Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) Director: Robert Wise

★★★☆☆

After the cancelation of the original Star Trek television series, which lasted for three seasons from 1966-1969 (only achieving cult-like status after its network syndication), Paramount decided to produce a feature film approximately 10 years later in 1979. Paramount was persuaded the film could be a hit after the monumental successes of sci-fi movies like Star Wars as well as Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Inspired by themes of human purpose contra mechanical emptiness, Star Trek reintroduces the original series to the big screen with inspiring gusto and applaudable pace. Its shortcomings include poor effects and cinematography, as well as lengthy scenes (such as slow and extensive scenes of a ship docking) but nevertheless the film is an inquiry-provoking delight. It draws its inspiration, in part, from films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes.

The film takes place in the 23rd century. A massive, high energy cloud is moving through space destroying ships along the way. Meanwhile, back in San Francisco on Earth, the Starship Enterprise is undergoing significant upgrades. Captain, or now “Admiral,” James T. Kirk (of course played by William Shatner) decides to reclaim his role as Captain of the Enterprise, which has been recently charged by Starfleet with the task of confronting the energy cloud which is rapidly approaching Earth. In doing so, Kirk angers a young Commander named William Decker (played by a young Stephen Collins). Meanwhile, Spock (of course played by Leonard Nimoy, who almost refused to appear in the film because he felt underpaid for his years of Star Trek royalties) -Spock has been undergoing a Vulcan religious ritual of ridding himself of all emotions but he cannot complete the trial because he senses too much, like a human. He joins up with Kirk’s mission and takes over as Science Officer.

In a series of long, dramatic scenes the Enterprise intercepts the floating cloud and they are attacked by an alien force within. A crew member aboard the Enterprise, a navigator named Ilia (played by Indian model Persis Khambatta) is abducted by the aliens, she is also secretly the lover of Commander Decker. Shortly thereafter a reformed, robotic Ilia boards the Enterprise for surveillance and reconnaissance. She now refers to humans as “carbon-units” yet she has been meticulously recreated and programmed with some of Ilia’s initial memories by the aliens. The crew of the Enterprise soon discovers that the aliens are, in fact, living machines guided by their leader named V’Ger (pronounced Vee-Jurr), a machine in search of its creator. Spock conducts a secret mission into the heart of V’Ger to discover the power of its creativity, and Kirk demands that the robotic Ilia take them to see V’Ger directly. Much to their horror, the Enterprise crew discovers that V’Ger is actually an old spaceship sent from Earth hundreds of years prior -the Voyager craft (several letters have been blacked out along the vehicle’s side) whose initial purpose was to document the universe and transmit its data back to Earth. Eventually Voyager was intercepted by a planet populated by machines who have made it their mission to allow Voyager to complete its mission. The Enterprise crew allows this to happen by utilizing the “archaic” technology of radio-waves, while the robotic Ilia persuades Commander Decker to join together with the machine to form a new life, thus bringing new purpose to the cold and empty machine life. Remarkably, the movie has no central enemy that we ever encounter, such as a Klingon general. Instead, the enemy is a nameless, faceless collection of living machines.

Writers for the film include Gene Roddenbury, initial creator and screenwriter for the television series, as well as novelist Ray Bradbury. Many staunch ‘Trekkies’ have criticized the slow pacing of the film, calling it “The Motionless Picture,” as well as critiquing its seeming lack of connection to the original television series, however it still does not fall into the worst categories of Star Trek films. Other actors that reprise their roles include DeForest Kelley as Dr. Leonard McCoy, Walter Koenig as Pavel Chekov, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, and of course George Takei as Sulu.

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