Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Three years after Captain Kirk last commanded the Enterprise (was it the time he changed into a woman or when everybody aged in reverse?), a Giant Thing heads towards Earth and, because he’s the best at destroying inexplicable clouds, Kirk is charged with getting the band back together for ONE LAST SCORE. Or several last scores -- are there more movies after this? Are there? Anyhow, we are treated to our beloved characters returning to a mostly white set amid flashy special effects and incredibly long fucking scenes, and yet… I find myself being surprisingly okay with most of the movie. Certainly not at the fact that Yeoman Rand did not age well, but the other stuff.

Now LET ME FINISH I know that this film has a bit of a reputation of being a dull, deliberately paced snore-fest that serves only to showcase its special effects and cash in a bit on 2001’s procedural style. I suppose that assessment is fair. In true hard sci-fi fashion, certain scenes exist only to convey a theme, synthesize a mood, or build a believable world.

In this way, great moments almost emerge. An example: Kirk has a two-minute long admiration of the Enterprise in the repair dock, and it would be magnificent if it were properly built up from brief flashes of its hull through thick repair scaffolds to the clear image of Kirk staring proudly at the bow as Goldsmith's overbearing space adventure score goes BUM BUM BUUUUUUUUUM! Instead, we see every second clearly, and they keep it going, showing us the entire docking procedure. An emotional reaction is less important than knowing the cold, hard facts, and we are robbed of a potentially greater experience.

And yes, scenes like this, scenes that exist for their own sake and dangle outside of the main story, keep happening. We see the dangers of transporter travel and warp speed travel; we see mission briefs conveying information to the crew that we, the audience, don't require in such a labored manner; we see scenes of rehabilitation between the young dude and his hot, bald exgirlfriend walking around the Enterprise. The other operating motive is that these scenes exist as a platform for state-of-the-art special effects, any chance they can muster; a macro example is Spock’s endless, tension-bereft spacewalk into V-Ger, a micro is Bones and Kirk talking in front of the galaxy’s most distracting window.

The plot is one suited for an episode of the television show -- in fact, incredibly close to "Where No Man Has Gone Before" or "The Lights of Zetar," merged with "The Changeling." Kirk’s rough and tumble Captaining is frowned upon but tolerated, two peripheral characters are in love and one of them is some kinda headmakeydo, everybody has to work together to solve a problem, Chekov says some shit… basically, we’ve seen it all before and without the added steps of reintroducing the crew. It is a compact story in a container that is too large, lacking the content to justify how slow it is, wheeling towards the one guy stepping onboard the weird spaceship to have himself an adventure he couldn’t find on the Enterprise for some reason… basically like Close Encounters of the Third Kind but with a bald hotty. Okay, so maybe I get it.

However, using the 2001 argument in a dismissive manner is a mistake, and treating it like the end-all-be-all flaw that kills the film is something I take issue with. That sensibility is truly what the old show could have used in greater degree, to break apart all of the scenes with the giant cats and the Earth parallels. We, after all, had plenty of the bottom-up emotional stuff, more than our fill, and very rarely were we engaged in a top-down futuristic world that didn't fall apart under slight scrutiny. In that situation, a kite was flying across the sky and well out of our reach. Here, someone has grasped the string and has pulled it down to our height. We definitely need to let it soar higher, but for now, at least we have control of the kite.

I submit with the above that The Motion Picture is in fact what you would want out of a movie based on the television show… not "exactly," but "ehhh close I guess." Without the stylistic choice, the movie does retain the spirit of exploration, as well as the less flattering aspects of this universe under Federation perspective. People die left and right like it ain’t no fuckin thing, a bunch under the murderous expanse of a sinister cloud, what is finally determined to be the DIRECT FAULT of Earth, and nothing within the film appears to come of it. Accountability and consequence are feh... just like the show!

Perhaps I'd have a hard time recommending this to someone who doesn't already like Star Trek, or to... y'know... girls. I was certainly shocked by how into it I got. Like an alien creature bent on your destruction, it is an ordeal and yet… fascinating to study. V-Ger help me, I like it a little, but it’s no "Balance of Terror" HAHA GOT IT IN THERE.