Star Trek: The Motion Picture Review
By Christopher Null and David Bezanson
The rule with Star Trek films is even-numbered films are good, odd-numbered are bad -- and the first film in the series is no exception. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released at a time when sci-fi movies were expected to be long, sluggish, arty epics like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Dune. To achieve the desired length and artiness, the producers of Star Trek: TMP hired director Robert Wise -- best known for overlong, dull classics like The Sound of Music -- and chose a script which was long on dialogue but short on action or character development. (Plot: Alien vessel is coming toward earth -- Kirk and co. must stop it. Zzzzzzz.)
Added to the mix is Persis Khambatta, a model-turned-actress who can't even act as well the veterans of the TV show, playing a bald female alien (a femalien). Finally, a third of the movie is wasted on special effects which do not compare favorably with other sci-fi movies (though see below for more on this). Draped over this mess is one of the best musical scores ever wasted on a movie, the work of Jerry Goldsmith (note that the main theme was salvaged and used for the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV show). All told, the movie is one of the few imitators of 2001: A Space Odyssey that achieves the same feeling of mystery and danger. Partly this is due to Goldsmith's excellent score; partly it is because the slow pacing and dark, gloomy sets succeed in conveying the slowness and suspense of space travel, as well as its emptiness.
So is Star Trek: The Motion Picture worth renting? Yes, although at least three different edits of the film exist, including a 1983 television version, so you'll want to check before you hand over your Blockbuster card. For 2001, Wise has given the entire film an entire makeover a la George Lucas and Star Wars, fixing up the worst of the special effects for a two-disc DVD release. You'll find all the 1979 and 1983 trims on the second disc, along with documentaries and other bonus footage for the consummate Trekkie. Wise, along with Goldsmith, actor Stephen Collins, and two special effects guys, provide an audio commentary to the new cut of the film, and Michael Okuda, a Trek aficionado and author of The Star Trek Encyclopedia, provides a unique subtitled commentary track. Surprisingly, both the audio and subtitle tracks say about the same thing.
So does any of this fiddling make a difference? When I sat down to watch the film again, I realized that I always fall asleep at about the 1:45 mark. I couldn't believe it, but once again, I did the exact same thing, nodding off during what would have been the climax of any other movie. Bring in Ricardo Montalban, I say!
Behold the power of the future.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 7th December 1979
Box Office Worldwide: $139M
Distributed by: Paramount Home Video
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 45%
Fresh: 15 Rotten: 18
Cast & Crew
Starring: William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, George Takei as Lt. Cmdr. Hikaru Sulu, James Doohan as Montgomery Scott, Walter Koenig as Lt. Pavel Chekov, Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Cmdr. Uhura, DeForest Kelley as Dr. Leonard McCoy, Majel Barrett as Dr. Christine Chapel, Stephen Collins as Capt./Cmdr. Willard Decker, Persis Khambatta as Lieutenant Ilia, Grace Lee Whitney as CPO Janice Rand, Mark Lenard as Klingon Captain, Billy Van Zandt as Alien Boy, Roger Aaron Brown as Epsilon Technician, Gary Faga as Airlock Technician, Franklyn Seales as Crew Member