After playing a game of Star Trek: Fleet Captains recently, I felt compelled to revisit the venerable sci-fi franchise's motion picture debut. Prior to 1979, re-runs of the original series became a tremendous hit in syndication and towards the end of the decade a new Phase II television show featuring most of the original cast was in development.
But when Star Wars exploded on the big screen in 1977, Paramount decided to parley it's very own "spacey" property into a big-budgeted movie. The final product seems to betray this disjointed genesis since it often feels like an hour-long concept dragged out over a hundred and forty-five minutes.
Here's the film's groovy, vintage trailer:
Veteran genre director Robert Wise, who helmed the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, seems a bit tentative in his treatment of these famous characters. It's as if their ten year hiatus has made them somewhat precious and above any rough treatment.
On the rare occasion in which the actors are actually granted a line of dialogue, the performances are actually quite decent. Stephen Collins is a great new addition, despite having only a few fleeting moments to make his character three-dimensional. And although the late Persis Khambatta was certainly one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the Star Trek universe, she also gets short shift before the script downgrades her to "automaton" status.
Realizing that the dynamic between Kirk, Spock and McCoy was the bread and butter of the original series, this "Director's Edition" mercifully re-instates additional scenes featuring the iconic trio. Unfortunately, when they aren't on screen together we're subjected to endless reaction shots and protracted clips of special effects porn.
Leisure wear...IN SPAAAAACE!!!
From a design standpoint, the film is also mixed bag. The refurbished Enterprise is definitely my favorite iteration of the classic vessel, the new Klingons look absolutely awesome, the effects are reasonably good for a thirty (!) year old film and Jerry Goldsmith's classic, robust score is rousing and unforgettable.
Unfortunately the same thing can be said about the costumes, but not in a good way. Indeed, those woefully dated Starfleet uniforms make the film look like some sort of bizarre interstellar slumber party. A really priceless moment of Seventies kitch occurs when McCoy, replete with Unibomber beard, pimp necklace, leisure suit and a belt buckle big enough to degrade the ship's orbit, beams back onboard in his characteristically cranky fashion.
Having said that, the film is true to the spirit of the original series, especially after V'Ger's origin is revealed in a clever twist. As a viewer, however, it's hard not to think that the concept would have been much better served in half the run time.
"Blue screen...the Final Frontier!"
Although it's certainly flawed, Star Trek: The Motion Picture holds a lot of retro fascination for me, probably because it's one of the first films I remember seeing in the theater by myself. I know it sounds kinda kooky, but with every subsequent viewing I find myself liking this film more and more and liking the recent "space operatic" Abrams re-boot less and less.