Star Trek 50th Anniversary Special Part 1: Star Trek: the Motion Picture

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Throughout 2016, I will revisit all six of the original Star Trek movies on all the 0dd-numbered months. I will also be counting down my favorite Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Animated Series episodes (and the worst ones too). I won’t be looking at the “Next Generation” revivals of the 80’s and 90’s, as I feel that should be a separate entity. I also won’t be looking at the JJ Abrahms reboot, because while I do like it, I think they don’t have the magic of Roddenberry’s vision, and they’re too recent. Let’s star with The Motion Picture.

After the series was cancelled in 1969, Roddenberry didn’t give up on the series. He wanted to make a movie and he’d also considered a revival. Filmation got the rights to make an animated series that only lasted 22 episodes, even reuniting most of the original cast. Then Paramount decided they wanted to launch their own network, and a new version of Star Trek, called Star Trek: Phase II, would be the flagship program. (Keep in mind this was the 70’s, a good twenty years or so before the United Paramount Network was launched) Paramount did back out on the network, but they went ahead with the movie anyway. Three movies helped influence the idea that a Star Trek movie should be made: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and of course Star Wars. All had done well at the box office.

In this first movie, the Enterprise investigates a black hole, as it is the only spaceship near its vicinity. (get used to this loophole if you’re a starting Trek fan, folks) Kirk assumes command of the Enterprise, hoping to relive his glory days, and even invites Spock, Scotty, and the rest. Deep within the black hole is a sentient being without form, and its presence has even been felt by Spock while he was performing a ceremony to help suppress his humanity. He realizes his friends are in danger, so he beams to the Enterprise as well. The entity takes over a crewwoman, calling her V’ger. It wants to contact its creators. It’s not a bad plot, even if it’s similar to the Original Series episode “The Changeling”.

Of the six original Star Trek movies, The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier receive the most scorn.  The Motion Picture is so infamous for its slow pace that it’s nicknamed “The Motionless  Picture” or “The Slow-Motion Picture”. The uniforms are rather drab and don’t look nearly as grand as they do in the sequels. I think the main problem with this movie is it’s trying too hard to emulate 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s a great movie. But, this is not the kind of movie Star Trek should be. It relies too much on its special effects and music and not enough on its story. The visuals are impressive for the time, but the pacing could be much better. Fortunately, Roddenberry did learn from his mistakes and made better installments.

Is there anything positive? Yes, as I said, the effects are worth the budget, even with the four long minutes we spend watching the Enterprise slowly disembark. (As SF Debris put it in his review, “We’re going to see the Enterprise for the rest of the movie anyway, we might as well get on with the story.”) The music is great, in fact the main theme became the theme of Star Trek: The Next Generation, with some slight changes. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy put on great performances. (I’ll admit I didn’t like DeForest Kelley in that 70’s beard, but thankfully, he does go back to no beard later on in the movie) The movie did do well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel, despite the low reception from critics. While it has not aged well, I still think it’s worth watching.

In March, I will be looking at one of my three favorite movies in the series, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.


Author: rocklobsterjwt

I am a Christian and an anime fan. My blog will cover anime reviews and maybe an occasional story

5 thoughts on “Star Trek 50th Anniversary Special Part 1: Star Trek: the Motion Picture”

  1. I think Star Trek is, and always has been, closer in concept to “2001” than “Star Wars.” “Star Wars” is high fantasy with lasers; it isn’t science fiction. “Trek”, like “2001”, is exploratory–as much about human challenges as about action. As an eight-year-old in 1979, my experience of “The Motion Picture” in the theater didn’t match the pacing of the original-series episodes I was already very familiar with from reruns on TV, but the grand scope of the film blew me away. “TMP” has a sense of visual grandeur that was never again approached in the ST films. I don’t like the drab costumes either, but honestly, the only Trek costumes I really dig are the ones on the original series and the ones in the Abrams movies–primary colors! I didn’t mind McCoy’s beard, either–Leonard “Bones”McCoy was a Georgia boy, a country doctor, and a big ol’ hillbilly beard is exactly what this East Tennessee Trekker imagines McCoy could probably let himself grow if Starfleet ever let him off-duty long enough.

    Between people judging this film for being ‘motionless’ and people judging the Abrams films for being ‘too actiony’, I often feel like many Trek fans just want Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan over and over–but wait, they don’t want that either, because they sure hated “Into Darkness.” Star Trek is about exploration of outer space and the frontiers of human potential. “The Motion Picture” was all about an extreme experiment in human evolution, in the end. It was also about celebrating the return of a beloved show–something I understood through the eyes of my parents at the time, and have come to be able to see, after a fashion, through the lens of my own love for the Original Series–my favorite of all Star Trek’s many incarnations. I don’t think all the Trek films should have felt like this one–Roddenberry’s guiding principle for “Trek” was IDIC: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. But this was a fine maiden voyage, and it’s not the film’s fault, nor that of director Robert Wise, who made the similarly operatic-paced, and similarly-beautiful “Sound of Music”, if today’s attention-challenged audiences have trouble accepting it on its own terms.

  2. I don’t know how I missed this review. This is my favorite of all the theatrical Trek films. The cinematography here is the most beautiful that would ever be achieved in the series; I felt like the story, which, at the end of the day, was about a being trying to find its place in the universe and how that search reflected back on humanity, was certainly as much “Trek” as the faster-paced, more-popular, and to me, overrated “Wrath of Khan”, which I can hardly sit through anymore. The pace and the length, I would argue, are nothing to do with Roddenberry and everything to do with director Robert Wise. This is the man who directed “Sound of Music”, not exactly a rocket-paced film either. But Wise’s deliberate pacing was just fine for me, in a film whose concerns are more intellectual and emotional than action-oriented. The much-beloved “Khan” is way more of an action movie than this is, and yet people whined about the lack of ‘intellectual content’ in the Abrams movies. “ST:TMP” is the only actually intellectually-concerned film of the original-series run of movies, and it’s the most reviled. This is why we can’t have nice things.

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