It's a first effort at adapting Star Trek to the feature film format, and it shows. Pacing is very slow for most of the film, only picking up near the climax. The slowness is not helped by long, drawn-out shots of the ship—leaving spacedock, exploring new environments, etc. At the time, I suppose, the audiences probably loved getting to see such views of the ship they'd known up until then only on small television screens, but that's the only purpose these…let's call them "ship porn" shots…serve. Dramatically, they belong on the cutting room floor (or, more accurately, should never have been shot, given how much of the $43 million budget effects shots consumed).
There just isn't enough plot to fill the runtime of this film. It feels like a standard one-hour TV episode script stretched to fill 2+ hours with eye candy. Presented as an episode of the original TV series that ran from 1966-1969, the film's plot would likely have been quite at home. As a full-length feature film, though, it felt like a slog. For the first 90 minutes or so I found myself often checking the playback position, the movie-watcher's version of constantly asking Mom, "Are we there yet?"
That's not what you want your viewers to do when they watch your film.
Update from the future: In summer 2019, TrekMovie interviewed Douglas Trumbull about his work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as a lead-up to the film's 40th anniversary and Trumbull's first appearance at a Trek convention. Read it here: https://trekmovie.com/2019/07/26/interview-vfx-pioneer-douglas-trumbull-on-how-it-took-a-miracle-to-complete-star-trek-the-motion-picture/
[7.0/10] In one of his excellent write-ups of The Original Series, Zack Handlen wondered what it must have been like for Star Trek fans to write and plead and cajole the network for more of their favorite show on the cusp of cancellation, and be rewarded for their enthusiasm with the thud of “Spock’s Brain.” It’s hard not to wonder about the same thing for Trek fans who watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture after having not seen their space-bound heroes in the flesh for a decade, and found this cinematic revival that is, to put it kindly, a very deliberately-paced two hours of entertainment.
It’s easy to imagine devout Trekkies sitting in the theater and thinking, “Wow, look at the detail on those Klingon battlecruisers! And the splendor of that massive fluorescent cloud!” Then they might say, “Oh man, the new Enterprise looks great. We’re spending a lot of time showing it off from every angle, but hey, it’s a big moment! It’s okay to indulge a little!” And then they might go, “Look, the massive V’Ger apparatus is pretty cool and all but, uh, could we maybe get on with it already?”
That’s the heaven and hell of a film the fans have lovingly dubbed “The Slow Motion Picture.” After three years of shoestring television budgets and one more of a stiffly-animated Saturday morning cartoon, Star Trek suddenly had the funds to be done up in cinematic splendor. That means the world of The Federation seems more expansive and fully-realized than ever before, that the distant space creatures and galactic phenomena seem more awe-inspiring than ever before, that the settings of this universe, whether they be the alien sands of the Vulcan homeworld or the V’Ger interior that calls to mind Alien, are more vivid and detailed than ever before.
But it also means that creator Gene Roddenberry and director Robert Wise knew that too, and weren’t afraid to show off, without regard for the progression of character or momentum of the picture. If there’s a recurring motif to ST:TMP, it’s a visually that initially awes you, and then prompts you to ask the movie to get to the point already when it’s luxuriating on its sixth alternate angle of the same event, or cutting to the eleventh reaction shot of it.
In the same way, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the ur-example of the “What if we did an episode of the TV show, but bigger?” criticism leveled at any series that makes the jump to the big screen. While ST:TMP borrows heavily from its own prior episode “The Changeling” in terms of premise, that has less of an effect on the film than the scant amount of incident it packs into a two-hour movie. The lesser episodes of The Original Series felt like twenty minutes worth of plot stretched out to fill an entire episode, and The Motion Picture feels like the same idea expanded to cinematic length.
The story is a familiar one for Star Trek. There’s a massive mysterious cloud on the edge of the galaxy, destroying everything in its path and slowly but surely making its way toward earth. The crew of the Enterprise has to go solve the mystery of its existence and figure out how to save the day. It’s the kind of problem TOS, could and often did solve within forty-five minutes. And even adding in the heartening, “we’re getting the band back together” material only justifies so much more time spent.
