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Go Back   The Trek BBS > Star Trek Movies > Star Trek Movies I-X

Star Trek Movies I-X Discuss the first ten big screen outings in this forum!

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Old March 29 2015, 07:22 AM   #1
CaptainJon
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Captain Jon's Star Trek: The Motion Picture Review

Greetings everybody! I am gradually working my way through the entire Star trek film franchise from 1979 to 2013. As I go, I'm reviewing each movie and posting it on my own personal review blog. Here is my review of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. For the "full experience" (pictures) feel free to check out the review on my blog! Otherwise, continue reading on!


Synopsis
When Earth is threatened by a mysterious cloud that destroys everything in its way, Admiral James T. Kirk retakes command of the newly-refitted U.S.S. Enterprise. His mission is to explore what's in the heart of the cloud and, if possible, attempt to reason with any intelligence that's inside before Earth is destroyed.

Review
When Star Trek went off the air in 1969, one newspaper columnist addressed disappointed fans who had waged a letter-writing campaign to keep the show alive with an article that read:
"You Star Trek fans have fought the 'good fight,' but the show has been cancelled and there's nothing to be done now."
Thanks to a little thing called syndication, Star Trek gained second life and developed a cult following. What originally was intended as an attempt by Paramount executives to recoup loses from the show led to the studio giving serious consideration to bring life to a Star Trek feature film. In 1975, Paramount hired Roddenberry to begin development on the feature.

Getting the production off the ground proved to be quite challenging and the studio would decide to return the Star Trek to television with Star Trek: Phase II. But thanks to the one-two punch of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, Paramount exec Michael Eisner decided to make the project a feature film.

Instead of trying to emulate the formula that had worked for Star Wars, Roddenberry and director Robert Wise decided to make Star Trek first venture onto the big screen more along the lines of 2001: A Space Odyssey. With a troubled production that began filming with an incomplete script and post-production woes in the visual effects department, Star Trek: The Motion Picture barely made it on schedule to its December 1979 premiere. Much like 2001, The Motion Picture debuted to mixed reviews that criticized its slow pace and lack of characterization. Unlike 2001, however, which has gone on to become a Science-Fiction classic, The Motion Picture would be overshadowed by its eventual sequel only three years later. One can't help but wonder how The Motion Picture would be regarded if not for the franchise that had been born due to its financial success. In recent a recent viewing I was amazed at how much more I enjoyed the film than I had in the past. In an age where movies move at breakneck speed, TMP is actually a somewhat refreshing change. That's not to say that it should now be considered a classic like 2001. After all, The Motion Picture is still flawed and lacks adequate characterizations or even the heart that was found even in the original 60's TV series. But it was nice to watch a movie that took its time to tell a story, even if that story was rather thin.

One can't help but wonder if there were better ideas floating about during development that could've been used since the story is largely a rehash of a couple of episodes of the 60's TV show, a frustrating decision as something more original should've been told. The thin plot feels as though it's meant to service the visual spectacle instead of being the other way around. It's as though the story for a one-hour episode were stretched out into a nearly two-and-a-half hour movie just to justify its presentation on the big screen. However, there are some very big and intriguing ideas as the Enterprise crew explores the V'Ger vessel. Such ideas include the meaning and purpose of life as V'Ger seeks to grasp a life that isn't constrained by logic. Questions about one's own purpose and "Is this all that there is? Is there nothing more?" are pondered but aren't given adequate contemplation in The Motion Picture's closing minutes. The final dialogue between Kirk, Spock and McCoy plays as though it's supposed to be meaningful but doesn't go deep into contemplating the grand events that play out in climax.

On a visual level, The Motion Picture is quite impressive with effects that still hold up today. But much of the film's running time is spent indulging in lengthy establishing shots of space stations and starships. Time that was spent on lengthy establishing shots could've been more effectively used for characterization. Instead we get long stretches of cutting back and forth between visual effects and the characters reacting rather unconvincingly and sometimes comically to things they're supposed to be witnessing on the viewscreen. Most guilty of this is George Takei with his wide-eyed attempt at awe.

One such character seed that's planted but never adequately developed is that which follows Kirk, portrayed in a fairly somber and serious performance by William Shatner that is a striking departure from the show. Kirk is now an admiral at Starfleet Command who hasn't been on a starship in over two years. As the mysterious intruder threatens Earth, Kirk coerces his way back into command of the Enterprise, bumping Will Decker (Stephen Collins in one of the film's better performances) out of the captain's chair. Collins brings confidence and passion to the role and plays well against Shatner's Kirk making the tension between the two of them believable. Though Decker has enough reason to be upset with Kirk, he fears that his new captain's actions are not only against the best interests of the ship but the mission as well. The Enterprise has been completely redesign and it's a design with which Kirk is not familiar and he doesn't hide those concerns from Kirk. To Kirk'a surprise, not only does McCoy side with Decker but goes one step further by saying that Kirk is obsessed with the Enterprise and that he intends to keep the starship. This has the beginnings of interesting character work that dates back to the original series but goes nowhere after McCoy calls Kirk out on his actions. Unfortunately, the film's ultimate resolution leaves the pieces in a place where Kirk doesn't need to be held accountable nor be put in the position of having to return the Enterprise.

