Directed by: Robert Wise
Produced by: Gene Roddenberry
Screenplay by: Harold Livingston
Story by: Alan Dean Foster
Cinematography by: Richard H. Kline, A.S.C.
Production Designed by: Harold Michelson
Edited by: Todd Ramsay
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Stephen Collins, Persis Khambatta, James Doohan, George Takei, Majel Barrett, Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols
1979 / 136min. / Rated PG (Sci-Fi Action and mild language)
Ten years after its cancellation from television, Star Trek: The Motion Picture marked the first voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise on the big screen. Even though it launched a film franchise of eleven motion pictures (each of varying success), Captain Kirk and company's first motion picture journey was to mixed results.
When a mysterious cloud plots a destructive path through the Klingon Empire into the heart of the Federation, destroying anything in its path and threatening Earth, the newly-refitted Starship Enterprise is launched before she is ready. Kirk resumes command of the Enterprise, removing it from the young Wilard Decker, who holds a grudge against Kirk for demoting him from his rightful position of command.
As much as it was a result of Paramount trying to capitalize on the success of Star Wars and the renewed interest in Science Fiction, The Motion Picture is more like 2001: A Space Oddysey then it is Star Wars. The Motion Picture is overly long and dull. Too much time is spent on special effects sequences that go on for endless spans of time. While the director's cut (released on DVD in 2001) is able to tighten the pacing, it is not enough to keep it from becoming a snooze-fest. While the special effects are impressive (although some do not hold up to the test of time) and the first fly-by of the refitted Enterprise is glorious, all of this could have been trimmed significantly. Too much emphasis is placed on the visual effects then on the actual story and character interactions.
Another of the film's problems is that this lays the groundwork for some what would lead to Trek's eventual "falling out"; it's becomes caught up in its own tech. Much of the first half hour is spent showing off the new Enterprise. While impressive as the sets appear (for 1979, that is) and are significantly improved over the television sets that look like they could fall over at any moment, too much time is spent showing them off. It's as though the filmmakers are screaming "look how cool this thing looks"! At the same time, the improved look of the Enterprise is a big improvement over the series model.
Much of the first part of the movie is spent on technical jargon and focuses on tech problems that add nothing of significance to the plot. While the initial transporter incident allows for the return of Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), there are things that really could have been left on the cutting room floor. The entire wormhole sequence was completely unnecessary, and resulted in nearly ten minutes of screen time being wasted. This could have been cut and never have been missed.
What adds to the film's dullness is that it lacks real heart. The characters feel flat and dull. It's hard to really care about them. As much fun as it is to see the original characters return, they're dull and not given much growth. We aren't really given a chance to catch up because of all the focus given to the look of the film. While we care about them, it's only because we know who they are. Whereas the new characters of Decker (Stephen Collins) and Ilia (Persis Khambatta) are given no time to develop. While it is told they have a history, it really isn't shown, even though that history and the "feelings" they have for one another play significantly into the conclusion. And unfortunately because of a lack of material to work with, the entire cast almost seems uninterested and are only going through the motions.
DeForest Kelley is strongest as the lovable Dr. McCoy, but he's not given much to work with, walking on and off the bridge at random. There's is one scene where he walks in, watches for a couple minutes, then walks off without anything to contribute. His best moments are when he first boards the ship with the trademark McCoy rant, and later in the captain's cabin when he chews Kirk out, calling him out on his obsession with the Enterprise and that he has no intention of returning the ship to Decker. Unfortunately, Kelley isn't given enough to do.
One of the biggest disappointments is the lack of interaction between Kirk, Spock and McCoy. One of the things that made Star Trek so wonderful was the wonderful chemistry, bickering and dialogue between these three. Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley had such great chemistry in the series, chemistry that is present here, but is so brief that you'll miss it if you blink. Had this interaction and their chemistry been played up a little more, The Motion Picture might truly have had a little more heart.
The Motion Picture does get some things right. Jerry Goldsmith's score is grand and majestic, probably the best Trek score to-date. The main theme (the Enterprise theme) is not only my favorite Trek theme, but probably one of my favorite movie themes of all-time. It is so dynamic it can be used almost any instance. It's so great that Gene Roddenberry chose to use it as the main theme for The Next Generation. Goldsmith's love theme for Ilia is one Trek's most romantic theme and is unforgettable. It's a real shame that Goldsmith, who was nominated for an Oscar for his work, did not get what he deserved.
One of my biggest complaints about the Star Trek movies is that they feel small. They don't feel like big space epics. A lot of that is because of Paramount's desire to keep the budget under control. The Motion Picture, though, has that grand and epic feel. It feels like a big event movie and doesn't feel like it could've been told in a TV series. It's this feeling that helps improve The Motion Picture.
The Motion Picture is also probably the only Trek film that is most like the series in its attempt to be cerebral. It doesn't try to to be exciting, it tries to make you think, particularly with its examination of the question Spock poses, "Who am I? Is there nothing more?" While this is what Star Trek has always attempted (make people think), the lack of heart and engagement detracts from the significance of the finale.
Speaking of the conclusion, almost two hours of the movie is spent building up to a big encounter with V'Ger. The question is pondered throughout, "Who is at the heart of this cloud?" and "Can they be reasoned with?" Unfortunately the payoff is rather disappointing and anticlimactic as we discover just who (or what) V'Ger really is, its origins, and why it is on a quest to reach Earth. It's really these questions that question that keeps the viewer interested in an overly long and dull movie. Had the conclusion been more fulfilling, The Motion Picture most likely would've been a much stronger movie.
The Motion Picture might be a mixed bag of a movie, but it does have its moments and was a big enough success to launch off the Star Trek franchise. With a little more editing both in script and in the editing room, a little bit more character and heart, The Motion Picture could've become a great Sci-Fi classic and the definitive Trek film. As is, though, despite its attempts to be thought-provoking and significant, The Motion Picture is overly long, dull and unengaging, much to its detriment.