Star Trek The Motion Picture – film review

"Star Trek - The Motion Picture" poster.
“Star Trek – The Motion Picture” poster.
Star Trek The Motion Picture was an ambitious film, coming on the heels of the original Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, so the producers were trying to make something which would have as much success as those films.

After effortlessly destroying three Klingon warships and a Federation communications and monitoring post, a massive energy cloud continues its direct course to Earth. Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) gathers his intrepid crew and heads out to try and stop it. He and the crew must first figure out what it is and then decide how to interact and handle it.

The basic story is pretty…well…basic. In fact, it is pretty much repeated (with different trappings) in the fourth Star Trek film. While I credit Alan Dean Foster with a good basis for the final script, Star Trek The Motion Picture is one of the weakest in the franchise. The characters barely cracked a smile anywhere in the entire film, they were so serious. It was frustrating watching it because the characters didn’t seem like themselves.

The marketing people didn’t seem to know what to do with it. The trailers were narrated in a way reminiscent of Rod Serling‘s serious Twilight Zone monologues. The tagline, “The Human Adventure Is Just Beginning”, was also very serious. Instead of taking cues from the swashbuckling space adventures which were becoming popular at the time, it seemed to take its cues from ponderous films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey instead of sticking to its roots.

One thing to which loving attention was paid was the production itself. There were so many long, loving, caressing shots of the ship, the space dock, the inside of the cloud around V’ger, and the outside and inside of V’ger. The models possibly had more screen time than the actors, and Star Trek The Motion Picture could have been shortened by 30-40 minutes and not lost anything of significance to the plot or the audience’s understanding. A lot of amazing effects were used, especially with the V’ger scenes and the jumps to warp. There were about twice as many effects shots in this film as in either Star Wars or Close Encounters, and the effects team definitely hit the mark.

I loved the music by Jerry Goldsmith. I enjoyed how he worked in bits of the original series’ music here and there, and the main theme was very adventurous and exciting. For the two or three people not aware, this theme was reused as the main theme for The Next Generation television series about eight years later.

Despite its many flaws, Star Trek The Motion Picture was an adventure which brought new fans to the series and got old fans excited again. This led to the magnificent sequel, The Wrath of Khan, which did far more with a budget less than one-quarter the size. If you haven’t seen this film, or if it has been a while, I recommend watching it again. There’s even a subtle possible reference to the Borg in it. You know you want to find it.

Release Date: December 7, 1979 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG (though originally G)
Language: English

MySF Rating: Three point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 100%

Content:

Alcohol/Drugs: 0
Language: 1 (very minor, very brief)
Nudity: 1 (somewhat obscured)
Sexuality: 0 (except for longing stares between Ilia and Decker)
Violence: 1 (mostly off-screen, death)

2 thoughts on “Star Trek The Motion Picture – film review

  1. I did a review of the book version back in the early ’80s. As the only ST novel with Gene Roddenberry’s name on it, it was actually very good–much more emphasis on the characters. That being said, I remember the controversies when ST:TMP came out; the biggest one being the movie was geared towards the SFX and not the interplay between the players. Apparently the producers thought the fans were in it only for the gee-whiz SFX and didn’t care about storyline or character development. I don’t think the producers then (or even now) understood the fan culture and community.

    Plus the plot was almost a direct ripoff of the episode where the crew encounter a probe named NOMAD.

    Star Trek was always at it’s best when exploring (and exploding) cultural norms and expectations. ST:TMP was basically another Romeo and Juliet story without much social commentary. However, it did introduce us to the new Klingon forehead and became a jumping off point for more movies, ST:TNG, ST:DS9, ST:V, and the rest of the books and fanfic that have permeated not just American life, but the world.

    1. I agree about the producers not quite understanding the fans or the series. I don’t think it was a Romeo and Juliet story, though. Ilia and ex-Captain Forgettable (really…I can never remember his name) were completely boring, one-dimensional characters. The only one of the original crew films that was worse was the fifth film.

      Thanks for your comments, Joe!

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