Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Release Date: December 8th, 1979 MPAA Rating: G
Director: Robert Wise Actors: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins, Grace Lee Whitney, Majel Barrett
t begins with the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” music (or, rather, the incredibly recognizable theme music by Jerry Goldsmith that that later television series would borrow), before showing unconvincing spaceships cruise across a starry stretch of space. This orchestration is so striking and momentous that it’s difficult to imagine how the picture’s impact would be reduced in its absence; surely the gliding vessels would be unforgivable without such a lead-in. It’s so grand that it crafts a specific identity for the film: one of adventure and excitement, in the vein of other space operas of the era.
The Epsilon 9 communications station picks up alarming visuals: a powerful energy field that destroys a fleet of Klingon cruisers. Charting its course, it’s hypothesized that the glowing cloud of electrical currents will pass into Federation space soon, heading directly toward Earth. Meanwhile, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is unable to secure an emotional peace during a ceremonial discipline on his homeworld of Vulcan, as the very same energy field utilizes some sort of consciousness to call upon him. And at Starfleet’s base of operations, Admiral James Kirk (William Shatner) plans to intercept the alien object of unbelievable destructive might, since his former ship, the Enterprise, has been given back to him – complete with 18 months of redesigning and refitting.
Aiding in the mission is Kirk’s original crew, including engineer Scotty (James Doohan), communications chief Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), the doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and bridge members Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Sulu (George Takei). Newcomer Captain William Decker (Stephen Collins) loses his command to Kirk, though he stays on as a commander and science officer, while navigator Lieutenant Ilia (Persis Khambatta) comes aboard at the last minute for the sake of a sexy female addition (evidenced by her eventual donning of a costume that is little more than a bathrobe that reveals shapely legs). And, of course, Spock has to join them at some point for a proper and complete reunion.
Shatner still can’t deliver his lines with an appropriate level of sincerity, though the various characters fall back into their signature roles with a certain ease. And it’s undeniably amusing to see this ensemble cast return to memorable personas from the short-lived but famous television series of the ’60s. A good deal of time has passed, but these actors are essentially as they were before. Plus, familiar technology (such as transporters and phasers), the look of the ships and alien inhabitants, the hum of the turbo shafts, the whistling of incoming calls, the droning of the red alert status, and the neon lights of warp speed are all welcome revisitations to the source material’s sci-fi staples.
Unfortunately, with all the routine reacquaintances and the relishing of getting everything together to reboot the franchise, the story becomes something of an afterthought. It is, in fact, consequential enough merely for an episode of the TV show; it could even be an unused idea resuscitated and fleshed out for this feature length endeavor. As a result, the padding is evident: the introduction (or re-introduction) of the Enterprise might be a monumental occasion for fans, but it’s also a ponderous sequence, which seems to carry on entirely too long. And an investigation of the energy cloud turns into an overlong display of flashing lights and kaleidoscopic lines.
The special effects aren’t bad for the late ’70s, but they’re not pushed far enough to surpass peers; instead, one gets the sense that the modelers were so proud of their invention that they demanded that every inch of it should garner screentime. Nevertheless, there’s wonderment with the mysterious antagonist, particularly as the lofty idea of an unimaginably superior being (of something incompatible with the carbon lifeforms of humanity, akin to artificial intelligence), confined by the inability to rid itself of cold logic, must be negotiated with like a child. The concept might be too far beyond the generally small ideas of Enterprise’s missions of exploration (suited better, perhaps, to the likes of “2001: A Space Odyssey”), but its complexity and originality is fascinating and epitomic science-fiction.
– Mike Massie