Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

Trek Tuesday: Star Trek: The Motion Picture

With the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness set for release on May 17th, I wanted to go back and look at all the previous Star Trek films leading up to the twelfth installment.  So, every Tuesday will be Trek Tuesday!  We begin today with the first Star Trek feature film, aptly titled, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.TMP

The ‘70s were a strange time for science fiction.  Many films played with some big ideas, but they never came together in any meaningful way.  I am thinking of movies such as Logan’s Run and Silent Running.  Because of their uniqueness, however, they have become cult classics.  Then Star Wars hit, and sci-fi was forever changed.

Not surprisingly, Paramount Pictures saw they had this Star Trek thing and realized they had a potential gold mine for a film series.  The result was Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  The movie seemed like a fusing of those cult sci-fi films referenced above with the Star Wars-style special effects.  The end result makes the film a bit uneven.  Given the behind-the-scenes trouble this film had, we should probably be grateful at how well it turned out in the end.

In it, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) reunites with his Enterprise crew to head off a giant space cloud from reaching and destroying Earth.  V’Ger, as the cloud is known, is searching for its creator whom it believes is on Earth.  I will defend this movie (particularly 2001’s “Director’s Edition”).  I love the big ideas it plays with (the search for God being the search for self).  It is the closest Star Trek will get to hard science fiction.

The film has some fascinating character studies which surprisingly holds up to multiple viewings.  There is much to absorb from Kirk’s obsession to reclaim the Enterprise to Spock (Leonard Nimoy) finding balance in his life.  The special effects are amazing for 1979.  Honestly, it is tough to see something from this era still hold its own today the way The Motion Picture does.

That said, you have to realize this film is a product of its time.  The costume design, the plodding nature of the narrative, and the awkward alien Decker/Ilia romance were all staples of ‘70s sci-fi.  Because of that, the film can be hard to sit through at times.

Oh yeah, there is also this:

disco bones

Oh, the ’70s…

I do not know if director Robert Wise realized this, but he had a good story on his hands.  Instead of developing it to its fullest potential, he bogged the movie down with linger shots of the V’Ger cloud and the crew’s reaction.  I suppose it sets the tone well (especially with Jerry Goldsmith’s fantastic score), but I can put one to sleep it not in the right mindset.

Critics must have agreed, because Star Trek: The Motion Picture got blasted in reviews.  Though it was a financial success (the highest grossing Trek film until 2009), there was a general sense of letdown.  Perhaps people were hoping for more of a swashbuckling adventure more in line with the original series.  Whatever the reason, it left a sour taste in people’s mouths.  I still like this movie a lot.  I comes just sort of greatness, but it is not for everyone.

~N

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4 responses to “Trek Tuesday: Star Trek: The Motion Picture

  1. JD March 5, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Nice review. I think you elaborated well on the context in which the movie came out. That’s pretty important in this instance. Also I agree with your points for the most part.
    It’s too bad that they spent so much time showing off the ship because if you cut all those shots out the movie would be really great. The pacing is truly the biggest hinderance to my enjoyment of Star Trek the Motion Picture. The performances and the script were wonderful. I liked the focus on Captain Kirk dealing with aging and his obsession with the enterprise and his ego.

    It bothered me that they sent the Enterprise to save Earth because no other ships were around. Earth is the home of the Federation of planets. You’d think they’d have more than one ship in the sector ready to defend us. That’s just nitpicking though.

    Honestly Star Trek The Next Generation television show is the pinnacle of star trek for me but the TNG moives are horrible lazily written action movies that betray the tone and cerebral nature of the show.

    As for the original series films, they are mixed. I think Wrath of Khan, Star Trek the Motion Picture and The Voyage Home are the three good Star Trek movies while the other ones are pretty forgettable. I’d rather watch the original tv series or the next generation show rather than watch the star trek films.

    Star Trek 2009 was a different animal entirely. I think it’s an entertaining movie and I understand that they wanted to reach a wide audience but it is more of a fantasy movie set in space than a science fiction movie. That bothered me as a Star Trek fan. I’d rather star trek just die than mutate into something that misses the whole point of Star Trek but since that’s out of my control I might as well just try to enjoy Star Trek 09 for the good movie that it is despite it’s failings as a Trek film. I am somewhat looking forward to the sequel but I’m not even positive that I’ll see it in theaters unless it gets really good reviews or if someone asks me to come along.

    • Nick! March 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts!

      “It bothered me that they sent the Enterprise to save Earth because no other ships were around.”

      That is a standard trope of the “Star Trek” movies to the point that some of the commentaries jokingly say “This happens a lot.”

      “…the TNG moives are horrible lazily written action movies that betray the tone and cerebral nature of the show.”

      We’ll get there.

      “Star Trek 2009 was a different animal entirely…”

      It really isn’t, but I’ll save my comments for when I get there.

  2. CultureCast-Z March 5, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    One of the things I like about this film, and I still haven’t seen it in its entirety, is just how bold I think it is. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it tries to fuse Star Wars-style filmmaking with the experimental sci-fi of the 70s. That’s kind of a perfect description.

  3. Pingback: Trek Tuesday: The Wrath of Khan | The Culture Cast with Zack and Nick

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