5. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Directed by Robert Wise.
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Majel Barrett, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Persis Khambatta, and Stephen Collins.
Despite kick-starting a phenomenally successful run of movies, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was far from a lovingly embraced follow-up to the Original Series, which was cancelled an entire decade prior in 1969.
Yet there is an admirable singularity – pardon the pun – to this strident antithesis to Star Wars, released just two years later yet more closely resembling Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, from its opening black screen overture to its Douglas Trumbull-produced visual effects and, yes, its glacial pace.
It would be fair to call The Motion Picture a bold stylistic exercise wrapped around a familiar “otherworldly intruder threatens Earth” plot, with the project’s sheer weirdness managing to support, even elevate its more trope-happy storytelling.
From the intensely surreal wormhole sequence to the phantasmagorical encounter with the light probe, not to forget Spock’s journey into the alien vessel, it at times feels less like a real “movie” and more like a high-budget kaleidoscopic light-show. For a $45 million film made over 40 years ago that still managed to triple its budget at the box office, that’s a mighty feat indeed.
Yet its creativity and ambition are pitted against the compromises of a plot at times both perfunctory and silly; Kirk’s power struggle with Captain Decker (Stephen Collins) is a foregone conclusion from the moment it starts, while the climactic revelation that the alien entity V’Ger is actually the lost Voyager 6 space probe walks a fine line between bold invention and unchecked absurdity.
All in all, this is a handsomely-mounted film with some sure caveats; the beautiful matte paintings combine wonderfully with Trumbull’s contributions, even if some of the thick, black felt tip-style outlines give a somewhat cheap, thrown together vibe, and Spock flying into the alien orifice looks undeniably silly. The production design work is however faultless across the board, and the visual splendour is matched at all times by Jerry Goldsmith’s masterfully soulful musical score.
Cast-wise, Shatner’s smouldering intensity gives broader audiences a solid in, while a beard-clad Bones is quite the sight to see indeed. Spock meanwhile regrettably sits out almost the entire first hour of the film, but the wait’s certainly worth it, if only for the fantastic scene near the end of the movie where he explains to Kirk his journey into the alien vessel.
While hardly an accessible introduction for non-Trekkies and at times even a bit of a slog for confirmed initiates, Star Trek: The Motion Picture weeps atmosphere and artistry out of almost every pore.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
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