Monday, 16 January 2012

Review: Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

A giant space cloud destroy a group of Klingon cruisers and a Federation listening post and is on a direct course for Earth.  Admiral James T Kirk takes command of the Starship USS Enterprise and heads to intercept and, if possible, stop the menace.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is The Phantom Menace of the 1970's; a sci fi feature that fans of the original series had been looking forward to for almost ten years,   were barely able to remain in their seats waiting for the house lights to dim and when they came up again, looked at one another and said, "What the heck was that load of parrot offal?"

Trapped in development hell for years, captained by a Gene Rodenberry determined to make an adult epic that would make people forget that the original series was just a space opera with pretensions, STTMP went into production with no idea of how the story would end and budget overruns that made it the most expensive Hollywood production up to that time.  The result is a film that does indeed look as if a small mountain of money has been spent on it, but also one that is a complete mess.

For one thing, this hasn't been nicknamed "The Motionless Picture" for nothing. The pace is glacial and its two and a quarter hours running time seems twice as long. Most of the "action" involves Kirk and crew looking at the ship's view screen, what it is they are looking at and then back to the view screen.  The film also lacks any villain or major conflict and the grey costumes against grey sets is about as visually interesting as a piece of ship's plating.

Worse, the film has a sloppy feel to it. Rodenberry's intent is to basically short circuit the past decade and pretend no one ever left the Enterprise or ever wanted to.  The actors are given no chance to play their real ages nor are they in any way believable.  Rodenberry won't even let Kirk's promotion to admiral stand; having him take a temporary reduction to captain so he can sit in his own chair.  In a real navy, Kirk would simply have taken command of the mission while allowing Decker, the current Enterprise captain, to command the ship.   A small point, but a telling one.

As to the plot, the constant rewrites during production is obvious as one clumsy bit of dialogue after another is dropped to the floor and an endless string of unsupported exposition is deployed to shore up an increasingly improvised and implausible story.  It also doesn't help when a thin premise, and one already used by the television series, is dropped onto such a rickety framework.

At least it made enough money to justify a far superior sequel, so it's not a total loss.

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