Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek: The Motion Picture

“Out there. Thataway.”

Admiral James T. Kirk replying to a request for a course heading

posterWith the new Star Trek film coming out in a couple of months (Star Trek Into Darkness), it’s time to take a look back at the many Star Trek films that preceded it. Let’s start off with the one that launched Star Trek’s cinematic voyage, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

This film isn’t regarded as a top tier Star Trek film and for good reason. It’s slow moving, yet seems rushed and for good reason. Director Robert Wise recounted how far behind schedule they were that the effects work was only completed just before the film made its debut, translation: Wise didn’t have time to properly edit the film. On the other hand, it does have undeniable merits.

Out of all eleven Star Trek films (twelve counting Star Trek Into Darkness), Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the most majestic and oddly the most Trek like. Meaning that this film captures the core concept of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic view of humanity’s future. That is largely because Roddenberry produced the film and it’s the only one where he was directly involved. After its perceived failure, Roddenberry was relegated to a “consultant” role in the other Star Trek films until his death. In this film, we get a few glimpses of Earth and see that it’s a bright, pastoral paradise where people either wear New Agey type of clothing or bland Starfleet uniforms. The conflicts in the film are largely internal believe it or not. Sure, there’s the threat of this V’Ger entity that wants to annihilate life on Earth, but the problems that capture viewers’ attention are those with Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Commander Will Decker (Stephen Collins). Anyone expecting a mustache-twirling villain will have to look elsewhere.

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In between the original Star Trek show and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Kirk was promoted to a desk-bound position as an admiral and he’s bored. He’s in charge of refitting his old ship the Enterprise, which was supposed to be commanded by Decker, but Kirk uses the V’Ger threat as a excuse to take command of the Enterprise, which naturally angers Decker. Now with Spock, he’s retired from Starfleet and off in his home planet Vulcan undergoing this ritual to purge all emotions from within him, but he finds himself unable to go through with the process. He feels a calling, which so happens to coincide with the coming of V’Ger.

The film opens with V’Ger, seen as an immense multi-colored energy cloud in space that dematerializes three Klingon battle cruisers. It should be pointed out that this film is responsible for introducing the modern take of Klingons, now adorned with thick armor and sporting their distinctive sagittal crests on their foreheads. While the film properly shows how badass the Klingons were with their guttural speech, armor and a tribal music soundtrack, they are quickly taken out by V’Ger. It effectively illustrates the entity’s power and deadliness. And of course, it’s heading towards Earth.

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Equally convenient to the plot is how the Enterprise, although not finished with its refitting, is the only starship that can intercept V’Ger. How many ships does Starfleet have? But hey, what’s a Star Trek film without the Enterprise and its crew being the only thing standing between life and death?

Despite’s Chief Engineer Scott’s (James Doohan) usual protests that the ship isn’t ready, Kirk orders that the Enterprise be launched to confront V’Ger. Afterwards, the engineer entreats Kirk to an exhaustive external inspection of the Enterprise while in drydock. It’s at this point, that the film first rears its indulgent tone. Continue reading

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