But damn if the reunion portion of the episode isn’t affecting, even for someone who didn’t have to wait ten years between outings for Kirk and company. The Captain himself gazes in wonder at the refurbished Enterprise. Spock is more stoic and to the point than ever. Bones is his usual irascible, lovably grumpy self (now with more hair everywhere and a sexy seventies neck medallion!) And the rest of the crew -- Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, Doctor(!) Chapel, and even Yeoman Rand(!) -- are back along for the ride. It’s a thrill to see the crew back together in silver screen glory.
The only catch is that, true to the series that spawned it, The Motion Picture only has arcs of meaningful things to do for a handful of cast members. Spock returns from the Vulcan homeworld having come this close to purging himself of emotion entirely. He neither offers nor responds to any warm welcomes from his old crewmates, and there’s a mild, frankly underdeveloped suspicion that he might put the ship in harm’s way to better understand V’Ger. It leads to him embarking on a 2001-esque escapade through V’Ger’s impressive gaping maw, but also to one of the film’s stand out moments.
Spock, having been through this interstellar vision quest, laughs and refers to his once and future captain as Jim. The version of Spock we first meet is one who seems colder and more distant than the character from The Original Series. But that just lends power to the moment when he grasps Kirk’s hand and lionizes the power of human connection, the purpose and camaraderie that imbue life with a vitality and meaning that, V’Ger lacks and which Spock realizes once more, logic alone cannot confer.
That is, true to the spirit of its predecessor, the major theme of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It posits that there is something illogical, emotional, and unknowable about the human condition. Call it the soul; call it the core of a person’s being; hell, call it the force. Whatever it is, Roddenberry has long since presented the notion that whatever humanity lacks in logic or pure capacity, it makes up for in curiosity, in creativity, in yearning that allows us to transcend the empirical nature of even the universe itself and reach new planes of understanding.
To the same end, it reaffirms Kirk as a risk-taker, and argues that it’s his very desire to push that makes him worth more than the average regulation-abiding captain. The Kirk we meet in The Motion Picture is one who’s been behind a desk for two-and-a-half years and clearly misses the thrill of adventure on the Enterprise. He squeezes out Captain Decker (7th Heaven’s Stephen Collins) out of the captain’s chair, using the mysterious cloud as an excuse to rush the ship out of the spaceport, impress his old friends into service, and relive his glory days.
The great and frustrating thing about this tack is that it starts out seeming like a deconstruction of all the Kirk as Great Man™ themes and plots The Original Series went back to again and again. Rather than the infallible, undefeatable leader of men of TOS, Star Trek: The Motion Picture gives us an individual who’s pushed out a worthy captain and gets an earful from it, who hears from Bones about how he’s pushing things too much too fast after being out of the saddle for so long.
His rush to get the Enterprise out to sea results in a transporter malfunction that takes two lives. His desire to get to warp speed results in a dangerous wormhole that nearly tears the ship apart. His effort to confront V’Ger costs him the life of his Deltan helmswoman Ilia. There is the sense in the film’s early going that Kirk’s courage and attendant recklessness has a cost and maybe this isn’t such a good idea.
But then, the movie sort of forgets about it, or at least wraps up his story in that same notion that it takes a little unorthodox action, a little raw humanity, to do what needs to be done out there. There’s not really a price to any of it, just an affirmation that the Nomad-like robotic cloud machine needs a touch of humanity to truly fulfill its mission, with a finish that calls to mind “Metamorphosis” from The Original Series. There’s a nice sci-fi bent to the reveal and the resolution, with a typically pat summary of the meaning of it all from Kirk on the other end that signifies this really is just an episode of the show on steroids.
