In 1979, my father took me to see “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” What I remember most from that initial viewing was watching a blurry first couple of minutes, then my father (who stands 6’4″ and was over 350 lbs at that point) yelling “FOCUS!” When people began cheering, he began yelling at them: “What are you clapping for? They didn’t fix it!”
And he was right; this “Star Trek” film lacks focus, from beginning to end. Critics of the day called it “Star Trek: The Motionless Picture.” The interaction Trekkers have come to love between characters is non-existent. It borrows its plot from a few of the series’ episodes. And yet, it remains one of my favorite “Star Trek” films.
The plot concerns an alien life force headed for Earth, destroying everything in its path. It is unconcerned with other life forms, unaffiliated with any other races, unable to focus on the needs of anyone other than its own single purpose: to find its creator.
I enjoy “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” because I appreciate that it shows us a side of “Star Trek” we have never seen before or since. In this film, you truly get a sense of how a large crew really needs to work together to get the behemoth that is the Enterprise up and gliding through space. We see the engine room as a place of graceful chaos, as Scotty crunches numbers necessary for operation. We see what happens when transporters aren’t fully functional. We see the administrivia that Admirals are forced to endure. We see Spock, back on Vulcan, struggling to bury his human emotions once and for all.
Additionally, the film is stunning to look at. Even now, 26 years later, the special effects, set designs and Jerry Goldsmith-penned score (all of which were nominated for Academy Awards in 1980) still hold up. How many other films can we say that of? Even “The Empire Strikes Back” needed a facelift when it was re-released.
The problem most fans have with this film is that it’s quiet. There is barely any dialogue and, in its initial release, that was especially true. However, in its release on home video, some 12 minutes have been added, and most of them deal with characterization. It’s also slow. The pacing is deliberate, and the film is long. It was directed by Robert Wise, the man responsible for one of the quietest (and, some feel, scariest) ghost stories ever made, “The Haunting.” Those raised on MTV styled cuts may have difficulty sitting still.
All in all, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” is a must-see for those fans who are interested in the little details, and who want to see the grittier side of running a starship. All others should begin their journey with the next film: “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”
Pros: Gorgeous special effects that still hold up. Not afraid to show the more boring aspects of space travel. An amazing moment where we see the new, revamped Enterprise in the hangar…
Cons: …that goes on for a mind-numbing five minutes. The rest of the film moves at pretty much the same pace. Fans familiar with the series will also recognize much stolen for the plot here.
Review Rating: 3 out of 5 hot bald chicks.
“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979)
132 Minutes; USA
Rated PG for sci-fi action and mild language.
William Shatner (Admiral/Captain James T. Kirk)
Leonard Nimoy (Commander Spock)
DeForest Kelley (Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy)
James Doohan (Cmdr. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott)
Persis Khambatta (Lieutenant Ilia)
Stephen Collins (Capt./Cmdr. Willard Decker)
Directed by: Robert Wise
Written by: Harold Livingston, based on a story by Alan Dean Foster and Gene Roddenberry (uncredited).
Viewing Format: VHS
(Originally published on SciFiWatch)