met with an impulse to understand rather than destroy. Maybe the story is too long and too slow. But it's still Trek. I love Trek.
Even harsh critics concede the visual impact of the film. One scene that has stayed with me all these years is the long, lingering view we get of the outside of the Enterprise as Kirk and Scotty approach it for the first time. Despite four decades of special effects advancement since, that sequence is still just as impressive to me.
Beyond the broad strokes, there is so much for a geek to enjoy:
- We have visited the work of screenwriter Alan Dean Foster here at The Squid before:
- Original Star Wars novelization
- The first Expanded Universe Star Wars novel: Splinter of the Mind's Eye
- I did not realize until this viewing that the opening theme music for Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) was originally used for The Motion Picture. Jerry Goldsmith's score is excellent throughout. The film began an association between Goldsmith and Trek that lasted until 2002.
- The film marks the first use of the spoken Klingon language, invented by producer Jon Povill and - wouldn't you know it? - James Doohan aka Scotty.
- The other scene that has stayed with me all these years is the transporter accident. The response from HQ afterwards is one of the most chilling lines of the whole franchise: "Enterprise, what we got back... didn't live long... fortunately." Even in the 23rd century, space travel is still fraught with peril.
- As Decker provides a tour of the ship for the V'Ger probe, he shows her a display, noting: "All these vessels were called 'Enterprise,'" including the space shuttle. The Enterprise shuttle makes many cameos throughout the Trek canon, actually. Originally, NASA's prototype shuttle was to be called Constitution but a massive letter writing campaign to President Ford convinced them to name it after the Trek vessel.
- Decker's first encounter with Ilia is remarkably similar to another Will's first encounter with Deanna Troi on a later version of the Enterprise. Intentional?
Unfortunately in the first movie, this development comes at the price of Kirk's. Shatner is partly to blame. His tendency to over-act doesn't bother me in the original series but here it does. The writers didn't do him any favors. With so much dead air, he seeks to fill the void and he is never the actor to see less as more. His usurping of Decker is off-putting. I'm sure that as audience, we're supposed to want to see "our man" back at the helm but frankly, he comes off as an asshole.
I watched on Tubi, a streaming channel I'd never heard of before - completely free as long as you don't mind sitting through occasional commercial breaks. 40 years later, The Motion Picture is coming to a theater near you! If you have a theater in your area that carries Fathom Events (they're the ones who carry Met simulcasts among other exciting things), The Motion Picture is being screened on September 15th and 18th. I don't know if I'll make it but it's certainly going on the calendar.