The first Star Trek film is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand it has an intriguing, high concept story with some vivid and strong visuals but on the other hand, it doesn’t really have the spirit and the flavour of the original television show, largely because director Robert Wise chose to focus more on the mysteries of space and the alien threat rather than the characters. I remember watching this film as a kid and being enthralled with the spectacle and intriguing story, however decades later, although I still find this an entertaining and strong science fiction film, it is a shame that the heart and spirit of Star Trek is only vaguely apparent. This new director’s edition tightens up some of the story-telling and introduces some wonderful new images but ultimately it’s still the same film with still the same kind of resonance.
Captain Kirk is now an Admiral and a new captain has been placed in charge of the Enterprise in Captain Decker (played strongly by Stephen Collins). When an unknown alien life force threatens Earth, Kirk is placed back in to the Enterprise captain’s chair to Decker’s frustration. Kirk reunites his old crew and with Decker proceeds to investigate the alien threat and stop it from reaching Earth. As they investigate, they discover that the alien actually has a close tie to Earth and only humans are capable of giving it the answers it is searching for. The story itself is quite strong, least of which being the surprise ending where the alien turns out to be a drastically revamped and redeveloped Voyager 6 spacecraft which has achieved its own consciousness and is looking for its creator. There are themes here of “Who Am I?”, “What am I doing here?”, “Is there anything more than the universe?” – all of which make for intriguing drama and storytelling. The only problem is that it just takes too long to get there. Part of this is the pedestrian-like quality of the direction of the film, and the other part is the never-ending special effects shots which really should have been edited down. Having said that however, the film is still very watchable with an interesting story, it’s just a little slow.
All of the characters are back but they are only a shadow of their former selves. William Shatner and DeForest Kelley do their best to inject some energy in to their characters and at times succeed but for the most part do not. Leonard Nimoy unfortunately has to play a rather bland version of Spock given he’s been off training to rid himself of all emotions. And the remainder of the cast, save for Stephen Collins who does a wonderful job as Decker, are either bland or did not have much to do. What made the television show work so well was the interpersonal relationships between the characters and unfortunately this element takes a back seat in this film.
The big strength of this film lies in its visuals and they are breathtaking. There are some obvious influences from “2001″ with majestic shots of Earth, space stations and the Enterprise itself that are wonder to behold. But it gets even better when the Enterprise finally comes in to contact with the invading alien life force. The images are quite strange, beautiful and unique, and decidedly alien. The only downside is that they just go on and on and on. For example, Scotty takes Kirk for a joy ride on a shuttle around the Enterprise so he can see the whole ship for himself again. This scene, which is basically just shot after shot of the Enterprise, whilst beautifully captured on film, is just way too long, clocking in at a little over five minutes. Likewise, when the Enterprise enters the alien to investigate, we get about ten minutes of the characters just staring at the view screen looking at the breathtaking images. These types of things, if edited to an appropriate length, would have delivered the dramatic strength intended for those scenes. However, as they are, the scenes drag on for too long leaving you feeling a little bored with it all.
Jerry Goldsmith does wonders with his musical score. In addition to the original fanfare from the television series, Goldsmith’s theme for this film has also become synonomous with Star Trek, especially as it was later used as the fanfare for Star Trek: The Next Generation. His music is wonderful and mysterious, especially the alien themes which give a sense of the deep mystery of space, with all its wonder and potential threats.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture has an intriguing story to tell with some incredible visuals. Arguably, it’s the most ambitious of all the stories of the film series but unfortunately it’s laboriously executed.
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Alex DeMattia is the lead DVD reviewer at the film/DVD review web site All About Movies.net. He also contributes reviews and articles for the Digicosm Film Blog: http://www.filmannex.com/Digicosm