Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Movie Index

STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE

Directed by Robert Wise (1979, Paramount Pictures)
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Persis Khambatta, and Stephen Collins

After a major overhaul, the Enterprise is called to investigate an unknown alien starship heading for Earth.

View count: 3 times

 

 

3 stars

>December 29th, 2001 on DVD  
   

This movie takes place on its own terms.  It never goes faster than it has to, and lets us discover things at the same pace as the characters do.  The mystery is interesting, the revelation superb, but the climax is slightly less than fulfilling.  Still, watching these characters interact is worth almost any movie revolving around them.

When watching this movie, it is important to remember where it came from.  Being the first Star Trek movie, being the first time this crew was seen in new material in ten years, means that we could not jump right into an adventure like we did with Generations.  We had to introduce the crew again, one by one -and they each get their own reverential entrance, and we are introduced to the ship, newly built, and with styles that better matched the late 1970s (and must have cost much more money!).

The first thing that I really want to mention, however, is the score.  Superb and fabulous!  I realize that some of this is fairly new or re-edited, specially for the DVD, but the themes and tones used were incredible.  There were hints of the old Trek TV theme, as well as the new theme that would later become the main theme for The Next Generation.  It is my favorite of all the themes (with the possible exception of the one for Enterprise, because I think it's a great song, and it fits the opening credits perfectly), with its trumpets blazing, horns blowing, and strings humming.  The music where the klingons are attacked, however, was a close second.  It invoked suspense and fear -what would happen! 

The idea of a menacing cloud aiming for Earth is not new -it has been used effectively on numerous shows and movies (and again in Trek IV), but is really just a means to an end.  The real story is the way the crew investigates it, is probed by it, communicates with it, and tries to figure out its purpose.  The revelation that this is an old Earth probe returning home after becoming sentient, wanting to meet and merge with its creator, was superb.  It would have been nice to see the grimy letters appear when Kirk rubs them clean, and come to the revelation by ourselves, but having him read them out is the next best thing.  It is so much more logical than the similar message in the Planet of the Apes remake, but I wonder where V'Ger learned to read, and why it couldn't discern its own name properly.  If the machines communicated with it, they might not have learned its name if those components were damaged, but they wouldn't have been able to read, either.  If it was Ilia, shouldn't she have seen the grime, too?  I think it's best not to dwell on such things, because they are a standard in the Trek universe.

Once V'Ger's purpose is resolved, the way that they go about concluding the story leaves a little to be desired.  Decker (a new character, and thus one that will not survive) decides that he must give the final codes personally to V'Ger, and once the decision is made, he begins to shimmer and somehow merges?  And V'Ger shimmers and moves on to another plane of existence?  A little anti-climactic.  Did it leave its treasure-trove behind for the planet of its creator to investigate?  

I am in the midst of watching over again the complete Classic Star Trek TV series; in fact, I'm about to start the third season.  This marks the beginning of Shatner's real overacting, where it is much more noticeable than it was in earlier seasons.  And I noticed it here immediately in the movie.  He's not a great actor, but he still does a good job with Kirk.  Kirk has the intuition that is necessary for commanding a mission like this one.  It is also in character for him to blow up at Decker when his orders are countermanded, even though Decker didn't have time to explain his reasoning before doing something about it.  His loyalty to Spock is shown in the scene where he is ready to go after the Vulcan in his own space suit, when Spock comes flying out of V'Ger's hatchway.

McCoy didn't get a lot to do in this film.  He had some great scenes where he was able to put Kirk into perspective, make him wonder if he was acting out of jealousy and malice, wanting to retain the Enterprise after this mission.  I can't figure out why McCoy kept appearing and disappearing from the Bridge during key events.  Sometime he didn't even say a word!  He would just walk on, then exit a few minutes later.  It seems bizarre.  

Spock was, as usual, the most developed.  He begins the film searching for his logical self, trying to purge all emotions in the deserts of Vulcan.  He rejoins the Enterprise when V'Ger approaches Earth and he senses it.  Through the film, he begins to realize that logic alone is not sufficient.  This lesson is compounded by the fact that V'Ger cannot conceive of life different from its own, but our crew can.  Spock concludes that V'Ger must move on to another place of existence (where the basis for that observation comes from is unknown), but that V'Ger itself cannot conceive of those other planes.  It needs a human to transcend itself.  I think that Spock realized that for himself, as well.

As outsiders, of course, Decker and Ilia could not survive the film.  But they were dealt with much better than other outsiders have.  Ilia became an interpreter, when V'Ger realized that it had to communicate through the carbon-based beings, instead of ignoring them.  And her transformation into a drone  is what prompted Decker to try and bring out her emotional side (they were in love once, years ago on her homeworld of Delta).  It also makes his decision much easier when he merges with V'Ger, because he will also be merging with Ilia's spirit.

I have never been fond of the idea that humans must transcend to another plane of existence to evolve, but this story did a fairly good job of it.  But this wasn't really a movie about an alien visiting Earth, it was about rediscovering the Enterprise and its crew.  The long and close-up shots of the spaceship as Kirk approaches it and as it leave spacedock were amazing -just sitting watching that beautiful bird was mesmerizing.  Sure, the pacing was slow, and at times a little dull, but that was made up for in the way the characters fell into their classic roles so easily.

A note on the DVD special features: I don't know if they are worth watching twice.  Phase II has never interested me, so I was restless while watching that documentary.  The "making of" and the creation of the Director's Edition were neat, though, and I was quite interested.  It will have to be a long while before I sit down to watch them again, though.  The Promos were horrible!  I know that Paramount has always been bad at making promos, especially when it came to DS9, Voyager and now Enterprise, but you would think for a movie they would go all out!  The TV spots were short enough that they were slightly better, but still well below what I would have expected -even for 20 years ago!  The deleted and modified scenes would have been more interesting if I was more familiar with the movie.  As it was, some of the things were so subtle that they looked the same to me.  The parts that I am most looking forward to are the commentaries -but I'll have to watch the film twice more to see them, as they go scene by scene, either in text or audio overlay!  I will wait for that, but I will eventually watch them.

This was far from the worst Trek movie, but not close to the best, either.  As a start to the movie franchise, it was good, but it lacks the passion seen in some of the other movies, as well as many of the TV episodes.  It was more about exploration, though -both of an unknown entity and of ourselves, mostly through Spock.  In that, it succeeded.

 
   

Back to Top

All reviews and page designs at this site Copyright (c)  by Warren Dunn, all rights reserved.