Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
, directed by Robert Wise.
When Earth is menaced by a vast alien power, Admiral Kirk resumes command of the refitted Starship Enterprise
to penetrate its concealing veils, slowly thrust through its strange orifices, reveal its innermost mysteries and couple with the hidden secret at its very center.
And that's why you hire James T. Kirk.
I am of that generation who watched the original series in its first broadcast, suffered its cancellation twice, mourned for its loss and tried to keep it alive by compulsively watching reruns, building models, putting up posters and playing early computer games. In the pre-Star Wars (1977)
era SF films were rare and we were desperate for anything in the right direction, no matter how feeble the plots or cheesy the special effects.
From the end of the series until this first film was just ten years, but it seemed like forever
. Too long, in fact. When it arrived it was too little, too late. We were happy to have it back again, but also felt let down:
- Why did everyone look so much older?
- And what was up with their hair?
- Could they have found uglier uniforms if they tried? (We wouldn't have been happy with the original uniforms, either. Too dated).
- Wasn't the plot simultaneously grandiose and thin?
- Hadn't we seen it before? Ah, yes: The Changeling.
- Although the very long fly-by of the Enterprise in space dock was obvious fan service indulging our tearful devotion to the starship, that time (and the long V'Ger approach business) could have been used to do something with the characters.
- As it is, the extended core of Sulu, Chapel, Chekov and Uhura had a handful of lines and nothing much to do.
- And Decker and Ilia took over the story because...?
- Didn't the whole thing seem humorless?
We have the first new-style Klingons and their language, and the start of a trend toward gigantism in the Engineering Dept, culminating in the carnival ride silliness of the current movies.
Special effects were developing so fast back then that you could see something new in every film. Many of the effects here look pretty bad now, like arcade game graphics of the period. I don't remember what we thought of them at the time, but compared to Alien (1979)
and Blade Runner (1982)
from the same era, this one is weak. The V'Ger cloud interior does have some lovely art.
Very much on the plus side: Jerry Goldsmith begins his long association with Trek and contributes a wonderful sea-faring score.
And you know: the concept itself is a good one. A space probe adopted by a machine intelligence, vastly magnified in power and intelligence, returns home seeking answers. And that humans could find transcendence via this same machinery: that's weird
The production backstory is too much for me to get into. Chaotic and rushed, continual rewrites and reworking of the effects: costs tripled but the film still made a good profit.
Available on Blu-ray. The commentary track is by a happy gang of Trek pros. They are enthusiastic about the film, including the effects and costumes. They have gentle jibes about the plot and characters.
They also point out that there is a modest character development arc: Kirk, Spock and McCoy have been "away" and this is the story of their return and adjustment to being back where they belong.