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Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a real departure both from the original Star Trek television series and the movies that followed it. Director Robert Wise, who helmed the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still back in the 50s, creates a slow and menacing picture in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The best elements of this film reflect its differences from the rest of the original Star Trek. William Shatner's acting is beautifully subdued, and his scenes of conflict with the younger, more emotional Commander Decker are among the film's highlights. In fact, Decker resembles the Kirk of the original series more than Shatner's character. Another interesting element of the film is the antagonist. Rather than the typical over-the-top villian of later films, the "enemy" here is a destructive energy cloud of unknown origin, intentions, and composition. Star Trek: The Motion Picutre falls firmly within the realm of "hard sci-fi", driven by interesting human possiblities and situations rather than futuristic technological gizmos. In addition to strong character interactions and an innovative plot, the movie features an amazing soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith and excellent visual effects. Goldsmith's score is highly memorable, appropriate, and of the highest musical quality. And the effects, right from the opening scene of the Kingon battle crusisers, are top notch and better than anything ever done in the series. Put simply, the film has a great deal of style.
Of course, there is a downside, and it's significant. Probably the film's greatest detraction is the presence of several long, boring, and pointless effects sequences. When Kirk is being transported to the newly refurbished Enterprise, the shots of the ship occupy far too much screen time, specifically 15 miuntes of almost dialogue-free footage. The same problem occurs in the latter half of the film. After the ship penetrates the energy cloud, the drama should rise to a peak. Instead, most of the screen time ends up occupied by meaningless, extended, and uninspiring external visual effects shots that serve to make the film sterile rather than advancing the plot. The film would improve from the deletion of about 20 minutes' worth of material from the Director's Edition (which itself removes pointless scenes from the original film!).
Another major problem with this film is the (mis)characterisation of Spock. After failing to achieve Kolinar (somthing akin to Nirvana), he becomes...disgrunteled. He is rude and icy to the rest of the crew and acts entirely out-of-character throughout the film, especially when he secretly departs on a spacewalk without informing Kirk. He is underutilised and not presented appropriately, and the film suffers for this.
A final problem with the film is that the ultimate complexity of the plot is a bit lacking. While the revelation of the origin of the energy clould is bold and innovative, not nearly enough is done to develop the cloud's character between the ship's entry into it and this revelation. Ilia, who at one point represents the cloud, isn't a particularly good or well-developed character, nor is the actress playing her particularly adpet. A more thoughtful approach to revealing and developing the cloud would have been appropriate.
The film's best elements are what it introduces: the "new" Kingons, the Decker-Kirk conflict, and the cloud. But a greater focus on characters and plot over visuals would improve it.
Comments on The Director's Cut of TMP:
I have always enjoyed this film for exactly the aspect which its "creators" have attempted to reduce here: imperfection. This film was made in the 70's, and that's okay because the effects were always stunning and look so even to this day. That's why it irks me that for the "Director's Cut" of "Star Trek: the Motion Picture" (TMP), new CGI effects have been rendered. Some changes in the sound mix have been made as well, in addition to some highly-questionable cuts.
I can understand the desire to go back and "fix up" an old gem like this, but it seems to me that more care should have been paid to respecting the work of the artists on the original. Entire external shots of the Enterprise have been replaced here, with new CGI shots that are neither reasonably different or superior. All in all, the new CGI versions seem entirely unnecessary.
I disagree with certain cuts made in the beginning of the film which serve only to further sterilize the film. I'm specifically referring to a scene where Admiral Kirk is briefing the Enterprise crew on the dangers of their mission, during which they receive a transmission from a space station which is then attacked and destroyed in full view of all watching. Afterward, when the transmission abruptly halts, Kirk orders Uhura to deactivate the viewer. As the room stands is stunned silence, he has to repeat himself so that she can tear her eyes away from the horrifying sight she has just witnessed and follow his order. In the new version, there is no hesitation whatsoever. Wise claims that it didn't make sense to show anyone performing in any way other than exemplary if you were to believe they had what it took to save the world.
