With a mysterious energy cloud heading directly for Earth, the newly revamped U.S.S. Enterprise is deployed to investigate. Using the crisis to once again assume command of his beloved ship, Admiral James T. Kirk (Shatner) takes over from Captain Will Decker (Collins) and reunites with his old crew, including trusted Chief Medical Officer Bones McCoy (Kelly) and half-Vulcan Science Officer Spock (Nimoy)…
Several years after the series was cancelled during its third season, Star Trek‘s enduring popularity came into being through syndicated reruns, and talk of a movie began. After much to-ing and fro-ing (which included various script issues and, at one stage, the idea of doing a new series called Star Trek: Phase II instead) the ‘finished’ product only came together days before the premiere – and it shows. With Academy Award-winning director Robert Wise admitting that the theatrical release was only a rough cut of the film he wanted (despite his best efforts), you get some idea of why Star Trek: The Motion Picture is as disappointing as it is.
There are other reasons, too. Using a script which was intended for the abandoned Phase II pilot, the thin plot feels like a 45-minute story stretched into a two-hour yarn (which it is), while playing like a familiar re-hash of better episodes we’ve seen before (The Changeling in particular). Of course, we expect a certain blueprint from Star Trek – The Enterprise encounters some form of alien threat, human values are affirmed, Shatner is awesome – but far too much time is spent with the bridge crew staring at special effects in awe. As there were problems getting the effects completed on time, the movie clearly wants us to marvel over them. But the various wordless sequences (such as Kirk travelling to the Enterprise, the ship going through a wormhole or into V’ger’s inner regions) are interminably dull and seem to go on forever.
Openly intending to emulate 2001: A Space Odyssey, the cerebral, idea-based approach is certainly admirable. But while the movie occasionally asks interesting questions about our need for evolution (as sentient beings), it does so in a lifeless, uninteresting manner, whilst the complete lack of action left non-fans bored. Worst still, even hardcore Trekkies were left disappointed by the way the long-awaited big-screen adaptation failed to capture the spirit of the series. With the iconic, primary-coloured uniforms changed to muted pastels and the Enterprise rendered cold and unrecognisable by its refit.
Not that the movie is totally without merit. It’s still great to spend time with these characters, as the original cast is reunited again, while there are occasional sparks of the old chemistry whenever William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley are given dialogue together. However, despite how this infamous trio lobbied for more focus on characterisation (such as Kirk’s relationship with The Enterprise – one of the few interesting elements), there’s far too little of the interplay and camaraderie which made the series great. Stephen Collins is fine as the usurped Captain, but why add new central characters when there’s not enough material and screen-time for the existing ones? Jerry Goldsmith’s theme is great though, and would go on to become recognisable as the title music for Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Despite how good it is to spend time with these characters again, Star Trek: The Motion Picture fails to capture what made the series so great. Apparently the Director’s Cut is a significant improvement, but this version lacks story and is frequently killed by interminably dull, look-how-good-the-effects-are sequences.