Review: Star Trek: The Motion Picture [1979]; A Decent Concept, Flawed in Its Execution

Aʟʟ ᴏᴜʀ Pᴀsᴛ Rᴇᴠɪᴇᴡs —

Sᴛᴀʀ Tʀᴇᴋ Mᴏɴᴛʜ ɪs ᴄᴜʀʀᴇɴᴛʟʏ ᴏɴ!

a review by the Crow.

Captain‘s log, Stardate 96652.39: I have a confession to make. This is the first time I’ve ever watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture (or any of the Original Series movies). I’ve been aware of the concept and the general story for some time, but never got around to watching the movie. Part of the reason, I suppose, is my preference for Star Trek in TV format rather than cinema. I grew up during the Next Generation era, and only visited the original series much, much later. However, outside of casual strolls on Wikipedia, I never found it important to visit these installments in the Star Trek franchise (I’ll lay some of the blame for this sentiment on certain movies that followed them).

Even today, I hadn’t intended to watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture. These movies were meant to be the Azure-Winged Magpie’s charge (with two exceptions) during “Star Trek Month” on The Corvid Review. However, due to our current circumstances, it was I who fired up the copy, diverted power to the aft kettle, and strapped in to watch…

STAR TREK
The Motion Picture

SPOILER LEVELS at MODERATE

(This will be a rather short review.)

The first thing that strikes me about Star Trek: The Motion Picture (or TMP, for short) is how different in tone it is when compared to the original series. It begins with a relatively short — and quite underwhelming — action sequence, and offers us a look at the first of the many major Klingon redesigns over the years (thankfully, this is the Klingons’ only appearance in the movie). The battle switches back and forth between the Klingon K’t’inga-class battlecruisers and Star Fleet (oh, I’m keeping that space) station Epsilon Nine as the Klingons try to fend off a massive, slowly-approaching blue cloud that has seemingly appeared out of nowhere. And right off the bat: everything about Epsilon Nine looks… terrible. There are flaws in the composition that movies over ten years The Motion Picture‘s senior had avoided. And yet: director Robert Wise is an accomplished film-maker. And this is not me nitpicking. The movie has a continual issue with scenes involving objects (bar the Enterprise, but especially in the case of people) set against the backdrop of space. For reference: Spock’s later EV-journey stands out like a sore thumb.

The mood amongst the crew is also significantly less pronounced as everyone assumes a more sombre tone for the movie, with the slight exception of Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley). And the lighting within the Enterprise is just… off. Everything is darker and there is a depressibe sort of low-light that we have to work with. Sure: they throw dramatic shadows up, but I’m more worried about what might happen if one were to drop a pen and have it roll away (if such a situation was ever important in Star Trek).

Even the massive blue “cloud” that becomes our de facto antagonist looks underwhelming — at least to me — up until the very end, where its original form is revealed. And the effects are far poorer than one would expect from a movie with a budget on the scale of TMP, and the expectations of the fanbase as it should have been back then.

As far as the story goes, Star Trek: The Motion Picture has a solid core at its heart, but it really fails to hit the marks it wants to. There is an undercurrent that’s pushed into the picture, stemming from the “competi[tion]” between James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Willard Decker (Stephen Collins) — the man who would be captain of the Enterprise following Kirk’s promotion to Admiral. And yet, it never rhymes with the story as related to the massive blue “cloud”. I can afford the movie some space, here, as the crew starts out broken, and find their places again by the end, but it just feels like a plot better left to a movie that deals with something else.

There is a romantic angle that’s… alright. It never hits the right notes, but it exists as-is. However, this romantic angle leads to a “teach the machine the ways of the carbon-based lifeform” subplot that I find supremely annoying (perhaps because I’m fatigued with the idea). However, in a way, this subplot does tie into the overall story, however weakly.

The entire premise of the mission seems bizarre to me as well. The Enterprise has just been refitted (and not on schedule). Half of its systems haven’t been tested, and this is the ship that’s being sent out to deal with the issue at hand? That makes zero sense. And yes, this is addressed multiple times, as the Enterprise repeatedly falls into problems, and is incapable of going to warp (again: couldn’t the crew jump on a working starship?) When she does go to warp, she ends up in a… wormhole, which the crew escapes by… firing on an asteroid…? And this somehow is the engine’s fault?

I’m sorry. I’m just searching for any semblance of sense, here (I’m also not very fond of the visual effect).

And just to get one thing out of the way: it takes us nearly forty minutes for the Enterprise to go to warp. The movie is a little over two hours long.

Of course, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) shows up, and magics everything back into working order. As a matter of fact, he magics a lot of things together. I can chalk a lot of this up to his unexplained connection to the “massive blue cloud”, which is a plot point that really doesn’t go anywhere significant.

However, there is a hilarious moment where he turns around and tells Kirk that he suspects

there is an object at the centre of the cloud.

— Spock, Star Trek: The Motion Picture

…and Kirk reacts as if Spock has just told him that his pet’s died. I’d assumed — given the dialogue preceding this moment — that it wouldn’t be that much of a shock to think so.

And on that note, let me just gloss over the performances in this movie: Nimoy, Collins, and Kelley do good jobs, Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) and Ilia (Persis Khambatta) are fine with what they’ve got to work with. ScottSulu, and Chekov (James Doohan, George Takei, and Walter Koenig, respectively) barely leave a mark, but Shatner… oh my.

A lot of people like William Shatner’s performance in this movie; and while I don’t deny that William Shatner is capable of some monstrous levels of over-acting, I usually think he’s quite alright up until certain… moments. Here, he’s a perfect fit as Captain Kirk. He almost owns the role (because, let’s face it, he is Captain Kirk), but it’s something fundamental to the movie that undoes his performance. It’s the length of the shots. In certain scenes, Shatner holds a face that looks just fine, and as time goes on, the whole thing begins to become comedic. It’d be easy to blame Shatner for these moments, but I’m placing some blame on the director and the editor as well, here. A good performance could have very well been saved. Some of the bit-part players are quite terrible at their jobs, as well.

It’s ultimately too long, and trying too hard to be 2001: A Space Odyssey. It could have been much, much better, but as far as I’m concerned, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a failure, in my eyes. Some scenes involving the Enterprise, and even parts of Spock’s “journey” through the “orifice” are quite nicely done, but it’s also a disappointment on a visual basis. The music is of a much higher quality, and is probably the best element of the movie.

Although my rating might suggest that I hate this movie, I actually don’t. I find myself disappointed by it, yes; and I wouldn’t recommend it, but I strangely don’t dislike it.

It’s — of course — important viewing for Star Trek fans if they haven’t yet seen it (as if there are many left now that I’ve completed my personal ritual of watching The Motion Picture, but not necessary viewing.

I’ve given considerable thought to what I’ll settle on for my score, and will unfortunately have to hand Star Trek: The Motion Picture a much lower score than I’d have ever thought I would. So disappointed was I, in this movie, that I immediately went straight to the next movie in the series (widely considered to be the best of them), to hopefully satisfy the upset Trekkie in me.

Tomorrow, I’ll put on record what I thought of it.

— Crow out. 


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Final Ratings

THE CROW: 2/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 0.5/10


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See Also


Here’s the official poster:


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