280. Star Trek: The Motion Picture [D]
281. Men in Black [A]
282. Blue Streak [B+]
STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE: I reviewed the Director's Edition of this film much earlier this year, and didn't much care for it. Thanks to Netflix, I was able to see the theatrical edition for the first time in over ten years (and, likely, the first time in widescreen). I may have to adjust my grade of the Director's Edition higher, because I was surprised by how much worse the theatrical version of the film is. I don't intend to write an in-depth review by any means, but allow me the pomposity of listing a few things that have undoubtedly been endlessly mulled over here and elsewhere on the internet.
First, I don’t understand why the cinematography is so hailed by some fans of the movie. The set is at once over-lit, exposing every crevice of the boring, monochromatic bridge set, and
under-lit, resulting in the excessive use of split-diopter photography to awkwardly simulate depth of field. As a stylistic device, the split diopter effect can be a useful tool, dramatically separating the foreground and the background (witness the use of the effect in Oliver Stone’s film adaptation of TALK RADIO). As an occasional crutch, it can be a useful way of simulating depth of field when lighting a set with intensity is not possible (see Robert Wise’s earlier film, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN). But here it is not an occasional crutch, nor is it a stylistic device to separate the foreground and the background.
Worse, the lifeless costumes (which at times are so form-fitting that they verge on camp) are no more colorful than the sets. The redesigned uniforms used in the rest of the movies may have not captured the vibrancy of the costumes from the television series, but at least the crimson tunics and white undershirts didn’t get lost amidst the flat décor like the costumes in STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE.
And then there is the matter of pacing. I appreciate the Director’s Edition much more now, because it eliminates so many pointless insert shots (here’s the Federation seal doing nothing for ten seconds, here’s some blinking lights on the helm console doing nothing for ten seconds, etc.) that pad out the film well
past its welcome. Of course, there are the two big visual effects sequences in the film: the shuttle-pod approach and the V’Ger flyover. These have been both derided and praised by fans; I find myself falling somewhere in the middle. They’re by far the best effects work in the movie (most of the other sequences are plagued by matte lines and improperly composited live action), but they’re a little long.
The shuttle-pod approach is almost perfect. The music is beautiful, the effects are top-notch, and there’s a real sense of forward movement. If I were to re-cut it, I’d perhaps remove a minute, but probably not even that. What really hurts the sequence are the reaction shots of Kirk and Scotty—their performances are unconvincing (with the exception of that great, perhaps iconic close-up of Kirk when he gets his first look at the Enterprise from head-on) and by constantly returning to the actors we’re less sharing their wonder than experiencing it second-hand. Of course, this sequence is quickly followed by the Enterprise’s departure, which expands into several minutes what should be on screen for 60 seconds. There’s no reason every actor in the cast needs a close-up here, and although Jerry Goldsmith’s brilliant score allows me to forgive much, Wise should have really got on with it.
The V’Ger flyover on the other hand, is long—much too long. Wise wants to establish a sense of scale, and that’s fine, but there’s no reason to establish it three times. Worse, much of the dialogue describes action that is self-evident: “we have ceased forward motion,” etc. It’s the kind of material you give to your supporting cast during shooting, and then cut when you’re in the editing room because it expresses nothing that isn’t readily apparent—except here it’s all been left in.
I could go on, but for now, I won’t. Suffice it to say, the theatrical version of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE is a profound disappointment in need of major changes—the Director’s Edition was a good try, but, unfortunately, not all the changes are ones that could be done during post-production.
MEN IN BLACK: This is still a terrific sf comedy. I wish more care had been put into the transfer for the Blu-Ray, however. There are several scenes with distracting scratches and I noticed the grain occasionally was out of control. Hopefully the third film will make up for the dismal sequel (although I’ll probably still prefer this as a standalone film that gives Kay a happy ending).
BLUE STREAK: Martin Lawrence’s best comedy, he indulges his over-the-top humor a few times, but nowhere near the excess of his later comedies. What really makes it work is the supporting cast, a collection of some of the best character actors working at the time.
Hopefully I'll be seeing HARRY POTTER 7.0 tonight, and then TRUE GRIT later in the week. I'd also like to see BLACK SWAN, but there may not be time. I have only ten days in the Northwest before I have to head back down to LA to continue school.