Directed by Robert Wise
A vessel of unknown type and origin hidden in a cloud is heading straight for earth and apparently destroying everything in its path. The Enterprise must intercept the vessel and stop it before it ever reaches earth.
Time has moved on for the most part for the crew of the Enterprise. Kirk (William Shatner) has been promoted to admiral and taken a position at Starfleet Command. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is home on Vulcan engaging in a ritual to purge all remaining emotion. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is enjoying retirement. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Sulu (George Takei), Scotty (James Doohan) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) along with Nurse (now Dr.) Chapel (Majel Barrett) and Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) however remain.
I was pretty young when this movie came out and had probably devoured each episode of the series only a handful of times at that point. I don’t think I ever saw it in theaters until a recent anniversary showing. I did however watch it each time it was on ABC and repeatedly on home media over the decades. While it’s not my favorite of the Star Trek films, it’s a good movie. Robert Wise was a fantastic director and he did an amazing job creating a big screen film for what had until this point been a small screen concept.
One of the more appealing parts of this movie for me is the state of the characters after the series has ended. All too often when characters are brought back after having not been on television or on movie screens for any amount of time, things have gone to hell in their personal world or the world at large. Things are in a very sorry state. I don’t need everything to be perfect, but everything doesn’t need to have fallen apart either. While their lives aren’t perfect, everything hasn’t gone to hell for them.
Kirk is probably the worst off of all of them. That’s because he gave up what he not only truly loves but also what he was best at-command of a starship. And he regrets it and it shows because while he does wish to save Earth, he’s also using the crisis as an excuse to get back the Enterprise. He knows it. Everyone knows it.
Kirk’s desire to get back to the Enterprise or even just a command causes friction with Commander Decker who is now commanding the Enterprise and has been with her ever since the end of the 5-year mission and the current refit began. The tension set up here however seems to dissipate for no clear reason. Commander Decker was supposed to be the son of Commodore Decker who was seen in TOS episode Doomsday Machine. It never made it to screen in any discernable way, but it would have added to the tension they were going for if that tension had been maintained.
They also fall short on the relationship between Decker and Deltan navigator Ilia (Persis Khambatta). It’s supposed to be this great love story and they have two hours to make it happen but can never quite pull it off. Their scenes together feel like they were taken from a bad teen romance. Separately the actors are good but when they need to be together to grow their story it just doesn’t work that well.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are the focus of the movie while Chekov, Sulu, Uhura and Scotty mostly linger in the background. In a big screen return they should have been given a little more to do than the bare basics they did in the series. These are characters that fans were invested enough in to justify them returning in a feature film. The latter four were mostly ignored. Scotty gets a brief moment to shine but Sulu and Chekov and Uhura don’t get fleshed out too much. Other than them remaining in Starfleet we don’t get much of an update on them. They remained static. I understand that in the timeline it had only been about two years between the end of their five-year mission and the movie but something other than being Starfleet wage slaves had to of happened to them. Heck, the big three all had major changes in their lives. Why didn’t the other four?
While the Enterprise gets a visual upgrade that keeps the basics intact, the uniforms get a complete overhaul. Security even gets their own department specific gear but what the general Enterprise crew wears looks like pajamas to me. I never dug these uniforms. It looks like they had run out of money by the time it came to make the uniforms. Kirk in particular looked like he was wearing a cheap jogging suit.
What V’Ger is isn’t laid out too quickly which greatly benefits the story. It’s slowly revealed over time so by the time you learn V’ger is an old Earth probe you’re completely invested in the story and you don’t care how ridiculous that is. When I saw it for the first time, what V’Ger was became a very big “Wow!” moment for me. My young mind was blown away. That young kid still likes it.
Even by modern standards the original special effects in my opinion still hold up. However, if you can find it on DVD, I recommend watching the version with the enhanced special-effects. This version was released in 2001 on DVD so it may be a little tough to come by. It looks a little better and the story is not harmed in anyway. They even add in some scenes that were not part of the original theatrical cut and those scenes flesh out the story. Just a suggestion.
The soundtrack is grandiose, but it’s not my favorite Star Trek movie soundtrack. James Horner captured Star Trek in his two scores. His were all adventure and excitement and wonder. Jerry Goldsmith was a great composer but what he did for Star Trek here can best be described as “Oooooooo.” That’s not all Star Trek is. I do give Goldsmith credit for gifting the Klingon theme music to the world. It has a great deal in common with what he did for Planet of the Apes and I love that film and its music. The Klingon theme just gets you ready for battle and invokes that warrior culture.
The questions of God and “Is this all that I am? Is there nothing more?” as asked by Spock in reference to what V’ger is seeking are the big ideas that Star Trek can handle quite well. V’Ger longs for something more. And it comes up with the rather audacious plan of capturing God. Star Trek often went to strange new worlds to address touchy topics. This is no different. Religion and spirituality are addressed using a machine in place of a human with an emptiness inside of them.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture is not a perfect movie, but it was a good re-introduction of the characters back to the world. Star Trek is about exploring big themes and big ideas and that’s what this movie does. It is a character driven film that is pleasing each and every time you see it. I love this movie.