Well, to me that only highlights what some people don't get about "Star Trek." The 23rd century isn't supposed to be populated with perfect, robotic officers who never make a mistake or betray the slightest emotion unless ordered to. It's about the HUMAN adventure (which is "just beginning," by the way), and small moments which portray the human heart and feeling of our central characters are what is usually sorely lacking in the overly sanitized and perfected "Trek" of Robert Wise. I think that sense of idyllic perfection of character, mixed with the pristine colors and passionless lines of the film's design are what made it so awfully boring in the first place. It is apparent that in 2001 when this set was released, Robert Wise still hadn't figured out what "Star Trek" was about. Here what he removed was one of the only interesting moments in the entire film.
I also take issue with the re-rendering of the opening titles, which has apparently been done in iMovie or a similar program. They look cheap and amateurish, more like what you'd expect to see on a televised awards show than a massively expensive and well-produced sci-fi film like this. They look out of place and the effect is jarring.
Some of the new material is welcome, such as the additional detail seen in the background of scenes on Earth. New shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and the view of the bay from Starfleet were added and look lovely. And...that's about it. Let me say this to the team behind this release (which was ignored for the Blu-Ray set): Less is more, remember? The work done on the original film was groundbreaking, and most of the improvements made here were unnecessary.
An immense cloud of unbelievable power invades known space destroying everything in its path its apparent destination : Earth. The only starship in range is the newly refitted untried Starship Enterprise in orbit of Earth receiving final touches. Admiral James T. Kirk seizing the opportunity to command a starship again takes command of the practically new ship and prepares to intercept the intruder cloud.
In 1979 after a decade off the air, the cast of the original Star Trek finally are reassembled for this continuation of the Star Trek story. Directed by Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, The Andromeda Strain) this Movie launches the Newly Refitted Starship Enterprise on its first big screen adventure. With a masterpiece of a soundtrack written by Jerry Goldsmith this underrated movie is a must own for any Star Trek fan. Redone in 2001 when Paramount decided to release all Trek movies in special edition format, Robert Rise over saw addition footage and new special effects put into what he considered an unfinished movie. Special Features included on these disc are fascinating as Wise has an Audio Commentary track also included is a text track by Michael Okuda, co-author of the Star Trek Encyclopedia.
The first Star Trek film is usually surpassed by the second, The Wraith of Khan. While I too enjoy seeing Ricardo Montebahn in a greased up plastic chest piece, it is the first part of a story that runs from the 2nd to the 4th films, following the death and search for Spock, the journey back in time to get home, etc. It's all good fun, but none of those films stands on their own. The first one actually does.
Of any of the Star Trek films, the first one is the only movie that holds up the meaning and theme of the Classic Star Trek TV Program. Directed by Robert Wise (of the Day The World Stood Still fame), the movie established the Utopian future world where a strange entity is attacking both Klingon and Federation ships alike. Kirk has to take over the newly fitted Enterprise from acting Captain Decker and collect his rowdy friends for some good old fashioned action.
Unfortunately, the film suffered from a bad edit and badly thrown together special effects due to strict guidelines laid down by the studio in order to make the premiere date.
The DVD has been altered to lovingly (it's great to see the glowing faces of the special edition crew on the documentary) replace the special effects based on the original storyboards (we're not talking Star Wars Special Edition tinkering) resulting in a crystal clear print and a fantastic looking film.
Even if you did not like this movie, you owe it to yourself to give it another try and see what Wise and company wanted to present those many years ago.
I never did understand why the critics panned this movie (I often don't). Sure, the costumes were cheesy, and a few aspects of Kirk's identity crisis were a overdone, as was the man-machine union/climax at the end. However, for someone who grew up during the 1960, saw the space race and the prime time run of Star Trek first hand, the movie offers an excellent trip. The premise behind it is spine-tingling, the acting is good, and the special effects are better than good. I thought DeForest Kelley (Bones McCoy) really did a great job on this movie.
So, if you're a die hard Star Trek fan and you take the movie in context with the TV show, the other movies, and the rest of the franchise, it's a fantastic "coming out" to the big screen.