And yet, as much as is so familiar in The Motion Picture, what’s striking about the film is how much feels so different. Gone are the Seussian colors of The Original Series and in their place are washed out whites and grays with occasional pastels. As stultifying as it becomes when the film repeatedly lingers too long on effects and set pieces, the visuals of the film are breathtaking and a far cry from the models and foam rocks of the 1960s T.V. show. ST:TMP clearly borrows from Star Wars with the used future look and intricate exteriors of its ships and from 2001 with its extended sequences through galactic psychedelia and small men cast in front of hulking aparati. And the production design -- from the ship itself which feels like a working vessel and no longer just like a series of hallways, to the interior of the cloud which evoke a sense of a Frankenstein of technological superiority -- is outstanding.
In that way, Star Trek: The Motion Picture expands and advances and beautifies the world established by its television forebear. As much as it drags the film to a screeching halt at times, it’s understandable how Roddenberry & Co. wanted to show off the aesthetic chops to match the character and storytelling creativity of the series that had struck such a chord with fans worldwide. The movie becomes tedious at points, but the heart of Star Trek is there, in the friendly banter and disagreement between the crew, in the out there sci-fi problem threatening the Enterprise this week, and in the philosophical and sentimental bent to the solution.
Oddly enough, the theme the film tries to impart works best when applied to itself. Amid all the technical wizardry and aesthetic virtuosity that starts to dull and feel mechanical with overexposure, the animating spirit of the franchise, the more human side of this distant adventures in the vacuum of space, are what makes Star Trek’s first cinematic outing feel like a worthy one, even as it becomes lost in its own special effects wonders. Whether Trekkies in 1979 were wowed by those visuals, or bored by their omnipresence, it’s hard to imagine them seeing their space-faring heroes on the screen once more, fighting the same fight, once again boldly going where no one has gone before, and not been heartened by the knowledge that the core of the series -- its tropes and traditions, for good and for ill -- were still alive and well.
I hated this slow, cerebral film as a kid. This time, though, it clicked with me a bit more. That's not to say it's a fun or exciting film, it really does drag. But this time I'm watching it coming off the original TV show for the first time, and I just really like spending time with these characters. It's a shame it's all so beige. Certainly, it has one of the best scores of any film, and I really liked the 3 minute opening musical overture.
THE UGLY: ‘STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE’
WRITING: 20ACTING: 60LOOK: 70SOUND: 85FEEL: 35NOVELTY: 60ENJOYMENT: 40RE-WATCHABILITY: 20INTRIGUE: 25EXPECTATIONS: 25
The extended budget actually allows for some impressive model and make-up work, particularly on the Klingons, thus helping to give this production a feature film look. It also allows the writers to explore the Star Trek world more, allowing them to evolve established characters and details while adding new layers to the story.
The visual look is heavily inspired from Star Wars, down to the long, white spaceship corridors, the muddled colours and the gritty look. It is very recognizably a sci-fi product of the late 70s.
The returning cast from the TV series works mostly well. The actors do a generally good job of maintaining the characteristics we’ve come to know from the TV show, while also showing how their characters have evolved over the years.
There aren’t many films out there that allow the majestic and at times gleefully catchy soundtrack to shine as much as Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The music alone makes many excruciatingly slow sequences a lot more endurable and it’s a highlight of this movie.
The climax and ending are pretty beautiful and fit Roddenberry’s original Star Trek concept very well.
While I do enjoy a good music suite, I have no idea why this film makes us watch an almost starless space accompanied by orchestral music for a few minutes before getting to the opening credits.
Most of the visual effects have aged very badly and look like a mishmash of washed-out colours and lights. It looks anything but realistic and mostly just plain ugly.
There are plenty of unusually long establishing and transitioning shots, showing us the epic model work and actors standing in silence for several minutes. These could have been cut down significantly since we rather get the point they are trying to deliver after the first few seconds. Instead, we just watch a slowly moving orchestral video with little to no impact on the story.
I rather miss the vibrant colours from the Original Series, as the colour palette here is a bit too brown and grey for my taste.
While I appreciate some of the technical experimentation this film contains, most of it hasn’t aged very well. Multiple moments will leave you scratching your head while trying to figure out what is going on - that’s whenever you don’t feel slightly uncomfortable and embarrassed by some of the unintentional silliness resulting from the strange production decisions.
