Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Or "How to Fuck Up a Good Thing"

I have a personal goal to watch every episode of the Star Trek franchise television series and movies. On the television front I have watched all of the original series of Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and I am about halfway through Star Trek: Voyager which I will follow-up by watching Enterprise.

Since I am so close to finishing up watching all of the television series I decided to start on the movies. Netflix is a beautiful thing, and I soon had a blu-ray copy of the director’s edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This is the movie that launched the film franchise back in 1979.

Too bad it sucks.

I mean that. I was going to post this article yesterday, but I was worried that people might think of it as an April Fools’ Day joke.

Now I had seen this movie years ago as a kid, but I could not recall what it was about. I had seen Star Wars in the theater as a kid and I could always recall in great detail the plot long before videotape was around to allow me to watch it whenever I wished. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn came out in 1982 and I could clearly recall the plot from seeing that film in the theater as well.

I now know why I “forgot” about this film – it is completely forgettable. While there are a few scenes that any fan of Star Trek would enjoy the overall work is long, boring, and unexceptional. So while fans may get great tidbits of Trek out of this film people who are not fans probably watch this and lose all interest in ever watching anything having to do with Star Trek ever again.

Captain Kirk is pretty much incompetent throughout the film. Kirk is now an admiral who has been working a desk job for far too long it seems. He takes over command of the Enterprise once again upon an alien threat being discovered by Starfleet.

Kirk spends more time repeating what has just been stated and responding with a question composed of very few syllables (“Why?”, “What?”, “How?”, etc.) than he does actually commanding the mission. Furthermore the Enterprise has just undergone a refit and it is less than optimal in its operation, and Kirk is not familiar with how the ship has been changed. It is because of this over used theme that you never get the sense that these icons of the franchise are the heroes that you remember from the original television series.

The other problem is that the plot is slow moving. The whole movie is based upon the Enterprise being sent to investigate a strange and destructive entity heading towards Earth. There is an incident with a worm hole being created due to a problem with the first use of the refitted Enterprise’s warp drives (an example of the previously mentioned incompetence) and it is comical in how long it takes to resolve the threat versus how much the audience cares about the threat. This occurs during an early part of the film, so you know the Enterprise won’t be destroyed. The whole incident is resolved by the crew members basically sitting at their consoles.
I will attempt to explain this scene with greater detail. The threat is that the Enterprise creates a worm hole that is hurtling it at an asteroid. Halfway through the scene Kirk issues a command to fire the phasers, but that order is belayed by Commander Decker (a new character overrides Kirk?) because Kirk’s command would have destroyed the Enterprise. We later learn that this is because Kirk did not know about changes made to the Enterprise’s weapons and engines, so there would have been… oh fucking forget it.

Here is the short version: It takes about ten minutes for the crew of the Enterprise (which is now a clunker) to deal with a rock, and Kirk has forgotten how to drive.

There is a nice twist at the end of the film as to what the true nature of the alien threat is, but the film is basically two hours of waiting for it to be revealed despite that you probably have lost interest about thirty minutes into the film. Every little thing is drawn out. The first look at the refitted Enterprise, the process of small ships docking with larger ones, the Klingons’ first encounter with the alien threat, and so on, and so on. What you end up with is something that would have made a really nice 45 minute television episode turned into a 2 hour excuse for taking a nap.

The whole film reminded me of a bad night of roleplaying with a game master who has a clever premise, boring encounters, pet NPCs, and a complete lack of insight into whether or not the players are having any fun. In the end the GM looks at the table and says “How can you not be having fun? Its D&D!” or whatever game you please.

How can I not enjoy this movie? Its Star Trek!

The lesson the I learned from this film is that even if you have the best ingredients to work with you still have to prepare them using a good recipe in order to make a great meal. This film was like watching a prime cut of steak being boiled until it becomes grey mush. If it weren’t for the fans of Star Trek making the first film profitable enough to justify the studio making a sequel (it nearly did not happen because of the critics’ reviews) this film could have killed Star Trek.

Consider it a Trekkie badge of honor when you watch this film, because it is an obvious display of your love for the franchise being greater than your sense of self preservation.