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Star Trek – The Motion Picture: The Review

Director: Robert Wise

Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Stephen Collins, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Persis Khambatta, Majel Barrett

Plot: A mysterious and dangerous storm sweeps on a collision course for Earth. Sensing it could be an alien intruder, Starfleet reinstates ageing Admiral, James T. Kirk (Shatner) to captain status.

For the popular Star Trek’s first movie outing, it goes with a story so by-the-numbers, you could be mistaken for thinking you were watching yet another episode of the TV show. Something destructive and unknown appears in a friendly galaxy and the Starship Enterprise, all familiar faces at the helm of the bridge, head in to investigate. Cue rationalisation, debates on the morality of humanity and, of course, banter between these diverse range of characters.

Of course, a innovative and gripping story isn’t really the point of this movie. The true gameplay with Star Trek: The Motion Picture is to get this popular show on the big screen, now with a budget that can truly show off the imagination of Gene Roddenberry’s world-spanning creation. Never before have we had a truer idea of what Starfleet and its respective characters are meant to look like. While we are still set firmly in the 70s in terms of cinema technology, we are also world’s away from the models hovering in space vibe of the show. Klingons now look like more than men in funny costumes and face paint. The Starship Enterprise gleams with remarkable authority, commanding respect from its first appearance. Notably, Starfleet now feels more whole. In the show, the action was mainly reduced to the same camera set-up in the bridge. Pretty much all the action that took place in the ship was in that single room. We were constantly told there was a whole crowd of people living onboard the Enterprise, but other than a revolving door of red shirts we never had visual proof of that. In an early scene of this film, Kirk rounds up everyone on the ship to make a briefing. Just something as simple as gathering several extras in one room does so much for the show in terms of quality and production values. Suddenly the Starship Enterprise feels like a living, breathing habitat, rather than a narrative device. It makes for more stakes, whenever the ship comes under attack from something it will probably not survive. And the technology of the enemy alien vessel is outstanding. While the movie indulges in several long, tracking shots, clearly proud of its ability to do the Star Trek universe visual justice, the thrills still resonate. The alien vessel is like nothing we have seen before in the Trek universe and a lot of this movie is spent, wondering what is at the other side of that marvellous entity.

But as well as an upgrade to the visuals, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is about getting those beloved characters back onto the Enterprise after their prolonged absence from the show. Each actor has visibly aged (with perhaps the exception of Nimoy, who in a very Vulcan-like manner has endured his original look), and this gives each performance more gravitas. Shatner, for one, has an added thrill of looking like the weight of command has spent far too long on his shoulders. That whimsical, impulsive nature of the youthful commander from the series is still there, as Kirk marches onboard the vessel and, perhaps selfishly, resumes command. But it has come at a cost and as Kirk reacquaints with the ship he used to know, but one that has also upgraded to a unfamiliar extreme, the movie questions whether he is still the right man for the job. As each character makes their way back onto the show, the film teases us with clever reveals and witty build-ups. Kirk and Scotty share the shuttle back to the Enterprise together in a character-revealing dialogue scene. The crew of the enterprise are just as efficient as ever, smiles plastered across the audience’s faces when we finally see them. Even Janice Rand makes a brief cameo reappearance. Absences are felt too. As the bridge returns to its usual business, one cannot help but realises that a certain Bones McCoy isn’t onboard the ship. This is director Robert Wise understanding that such a character needs a separate return and his appearance is so gloriously Bones that it is bound to give fans total faith in the rest of this movie. But best of all is Spock. Before we even begin the adventure, a short cut-away reveals that Spock has left Starfleet to purge all emotion in a Vulcan tradition. While the tribute is not completed when Spock is called away by this alien threat, he returns to the bridge a changed man, even more devoid of feeling and buried in his cold, calculating logic than before. His first appearance on the bridge is the highlight of the movie, a clever little scene, played for laughs, but ultimately quite tragic, as the crew realise their trusted Science Officer is no longer the Vulcan they once knew.

Sadly, as soon as the opening dies down, it is clear that Star Trek isn’t quite sure how to actually be a movie. As we cover the halfway point, the alien vessel confronted and a line of dialogue opening between Starfleet and the unknown entity, there is a sense of no-one being quite sure what to do next. It plays out like a prolonged episode from the television show, the solution being worked out through extensive dialogue scenes and sharp wits, rather than action sequences. The show keeps falling back on the same, old flaws as well. Two new characters are introduced in the form of Decker, the Starship captain who finds his command relinquished off of Kirk and is relegated to Executive Officer, brooding on the side-lines. The new navigator, a Deltan woman by the name of Ilia appears, rekindling a forgotten love between her and Decker. Their addition to the story is important as the end of the movie proves, and the relationship between Kirk and Decker is an interesting side debate to keep the movie moving steadily, but when all we want to do is spend time with the cast we have already come to know and love, time spent developing any other character feels frustratingly unnecessary. While refreshing to not have Kirk be the one drooling over the ‘female of the episode’, it would have also included some preconceived weight behind the arc. As a result, the first Star Trek movie feels a little disjointed, efforts put into the wrong sides of the story. However, if we compare the Motion Picture to a standard episode of the series, it must be said it would have been one of the good ones. The final twist is a shocking one, both clever for its connection to the wider universe and also for unlocking Spock’s character wonderfully in a touching revelation.

Final Verdict: Star Trek isn’t quite sure how to be a movie, but in fan service it keeps the original Motion Picture an enjoyable return to a beloved universe.

Three Stars