Star Trek The Motion Picture

HBO Max sent me an update that included a tidbit about them now having all of the Star Trek film franchise available on their streaming service.  This seemed like it might be an opportunity for a movie marathon at our house.  My wife and I do that now and then, watch some series of movies like Star Wars or Harry Potter or James Bond from start to finish.

And when I asked her if she was up for it, she said she was.  We’re still waiting for Andor to get a few episodes ahead and we’re about done with most other things we’ve been watching, so it seemed like a good distraction, and it had been a while since we had done one of these.

Of course, the Star Trek movie franchise definitely has its ups and downs.  We said we were up for it, but we will have to see how far we get.

The first in the series is Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the 1979 debut of the franchise on the big screen.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

This was a big freaking deal to me back in 1979, and my friend Chris and I, both big Star Trek fans, went and saw it at the Century Theaters… the same place I saw Star Wars for the first time in 1977… and, hrmmm… the memories are a bit faded.  On the one hand, I know we were into it in our own way.  On the other, we didn’t go back and see it again… and I had seen Star Wars multiple times in the theater when it launched.

Honestly, I cannot remember if I had sat down to watch the whole thing since its debut back then.

So my wife and I settled in to watch it.

It isn’t great.

It isn’t completely horrible, but I can see why I never went back to watch it again.

As I said, at the time, Star Trek landing on the big screen was a big freaking deal, and not just for some teenage boys in what would become Silicon Valley.  The original series had been cancelled after three seasons back in the mid-60s, but had gained such a following that it was almost continuously on somewhere in syndication.  There was a plethora of novels featuring the crew of the USS Enterprise, and an animated series that tried to fill the gap, but none of it was enough to satisfying the fans.

This was the level of Star Trek that was sustaining us on computers

I know very little about how the film came to be (and avoided reading up on it to keep my impressions distinc), but my speculation, having watched it again, is that the success of Star Wars in the theaters and Battlestar Galactica on TV shook the franchise loose and got people looking to run with it again.  The problem seems to be the lack of a decent script.

What they ended up with was basically an retread of an original series episode, writ large to be a full film… and it wasn’t enough.  The episode they cribbed from had enough material to fill out the 45 minutes required, but the script had to pad that out to two hours.

So we spend a lot of time… a whole lot of time… basically looking at cool visuals.

And I get it, 2001: A Space Odyssey made it on that, and part of the appeal of Star Wars was the work of Industrial Light and Magic and the images they created for a galaxy far away, so there was pressure on the production team to deliver a stellar look that would compete.

This first Star Trek film is just filled with very slow, almost set piece “Hey, look at that, isnt’ that cool!” moments of the new Enterprise, the space dock, the ship interiors, some Klingon ships (and their interiors), and of course, the spectacle of V’Ger.

It is all very pretty.  It looked good on our TV.  It probably looked even better on the big screen back in 1979.  The story just doesn’t do very much with it.  It doesn’t use, make interesting, or deliver on the promise of the effects in the film.

Nor does it do very much with the characters.  In the absence of a solid story, the original series used to lean heavily on the cast to bring the stories to life, to add emotion, to get us invested.  It is fun to mock Shatner these days, but his performances back in the original series are part of what gave it life.  He was the embodiment of the confident, aggressive optimism of the United States before we soiled ourselves and lost our way over Vietnam.

The whole thing felt stretched thin, not enough material to fill the time which lead to gratuitous use of good, but neither exciting not world beating, moments of special effects.

But here’s the thing… it was enough.  It did well at the box office, which demonstrated the pent up demand at the time for more Star Trek.  That got us six movies overall based on the original series, another four around Star Trek: The Next Generation, and three more as a reboot of the franchise.

It is never going to make my favorites list, but it served its purpose.

My wife wasn’t big on it either, so there is some question as to whether or not we’ll carry on.  But if we do, the next on the list is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  That started the trend of even numbered titles being the “good” ones, as well as getting the crew in better uniforms.  (Did I mention the uniforms in the first movie kind of sucked as well?)  But it might possibly be the most overrated in the series as well.  It has been years since I’ve seen it, so we’ll have to see.

7 thoughts on “Star Trek The Motion Picture

  1. bhagpuss

    The first one is the only Star Trek movie I saw a the cinema and I believe only one of two, total, I’ve ever seen (I think I saw Wrath of Khan on TV.) I was never much of a Trek fan to begin with but as you say, at the time just the existence of a pure genre SF movie in cinemas was a big deal, which is why I went to see it.

    I don’t remember much about it, other than it was dull enough to make me pass on the sequels. I do remember being bored. I also saw Star Wars on release and, while I never became a fan in the true sense, I did become sufficiently involved to see Empire and Jedi on release. And I saw Battlestar Galactica, which was by far the least enjoyable of all of them, although even now I remember the opening scene, where the ship flies directly at the audience, something that wasn’t yet a cliche. BG was in Sensurround or one of those seat-shaking gimmicks, as I recall, which hugely added to the impact. Shame it didn’t have a plot.


  2. Rumpshakah

    I am one of those that goes with only the even number ones are good. I did like 3 simply because Christopher Lloyd as a klingon and the klingons confusion about it being a weapon was fun. However, we are talking about 1 and it was a giant spectacle and going to the movies back then was a big deal for my family. Nowadays, we would re-watch stuff in preparation before seeing a “new” anything but this was way before vcr – so we went and I stared up at a giant sized crew do stuff they had done in 1 hour long shows and I was entertained. I have watched parts of it over to remind myself things and recently had current discussion revitalizing the theory that V’ger was humanities first encounter with the borg – as in Voyager made contact with the borg – the borg repaired it and sent it back. Super interesting theory and enough to make me want to go back and watch it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. PCRedbeard

    Apparently Robert Wise didn’t understand Star Trek, so he basically made “his film” rather than a Star Trek film. Another little piece of trivia is that there was an attempt to get a second Star Trek series going in the mid-70s, and the crew (minus Leonard Nimoy) was on board for it, but for some reason it never got made. The movie was made out of an episode from that aborted series, and as you surmised it was very similar to The Changeling.

    If there was a different director with a more “Star Trek” aligned vision, and a script designed for 2 hours, I think it would have made a much better movie overall. Still, it was by far not the worst Star Trek film.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mailvaltar

    Wrath of Khan and The search for Spock are ok…but The Voyage Home is excellent and, in my opinion, ranks among the three best Star Trek movies. It’s definitely the funniest. So I wouldn’t quit just yet.

    That first film is the only one I’d actually call rather bad, even if it’s, as you said, mainly just very slow and boring.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Paul

    They trot out from 1-7 frequently here on replay, as in multiple times a year. I don’t think I have bothered with 1-3 this century. But The voyage Home is always amusing.


  6. Archey

    I saw Wrath of Khan again pretty recently and in my opinion it’s held up.

    Laying aside the science, which does hold up at least on the surface if you don’t think much about it, the performances are great. Ricardo Montalbon does a good job of balancing cerebral and physical power. Shatner was at a good age – more seasoned than the TV series but not elderly yet. And it has a lot of iconic moments like the Kobayashi Maru scenario and the whole nebula sequence toward the snd.

    Definitely worth a re-watch at least.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Informer

    I was a huge Trekker in my youth and practically tore down the cinema doors to get in on opening day for the first film. Even fanboy me couldn’t sit through it. So boring and a plot you have to force yourself to pretend isn’t super derivative and cliched. It was a hell of a shock. The only Trek ep or film I’ve only seen once. And I regret losing that two hours.


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