Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Star Trek: The Motion Picture</strong> (1979)

(Second or third viewing, on Blu-ray, October 2018) I remember being fascinated by Star Trek: The Motion Picture as a kid in the early 1980s. To me, it was the epitome of high-gloss science fiction and sense of wonder. I watched it a few times on VHS. Another viewing right now has me jumping over to the camp calling it “Star Trek: The Slow-Motion Picture”: Not a whole lot happens over the more than two hours running time of the film, and the pacing makes a bit more sense knowing that it started life as a TV series pilot given a budget boost in the footsteps of Star Wars’ blockbuster success. While I still like much of the film’s concept (including a rather elegant tie-in with the then-topical Voyager space exploration probes) and do have some affection for seeing the original Enterprise crew back again for adventure (including a visibly older William Shatner), Star Trek: The Motion Picture definitely sputters on execution. Note: The Blu-ray version seen here is the original theatrical version, not the reportedly snappier 2001 re-edit with new special effects. As such, the 1979 picture shows its age: there are a lot of effects and they haven’t aged very well: It really doesn’t help that the entire film dwells on those visuals, allowing plenty of time to notice its imperfections. (That wormhole sequence … ew.) The pacing does introduce two other issues—early in the movie, the drawn-out overflight of the USS Enterprise was meant as a loving homage to a ship beloved by its audience, but now comes across as overdone fetishism for an audience that has since seen much better. (I’m an Enterprise-D fan myself). Second, the lengthy overview of the alien ship (especially during Spock’s ill-conceived solo outing) now comes across cut-rate attempts to replicate 2001: A Space Odyssey’s trippy third act. Does it work? Well, yes but probably only for an audience already receptive to Trek’s basic explore-and-empathize ethos. As I said: good concept, but sputtering execution. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is now best seen as the financial reason why the much-better Star Trek II exists.

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