Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

After watching director J.J. Abrams highly entertaining slam bang Star Trek reboot this past weekend, a movie quite honestly that was an action flick masquerading as a Star Trek movie, I decided to revisit, for the first time in thirty years, the very first Star Trek movie, the late Robert Wise’ Star Trek the Motion Picture. I was eleven, maybe twelve when I saw the first movie back in 1979 with my mom of all people, a woman who loved everything Star Trek, making sure that we did not miss this cinematic event. For this particular twelve year old this was quite possibly the most boring movie in the history of the planet earth. And beyond. Thirty years later, considering I haven’t seen the movie since and also taking into consideration that this is Robert Wise attempt to fix the 1979 theatrical release with his Director’s Cut, one would hope that I’ve matured a little bit and hopefully what I found dreadfully dull in 1979 would express itself as enlightened and illuminating 2009. Well… no. ‘Star Trek the Motion Picture’ is still pretty damn dull. The difference now is that I no longer have the attention span of ferret on speed and as such I was able to absorb the concepts and theories that were ever so slowly being channeled our way in this rather lengthy, patience trying film.

There’s this huge cloud floating through space and it is first encountered by a trio of Klingon ships. Right of the bat we notice an upgrade as the Klingons no longer resemble the rogue Puerto Ricans from the TV show but now sport a look more along the lines that Roddenberry had envisioned for them from the get go. So the Klingons see this thing and since they don’t know what it is what does a Klingon do? Why try to kill it of course. Bad move.

The problem is that this cloud is on course to earth and the only ship available to investigate and react is the newly retrofitted Starship Enterprise captained by William Decker (Stephen Collins)... at least until an envious and hateful Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) yanks control of the ship out from under my man by playing the

‘experience’ card. The usual suspects are here with Lt. Commander Sulu (George Takei) piloting the low rider, Lt. Commander Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) answering the phones, Commander Scott (the late James Doohan) filling up the gas tank, Lt. Chekov (Walter Keonig) doing whatever the hell he does and Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (the late DeForest Kelley) not doing anything remotely medical unless bitching and whining incessantly is some kind of new futuristic treatment. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) will hop on board later as our Science Officer and one who at this time is almost completely devoid of emotion, and we have a new edition in empath Lt. Ilia (the late Persis Khambatta) who I imagine landed this role not only because of her obvious beauty, the woman was Miss India for goodness sakes, but also because she has the most perfectly rounded dome I’ve ever seen.

Our crew make it to this cloud amidst a series of starts and fits, mainly because the Enterprise is being captained by a dude who really doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, and when they finally reach this cloud they find that it is a highly advanced and sentient machine running on pure logic calling itself V’ger. Spock weeps in envy. V’ger is searching for something and what it is searching for has our stalwart crew completely vexed. Even when they discover what the object of V’ger’s desire happens to be they still have no idea how to present it to the machine in a way it will find acceptable. Worse still is that this highly advanced machine has logically concluded that the carbon infestation is the reason that it can’t get what it wants and thus elimination of this infestation would clear the way for its wishes to be met. That would be the destruction everybody on the planet earth. The sooner you cats figure this one out the better.

For the majority of the folks out here ‘Star Trek the Motion Picture’ is pretty damned boring and there really isn’t any way around this. The crew of The Enterprise spend long sections of the movie looking off in wonder, looking off in amazement, looking in fear or looking introspectively out of the space window. When Kirk and Scotty spend ten minutes coasting around The Enterprise looking at it in wonder, I do understand that this is a mighty big deal considering it’s The Enterprise and all, but I wouldn’t have minded a few minutes shaved off of that. Or the first time they see the big cloud, they just sit there staring at it or when they enter the cloud and it gets them in a tractor beam and we’re stuck watching them being ever slowly being pulled in by this beam while they are looking on with trepidation. Rarely does the film ever rise above anything slightly above a simmer so if you have a heart problem and can’t handle excitement then this is your movie.

Now if I knew in 1979 what I know today and you informed me that Robert Wise would be directing a Star Trek movie then this is completely what I would’ve expected. I’ve seen many movies from the late Mr. Wise and this is falls in line with how he works as this movie favors ideas, concepts, parables and allegory above action and melodrama. More so than any of the other Star Trek films that would follow this one is here is pure Science Fiction from its first frame to its last and when certain individuals praise it, and they are out there, but I do understand even if I can’t agree. But even taking this into account, I don’t know if it justifies the staid performances from the majority of the cast, including William Shatner, all of whom seemed to have just come from Vulcan after doing that emotion purge ritual. There just wasn’t a lot going on in this movie that anyone outside of the raw dog Star Trek fan is going to get a lot out of.

Thirty years later I do understand the movie better and on some level I even have an appreciation for it but it is still a rather dull affair that probably could use a director’s cut of the director’s cut to shave off another forty or so minutes.

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