Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Star Trek: The Non Motion Picture

Damn, I missed the date I wanted to do this post by 3 minutes. Well, pretend this post was made on Monday December 7 because that was the date I was aiming for. Why the special date? Because it was 30 years ago today, December 7, 1979, that Star Trek: The Motion Picture opened.

A date I remember well. I became a fan of Star Trek in the 70's while the show was in syndication, viewing it religiously every week day at 5pm. When the news came out that Star Trek was returning it was the end all and be all of my existence. I talked my parents into taking me to see the film on opening night even though it was playing out of town. We drove through heavy rain to sit in a packed domed theatre filled with other Trekkers anxious to see the rebirth of Star Trek. It was warm and musty with the standing room only crowd. Then the lights went down. And the music started. And we saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

And it...was...BORING!

The film started off majestically enough, Jerry Goldsmith's graceful, exhilarating score backing expensive visuals of the Klingon warships being destroyed by a big blue swirlly thing. Then we caught up with the Enterprise and Admiral Kirk as they regroup to face the intruder. Some excitement for a second when a transporter malfunction kills science officer Sonak. Then, like Sonak, the excitement is gone. They try to go to warp speed but hey-it's a wormhole! More temporary thrills that ends with a confusing bang. Spock arrives and they go to warp and meet the big blue thingy.

This begins the INCREDIBLY BORING PART, where they spend what seems like light years (this is where someone should tell me a light year is a measurement of distance, not time) flying into the cloud. The bridge crew (and us) watches the viewscreen as we go over the hill and through the woods to V'Ger's house we go. Then the bald navigator gets zapped, but because she was a new cast member who cared? She comes back as a robot, so what? Spock goes on a 2001 A Space Odyssey trip into V'Ger which was OK...then that part ends. Finally the voyage ends with a bunch of pretty lights and that was about it.

It was probably just as boring to read me recap it than to see it. There was some applause at the end of the film but mostly there was weary silence.

Yet the Star Trek phenomenon could not be stopped and the film earned big box office (even though production costs that included the aborted tv series Star Trek Phase II made it one of the most expensive movies to make up to that point. And like Star Wars there were all kinds of toys that were released (I had this Enterprise that made warp engine noises that were louder or softer depending on how high you held it in the air) to make some bank.

And though it is dull, as a true fan that means I've only seen it about twenty times since 1979 (most recent time was two weeks ago). There were some cool things about ST:TMP, in addition to Goldsmith's outstanding score the USS Enterprise never looked better (or gotten as much attention thanks to a lengthy fly by of the ship while in drydock). Some of the shots of the ship are reminiscent of the flying sequences from Superman (which was released the year before). Starfleet Command gets a bigger presence including shots of San Francisco and director Robert Wise gives a futuristic 2001: A Space Odyssey feel to the movie. There is a feeling of the large vacuum of space and man's small place in it. The Shat is in full effect ("It is MY intention...to be ON THAT SHIP...following that meeting", "Would you puhleeeze...sit down", "Damn it Bones I need you. I - NEED - YOU"). Plus that cover art! Freakin love that cover art with the three multicolored faces (which I had once heard Deforest Kelley felt slighted by not being featured on it).

ST: TMP was meant to be the pilot episode to Star Trek: Phase II and so it seemed like no mistake when I sat down with friends years later and saw this remade into the debut episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (episode Encounter At Farpoint). Many of the ideas from ST: TMP were moved to that show, such as the two bridge personnel with a romantic past, a giant nemesis that turns out to be a lifeform seeking ascension, and skin tight uniforms (which is really funny in ST: TMP because even as a kid I saw there would be scenes with Stephen Collins interacting with the late Persis Khambatta where he was blatantly bulgy right there on the big screen. I know she's Deltan but I think he was method acting if you know what I mean).

In the DVD age Robert Wise was able to go back and redo ST: TMP into a directors cut with new special effects and to be honest, it is a vast improvement. Even though little of the dialogue scenes that were reinserted into the tv movie version (something the movie lacked was the actors doing anything except react to what V'Ger was doing, these scenes broadened their relationships to each other) made it into the directors cut, the film seems to move better and the revised effects particularly at the end of the film makes a huge difference. Best of all, that distorted matte painting of the Enterprise hull when they walk on the outside of the ship is gone. I remember seeing that and thinking "what the hell is that?".

The first Star Trek movie is still kind of blah even with the recut, as a fan though I can dig it. Like Spock trying to reach Kohlinar, ST: TMP is a noble attempt at bringing the high minded themes of Star Trek to the silver screen minus chaotic human emotions that falls flat because of their absence. Even with that, it is a memorable piece of my childhood and one of those "bad movies" I will go back to seeing time and again. And its proof of a mass worldwide audience allowed for Trek to continue for decades to come. It was 30 years ago that the human adventure continued for a short lived low rated tv series.


Arsenette said...

Never was a trekkie.. in fact when I saw this movie I was married.. yeah.. LOL!!! I was told though.. "even-numbered Star Trek movies don't suck".. Thanks for the review though. It's nice to see a review from someone who watched it in the movie theater!

Mr. Mike said...

Thanks Arsenette, your comment reminded me of how after seeing it in the theater I couldn't bring myself to admitting to anyone that it sucked until years later. Yeah, most odd number Trek was lame though I did like Star Trek III.