Some of the bigger problems with this film lie within the writing. The writers treat this 130-minute film as if they would a 50-minute TV episode and consequently the pace remains sluggish and there seems to be very little plot development, let alone tension. The run-time is barely used to develop the characters or describe to audiences what the characters have been doing between the TV series and this film.
Outside the main trio of Kirk, Spock and Bones, the script doesn’t do much with the remaining characters. Original Series alumni Scotty, Sulu, Uhura and Chekov aren’t developed and the handful of newcomers are only there to flesh out the cast.
Slow sci-fi like this works well if the script has something to say and if the movie is made in a way that will ensure that audiences remain engaged. This film unfortunately fails on both accounts. The plot is neither philosophical nor interesting and lacks almost any depth. There are multiple scenes slowly revealing something that is supposed to be awe-striking but just end up falling flat.
An ambitious production like this one would have needed a stronger script, a swifter pacing and a clearer vision to remain interesting from beginning to end. As it stands, it’s overlong and tedious.
Late 70s grey jumpsuits. ‘Nuff said.
With a bigger budget than ever before, classic Star Trek has never looked better; but impressive model work and a great cast are not enough to save a movie devoid of a plot and a hook.
44% = :heavy_minus_sign: = UGLY
It is what it is, a start of franchise back in the day. Very slow... no warp speed here.
It's really slow and the effects don't hold up great.
This movie is quite a departure from the original TV series. Of course, the personalities we've come to enjoy are all here. The visuals are decent and grasp for a "2001: A Space Odyssey" look. I was amazed at how much time the director allows for a tour of the freshly redesigned Enterprise. The way the crew was reassembled was thoughtful.
You're also allowed to marvel at the wonders of the alien spacecraft, but for far too much time. Robert Wise obviously respects the viewer's attention span, but almost to a fault. There's also a nice twist late but it leads to a lackluster conclusion.
How in the name of Hell can you have an exterior visual in Quad L-14?
Awesome special effects barely save this movie from it's dull and dialogue-heavy pace.
I wont watch the show/s but Ill watch the films. Go figure.EDIT: If I type out a short novel as a comment/review do I get payed?
I absolutely liked the original Star Trek series, even though I haven't complete it yet, but I had not seen this film. So I indulge myself with this first film in honor of Star Trek's 50th anniversary. It's definitely just like the original series but on a much more bigger scale and budget. You have your familiar characters Kirk and Spock, Sulu. The slow pacing gives it a grand monumental feel that allows the viewer to appreciate the set designs and directing style. It reminded me of something from Ridley Scott and older classic films like Time Bandits (1981) and Fantastic Voyage (1966). Every word that comes out of McCoy's mouth just cracks me up. His character adds comic relief to the dialogue. After this, I now want to continue where I left off on the series and catch up on the rest of the series.
This movie could have been vastly improved with more curmudgeonly, sassy Bones. (Everything is improved with more sassy Bones.)
I watched this movie again this past weekend & it's probably been at least a decade since I last saw it. On blu-ray this movie is a little better than I remembered. It's certainly better at a higher-resolution. This is my favorite Enterprise design from the entire "Trek" history. The musical score is still great. "Ilia's Theme" is just a beautiful piece of music.
Biggest complaint is probably that it felt more like a really long episode of the TV show, however I think this movie is better understood when you consider the factors surrounding it:--Reunion of the cast of a show that was loved by many--First time they were on the big screen (it was not common to make a movie out of a previously existing TV show)--Infighting among the producers/scriptwriters
This article is some great background on what was going on: http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/star-trek/39338/star-trek-the-battle-to-make-the-motion-picture
You don't have to like this movie, but perhaps that background info will make you hate it a little less.
I wouldn't say "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" is a bad movie but the plot is rather obscure and told very slowly. The producers relied heavily on special effects instead of action and a thrilling story.
I wouldn't recommend watching this flick.