Monday, November 19, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) ***½

PG, 136 min. (director’s edition)
Director: Robert Wise
Writers: Harold Livingston, Alan Dean Foster, Gene Roddenbery (tv series)
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Majel Barrett, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins, Grace Lee Whitney

The best thing about watching all of the “Star Trek” television series on Netflix Instant streaming is that it gives me an excuse to go back and watch all of the “Star Trek” movies too. I’ve written about them in Penny Thoughts before, a couple of years ago when I showed them to my boys for the first time. I’m not sure I’ll have anything new to say about them, but I’ll still enjoy saying it.

I’ve always had the impression that I was a much bigger fan of the original “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” than even most Trekkers. I remember the disappointment about the film when it was released in theaters. I was just in awe to see that T.V. show I’d been watching after school for years with actual movie level production values. Yes, the Starfleet uniforms leave something to be desired. Sure, it might’ve been nice to see the Klingons take on a more aggressive role in their first big screen appearance. It’s slower and less exciting than “Star Wars” to be sure. But, its story is pure “Star Trek”.

The story element of a probe observing the operation of the Enterprise to determine whether the crew is a plague on the machine of the starship is even taken from a season two episode of the original series. In that episode, the probe is a machine rather than an altered version of the bald and beautiful supermodel Persis Khambatta. The themes are the same, however; and making the probe subservient to the mechanical intelligence of the Voyager satellite space probe makes for a topical connection to the time in which the film was made. Launched at about the time that pre-production began on the movie, the use of Voyager as a plot point is a stroke of brilliance by the filmmakers.

The fact that Paramount hired Academy Award winner Robert Wise to direct the project showed that they were serious about holding up the ideals Gene Roddenberry had set forth to promote with his science fiction series. While “Star Trek” probably wouldn’t have been green lit without the success of “Star Wars”, it would’ve been wrong to make it like “Star Wars”, which is essentially a western with definitive lines of good and bad battling against each other. The Enterprise is a vessel of peace working for a Federation of Planets with humanitarian ideals. A shoot out wouldn’t have been in the spirit of the series.

Instead, the filmmakers put together a thought provoking philosophical story. Wise doesn’t rush through his plot and he uses some of the visual techniques employed by Stanley Kubrick in his space thinker “2001: A Space Odyssey”. “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” may not have been exactly what the “Star Wars” crowd wanted, but it fit right in with the established science fiction ideals put forth in the original “Star Trek” television series. 

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