“Mr. Scott, an alien object of unbelievable destructive power is less than three days away from this planet…Ready or not, (the Enterprise) launches in twelve hours.”
As ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture‘ dropped back in 1979 movie fans (and Paramount execs) were looking for that “Star Wars”
money magic. And what they got was, well, “Star Trek”. A sci-fi film replete with ground breaking special effects, top-notch production values, perfectly restrained performances, and thought provoking concepts…with nary a war to be found.
As a kid I missed much of what makes this cerebral, slow-burn post-Star Wars experiment so special. With every other film studio rushing to give audiences all the space opera thrills they thought they desired, creator Gene Roddenberry and director Robert Wise chose, instead, to use Paramount’s precious money creating idealized science fiction. Taking cues from Kubrick’s ‘2001’ rather than any frivolous space “shoot-em up.”
Big concepts put in a simple story. With a mysterious and massive cloud of energy laying waste to everything in its galactic path towards Earth, Starfleet calls upon the intrepid Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) to retake command of his once beloved Starship Enterprise and resolve this potentially planet ending crisis.
Dragging along his old pal Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) Kirk joins his original crew, the ever so logical Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and the somewhat disgruntled Captain Decker (Stephen Collins) whose just been sidelined.
Little time is spent on “been there, done that” exposition. If you’re not already familiar with these characters and their exploits that’s entirely your problem. Quickly establishing that, for better or worse, this sea of maybe familiar faces serve their preordained posts both admirably and unobtrusively. Beyond Kirk, McCoy, Spock, and Decker there’s little need for character development.
The narrative flows like a musical theme park ride through lovingly crafted spaceship models, striking Art-Deco interior sets, and impressive pre-CGI effects. On a big screen the spectacle is awe-inspiring. Reason enough for why it probably fell flat when viewed through my parents’ paltry 19″ pan/scan TV back in the 80s.
Unfortunately, the simplistic plot and ill-defined characters leave little to care about. Even the twist ending fails to resonate much beyond its cleverness. The visual/auditory experience alone is meant to hold our attention. And from composer Jerry Goldsmith’s epic overture until final credits crawl it’s hard not to be enthralled from the craftmanship presented.
That an ultimate solution is gained not from shooting laser beams or dueling light sabers; but, from careful deliberation and collective problem solving represents precisely the utopia Roddenberry always envisioned for “Star Trek”. However, utopia’s are boring. And this film’s lukewarm reception, both critically and commercially, would get Roddenberry benched for the more (melo)dramatic sequels.
1979’s ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture‘ stands as an grand illustration of cinematic artistry and vision. It’s no wonder that entire effects sequences, concepts, designs, and music would be recycled in future Star Trek products. For fans of science fiction this is a no-brainer Recommend. For everyone else? Well, that’s entirely your problem