Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Movie Review: Star Trek The Motion Picture

    People say that there’s some kind of ‘curse of the odds’ thing with Star Trek, where only the even numbered movies are good.  I don’t agree with that.  The Motion Picture gets a lot of flack for being boring, I don’t think that’s the case at all.  It isn’t an action movie, which is something a viewer needs to know from the start.  It is much more the attempt at thoughtful science fiction the show tried (and rarely succeeded) to be.  This is much more in the spirit of 2001 than Star Wars, which is probably one of the reasons it isn’t generally well received.

    The story is, like many of those of the original series, quite simple.  Something big and powerful is heading toward Earth.  Kirk and friends get roped into figuring out what it is and how to stop it.  Spock has lost his spiritual way, and comes back to join Kirk and the rest, looking for something, for a purpose.  That’s basically it.  That’s the so called A plot.  The B plot is about a young captain with a chip on his shoulder, and his alien ex-lover.  In the original show, the crew of the Enterprise came across many godlike beings and many supercomputers.  In some ways, this story is a culmination, or perhaps a distillation, of those episodes.  Elements of Nomad, the Doomsday Machine, the Squire of Gothos among others can all be found.  And then there are the elements that would be carried over into the future.  Obviously, there’s Jerry Goldsmith’s theme which would open Next Gen.  But also, the story of Decker and Ilia would be recreated in Next Gen with Riker and Troi.  It plays out differently, but it’s clearly a dry-run.  There are also elements I think laid some groundwork for what would become the Borg.

    There are problems with the film.  I normally like Stephen Collins, but I don’t like him as Decker at all.  The wormhole sequence is silly and pretty much just waists runtime.  The color scheme is odd, being mostly grey and beige.  And yes, some of the sequences go on for a long, long time.  I don’t mind.  Like 2001, there are extended shots of ships in space, landscapes, etc. with swelling music.  It isn’t action packed.  It takes its time.  I understand why many might not like it, but I’ve come to appreciate these moments of grand exploration.  Once again, taking a page from 2001, this movie is in part about the evolution of humankind, about our children, not individual children, but the children of humanity.  At its heart, the movie is about the nature of being, about the meaning of life, and about the desire to know.

    Like The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before, this is a start in a direction I think could have been very interesting.  But it was not to be.  With Wrath of Khan shifted gears as dramatically and definitively as The Man Trap.  Fist fights and space battles would be the name of the game.  Like those original pilot episodes, this feels out of step with the rest of what was to come.  A false start.


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