Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Movie Review)

Movie Review
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
1979
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy
Directed by: Robert Wise

If you like staring at glory shots of a futuristic spaceship for what feels like forever with orchestral music playing in the background, then Star Trek: The Motion Picture is for you. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, this 132-minute movie feels more like an episode of the TV series that’s been stretched to fill that time. Robert Wise doesn’t have much to work with, but instead of cutting the runtime down to something more manageable, he gives us this movie that feels long and has little substance.

The recommissioned USS Enterprise is about to leave space dock when it’s former captain, Admiral James Kirk (Shatner) pulls a fast one and takes over command from its current captain, Willard Decker (Stephen Collins). Kirk reveals to Decker that the reason why he did his end-run to regain control of the Enterprise is because there is a dangerous space anomaly heading towards Earth. Since the Enterprise is the only ship that could intercept the mysterious object in time, it would probably be best that the person running the ship is the person that knows the ins and outs of the ship more than anyone else.

Spock (Nimoy), the ship’s former science officer who left the Enterprise to seek Vulcan training, returns to ship after receiving communication from the anomaly. With the crew reunited, they intercept the destructive space cloud that ends up with one their own, Ilia (Persis Khambatta) gets abducted; only to return as a vessel for the anomaly, identifying itself as V’ger, to communicate with the ship’s crew.

Some would characterize the acting from the TV show as campy and the upgrade to the silver screen didn’t seem to incentivize anyone to raise the bar. Shatner, playing Admiral Kirk as if he’s the captain of a lounge on a cruise ship instead of leading the most sophisticated starship in human history, comes across as a wise guy who seems more at home delivering one-liners with a nod to how cool he is rather than deliver meaningful dialogue. Nimoy isn’t much better, who plays a character who is supposed to suppress his emotions, but somehow always comes off as grumpy and less thrilled to be there. Everyone else kind of fills in the gaps and is barely noticeable unless screen time dedicated to making their character seem like they have a place in this story.

With the focus of the movie being the special effects budget, the movie is very dialogue heavy; it just feels like nobody has anything interesting to say. Some of the longer scenes that don’t involve a highlight reel for the awesomeness of the Enterprise feels as if people are talking in circles. Aside from Shatner and Nimoy, none of the characters are all that well developed, which means that if you’re not a fan of the television series, you won’t understand some of the motivations or personal details of everyone. It almost feels as if the producers were sitting around and trying to figure out how little of the cast they need to show so they can display how impressive the Enterprise looks and the special effects used to create the V’ger expanse.

Even the storyline between Decker and Ilia feels stapled on because there needs to be a formulaic love story for whatever reason. What ends up happening is that instead of seeing what type of captain Decker was supposed to be, we see a guy pout in a few scenes because he lost his command to Kirk. Ilia is treated like nothing more than eye candy as she parades around in a one piece that is so short that it almost reveals her bellybutton.

This movie loses so much because the focus is on the special effects, however, they did a great job at making the Enterprise and outer space look like it was all filmed on location (with a few exceptions). Normally I try to review a movie without taking into account how old it is but considering that this review is being written over 40 years since the film’s initial release, it must be noted how great the special effects have held up. Many movies and television shows try too hard to make science fiction look futuristic and they go over-the-top. However, in 1979, Wise was able to demonstrate what space travel and exploration should look like that comes across as realistic. There are a few things like the ship’s consoles looking antiquated and the visual effects involving warp drive that seems very silly and outdates by 80s standards, but overall, the movie still looks great almost a half-century later.

It’s hard to say if Star Trek: The Motion Picture would have been a good episode of Star Trek as there was so much unnecessary nonsense added to this movie. The movie has a runtime that’s triple the length of an average episode, but it somehow feels like it has less material. Robert Wise has given us a movie that’s pretty to look at, but beyond that, isn’t much of a movie. While a film with impressive visuals but limited story could still be appreciated for artistic reasons, it’s way too long to justify recommending even to people that like to sit back and watch flashy things.

Rating: 1 out of 5.
Jamie Gore

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