Review Roundup - Space Oddities

STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE (1979)

So the original cast Star Trek film that even I watch the least... is it unfairly maligned or just tedious? As a fan of the exploits of Shatner and friends on the small screen and in many of their cinema outings, this certainly sits as the one which gets over looked. Shamefully I have probably sat through part five, The Final Frontier more often despite it's bigger shortcomings. But while The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country stand as fine dramatic pictures as well as retro space adventures, does this first step on their post-television journey hold up? They do call it the No-Motion Picture after all. Or is that the Emotionless Picture?


This film has an Overture. This isn't supposed to be David Lean you guys. Oddly in the wake of Star Wars (which I have no doubt spurred on the studio in producing this) they seem to have looked back to the 60s not only in reviving the content of the original show but also in terms of style - this owes more to Kubrick than Han Solo, just look at those space helmet close ups of Spock. But while it doesn't all move at a geological pace, there are still one or two ridiculously drawn out moments. The shuttle trip to the Enterprise in the opening is incredibly slow and very awkward with too many cuts to a silent Kirk and Scotty as they stare in awe at a ship that as transformed from a cheap TV effect to become a immense Douglas Trumbull miniature. The first sequence showing the interior of alien cloud threatening life on Earth also goes on forever. I appreciate they wanted to show off the differences with the budget now available, but by this point many sci-fi movies have given audiences this kind of experience already even if many of the visual and special effects are neat. I do like the glimpses of Star Fleet and Vulcan here but a lot of the other sequences could be edited down.

But those issues aside, it does try at least to tell a proper sci-fi story about an existentially troubled life form, even if the cues it takes from TOS episode The Changeling are distracting and it's evident that this plot by genre novelist Alan Dean Foster was actually planned for their canned "phase two" TV series. Maybe this explains the stretched running time against the amount of spoken dialogue. As for the other aspects of the movie, things shape up unevenly. Did they really need to go with the transporter death scene? It's kind of unnerving to start such an early part of the film with this, like someone planning the script thought they should show that after so many years of it never going wrong. The sequel would out do this in pure gross factor, but it's an odd choice.


Besides philosophy and politics, Star Trek has always been about the people. Here the characters are fine but not particularly animated and Bones and Spock seem a little rusty; a bit out of practice. They do get a few good moments but everyone involved would go on to become far better in these roles. To me the weakest aspects are the new characters and they don't get enough to do before the climax takes them away from future excursions. It feels like they are plot devices and not real crew members. Of course any discussion of this production has to include those outfits... I am certainly no fashion designer but really, what is with the weird colours, the belt-less buckles and the bib shaped shirts? The primary colours of the show might have needed altering a bit, but not like this. The Admiral's uniform that William Shatner wears in the opening was pretty swish so why not go with that look for everyone? They'd kind of do this and opt for a smarter, less pajama style uniform later on. I am amazed that after ditching most of it the silly security guard armour got kept though - it's like something from a sci-fi sports videogame.

Overall though I can't say this is bad at the core. They pose enough intrigue on the journey and it has a decent amount of atmosphere - on my look back at science fiction through this decade it's probably the last of it's kind, almost a throwback as things evolved into the 80s. Some of the effects are neat in a big widescreen way, though I am unsure which parts belong to the Director's Cut and where sections have been trimmed or replaced thanks to the home releases available. In spite of the flaws it would still have an impact and go on to revitalize this series with the sequel being a favourite to many. But it's certainly better than part V or most of the TNG films... right?

3/5