Star Trek: The Motion Picture

[This review includes spoilers.]

Kirk: "Bones, there's a thing out there."
McCoy: "Why is any object we don't understand always called a thing?"

There's a reason fans refer to this movie as "The slow motion picture." You can hear a comedian saying, "Really? How slow was it?"

Well, the action skidded to a halt when Kirk and Scott took a pod around the Enterprise in space dock. It dragged and meandered when we got a long wormhole sequence. And again with the excruciatingly slow approach to V'ger. It probably looked gorgeous and somewhat like 2001: A Space Odyssey back in 1979, but I think it was a huge mistake to spend so much time on visuals. They also spent way too much time establishing characters that the audience already knew, at the expense of more interesting character development and a better story.

Maybe I'm being a bit unfair because of how this movie suffers in comparison to the superlative Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But unfortunately, at its core, The Slow Motion Picture is a really long, Roddenberry-esque searching-for-God outwitting-a-computer episode of the original series with a lot of updated visual effects, and costumes that reminded me of Tupperware. It did do a very good thing, though. When it first came out in 1979, fans of the original series had been waiting ten very long years for more Star Trek, and The Motion Picture got them excited about the franchise again. And what didn't work for this movie made the Star Trek powers-that-be think long and hard about what they were going to do in the second movie.

At any rate, I wish they hadn't given us Spock the crabby Vulcan. I rather liked the costume he arrived in, but Spock's grouchiness at failing Kolinahr practically negated all the progress he'd made toward relating to his crewmates during the original series. I did like that Kirk had been promoted to Admiral, and that after over two years in Starfleet Operations, he'd had second thoughts about accepting that promotion. And DeForest Kelley's McCoy was a breath of grumpy fresh air.

And hey, good for them, bringing back all of the original cast and even acknowledging that women had made some social progress in the 1970s. No more miniskirts! Janice Rand as transporter chief, and Nurse Chapel as a doctor! And Uhura had an Afro. You've come a long way, baby.

I thought Will Decker, son of Matt Decker from my favorite original series episode "The Doomsday Machine," pretty much worked, too. Stephen Collins did a good job as the displaced and bummed out captain, although his motivation for giving up his humanity in order to bond with an electronic version of his former girlfriend didn't really work for me. And that was probably because Persis Khambatta as Ilia, the Deltan, didn't work for me, either. We barely got to know her in the first place, and her death and replacement by an automaton in a bathrobe didn't affect me at all. As I already said, maybe they should have used some of the time spent on the lengthy special effects shots and explaining who the original crew were for more effective character development. (Apparently, they rethought Decker and Ilia a bit before giving us Riker and Troi in Next Gen. Especially the lack of hair.)


When I sat down to rewatch and review this movie, I hadn't seen Star Trek: The Motion Picture in a long time. It's not terrible, but quite honestly, it hasn't aged well. If you've never seen it, I don't recommend it. And fortunately, you don't have to see it to follow Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Which I do strongly recommend, because it is awesome.

Bits and pieces:

-- Star date 7411.4. I completely forget where they went this time.

-- The new music over the opening credits was used for The Next Generation. No original series theme.

-- There was new Klingon make-up that carried over to Next Gen, too, and they even got their own language. For that matter, so did the Vulcans.

-- Starfleet Headquarters were established as residing on Earth at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I'm pretty sure that was never mentioned in the original series, but call me out if it was.

-- The transporter accident was shuddery. It also felt like a response to the constant fan nattering about what an easy plot device it was. I also thought the "seat belts" were a response to fan complaints. The wrist communicators were a step in the right direction, although I rather missed the flip phones. (Maybe that's what they had glued to their stomachs in lieu of belts.)

-- One shot I really enjoyed was the landing party actually walking on the surface of the saucer, and stepping off onto those graduated octagonal steps. In my opinion, the best effects shot in the movie.

Quotes:

McCoy: "Your revered Admiral Nogura invoked a little known, seldom used reserve activation clause. In simpler language, Captain, they drafted me."
Kirk: (grinning) "They didn't."

McCoy: "Spock, you haven't changed a bit. You're just as warm and sociable as ever."
Spock: "Nor have you, Doctor, as your continued predilection for irrelevancy demonstrates."
I could have used more of this. Much more.

Uhura: "Heading, Sir?"
Kirk: "Out there. Thataway."

This is my second least favorite Star Trek movie. (So far, since they're still making them.) One out of four bald Deltans who should have been sexy and cool but wasn't,

Billie
---
Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.

14 comments:

percysowner said...

I saw this in 1979. I don't think anyone thought the tour around the Enterprise was anything other than long, really long and boring. Actually, some of us thought that 2001 may have been gorgeous, but that it was long and boring in parts as well.

Just as a happenstance my husband and I were discussing the movie without leaving our seats and suddenly they were seating for the second showing and we watched it again. My husband timed the tour of the Enterprise and it was almost 5 minutes of seeing the ship, with nothing else happening.

But it did well enough to give us The Wrath of Kahn, so that's something.

Mark Greig said...

Agree with everything you said, Billie. The whole film is just a big budget exercise in tedium. Thank god then for Jerry Goldsmith's wonderful score. There are so many great Trek film scores, but this one is by far the best.

Juliette said...

A group of friends and I have been watching our way through all of TOS and even the Animated Series, and next week we'll get up to The Motionless Picture. We plan to drink. A lot.

Juliette said...

(The transporter accident is pretty cool though!)

Anonymous said...

This movie was kinda slow and tedious..I never got why Will had to go with automaton girl either..
Anna

JimGfromWI said...

I just recently re-watched this movie as well, as I only recently got the blu-ray box set of the original movies. I probably like it more for nostalgia than anything else. You keep looking at the clock and thinking, when is SOMETHING gonna happen? At least they quickly realized the error of their ways, and we got Khan a couple years later. KHAN!!!!!

