On the heels of a new J.J. Abrams Star Trek film, I’ve decided that I’m going to watch and review all the Star Trek films in order, leading up to the release of the new film. To be perfectly honest, I don’t have terribly high hopes for the new Star Trek just based on the advertising campaign, and I’m not really thrilled of the notion of showing a post apocalyptic version of Star Trek. But it is Star Trek, and I am a fan, so will be seeing it. Somehow watching all of the other films beforehand might help me build my immunity in case the new film is a travesty. At any rate, I hope you enjoy this series leading up to the new films release!
Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a film I haven’t seen in a while and probably for good reason. It’s easily the slowest and most difficult Star Trek film to sit through. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film though. It’s got some interesting elements of science fiction, particularly the return of the Voyager spacecraft as an emerged consciousness. This Trek film also sports the best model work out of all the Trek films (yes, even the new ones). But the visual effects are part of the films difficulty as for many sequences we have to sit through what feels like several minutes just showing off the Enterprise, or even longer scenes of of the Enterprise moving through the alien spacecraft. It’s all pretty to watch, but it feels like it drags the story to a snails pace, when our biggest concerns should be with the characters and their personal issues.
Thankfully the film picks up after the arrival of Dr. McCoy, and Deforrest Kelly adds a lot of much needed lightness and humor. This Star Trek film I found to be the most difficult to connect with the characters, in that so much time is spent in between the spectacle and trying to move the story forward that I felt it difficult to engage with any one characters issue. It feels like we’re scattered equally among separate character motivations, and there isn’t anyone in particular that’s a driving force for the film. Kirk is rusty behind the wheel of his ship, having not served as Captain for over two years. His problems “competing” with Commander Dekker seem somewhat petty. It’s not like Star Trek 2, where more attention is focused on Kirk’s aging and dealing with his mortality, as well as his usefulness to Starfleet. This film taps into that a little bit, but I never get enough of the sense of Kirk leading the way here.
As for Spock, he’s got problems of his own, being turned down in a ritual to purge himself of all emotion. Spock joins the mission to seek out this alien threat, which is based in logic, for his own search for meaning. There is even some wonder among the crew if Spock’s personal ulterior motives might end up sabotaging the mission. But again, there is a lack of drive in the story to give us more investment in the kind of mythological heroes journey he undergoes here. It’s that lack of who and what to focus on that doesn’t do much to bring everything together by the end of the film. There was something about Spock’s story that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Why is this journey to find himself happening for him at practically middle age (ignoring for a moment the Vulcan’s prolonged lifespan)? If this ritual of his to find his life purpose were happening at a younger age, maybe it would be understandable about what he’s going through to want to have all emotion purged. But for a character like Spock to be struggling and moping that he doesn’t know who he is seems out of touch for the character we know who is wise beyond his years. The message seems almost too obvious by the end of the film, about logic embracing with emotion and humanity. This seems like something he would already know about himself, and if anything, he would have been put to more use serving as a guide for the Voyager entity to understand its purpose than trying to figure out his personal problems.
One of the more interesting characters for me was Captain Decker (Stephen Collins), who holds his own as a commander, and thankfully the writers never stoop to giving him a cocky attitude by comparison to Kirk. Decker actually makes all the right decisions when he knows more about the ships newer operations than Kirk. However, we aren’t given enough time in the film to really feel much for his relationship with Ilia, especially to make their sacrifices at the end more powerful. We get the two have a relationship and a history, but the film doesn’t do enough to explore it as there’s just too much else going on. There just doesn’t feel like much behind the sacrifice to mean more than just the message of technology and humanity embracing.
I find it interesting that during this period with the rise of computer technology, there were many films that talked about the debate of whether technology would overrun us or if humanity would prevail. We saw this previously with Star Wars with Luke having to shut off the machine and trust his instincts. I’m also reminded of Tron and the image of Flynn at the end diving into the MCP, and the two merging to become one. Although I think Tron makes a bigger connection thematically than Star Trek: The Motion Picture does. This film also seems more bogged down in seriousness than other Star Trek films, which is why Bones is so desperately needed by the time he shows up. The aging Trek crew doesn’t hit their stride until the next film came along, which makes this film, for me, the most difficult to sit through. I know for most people they say Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is the worst Trek, but I actually love that film. I admit it’s a terrible film, but I actually love it for its stupidity and outrageousness, and most of all, to me, it’s still more fun than this film. There’s plenty of dazzling visuals in this movie, and it achieves some of the greatest model work in motion picture history. But the plodding, serious story, and too much time spent glamoring on visual effects shots over moving things forward gets in the way of what could have been a more fun and engaging science fiction story.
#StarTrekTheMotionPicture #StarTrekReviews #FilmCriticism #FilmReviews #moviecappastartrek