Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a 1979 film directed by Robert Wise. The film is based on the series that aired in the United States between 1966 and 1969 (I recently finished watching every single episode and you can find all the related reviews here). As you can easily guess from the content of my blog, I love Star Trek. Yet, I had never written about any of the Star Trek movies! The time has come to start doing that.
A mysterious alien entity is en route to Earth. Along its path, it easily disintegrates three Klingon warships (K’t’inga class) and the Federation’s Epsilon Nine space station. The Enterprise is given with the mission of intercepting the entity but, surprisingly, Kirk (William Shatner) is not the captain, as he’s been promoted to admiral. The Enterprise captain is Decker (Stephen Collins), and it doesn’t take long for him to lose his seat: Kirk doesn’t want to be a passenger on his Enterprise! This causes some frictions on board and two red shirts lose their lives (in the usual teleportation accident), something which allows Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to get on board as a science officer to replace the deceased Sonak (Jon Rashad Kamal).
When the Enterprise arrives in front of the alien entity, things immediately turn for the worse as the entity kills poor Ilia (Persis Khambatta) and replaces her with an android capable of communicating with humanoids. The entity claims to be called V’ger and starts a confrontation with the Enterprise crew, and especially with Spock.
I don’t want to reveal anything else about the plot to focus on an analysis of the film. Robert Wise was no unknown director, having worked on dozens and dozens of films of virtually every genre, even though he was not an actual author (as a French film critic would put it). Here he made a film that feels more like a long episode of the sixties television series rather than a movie in its own right. The rhythm is slow, the interactions between the characters are meaningful only because they rest on what was shown in the seventy episodes of the TV series, and there are many scenes that only seem to make the movie longer such as the famous scene of the Enterprise leaving the docking station: it’s four minutes long, but it feels much longer!
Moreover, the plot of the film reminds of that that of the episode The Changeling of the original series in which a Federation probe returned from far away after mutating due to an enconter with an alien probe. So, the plot is not very original and the soporific rhythm doesn’ t help to make it particularly compelling.
On the other hand, it’s well-known that the production wasn’t smooth at all. Everything started as a project for a second series (Star Trek: Phase II) which Paramount then decided to turn into a film after confirming the existence of a certain interest of the public towards Star Trek. For example, the 1976 Constitution shuttle was renamed Enterprise by popular acclaim! This doesn’t mean that the making of the film was simple, far from it!
The script went through a lot of rewriting, so much so that when the film began, the actors were told not to study the third act because it would certainly change shortly thereafter. It did, as the script was reworked quite a bit during the shooting of the movie: Leonard Nimoy spent many evenings working on it together with various others. In the end the credit went to Harold Livingston, but it’ s known that Gene Roddenberry and Alan Dean Foster, among others, also worked on it.
You may think that this is the perfect recipe for a disaster, but in reality the film is anything but disastrous. No one can sa that it’s the perfect start for the saga, though: it tries to copy, without much success, the atmosphere of movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), the plot is unoriginal, the pace is slow… But it also managed to re-propose the characters of a (then) ten years-old series in a convincing manner and constituted some solid ground for a series of films which got better and better.
The film was also a financial success (more than $130 million grossed worldwide against a budget of $44 million), although the studios were expected to earn much more. In fact, adjusting for inflation, it’s the Star Trek film that has grossed the most until J.J. Abrams ‘s reboot in 2009. However, it wasn’t a success among critics… I admit that it’s not the movie of the saga that I rewatch more often, but every now and then I do and it never disappoints me. I don’t appreciate the uniforms which are extremely different from those of the series, but the interactions between the various William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols are amazing and despite the weak script it’s still an enjoyable movie. Ciao!
- Movie trailer on Youtube
- Movie page on Internet Movie DataBase
- Movie page on Memory Alpha
- Movie review on The m0vie blog
- Movie review on Musings of a middle-aged geek
- Movie review on Reflections on cult movies and classic TV
- Movie review on Hande’s blog
- Movie review on The corvid review
- Movie review on Jammer’s reviews