Steve S. said...

Wait, "second least favorite Star Trek movie" -- there's one that's even worse? Which one? I must have blocked it out.

I happened to re-watch 2001 with my 17-year-old son, who is thoughtful, insightful, and enjoys science fiction, including Trek and especially B5. He recognized the story and many references and implications, but still found it slow and ponderous. I have to admit that I didn't like it nearly as much, either. Seeing it in 1969 at the height of the space race and reaching for the stars, which all seemed imminent and inevitable, makes the difference.

Billie Doux said...

Steve S.,

ST5 is, IMHO, much, much worse than ST1. I had blocked it out too, but during my rewatch to review all the movies, I rediscovered why I had decided never to watch ST5 again.

Steve S. said...

omg right. I had blocked ST V out so much that I had to use wikipedia to remind me. That was the Shatner-as-writer-and-director catastrophe that failed to kill the franchise -- barely. Ugh. Right again, Billie. Thanks.

BTW, one night, I showed my son Space Seed, then Wrath of Khan, and then Into Darkness a second time. He very much enjoyed Ricardo Montalban's performances, and he enjoyed Into Darkness after having seen the first two eps for Khan.

Mark said...

Everything you said is spot on.

I can still appreciate the bright spots, given the circumstances surrounding the production. (Originally planned as a pilot for a TV series; studio decided it would be more movie-like by throwing money at the SFX department, which explains the long space scenes.)

Kathy said...

Hi Billie!

As promised, I'm posting. :)

I know I've mentioned that I do find TFF a lot more watchable than TMP, even to the point where I can tolerate TFF if I need cheering up, because I can't stop laughing at it. It's like a movie that Mystery Science Theater 3000 would riff on. It's so bad that it's hilarious!

But, TMP is a movie of another color.

It's joyless. There's very little that's fun about it. The special effects that were so exalted back in '79 look ridiculous today. And this is coming from a movie buff that is blown away at the special effects in the silent movies!

I've never been able to sit through the whole movie in one sitting or without my finger firmly planted on the fast forward button. As I said, while we may have a little more attention deficit in 2013 than in 1979, the pacing of TMP is horrendous. It's way too slow and meandering. The story, which could have worked had it had better pacing, gets lost in the stops and starts of the movie.

The characters are out of character, for the most part. We don't have any back story on them. And there's too much reliance on the new characters of Decker and Ilia. Sadly, I don't have the Director's Cut (Robert Wise hated the version that was released in theaters, believing it was unfinished), so these questions may be addressed in the Director's cut. But, why is Spock doing the Kolinarh? I get that it's a purging of emotions, and Spock is still trying to out-Vulcan full Vulcans. But, what happened between TOS and TMP to make him decide to do that? How long has passed between TOS and TMP? There's really no indication of how much time has passed. We know precisely how much time has passed between "Space Seed" and TWoK.

It's just an all-around uncomfortable movie to sit through. While the story is intriguing, there's really nothing to latch onto and say "I love this!" And, that's actually something I can say at various moments in the remaining 5 movies (yes, there is one scene that I absolutely love in TFF, but I'll tell you what that is when you post it.)

Good review, Billie!

Kat

ayasugi-san said...

I thought fans called it "The Motionless Picture", not "The Slow Motion Picture"...

About the movie itself, it's the only Star Trek film where I can't even remember the basics of the plot and how it fits together. I know there's V'Ger, and it kills Ilia, except not exactly, and Kirk talks it down, but what happens and why is just a blank.

Dustin said...

I try to imagine what it must have been like seeing the ship flyby on the big screen in 1979 where you were used to watching TOS on your TV at home (possibly even on a black and white TV) and only seeing the Enterprise zip by for a few seconds on the small screen.

The ship flyby is much more enjoyable than the excruciatingly long flight into V'Ger. While both scenes ARE waaaaay too long, but they do give a sense of how big the Enterprise is compared to humans and how small the Enterprise is compared to V'Ger.

I think we see more of the Enterprise in that first flyby than we ever see of the Enterprise E in all 3 of the movies that it was in. There must be a happy medium between the two situations.

It's always bugged me that the premise behind V'Ger is too similar to Nomad from the TOS episode The Changeling.

While I don't agree with it, I do enjoy the fan speculation that the planet that V'Ger found where it became sentient was a Borg world.

Great PurpleRobe said...

I was thrilled, back in '79, that there was a Star Trek movie, but it did in no way compare to Star Wars, so that was a big bummer.

The one major mistake they made, that would take 3 more movies to fix, was making Kirk an Admiral. Had they just left everyone alone, position-wise, the movie would have been far better. Kirk could have been portrayed as being a seasoned veteran of Command, finally growing into a position that he first assumed at a very young age. I don't think Spock would have resigned his commission (or taken a sabbatical, or whatever) had Kirk still been in command. They might have had to call McCoy out of retirement, because he was a bit older than the rest of the crew, but that by itself would not have been a huge disruption, and might have been even more fun than it was.

One of my favorite scenes from ST IV was the court-martial, (happiest court-martial on record) when Kirk was reduced in rank back to Captain. That scene righted a grave wrong. How much Admiral work did Kirk actually do from the time of TMP to TVH? According to the novelization of TMP, Kirk was something like the head of Starfleet Operations (or the Deputy Commander, I forget). He was basically in charge of the daily duties of thousands (possibly millions) of crew members on board ships, at space stations, at outposts, and bases on other planets. Operations also covers the ships themselves, deploying, commissioning, de-commissioning, and mustering starships throughout the Federation. Where does he have time to take command of the flagship and run around space for a couple of years? --JB