Monday, November 15, 2010

A Pan In Glowing Clothing: Star Trek: The Motion Picture Is A Good Idea, Poorly Executed.

The Good: Character development, Moments of acting, Good blend of new and old effects
The Bad: Slow pace, Emphasis on the wrong aspects of the story, Cluttered
The Basics: With Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the attempt to make a cerebral film fails, burying real explorations of human condition in special effects and a plot of one of the least successful episodes of Star Trek.

Right off the bat, if you have to watch Star Trek The Motion Picture, the version to watch is the 136 minute, 2 DVD Star Trek The Motion Picture - The Director's Cut. On the topic of the bonus c.d., this is a must for a fan of "Star Trek. It's packed with deleted and reworked scenes from Star Trek The Motion Picture and includes documentaries and commentaries on the making of the film, the impetus behind the director's cut and the whole idea of what Star Trek was trying to accomplish. For the die hard fan, I'd recommend the DVD solely for the extra features because they are informative and fun to watch. The truth is, for the primary material, I didn't enjoy the film enough to recommend it and I think, for a change, my reason is different than most everyone else's.

The fault of Star Trek The Motion Picture is not entirely in its pacing or in its multiple storylines or even that it's poorly written. The problem with Star Trek The Motion Picture is that it's not original. It is not going anywhere that Star Trek hadn't already gone before. How can I say that?

The Enterprise crew encounters an ultra-powerful force that is threatening a vital Federation interest. The Enterprise investigates and discovers an entity that seeks to become more than it is, believing misguided information. It becomes apparent that the threat is a machine; quite powerful and quite logical. Captain Kirk bluffs the powerful being until it reveals its most basic form at which time the resolution becomes simple.

Sound familiar? If you're a fan of the original Star Trek, it ought to. Star Trek The Motion Picture is a combination of two episodes: "The Changeling" and "The Corbomite Maneuver." If you're a casual watcher of Star Trek or not a fan at all, there's a reason you've probably not heard of either one of them: they're not terribly good episodes. In fact, the true killing blow to Star Trek The Motion Picture is it decided to steal from some of its weakest links. As a general rule of film making for a franchise, it always helps to go with your best ideas, not your most shaky.

The plot is killed by being a weak combination of places Star Trek has gone before. The reason it fails is because of the tack they take on it. "The Changeling" is a fast-paced, "figure out the alien of the week and defeat it" episode. Star Trek The Motion Picture, on the other hand, takes a higher road and that's what nails the coffin. Rather than spending a lot of time figuring out what the threat (V'Ger) is, much of the film is spend on exploring the human condition.

At the end of the film, the line "The Human Adventure Is Just Beginning" appears and it's true. That's the downfall of the film; it's a philosophical journey, not a special effects trip. The journey is about characters, not about creature threats. The real nuts and bolts of Star Trek The Motion Picture is in the characters. The promoted Admiral Kirk returns to the Enterprise because there is a lack in his life, Spock leaves Vulcan because what he's searching for isn't available for him there. The new first officer, Decker, clashes with Kirk because they believe they want the same things. The essential story in Star Trek The Motion Picture is about humanity's need to find what is lacking, to understand their own purpose.

The only fault of Star Trek The Motion Picture is that it tries to be something else then. The film is a character study buried in a special effects film. Star Trek The Motion Picture is exploring the same caliber of emotion as Magnolia. What saves Magnolia is that it is what it is trying to be, not attempting to conceal that exploration of humanity as a special effects film. The combination of the heavy character aspects with the attempts to be a special effects story with the intruder, make for a feeling that the film doesn't know what it wants to be.

Surprisingly, the acting is competent. From the supporting cast through William Shatner, everyone reprises their roles as if they had not left the set of Star Trek. And yet, there is a sense that each of the characters has been busy and that is as it ought to be. In the new director's cut, there are some pleasant special effects additions that work quite well.

I want to be able to recommend Star Trek The Motion Picture; it's a philosophical film that does what Star Trek The Next Generation did in its first season and what it tried to get to at the end of the series. It's refreshing to see a film where violence isn't the solution, where it isn't simply: Our Heroes arrive to destroy the bad guy. Instead, it's about attempting to understand the unknown. As McCoy notes, "Why is everything we don't understand called a thing?"

Had the plot been borrowed from any other combination of original Star Trek episodes, perhaps it would have had a chance. Had the focus remained more on the character development that is present but constantly glossed over for effect shots, the film would have been worth recommending. As it is, on a razor decision, I cannot recommend Star Trek The Motion Picture The Director's Cut to anyone but the serious fan of Star Trek and then preferably to those who haven't seen "The Changeling." 

For the whole Star Trek cinematic collection, please click here!

For other cerebral journey films, please check out my reviews of:
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
The Red Violin


For other Star Trek episode and film reviews, please be sure to check out my index page!

© 2010, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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