Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Now that I have completed reviews for TOS and TNG, it is appropriate to dele into the ten movies featuring characters from those shows. I am skipping J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek at least for now because I am fuzzy as to where it fits into the grand scheme of trek, assuming it even does. For the record, I liked it, but it just was not trek to me.

You may consider the preceding an ironic statement considering Star Trek: The Motion Picture also feels as though it is marginally Trek. It has a distinct feel compared to the remaining film in the series. This notion, more than any other, convinces many fans that the feel of TOS was due more to Gene L. Coon than Gene Roddenberry. I will elaborate more later, but when Roddenberry was kicked upstairs, the franchise was handed over to Harve Bennett for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. He viewed the entire series in order to get a feel for what the show was about. He took the best elements to craft the subsequent films. The best elements evidently being those Roddenberry had nothing to do with.

I am not going to blast Roddenberry much more in this review, save to say he was not a very good writer. Like George Lucas, he can create wonderful universes, but he has to hand them over to others for them to shine. Roddenberry also made a mistake by using a script from the scrapped Star Trek: Phase II series as the script for TMP. One of the biggest problems with TMP is a slow paced, padded story that does not merit being a major motion picture. It is just not big enough.

It cannot be stressed enough how padded and slowly paced this movie is. It is often called Star Trek: The Slow Motion Picture or Star Trek: The Motionless Picture. Again, I am only blaming Roddenberry for the weak aspects of the story. The rest of the glacially slow pacing can be blamed on poor editing. The first special effects house really botched the job, so a second group was assigned to do the film. They worked day and night to get it in on time. When they did, there was no time to properly edit the thing.

Hence, there are some incredibly long sequences with nothing but Klingon ships flying in a straight line, Kirk’s shuttle flying towards the Enterprise, and a mind numbing sequence during which the ship flies into V’Ger. All you see are dazzling blue lights and occasional glimpses of the actors’ faces, gazing in awe. They look like they might say something, but they never do. The shortest of these sequences is three and a half minutes. That is three and a half minutes of watching special effects that do nothing to move the story along.

Do not get me wrong. The special effects were quite good for the time. They still produce an interesting atmosphere even thirty years later. But at times, you get the feeling TMP is a special effects presentation created by a special effects house to land job with some Trek actors thrown in as scene breaks.

I used the director’s cut for this review, so I watched the best possible version in order to be absolutely fair. It did not help, which bugs me. Robert Wise directed one of my favorite films of all time, much less in the science fiction genre: TheDay the Earth Stood Still. I expected much better from him.

Enough of that. Let us get into the story. In the first few scenes, we are introduced to three and a half minutes of Klingon ships flying in a straight line. They encounter a giant blue cloud. Being Klingons, they decide to destroy it, but it winds up destroying them instead. A nearby starbase is also destroyed by the cloud, but not before letting Starfleet know the blue cloud is heading for Earth.

Starfleet opts to send its flagship to intercept it. The Enterprise has been undergoing refurbishing in order to explain it new, bigger budget look. The ship id now under the command of Decker. It is never mentioned onscreen, but he is the son of the commodore who went nutso in “The Doomsday Machine.” Decker was supposed to bea main character on Star Trek: Phase II. What he and his companion Ilea were supposed to be turned into Riker and Troi years later on TNG. For my money, there is not a whole lot recognizable here.

After introducing Decker, we get into the only discernable theme of the film: Kirk’s obsessive need to be captain of the Enterprise. In one way or another, that theme will run all the way through Star Trek: Generations where Kirk advises Picard to never let Starfleet promote or transfer him off that bridge. Ir is too special a place to be. Kirk is an admiral at this point, but he forcefully takes command of the Enterprise from Decker and demotes him for good measure. The rest of the crew is fine with the idea. They would rather have Kirk in command, too, even after serving with Decker for a year and a half.

The rest of the crew is quickly assembled. Spock ends some sort of spiritual ceremony on Vulcan to return to duty. McCoy refuses to beam up to the ship, so Kirk goes down there to demand he do so without knowing it was his old chief medical officer. The odd thing about the sequence is it comes five minutes after a transporter accident kills the science officer. You would think they should wait longer than that after a fatal accident to demand another use the thing.

