Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Stephen Collins
Written by: Alan Dean Foster (story), Harold Livingston (screenplay)
Directed by: Robert Wise

It's been three years since the five-year mission of the Original Series. The USS Enterprise has been in drydock, undergoing an extensive refit under the new command of Captain Willard Decker. The re-designed starship is called back into service when Starfleet gets wind of a massive energy cloud on its way to Earth. Assuming command of the Enterprise is her storied captain, Admiral James T. Kirk. After rounding up the original members of his crew, Kirk and co. head off to stop the looming alien threat before it can reach Earth.

The 1979 release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture marks ten years since we've seen the original crew in action. And a lot has changed, since then. Capt. Kirk has been languishing behind a desk after his promotion to Admiral; Spock has been on Vulcan, in preparation for the Kolinahr ritual (the purging of all remaining emotion); and the Enterprise, herself, has been undergoing massive refits - the result of which is a starship of such size and grandeur, that it's rightful place is on the silver screen.

Most of the cast and crew return to their posts onboard the Enterprise - with the exception of Kirk, who's been chomping at the bit to get back out there with his ship. We have a captain who is irritated with where his career has landed him. He uses any and all clout to reclaim command of his beloved vessel - and there's tension on the bridge, with Kirk having usurped Decker's rightful place in the Captain's chair. The term "muscled his way in" is taken quite literally here, as Kirk has never looked more fit on the bridge of the Enterprise than he does in The Motion Picture (the result of Shatner's heavy fitness regimen and starvation diet before cameras rolled).

One of the movie's signature scenes is the re-introduction of the Enterprise. Wise makes full use of the cinematic wide screen, as every angle of the ship is on display. We've never seen the ship this big before, and we share in Kirk's loving admiration as we are reacquainted with the massive starship. And it's the perfect scene to catapult the fans of Star Trek into a big screen adventure - the small screen could never do the ship justice. The sequence (and entire movie, for that matter) are bolstered ten-fold by Jerry Goldsmith's incredible score - one of the composer's very best.

While the financial success of The Motion Picture can be credited with ensuring the future of the Trek film series, its critical success is certainly a mixed bag. The Motion Picture is a great science fiction story, but it doesn't capture the magic of the Original Series. It's sort of like having a "thinking man's sci-fi" film with the Enterprise crew members along for the trip. Step back and look at the Original Series, and the original crew movies in the film series, The Motion Picture feels like an awkward stepping stone between the two - not only in tone, but in costume and set design, as well. Wise was able to go back and re-edit the movie for a 2001 DVD release (the version being reviewed), and it helped lessen the soporific feeling of the original '79 release. So pacing wasn't an issue for me. It just didn't feel like Star Trek.


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