Also planted early on but not developed nearly enough is the love story between Decker and Ilia (Persis Khambatta), a precursor for the Riker/Troi dynamic in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Most frustrating about this character arc is that it's the most important one in the movie and yet very little is done to develop it. Outside of one conversation between Decker and Ilia, nothing is done to establish the connection between these two characters and make us feel for their relationship. Thus there's no impact when Ilia is taken by the V'Ger probe. Nor do Decker's attempts to rekindle any feelings buried within the Ilia probe carry any resonance because there was nothing there for us to believe in anyway. While Collins works well as a foil for Shatner, he's less effective with Khambatta as the two of them have no chemistry. Khambatta, especially, is stiff and rather uninteresting. Had more time been spent developing the relationship, perhaps Decker's actions in the film's climax would've carried more emotional weight. Instead it's a visual marvel that emotionally feels hollow and falls flat.

The third character thread is that of Spock. At the film's outset, Spock is on Vulcan having left Starfleet in order to go through a Vulcan ritual to purge all emotion. Midway through the ritual, Spock feels a powerful presence from space that stirs his human blood. Spock (in a stiff and uninvolved performance by Leonard Nimoy) returns to the Enterprise to explore the V'Ger spaceship for his own personal interests, perhaps the most intriguing of all the setup character threads. Just like he did with Kirk, McCoy questions Spock's motives and whether the Vulcan officer will sacrifice the safety of the ship for his own personal needs. Unlike with Kirk, more time and development is put into Spock's arc but mainly because it helps us to learn more about V'Ger. However, it's never really clear for what Spock is searching nor do we get a clear understanding what he supposedly finds that helps him to find resolution. Perhaps the finale would've carried more power and meaning had it been Spock who had merged with V'Ger instead of Decker. Of course, that would've removed any hope of bringing the character back for the subsequent sequels but it certainly would've been an interesting conclusion here.

The rest of the cast and characters are sadly nothing more than cardboard cutouts left to provide lines of exposition here and there while having no life or personality of their own. This sadly includes DeForest Kelley's Dr. McCoy, who wanders on and off the bridge at random as though he's walking about trying to have any reason to be there. Though he provides a few lines here and there that question the motives of both Kirk and Spock in a half-baked attempt to keep them accountable for their actions, McCoy has little else to do in the rest of the movie.

That's not to say The Motion Picture is all bad. There's plenty to admire. Robert Wise is an excellent director with an impressive filmography (The Sound of Music and The Day the Earth Stood Still) and he manages to craft a visually magnificent film. Star Trek: The Motion Picture attains a sense of scope and grandeur on an epic scale that has yet to be recaptured in the rest of the film franchise, though 2009's Star Trek does come close. The Motion Picture displays the visual potential that Star Trek can reach even if its storytelling isn't as impressive. While the first half manages to capture the romance and beauty of space and starships, Wise brings a sense of mystery and intrigue in the second half as the crew explores the secrets of V'Ger. The ultimate revelation that V'Ger is the lost NASA probe "Voyager 6" is interesting and the resolution also had promise. As mentioned before, however, the resolution would've been better had more depth existed in the characters of Decker and Ilia as well as their relationship.

The Enterprise gets a new but familiar makeover that works well and Wise fills the sets with plenty of extras to give the ship life. The uniforms are a bit on the drab, colorless side which is a big departure from the series but they're serviceable, though they do somewhat resemble pajamas.

Easily the most noteworthy piece of The Motion Picture's production, however, is Jerry Goldsmith's Academy Award-nominated score. From its opening notes all the way to the final seconds of the closing reel, Goldsmith's score is rich and romantic filled with themes and motifs that carry the movie. The long sequences of visual effects work as well as they do because of Goldsmith's score which is not only probably the finest music in the franchise but also some of the best movie music ever written.
The most frustrating aspect is that there is plenty of potential to be found in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It's performances are stiff and characterizations are lacking despite magnificent visuals and a story that has mystery and wonder. Perhaps if more time had been spent fleshing out more of the ideas that are found here, The Motion Picture could have been brilliant. Instead we get a movie that's somewhat enjoyable as its flaws drag down its strengths.

Writing: 1.25 / 2
Characters: 1.0 / 2
Acting: 1.25 / 2
Entertainment: 1.25 / 2
Music: 1 / 1
Visuals: 1 / 1

TOTAL: 6.75 / 10
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Old March 29 2015, 11:18 AM   #2
Pauln6
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Re: Captain Jon's Star Trek: The Motion Picture Review

Excellent review. I still love TMP but the part I like the most is the first half where there is more personal interaction between the supporting cast. They just needed to inject a bit more humour in there IMO. I thought Spock's arc was well handled overall and visually the movie is a delight. I've always thought that later in the movie it would have been nice to see the personal thoughts of some of the other characters rather than just repeating commands.

I've always thought that if V'ger's interior had been at least in part, more user friendly, taking a landing party (maybe by shuttle), including more of the supporting cast, out to explore the interior could have increased the opportunity for characterisation, adjusted the pace, and could have introduced a little bit more of the TOS style action romp in there.

I think sending out a new Galileo 7 including Kirk, McCoy, Sulu, Chekov, Rand, Lieutenant What-happens if-I-touch-this, and Ensign One-day-to-retirement could have been fun, while Scotty stays in command and works on the ship, Uhura acts as liaison (or swap places with Rand although as transporter chief it's a good opportunity to showcase a short-range transporter on the shuttle) and Decker and Chapel work on Ilia.

Of course my personal view is skewed by the fact that I prefer the earlier episodes of TOS with more of an ensemble feel. Plus TWoK is also guilty of not using some of the supporting cast well but it wins out by having more engaging guest characters instead.
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