The Rewatch 75: The Motion Picture

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Rating: PG
My Grade: 3/5

Notable Guest Stars:

Persis  Khambatta – Lt. Ilia.  She was an model and Femina Miss India 1965.

Stephen Collins – Captain William Decker.  Stephen Collins is probably best known for his role as the father on Seventh Heaven.

Review:

The first film for the TOS cast was STar Trek: The Motion Picture.  It was released in 1978, and was the highest grossing of all the TOS era films.  It also had one of the largest budgets and costs.  It shows in the film that the studio, and perhaps the production crew, were a bit stuck on the idea of making an epic movie.  After the recent sucesses of a couple Science fiction films, it seems ready for Star Trek to enter the film market.

THe pathway to the movie was not smooth at all.  Gene Roddenberry had dreams of a film back when the show was still on the air, but Paramount was not into the idea.  Then they were, and it just seemed like they couldn’t quite settle on how to tackle it.  Once again they considered another television show called Phase II.  This show as eventually morphed into the final script that would become The Motion Picture.

This is probably my least favorite of the series outside of Into Darkness.  In their attempts to be ‘epic’ they missed the bar on what it meant to be Star Trek.  There is more flash and style then there is character.  Half the cast are sidelined rather then being allowed to shine in the longer format that film allows them.   The premise is not horrible, but the follow through was not up to expectations.  Granted, my expectations might have been different if I had seen this when it aired instead of decades later after growing up with TNG.

The movie starts with the V’ger enity coming across some Federation science stations and a group of Klingon fighters.  It does not end happily for anyone.  V’ger is after one thing, and one thing only.  They want to find their creator.  The organic infestation is not needed.

Will Decker, the new Captain of the 1701 is finalizing the refit of the ship that has taken 18 months to do.  The timeline of the movie is a bit vague. Its been at least two and half years that Kirk has been Admiral and head of Starfleet Operations.  It has been close to 10 years since the series end so my guess its somewhere between the two of those.  Kirk arrives on the Enterprise with some bad news – V’ger is coming towards earth so he’s retaken command of the Enterprise and temporarily demotes Will back down to Commander.  Unfotunately he’s not the only one.  Christine Chapel, now a doctor and CMO of the ship has been demoted to include McCoy back on the ship.

As an extra surprise, we get to see Janice Rand again.  She is now an officer, currently working in the transporter room.  It doesn’t start off well for her, as they have the first transporter accident shown on screen on Star Trek (TNG and later series would make various episodes of transporter malfunction).  Two crew people are killed in the malfunction, starting the mission out on a sour note.

In fact, nothing is really going well for any of our crew members.  Spock, whose been on Vulcan trying to achieve Kol-in-nar, starts sensing V’ger.  They blame his human half for having feelings and he doesn’t get his achievement necklace.  However, Its his telepathic Vulcan half that recieved the message so I don’t know.  The vulcan Kolinar master seemed to understand it better then Spock did.

This film is basically The Changling done better, with better sets and special effects.  V’Ger eventually turns out to be Voyager VI, a fictional probe sent out in the 1970s who ran into a machincal world and comes back searching for the creator and doesn’t quite understand it was made by organic beings.  Now two Voyager probes were sent in the 1970s, but they never got up to the number 6.  It takes the crew a while to figure out that V’ger is a former human probe. While they are figuring that out, V’ger attempts to communicate with them through the form of Illia, a Deltan officer who was acting navigation officer for Decker.  She also happened ot be his ex.

Decker & Illia’s story, or at least what they planned for the series, was later used in part in TNG in the form of Will Riker & Deanna Troi who have quite a happier story.  They have similar backgrounds.  Decker was assigned to a position on Delta, and fell in love with Illia while he was there.  In the end he choose his duty to starfleet over love and left.   She later joined starfleet herself, and now arrives on Enterprise to be a navigator.  However it ends up being her last mission, as she is killed in the first interaction with V’ger.  Decker then has to deal with the fact that the probe uses her body (although It was never clear to me if it was her actual body or just a fabrication) to communicate with the organic lifeforms.

Kirk manages to trick Ilia!probe to lead them to the heart of V’ger, where they discover that V’ger is actually Voyager.  Decker ends up saving the day by becoming one with the Illya probe and giving V’ger the needed sense of humanity. 

This film doesn’t have any real importance to the rest of the franchise.  This incident to my memory was never mentioned again in a later film or show.  The only things that linger from this movie is that the new title sequence music was used as TNG’s main theme, and the concept between Decker and Illia’s love story was reused in TNG as well.

I think it came off more as a “Look what we can do now” film then a Star Trek film.  Star Trek, to me, has always been about the characters.  Sure, its got action, drama and all that, but the characters drive it, not just the action.  This film didn’t have a lot of the character.  Kirk, McCoy and Spock of course feature heavily, but the rest of the main cast seem bit parts rather then co-starring.

Chekov and Uhura especially get sidelined in this film.  Sulu gets a bit more feature as the pilot but not much.  Scotty has a few scenes as the engineer, and he gets to show Kirk around a bit, but I can’t say he features much either.  Christine has very little to do in the movie at all, and this movie is probably the longest her character is featured in any of them.

Another issue I had with the movie was the costumes.  To me they always looked like pajamas.  I also have a problem with one piece outfits and jumpsuits.  Which becomes a problem when I get to DS9 and see more people out of uniform and in some one-piece out fits that I just hate.  The TMP outfits also have this bulky belt buckle type thing on their fronts that makes no sense.  Perhaps it would have had this been a TV show they could explain later.   In any case, while I’m not a big fan of the next stage of uniforms they are considerably better then the ones in TMP.

There are also too may shots of staring at things that are unnecessary.  We don’t need to watch the Enterprise launch after the whole scene with Kirk taking a look.  One or the other could have been removed.  The amount of time we star at V’ger to some 80s sci-fi music is a bit much as well.  I feel that if I could edit it, there would be at least ten minutes edited out of unnecessary shots like these.

I will say, despite the unnecessary ‘epic’ shots that were unnecessary (redundancy is a theme in this movie) , the music was excellent (bar a few sound effects) for this movie.  I’m not entirely sure why they forgo using the original theme in the movies, but the TNG theme is quite cinematic in tone.  It was a bit overused in the theme, but the music was good.  Casting was also excellent.  Acting was a bit stilted at times, but the crew for the most part got back in character like it had been yesterday.

Rating:  B-.  

Interesting Notes:

  • This film was original set to be the start of a television series called Star Trek: Phase II (at least as a working title).  Eventually it was transformed into a film script instead.
  • Directed by Robert Wise
  • Screenplay by Harold Livingston, Story by Alan Dean Foster.
  • Film score is by Jerry Goldsmith who would continue to produce Star Trek scores for the next 23 years.
  • James Doohan created the Klingon words spoken in this film, which lay the basis for the language created by Marc Okrand.

Pros:

  • It brought back the franchise and set the scene for the much better Trek movies to come
  • Vulcan backstory
  • The music

Cons:

  • The Costumes.  Its like they realized how bad some of the costumes got at the end and figured “Oh, the way to correct this is to cover everyone up in pajamas!”  They were wrong. I didn’t really care for the Red jackets they have next, but its better then the pajamas.
  • It has a tendency to have unnecessary long shots of things.  We don’t really need a good 10 minutes of film in this movie as its just staring at the abyss that is V’ger or oogling the Enterprise.

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