Star Trek the Motion Picture (1979)

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Star Trek the Motion Picture (1979)

Post  BoG on Thu Apr 08, 2010 9:34 pm


✷STAR TREK✷
the Motion Picture
starring

WILLIAM SHATNER  Like a Star @ heaven  LEONARD NIMOY  Like a Star @ heaven  DeFOREST KELLEY  
and STEPHEN COLLINS as Decker  Like a Star @ heaven  presenting PERSIS KHAMBATTA
co-starring JAMES DOOHAN * WALTER KOENIG * GEORGE TAKEI * NICHELLE NICHOLS
MAJEL BARRETT * with GRACE LEE WHITNEY  Like a Star @ heaven  Directed by ROBERT WISE


When I first saw this film in the theaters in ‘79, my head was still fresh with images & memories of the TV series. I’d been dazzled by the energy & pacing of the series and this film was like the anti-Trek to me at this point, a reversal of all the things which, in my mind, made the series so great. My response to the person who first asked how the movie was back then was that I’d almost fallen asleep in my seat. I was young, of course, and looking for action. However, on my 2nd & 3rd viewing, on video, I found that I could sit back and relax, allowing myself to appreciate Robert Wise’s attempts to present a search for metaphysical answers. I was able to place aside the hubris of a classic TV show dominating my thought processes and admire the new FX (especially the much-later upgraded Director’s edition), despite the obvious flaws of the story’s structure and style.

Unfortunately, the one problem for me that still exists after all this time is the deadly slow pace which informs almost the entire film. This pace is set during the initial sequence of the detailed Klingon warships moving towards their fate; the ships seems to move in slow motion as the camera pans over, under and all around them so we can appreciate the detail. I do appreciate the reverence that Wise and all the others involved apparently had for the entire Roddenberry concept; such a lack of reverence usually derails film updates or remakes of older properties. But, in this case, there was too much reverence, if such a thing is possible.

We are asked to worship the Enterprise when the ship is first revealed, waiting to be launched, but the sequence ends up alienating us - forcing us to wait as the story pulls to a dead stop - a major miscalculation to be repeated a few times. For those unfamiliar with this, Scotty shows off the refitted Enterprise’s exterior to Kirk, from the vantage point of a shuttlecraft.
I did admire the entire sequence in San Francisco; this was a fine establishing set-up, but I was a bit puzzled that the city skyline had barely changed 300 years from now. Starfleet HQ had been plunked here across the Bay but every thing else was virtually the same. A little odd and unsettling in view of the futuristic scenery we’d witnessed in a few episodes, via matte paintings.

The other establishing visual shot on Vulcan was also well done, especially  in the upgraded version. And, yes, like many fans, what I couldn’t warm up to were the new uniforms, a switch to a monochrome palette. It looked like everyone was caught off-guard, in their leisure suits, and had to rush off to face the approaching threat to Earth. This ‘look’ also suggested The ‘70s, inadvertently.

When it comes to the characters and the acting involved, there’s some disappointment. DeForest Kelley as McCoy is fine (as usual), while the co-starring roles are too small to be judged with any great incisiveness, though Doohan has a couple of good scenes and Koenig can still scream with the best of ‘em. But, Shatner, I can only deduce, had been away from the role for too long; he was stiff and strangely grim, as if Kirk had just escaped a Romulan detention cell after 10 years of captivity. This was especially evident in the early scenes.



Both Shatner & Nimoy seemed to have trouble getting into a certain groove again. Perhaps they should have studied tapes of themselves on the old show, though this may have been purposely avoided because the characters WERE older (though only about 3 years older, according to the internal Trek chronology). Nimoy had another excuse, in that his character was purging himself of emotion as the story began. Even Shatner cannot be blamed for everything in regards to his stilted character, because the dialog is unrefined in places: Kirk “needs” McCoy, then he “needs” Spock. What was really needed was a polish or another draft of the script, cleaning up the clumsy  dialog.
The new characters of Decker (Collins) and Ilia (Khambatta) did not fare better. Decker is, at best, quite bland, and his antagonism towards Kirk is unconvincing. Any melodrama or dark moods, one would think, should involve the huge threat approaching Earth, but it seemed like the focus was on who respects whom and all about careers in the first half of the film.

So, when the heroic officers finally do encounter the threat in the film, do things improve? Not really. Unbelievably, the slow pace becomes even worse at this point. Part of the problem here is the great size of the ship, the entity which will become known as V’Ger. The Enterprise slowly explores the area around and in the gigantic ship and the draggy pace we experienced when Scotty gave Kirk an exterior tour of the Enterprise near the start is magnified here to the point where I’m straining not to shout at the screen “something happen!”


The size of the giant ship, V’Ger, prompted a certain kind of approach by the filmmakers - Wise and the FX technicians. Because V’Ger is so big, the audience is unable to view the ship in its entirety or see what form it takes (except in a later shot as it reaches Earth). The Enterprise and the crew are too close to V’Ger during most of the film, their perspective allowing us to view only small portions of V’Ger. These scenes are all quite dark visually, presumably purposely mysterious, and, rather than promote wonder in us, just exasperate us, testing our patience. I strain to make out what I’m looking at during this sequence and, even after multiple views, I’m still not sure during much of it. Could this have been done successfully? I don’t know.


There are no real answers to the questions posed here; the questions are deep, upon reflection, for a Hollywood film - asking about the purpose of existence. The thing is, if a filmmaker sets up such thoughtful questions, he’d better be prepared to come up with some conclusions at the end to balance things out. The further evolution of V’Ger by merging with a human being at the end recalls the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, to an extent. In fact, many of the scenes of the crew exploring V’Ger, notably Spock’s solitary expedition, seem to copy Kubrick’s sci-fi venture into visual poetry. But, grafting on the elements of such a sixties science fiction seminal work onto Star Trek almost guarantees a cumbersome result. Very few, if any, of the original Trek episodes were anti-climactic; in fact, their conclusions were usually the strongest aspect of TOS.
A final criticism levied at this film is that it just copies the plot of one of the original episodes, The Changeling, with simply $40 million more dollars piled on. Frankly, I think I’ve mentioned enough negative points that there’s no need to belabor this last one. BoG's Score: 6 out of 10. And, for anyone familiar with Robert Wise’s work, the final result should be no real surprise. Yes, it’s one of his lesser efforts, but Wise’s films are all very serious, on the slow side and methodical; his most exciting effort, West Side Story, had a co-director and his most interesting (for me), Executive Suite, focused on corporate drama and lengthy dialog. His other sci-fi pictures, The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Andromeda Strain, avoided action and concentrated on ideas.
Star Trek the Motion Picture also focused on ideas (or at least one idea), to the exclusion of pacing, tension and action. Finally, was it necessary to name the threat V’Ger? If it had been called the mysterious Voyager, would that really have given the game away?

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The Motion Picture Behind-the-Scenes

Post  BoG on Tue Nov 04, 2014 7:39 pm




Trek Trivia: this first Trek film did establish a new opening weekend record at the box office to that point - almost $12 million;
this was surpassed by Superman II in 1981, and then by Star Trek II in 1982 ($14 million).
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