Next, we meet Ilea. She has taken a vow of celibacy that is apparently so important, she has to mention it the moment she arrives on the bridge. I do not know about you, but the first thing I tell everyone on my first day of school or job is that I will not have sexwith any of them. It is best to go ahead and get that out of the way. Regardless, it turns out she and Decker have something going between them.

I need to pause for a moment and talk about Decker. He exists for the sole purpose of being a eunuch. Kirk takes his ship away from him, demotes him, and then ignores much of his advice throughout the film until he makes a brash decision that nearly causes the Enterprise to collide with an asteroid. Kirk concedes some expertise to Decker. He is a little rusty after sitting behind a desk for a couple years. then we meet Ilea. He has a thing for a woman who refuses to ever sleep with him Decker is in his mid-thirties, so I am going to assume he is not a virgin, but to devote himself to a woman he can never have physically just makes you lose all respect for him as a man. To call him a beta male is an insult to beta males. He gets gelded in TMP to the point you are disgusted by him rather than sympathize.

To make a short story excruciatingly long, the Enterprise leaves the solar system in a dazzling disco light show to confront V’Ger. They are attacked by blue balls, something I assume Decker can especially relate to. The attack lets Chekov get his third line of the movie--a scream of pain as he gets burned by one of the blue balls. Ilea oddly aits util the medical staff arrives to inform everyone she can heal his wound. So the fact she is celibate is in her official records, but her healing power is not. You have to wonder about Starfleet’s priorities. Itdoes not matter, since she gets killed by the next blue ball attack. We hardly knew ye, other than you never put out.

They eventually enter the blue cloud. It takes nearly five minutes of nothing but a blue laser light show. It is only broken up by panning shots of the crew’s faces. It often looks like they are about to say something, but they never do. They are just watching the light show like we are. They could have panned the camera around the theater audience and gotten the same result.

V’Ger creates a copy of Ilea to serve as an avatar, but the crew does not get much of anything out of her even though they put a silly headdress on her. For reasons I cannot put my figer on, this whole sequence of events, which is something that would have fit right in with TOS, seems dated and silly rather than an homage. It proved Trek had not grown in the decade it had been off the air. It is disappointing.

Spock decides to sneak off the ship to mind meld with V’Ger. It is supposed to be impressive looking, but his trip in a spacesuit looks less stunning than 2001: A Space Odyssey a decade prior. The mind meld does not go well. V’Ger is a living computer of pure knowledge which overwhelms Spock. Kirk goes out to rescue him, because the captain has no business being on the bridge in a crisis. Spock informs kirk V’Ger is headed to Earth looking for his creator. It will destroy Earth if it does not find him. What a temper, no?

In case you were not impressed enough with the blue light show earlier, you geta long, second shot at it as Kirk, Spock, Decker, and Ilea walk to the heart of V’Ger. It turns out to be the Voyager VI probe--the one with a message from future TNG and VOY writer Nick Sagan, so of Carl, offering a greeting from the children of Earth. Voyager VI fell through a black hole and wound up meeting an advanced race aporcypha sources have claimed is the Borg. They discovered its mission was to gather knowledge, so they built this ship around it andsent it homeso it could continue. It acquiredso much knowledge it developed sentience, but lacks maturity. The probe is basically a child, hence it is seeking out its parents.

Yes, it is essentially NOMAD from “The Changeling,” even down to Kirk announcing, with proper dramatic pauses, “We are your creators!” albeit with adifferent pationale for doing so this time around.

Decker decides he has been waiting his whole life for an opportunity to teach maturity to a child with theability to destroy planets, so he merges with V’Ger ad disappears. Neither he, ilea, nor V’Gerare ever heard from again. Doesanyone miss them? I have doubts.

As you can tell by the snark, I am not big on TMP. It has a wafer thin plot more suited for maybe a two hour television pilot, but certainly not a major motion picture. Aside from the technical problems described above, the real problem is Gene Roddenberry. He was not a very good writer. LikeGeorge Lucas, heisgreat at coming up with universes, but needs to hand them off to others for them to shine. The movie made enough money t justify a sequel. Paramount wisely kicked Roddenberry up to the front office and handed the reins to Nicholas Meyer. The subsequent films in the franchise were uneven in quality, but the highs were much loftier than anything TMP offered.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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