The other night I had a moment to watch a little TV, and thought I’d find a movie. Paramount+ had a list of movies leaving at the end of August, and among them was Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I hadn’t seen it in so long I figured it was a good time.
After years of easily dismissing it I was surprised and delighted to realize that I not only did I like this movie, but LOVED it! Quite a difference from my initial viewing 43(!) years ago.
In December of 1979, I was among the hundreds locally who came out to see it on its first night. Comparing what I saw that premiere night, and what I just watched the other night were of two different people in two realities. How the first Star Trek movie would be reacted to was somehow very personal to me. When I came out of the theater that night, I was happily saying to people in line “It’s great!”. But inside I was not too pleased, an opinion that regrettably stayed with me all these years, to the point of never wanting to see it again.
You see, through my then 18-year old’s eyes, this movie was going to be my redemption, my “I told you so!” to all the people who mocked me for my Trek devotion the whole past decade. But my concern about how non-Trekkies would take it was almost central to my enjoyment of the film. Seeing that attitude now, I admit with slight embarrassment that I was WAY too concerned with physical elements of the movie, than the actual plot. Kind of like not seeing the forest for the trees. My ‘trees’ here were things like:
- The Klingons are bumpy!!
- Oh, God, is everyone going to like it?
- That’s a bad wig, Spock!
- Oh, God, the actors look so old!
- Why are those uniforms so bland and awful? Where has all the color gone?
- Why is the dialogue so soft while the music and sound effects are SO LOUD?
- Why is the intro to the Enterprise taking s-o-o-o-o lo-o-o-o-o-ng?
- Why is Spock so wooden?
- Why did Ilia have to be bald?
- Are Ilia and Decker going to take over the Enterprise?
- What’s up with Scotty’s mustache?
My 61 year old brain can answer all that now …
- The Klingons are what Gene wanted them to be.
- Maybe not at the moment, but in time it will age better.
- Yes, he needed a better long hair wig, but that’s a minor point.
- Wow, they all look so YOUNG here!!
- Well, the uniforms were what they were. very 70’s. Fortunately they were all recycled into a better look in the sequels.
- This was mostly the fault of the poor audio equipment at the theater I watched it at. I remember many people calling out “Turn it up!!”
- The Enterprise intro is a big ‘Welcome back you beautiful ship’ presentation. Still a tad longer than it needed to be, but I get it. That’s what fast forward is for; the same for the long slide into V’Ger’s realm.
- He did seem unnaturally stiff before his space walk, but I understand now that Spock’s search for total logic was turning him inward.
- After years of seeing new aliens, Ilia’s lack of hair really was no big deal, (and dear Persis was so gorgeous).
- Of Course Not!!
- It’s the 70’s, man!
I was too ‘stressed’ with these ‘pressing’ concerns to appreciate the beauty of a story I had been waiting for10 years to culminate into reality! Seeing it now, although I still think it needed better editing to move it along more quickly, I appreciate it so much more. My impressions follow.
First of all, this was a beautifully remastered director’s cut of the piece. As your eyes delve into a field of stars, it begins with the graceful and sad, yet soaring overture of Ilia’s Theme by Jerry Goldsmith. Ilia’s theme grew a whole new meaning for me since I had last watched this movie, It really stresses a deep longing, the almost unbearable yearning to find something more that must be out there.
I felt compassion for Ilia this time too instead of seeing her as an ‘other’ or just sexy window dressing. Ilia is tragic because she is swept into the vortex of V’ger before she barely serves on the Enterprise. The small blinks of her real self that flicker from the shell of her V’ger persona are almost heartbreaking. “Deck-Er!” she voices in familiarity as she touches his face. So close yet so far.
Spock too is torn. Feeling a call from V-Ger, he is drawn back to the Enterprise. He cannot focus solely on his devotion to total logic. As he has failed the Ko-li-nahr to rid himself of emotion, so he is now determined to figure out the mystery of V-Ger, even at the risk of his own life to save his fellow crew members. This is a theme that carries through to the sad conclusion of The Wrath of Kahn. After his harrowing space walk into V’Ger, Spock rediscovers and embraces his humanity. The small chuckle he gives recovering in sickbay brings us back to the Spock we knew was still there.
At it’s core, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is very much true to the formula of the original series; set in outer space, but finding ourselves through personal conflict. It is not heavy on action, but it has suspense, which is always favorable, to me at least.
Technically, it was a marvel at the time, and a joy to see the Enterprise stream into warp drive with it’s strobe-rainbow effect. The new Enterprise was beautiful sleek upgrade to the original. Remember this was still a model-driven special effect department, and CGI was still in its infancy. The Klingon ship was ruggedly detailed and far more 3-D than ever before. Spock’s voyage into V’Ger and the steep stair set surrounding V’ger were remarkable, although I was concerned that these ‘ancient’ actors at the time would trip and fall!
Costume-wise were hits and misses. The variety of duty uniforms still didn’t make much sense to me. The beige/gold, pale blue/gray palate was probably considered quite futuristic at the time, al though they still had more of a 70’s Space 1999 vibe at the time. But their blandness made the actors blend in more with the cooler tones of the New Enterprise. Thankfully, Khan brought back more color and a less leisure suit look back to the series* and Star Trek: TNG brought back the classic gold/blue/red department shades. Also, the laughable, sporty, short sleeved uniforms here were so terribly preppy before preppy became a thing in the early 80’s. What, were these the Sunday leisure uniforms? They still make me laugh, and for heaven’s sake, grown men should never wear Penguin Suits and Onesies! (TMI! TMI!)
Thank heaven we had two glorious and elegant costume moments — Spock’s first entry on the bridge in a luxurious black cape and stove-pipe trousers, and Ilia’s white mini-robe with salmon pink stand up collar.
All I can say now , is that if you haven’t seen it in a long time, you might just enjoy it as much as i did. It is still a LOT better than Shatner’s ego-fest of Star Trek V!
*The reason for the red and black uniforms of STII was budgetary — the ST:TMP uniforms had to be recycled and the only colors they could be dyed were deep red and black!