Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) – Review

3 Stars

The inaugural big screen voyage of the Starship Enterprise is a fairly dull and straight forward science fiction tale full of elements Trekkies will cherish but destined to leave newbies to the series out in the cold. After a slow moving first act that takes forty minutes of screen time to gather all the original members of the cast and set up a weak personal conflict between Capt Kirk and a younger Capt Dekker. The film finally blast off and is able to maintain interest throughout it’s elongated 145 minute running time. The script for this was original conceived as a pilot for a proposed second Star Trek Television series titled Phase II. Sensing they had a hit on the level of Star Wars Paramount quickly pushed and expanded the screenplay to fit a feature length film. Which may explain why Star Trek: The Motion Picture is such a curiously disjointed movie. The film looks great the producers must have thrown millions of dollars at this lavish production. Yet, it’s a shame they didn’t spend as much time on script and character development.

The original cast is front and center but the story truly revolves around Capt. Dekker and his battles with Kirk to maintain control of the Enterprise. There is also a silly sub plot that centers on Dekker’s unconsummated infatuation with a beautiful member of the federation known as Lt. Ilia. When an alien probe kills his beloved girlfriend and takes her physical form Dekker finds himself still strangely attracted to her. Maybe fans feel that Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is the silliest of the franchise I argue that this picture is by far the strangest. The entire plot hinges around the consummating of a man and machine. It’s quite unexplainable. However the acting is top-notch all around and its great fun to see all the returning cast members particularly McCoy and Kirk. If anyone is left stranded it’s Spock, he serves no real function to the story and is included more for tradition than purpose.

A dazzling and majestic score from Jerry Goldsmith is the best thing to come from this outing. It would later be reintroduced as the theme for ST:TNG some 10 years later. This is a picture that holds many awesome sights and thought provoking debates on friendship and loyalty, but it’s also labored and talky. Casual viewers of the Star Trek Franchise may want to adjust the rating down by a half star.

Director: Robert Wise
Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley

One thought on “Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) – Review

  1. Star Trek: The Motion Picture lacked a strong plot. In fact, it seemed to be an expanded version of a previous Star Trek TV episode “The Changling.” Unfortunately, this film tried to imitate the cerebral 2001: A Space Odyssey rather than the action packed Star Wars. It was ultimately a poor choice as the more exciting Star Trek II: The Wraith of Kahn proved.

    Several cast members later stated that they knew the film lacked warmth and soul. Nimoy said that he talked with director Robert Wise about adding some humor to the script but was told that it would clash with the serious tone of the script. Fortunately, director Nicholas Meyer in the next Trek film restored many of the human qualities Star Trek fans wanted to see.

    To further the problems in this film, tremendous sums of money were spent on sub-par special effects, a problem remedied in most later Trek films by hiring George Lucas’ ILM effects studio to create a believable sci-fi experience.

    Alas, this film should have been shortened by at least thirty minutes. The endless dialogue and long pans of the camera make this a difficult film to sit through. Years later, the Director’s Cut on DVD re-edited the feature to improve many of the endlessly tedious scenes. Also, Paramount put some money into the DVD by improving some of the special effects. From memory, I would say that the Director’s Cut on DVD was a better version than the original release.

    To be fair, while this film lacked a lot of what fans wanted, it was nice to see the cast on the big screen still looking relatively young. It also did enough business to launch several more better films and other Trek TV series that expanded the Star Trek universe. Few Hollywood products (perhaps none) have had longer, successful runs and impacted so many people around the world. Truly, Star Trek remains in a class by itself.

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