Imagination Connoisseur, Willow Yang, shares her review of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. Buckle up, buckaroos … this is gonna be a bumpy ride!
This might be the last letter that I’m going to ever write to you, considering that you might have be banished after this. I’m sending you my thoughts on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I know that I’m going to break your heart, seeing that it’s your favourite feature film of the franchise, but I have to be honest: I didn’t love it. And no, I’m not attempting to troll you here, as much as much as I wish I was. If you do care to proceed onwards, here are the reasons why The Motion Picture didn’t really work for me. (And just to give you some details, the version that I watched was on Youtube, listed as ‘Star Trek I: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition’, with a runtime of 2 hours and 16 minutes.)
My primary issue with the movie is its pacing. There are definitely episodes from The Original Series – Mirror Mirror, The City on the Edge of Forever, Space Seed, to name but a few examples – that I thought could have probably benefited from being longer. The plot of The Motion Picture however, seemed like something that could have comfortably fit into a 50-minute episode. The movie felt very indulgent, filled with long, lingering shots of scenes and imagery that, while beautiful, didn’t really do much to advance the story. From the very beginning, even before the Paramount logo appeared on screen, there is an over 3-minute long sequence of the stars set to a sweeping score. There is a long, extended look at the exterior of the refitted Enterprise. I understand that there are many fans who adore the scene; unfortunately, I just don’t have the same fetishistic feelings towards spaceships, and found it to be a little gratuitous. The same can be said for the entire second act of the movie, which was delegated primarily to lingering shots of V’ger. I really hate saying this, but I just found myself getting bored.
The plot itself of a human-made machine that has acquired sentience and returned back to Earth in search of its creator felt reminiscent of the Season 2 episode, The Changeling, while the scope and sense of dread and wonder evoked memories of The Doomsday Device and The Immunity Syndrome. However, I felt that the movie lacked the charm and warmth that have made the aforementioned episodes far more enjoyable for me. Spock described V’ger as being ‘cold’ and ‘barren’; to be honest, that was how I felt about the film itself. Ironically, for a story that’s supposed to celebrate the beauty and greatness of humanity, I really found the human element to be lacking. I remembered Kirk for his charisma and vitality; even though I applaud the movie for trying something new with his character, I was disappointed to see him being so passive and subdued. And while Spock wasn’t exactly known for being ‘warm and sociable’, I still found him to be too excessively frigid, and even a little disdainful. It was as if all the time that he had spent on the Enterprise and his profound friendship with Kirk, had been forgotten. McCoy was the only character from the trinity who was able to bring any warmth and levity; unfortunately, I thought he was quite under-utilized.
More than anything, I felt an absence of interactions and connection between the characters. Everyone just seemed to be off on their own instead of working together cohesively on this tremendous undertaking. I don’t want to see the crew staring with bug-eyed fear and awe at the view screen; I want them to do some talking, to actually speculate and try to figure out what they were dealing with. I want to see more of the rapport between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. I would gladly trade the long shots of V’ger’s aurora borealis cloud for an extended conversation between the trinity, and their philosophical musings over this incredible discovery. I want to hear more from Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu. Had I watched The Motion Picture without having already seen The Original Series, I really don’t know if I’d be able to remember most of the supporting cast members.
There are times when limitations can be frustrating and detrimental, and times when it can actually be a very good thing. Personally, for me, The Motion Picture felt like a case where being limited to a shorter format could have actually improved the story. There are some great themes and thought-provoking questions posed in the movie: the compelling examination of what it is to be human, the richness and beauty and wonder that our emotions bring to our lives, the power of just being able to feel something as simple as holding another person’s hand. Unfortunately, all of this is muddled amidst the long stretches of imagery and special effects that felt more like fanservice than what’s necessary to communicate the story. For every minute of great scenes like Spock speaking to Kirk in sickbay and weeping over V’ger as he finally embraced his own humanness, there just seemed to be ten minutes of ships gliding slowly through space.
If you have managed to make it to here, I just want to be clear: I didn’t hate the movie. I thought that there was still plenty of good things in it to commend. Even though I’ve been bagging on the extended visual scenes, the effects were stunning and undoubtedly awe-inspiring for their time, as was Goldsmith’s epic score that invoked so much beauty and wonder. I appreciated the characters of Decker and Ilia. The story required that I cared for them, and I did; their relationship helped bring some much-needed humanity to the film. Even though I did not love the depiction of Kirk, I still respect the attempt to develop his character. I like that he is able to be more vulnerable and flawed, that he could show remorse and guilt when a transporter malfunction killed two of his crew members, that he could express doubt over what he was doing. And in the end, even though I personally did not love the movie, I recognize that my opinion is just one of a million. There are plenty of people who do appreciate and love the visuals, the epic cinematic scope, the lingering, seductive shots of The Enterprise and of V’ger, and I applaud the filmmakers for creating something that has clearly brought great excitement and joy and wonder to many others. Unfortunately, I just personally felt that it might have been done at the expense of plot and characters.
P.S. Just to let you know, I really did enjoy The Wrath of Khan. Thus, if you could refrain from exiling me from the PGS community, I’ll write up my review for it soon.