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Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)


Star Trekkin’
Across the universe
On the starship Enterprise
Under Captain Kirk
Star Trekkin’
Across the Universe
Boldly going forward
Coz we can’t find reverse!

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a science fiction film based on the original Star Trek television series. It was directed by Robert Wise and stars the core cast of that series: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei.

In deep space, a Starfleet monitoring station detects an alien force hidden in a cloud of energy, headed for Earth. As Space Anomaly #237 continues on this route, it eats three Klingon ships and the monitoring station in question, prompting Starfleet to recommission Admiral James T. Kirk, currently languishing as a desk jockey in San Francisco as Chief of Starfleet Operations. While the Enterprise is undergoing a refit under the supervision of a new commander, Captain Decker, Kirk’s superior experience with Hinky Shit in Space makes him a superior choice of captain in this case, and Decker is unhappily kicked downstairs while Kirk’s old crew is hunted down and reassembled for the mission, including Spock, who was undergoing a Vulcan ritual to purge all emotion from him when he felt a consciousness that he believes emanates from the cloud. A new addition to the crew is the navigator, Ilia, a member of an alien race that pumps out mad pheromones but, per regulations, she has taken a vow of celibacy so she doesn’t disrupt the crew. When the Enterprise intercepts the cloud, it probes the enterprise and abducts Ilia, replacing her with a robotic double with a single mission: to gather information. All the while, though, the cloud continues barreling for Earth, hell-bent on completing a mission started over 300 years ago, and it is a race against time for the Enterprise to find out what this mission was, and how to help the alien entity fulfill it before it destroys the planet Earth.

When Star Trek was cancelled in 1969, Gene Roddenberry recognized the potential that the franchise still held and lobbied Paramount to continue the series through feature-length films. Based on the continued success of Star Trek in syndication, the studio started bashing away at a Star Trek film in 1975, but the project hung in limbo until 1978, after the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind convinced them once and for all that sci fi films other than Star Wars could be successful. Consequently, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (expanding a plot intended for the pilot episode of Star Trek: Phase II, a show that ultimately never materialized) became a Proof of Concept that Trek could work in the film medium. As far as that went, ST: TMP fared well. It opened the door to more impressive films like Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan and a multi-film story arc involving the heroic sacrifice and subsequent resurrection of Spock.

That said, it’s not a perfect film. The special effects were decent for 1979, especially considering that CGI wouldn’t even be a twinkle in Hollywood’s eye for two more years, but the Chromakey effects seem dated by today’s standards. The acting is pretty good, though, and the story keeps you engaged throughout without lagging or padding. I suspected right off that Ilia and Decker were going to be one-off Red Shirts for the movie, but the way they executed their final fates was imaginative and ingenius. The ultimate identity of the being V’Ger came as a nice surprise, too, and helped to link the Trek Verse with the “Real World”, albeit centuries in the future. There were a few points I didn’t immediately understand, having only seen a handful of episodes from the original series, but my roommate, a huge Trek fan, was able to help me fill in the gaps.

While it is not necessary to watch this film to understand the later entries in the Star Trek film series, I would recommend this to Trek fans as a glimpse into the beginnings of the Star Trek film franchise. While many points may go over the heads of non-Trekkies, it fares well as a stand-alone science fiction story, and I think most fans of the genre will enjoy it.

Blogger’s note: “Star Trekkin'” is owned by The Firm, copyright 1987. I am using it here without permission. All rights reserved, live long and prosper.

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