Through the years, I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with “Star Trek.” I’ve been through periods where I obsessively watch episodes EVERY SINGLE DAY for months, and then not watch anything related to it for years. And so on; I’m a geek, and one with hyper-focus, and by now that’s probably no secret to anyone reading this.
I also go through periods of watching the movies, and while I’ve seen most of them, I’ve made a point of skipping 1 and 5, universally recognized as the worst in the bunch. But I’m taking the plunge. I’ve seen the good, now it’s time to embrace the bad.
“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” premiered in 1979, ten years after the show was axed. My mom made the point, and I believe it’s a fair one, that the fans really didn’t care if the film was good or bad, it was more important that “Trek” was back. With that in mind, I can’t really be too hard on the movie.
First, the story; out in space, but a little too close to Earth for comfort, some super-ultra mega unknown entity with infinite power wipes out some Klingons and some humans as it travels toward Earth. Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) bullies his way back into command of the newly remodeled Enterprise, pushing Captain Willard Decker (Stephen Collins) aside, and gathers up the original crew to go meet this terror head on and hopefully save the planet from certain destruction. Not a terrible setup, but “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” is pretty bad, and here’s why.
1) Wooden acting - To be completely fair, this is not all because of Shatner. From Leonard Nimoy, to DeForest Kelley, and even James Doohan, they’re all a bit rusty and bit unsure of themselves, except Nichelle Nichols (In the words of Kandyse McClure (Dualla on BSG), she really is “dope” and totally at ease in her underexposed role; kudos). It’s hard to watch the actors’ struggle, but that’s not all the movie, which brings me to my next criticism…
2) Way too long - A half hour could have easily been sliced on this movie, but I’m guessing the director, Robert Wise, felt the need to showoff and give us endless space scenes of special effects and pretty pictures of nothing happening. The pacing is so slow that 136 minutes feels twice as long. Fortunately, later directors learned from that mistake. Along with this next one…
3) No humor - As a viewer, funny goes a long way with me. I don’t need every movie to be a laugh riot, but “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” takes itself way too seriously, and the lack of anything fun in this movie just seems to be contrary to what the original series and the subsequent movies where all about. Sure, there’s danger and death in every mission, but they still manage to enjoy their jobs. Not this time though, and it’s an awful shame.
But, like most things, there’s an upside: “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.” “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” may have sucked, but the sequel didn’t, and we couldn’t have gotten that without this first misstep. Hard to think badly of it with that in mind.
“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979)
Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Harold Livingston
William Shatner (Admiral Kirk)
Leonard Nimoy (Spock)
Stephen Collins (Decker)