Ahead of the release of Star Trek Into Darkness in cinemas on Thursday 9 May, each week we’ll be rewatching a classic Star Trek movie, kicking off with 1979’s The Motion Picture…
An unknown life form is destroying everything in its path, and cannot be reasoned, cajoled, or argued with. It cannot even be attacked. In three days, it will devour Earth, and the only Starship within range is the Enterprise.
Kirk has been out of action for three years, and – more worryingly – the Vulcan Spock has been contacted by the life form, and may well have motives of his own for re-joining the crew on their continuing mission.
If Star Trek has a USP, it’s a great sense of romanticising its own mythology. So the first reveal of the Enterprise is teased out as Scotty looks at Kirk’s reaction to his ship with something akin to bro-love. The trippy 2001-inspired jaunts through hyperspace are gorgeous to watch, if occasionally betraying their late-70s origins.
The Motion Picture is a film that plays more emphasis on dialogue and reaction than action, and so many of the best sequences owe a great deal to the chemistry of the leads, particularly that of DeForest Kelley as Bones. Ilia – in both her guises – is a strikingly beautiful presence, and the red glowing light at her throat is an iconic piece of sci-fi imagery.
» This movie came about because of abandoned plans to create a new TV series based on the voyages of the Enterprise, which was to be called Phase II.
» In the sequence where Kirk addresses the crew, the extras are made up of Star Trek fans, including Bjo Trimble, whose letter writing campaign had ensured a third season of the original series.
» Jerry Goldsmith’s theme, soon to be much more famous as the main title music for The Next Generation, makes its debut here. The original Star Trek theme is occasionally heard, most significantly when Kirk makes his address to the Captain’s Log.
» Both Decker and Ilia would have been regular characters in Phase II. Decker was created to replace Kirk in the event that Shatner asked for too much money.
» The reveal of V’ger’s true identity has already been investigated in a television episode, ‘The Changeling’.
» Bones McCoy: ‘Why is any object we don’t understand always called a “thing”?’
» Commander Spock: ‘Each of us… at some time in our lives, turns to someone – a father, a brother, a God… and asks…”Why am I here? What was I meant to be?”’
» Bones McCoy: ‘They probably redesigned the whole sickbay, too! I know engineers, they LOVE to change things…’
» Kirk: ‘Let’s take a look. Full sensor scan, Mr. Spock. They can’t expect us not to look them over now.’
Decker: ‘Now that we’re looking down their throat.’
Kirk: ‘Right, now that we’ve got them just where they want us’
» Spock: ‘It’s life, Captain – but not life as we know it.’
Long derided as the ‘motionless picture’, and standing in the shadow of the film that immediately follows it, the first Star Trek film is easy fodder for anyone who wants to play ‘Curse Of The Even Numbered Movie’ game. But it’s significantly more than that.
Portentous? Yes, maybe. Pretentious? Almost certainly. Ponderous, even? Yeah, alright. But whilst there are bad Star Trek movies, this isn’t one of them.
If it was released this year under the title of Christopher Nolan’s Star Trek: Inception, it would be a helluva lot more loved. Sure, there are plenty of sequences in which the cast are required to do little more than gaze, open mouthed at what’s essentially a light show (which will look great on Blu-ray, by the way), but that’s rather the point: the crew have no real comprehension of what’s going on, which makes this the most Star Trek of Star Trek movies: this Enterprise really is exploring ‘strange new worlds’.
In addition, for a film that’s about a shiny new future, The Motion Picture seems to be about old, slightly broken things unable to cope with strange new worlds: The Enterprise is unable to cope with warp speeds and transmit whilst the nature of V’ger’s true origin hints at confusion and curiosity. But most importantly, we have Kirk, older and not yet wiser, bullying his way back on board, and barely able to comprehend that life has moved on without him.
Highly due a critical reappraisal.
What do you think of the movie? Let us know below…