Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Director: Robert Wise

Notable Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Stephen Collins, Persis Khambatta, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei

With the third Star Trek reboot film on the way, it was requested that we cover the original film series for review. It has been a good ten years since my last Star Trek marathon, so the timing seemed right to revisit them and take a gander at a series that has been part of my life since, well, essentially birth. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to reviewing the first film of the franchise, aptly called Star Trek: The Motion Picture, because it was never a film that interested me outside of kick starting the franchise again. Now I remember why I disliked the film so much. It’s a mediocre episode of the show elongated with needlessly artsy elements that desperately wants to be a theatrical movie going experience without the writing or pacing to make it a positive experience. The film is certainly one with its own positive features, but Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a boring and dragging cinematic experience that almost completely misses the mark.

When an space cloud/ship anomaly is discovered on a path straight for Earth, Admiral Kirk (Shatner) takes back control of the Enterprise from its latest Captain (Collins) to set a course for intercept. With his old crew rejoining him, including Bones (Kelley) and science officer Spock (Nimoy), they will uncover something never seen before in the universe - an entity called V’Ger that will shake the foundations of what they know to be human.

"Look at our new fancy muted color uniforms, they are bland like this movie!"
The original Star Trek series was known for its fun adventure stories littered with charismatic characters and social commentary. Star Trek: The Motion Picture essentially abandons all of those things in an attempt to create a cinematic experience in line with the recently hailed 2001: A Space Odyssey. While the time period that stretched from the end of the series to this first movie was lengthy and the times had definitely changed, the reason why the series earned such a cult status was for its fun and slyly smart approach to its stories. It’s the shift away from this ideology that has left so many fans and critics so cold to this film and why it remains one that certainly doesn’t get a lot of love.

It’s not that the film doesn’t deserve some credit for its positive elements. The score is phenomenal, adding at least some life to its horrendously long shots of the Enterprise moving through space, and the visuals are strong from director Robert Wise who truly tries to make this film a motion picture experience for its audience. Even the special effects hold up remarkably well for its time and for that I have to give the film some credit because it creates enough of a visual experience to prevent me from punching my television out of sheer boredom.

Which brings me to the main issue that plagues Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This movie moves at a snail’s pace and proceeds to add in the amount of plot progressions and character depth that a mediocre episode of the TV series would have had. For a movie that’s well over two hours, they take their fuckin’ time doing anything in the film. Shots of the Enterprise as Kirk and Scotty take a shuttle ride to the ship bore to tears and a latter sequence where the ship enters the “field” of the foreign mass seem to last years instead of minutes. Look, more random space texture! Goody! As if to make matters worse, the film seems to rush the rest of the script when it comes to character development. Potentially strong interactions between Kirk and Decker are shoved aside after a half hour, Bones is essentially brought in to give nonsensical quips, and the charisma of the cast seems to be as void and slow as the space that the Enterprise meanders across. Even the theme of the film, which seems to be focused on the human quality of needing something illogical to feel complete, is barely explored and often muddled in the narrative leaving a lot of potentially smart dialogue and writing stuck in an airlock. The few action-y tidbits that happen are more or less focused on visual experience rather than a tension or excitement. A worm hole issue with the warp drive actually blurs colors onscreen and then puts the cast in slow motion. Slow motion. As if this film needed that to extend its already lengthy feel.

Desolate expanse. Like the plotting.
At times, I want to respect what Star Trek: The Motion Picture attempts to do to reinvent the franchise for the theatrical audience. However, it’s almost like the film specifically targeted fun sequences and thoughtful writing for extermination when it decided to take a more artful approach to its story. There are a handful of people out there I know that will defend this film, but rewatching it for this recent marathon has only solidified my distaste for what this film is.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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