The Slow Motion Picture

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is not the feature film Trekkies deserved. Star Trek: The Original Series is a landmark of science fiction created by Gene Roddenberry. The 1966 series was all about exploration through space, the final frontier. It followed the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its 5 year mission was to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life, and new civilizations. “To boldly go where no man has gone before!” My parents have always been Trekkies who grew up watching the original series, but my brother and I always remained in the neutral zone. It wasn’t until last year that we finally decided to experience everything Star Trek at warp speed. I may be a casual fan turned instant Trekkie, but even I know they could’ve done better than The Motion Picture. When the original series was cancelled after only 3 seasons, The Animated Series was all that filled the void. Roddenberry felt the best way to revive the franchise was with a movie. Paramount disagreed and the continuation became a TV series titled Star Trek: Phase II.

Ironically, the success of Star Wars and the subsequent success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind ensured a movie would be made instead of a show. The problem with The Motion Picture is no one knowing the right direction to take. You can tell it’s trying to be as different from Star Wars as possible. Academy Award winning director Robert Wise is brilliant, but you can tell he has a very limited understanding of Star Trek. The script was often incomplete, production faced many problems, and one very important cast member almost didn’t return. William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Majel Barrett all agreed to return after a decade, but Leonard Nimoy was hesitant. I’m glad they worked something out, because Star Trek isn’t the same without the fan favorite Vulcan. The Motion Picture has an out of this world score by Jerry Goldsmith and impressive special effects for a 1979 film, but that’s one of its biggest problems. The runtime is an unbearably boring 2 hours & 25 minutes worth of slow moving shots of the USS Enterprise, wormholes, and a villain that’s literally a space cloud. There’s practically no phaser action, color, or sense of fun. The redesigned Enterprise has cinematic grandeur, but the new uniforms are incredibly drab.

Captain’s Log, Stardate 99096.66: The Motion Picture begins with a very important contribution to the warmongering Klingons. This is the first time they’re seen speaking Klingon and having ridged foreheads. The language was developed by Doohan himself. They’re attacked by the space cloud which is headed straight for Earth. Since the Enterprise is in range, Admiral James T. Kirk commandeers his ship long after the completion of their 5 year mission. Shatner is every bit the charming overactor he’s always been. Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy is just as snarky when reluctantly energized through the Transporter. Apart from Scotty trying to fix the faulty Engine room, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Nurse Chapel are basically glorified extras. I value what little screen time they receive, but even the return of Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand is barely given attention. More attention is given to characters who were indented to appear in the Phase II series. Stephen Collins plays Commander William Decker. The former captain whose job Kirk takes for himself. Bald model Persis Khambatta plays Deltan navigator Ilia. She shares a romantic history with Decker, but makes a point about her celibacy so that Kirk doesn’t get any ideas.

Kirk was supposed to get a new Vulcan science officer, but Spock returns when he dies in a Transporter accident. Spock is every bit the fascinating logical half-Vulcan he’s always been. Planet Vulcan makes its second live-action appearance along with a Vulcan language. Spock tries to purge his emotions, but his human half calls to the cloud. Turns out the cloud is really a sentient computer named V’Ger that is very slowly revealed when Spock mind melds with it during a trippy spacewalk. Ilia is turned into a living computer through V’Ger’s consciousness in an attempt to find its creator. SPOILER ALERT! The extremely philosophical ending culminates in V’Ger’s reveal as the Earth probe Voyager 6. The living machine must join with a human (that ends up being Decker) in order to fulfill its mission. The new lifeform seems important, but it’s never brought up again. Although the story isn’t too far off from the prime directive of Star Trek, the 2001: A Space Odyssey approach made Star Trek: The Motion Picture a snoozefest. “Live long and prosper.” πŸ––

1. Star Trek The Motion Picture

The crew of the Enterprise

Followed by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

4 thoughts on “The Slow Motion Picture

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