Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) Directed by Robert Wise. With William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and James Doohan.
I have never understood the rivalry between fans of Star Trek and Star Wars. There is nothing in the existing Star Trek canon that comes close to touching the cinematic achievement of the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s undisputed. People often cite The Empire Strikes Back as the greatest film of all-time, whereas, we call Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the greatest Star Trek film of all-time. It doesn’t take a warp drive engineer to see the difference.
I bring it up now, because this 1979 reintroduction of Star Trek was made possible by the success of George Lucas’s space opera. Before ’79, Star Trek existed as a cancelled 1960’s television series. The original series #(as it is now known) was fun and colourful, yet its success was a gradual achievement with people discovering it through TV repeats. Then, Star Wars exploded and sci-fi hit the mainstream.
Please understand, I consider myself a big Star Trek fan, yet, despite my love for it, I’m not blind to its frequent lack of quality. That lack of quality has never been more evident than in the various cinematic ‘Treks’. For years, people used split the quality of the films by the even and odd numbered sequels. 2,4,6,8 were considered “good”, while 1,3,5 and 7 (seven is OK, by the way) were labelled “bad”. Even the television series have been a mixed bag. The original series is enjoyable, but of its time, whereas Star Trek: The Next Generation did a great job of broadening universe, thanks to Rick Berman’s persistence and the darker spin-off show, Deep Space Nine, which added an underlying narrative depth to the canon. Voyager and Enterprise, however, offered little to tempt new fans and the the life of Star Trek as a TV experience fizzled off our screens in 2005.
What director Robert Wise unwisely attempts to achieve with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, is to emulate the symbolism-heavy science-fiction of Stanley Kubrick, thus creating a film that crumbles under the weight of its own self-importance. It doesn’t have the dry wit of a Han Solo, or the deep, spiritual aspect of ‘the force’. It has cardboard characters, walking around admittedly impressive looking sets (yay art department) omitting boring dialogue and sharing zero chemistry.
It’s one of those films that goes on and on, and never seems to end. Halfway through, you’re dying for an angry Klingon to erupt and start shooting the place up. Alas, it never comes. All we have is a convoluted plot that seems to slowly go nowhere. The usually charming William Shatner seems forced to apply the brakes as Captain Kirk. DeForest Kelley’s ‘Bones’ looks like he’s itching to let loose, but again, is hindered by a screenplay that seems underdeveloped. It”s all so hollow and lifeless.
The visual effects are good, but there comes a time in the film when they become experimental and overused. It really feels like there is less than half of a story to tell, and knowing this, the director crams the running time with long, drawn out sequences where no-one speaks and nothing happens. I think we’re supposed to be feeling awe at this stage, but we’re just bored.
The admittedly triumphant score by Jerry Goldsmith flatters to deceive. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a million miles wide and a few centimetres deep. It forgets its origins and takes itself far too seriously. If you must boldly go to this one, set phasers to snore. 2/5