Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Film #301

THE PLOT

When a destructive space entity is spotted approaching Earth, Admiral Kirk resumes command of the Starship Enterprise in order to intercept, examine and hopefully stop it.

Year 1, Day 315

BEFORE: Even though I took a lot of time off in the past month (to the point where I’m now two weeks behind schedule) that doesn’t mean I’m slacking. Yesterday with The Informant! was like a warm up for what’s in store - the big Star Trek marathon. All twelve films (including the newest being released next week) will be watched and processed right here. In order to make up for lost time and to fit them all in before the new release, I’ve scheduled not one, but two triple-feature days in addition to three double-feature days.

Today will feature the first three films beginning now with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and continuing with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock later on. What I’m looking at will probably shift throughout the chain but here’s the overview so I don’t have to repeat myself in each “before” section. I’ve seen about half of the films before (mostly before the last film came out in 2009) but that was a while ago and it was in an attempt to familiarize myself with the universe. This time I’m also doing it to get pumped up for Into Darkness but also to see how each stands by itself and whether or not Wrath of Khan really is the best of the films.

AFTER: Seeing films for a second time (or any multiple) is especially interesting because then you get to see how much you remember and what stuck with you. For Star Trek: The Motion Picture, quite a lot stuck with me, but not in a good way. Before watching this, I had a slightly positive outlook towards the film: I don’t remember it blowing me away the first time, but I also remember enjoying it a bit. Turns out, during the recall/reconsolidation process of memory formation (thank you ethics class) I focused on the positives and forgot the many, many, boring sections.

If there’s one thing I have to say about this film it’s that it drags on and is, unnecessarily, long. Many times in film it’s always best to follow the show-don’t-tell rule where if you can get the story across merely in visuals rather than dialogue, do it. Here is one example where that fails, or at least the execution is terrible. Constantly the establishing shots or reactions of the characters to a certain situation is held onto for way too long. The best example, and the one that sent all the little bits flying back into my mind, was a scene in the beginning where they show the U.S.S. Enterprise for the first time. All that happens in the scene is Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Scotty (James Doohan) take a shuttle to board the Enterprise. Typically, and establishing shot might take as long as a minute, increased to two if there’s dialogue; three minutes is being generous. Not the case here. This scene is more than twice as long (seven minutes) as even the most generous allotment of time. I cannot think of any plausible reason why they need to show the Enterprise for seven minutes - no dialogue or exposition between Kirk and Scotty, no background action or sub-story - just a trip from a space station to the ship. This is by no means the only time in the film this happens (just choose any random scene and there will probably unnecessary length added to shots) but it is a great illustration.

My praise for the film also comes a little back-handed. The most interesting thing (and I think this is true for any Trek film or TV episode) is the story: the big picture idea. In The Motion Picture it is to find out what’s behind this big clouded mass that is heading towards Earth and disintegrating people and ships along the way. Can it be stopped and can the crew do so in time to save Earth? Reading this, or even the more succinct version from IMDb above, and it’s intriguing. It makes you want to watch the film because there’s that initial hook. But interest begins to wane very quickly for what I think are two reasons. One is the aforementioned drawn-out length. The other is the visual effects. Now I’m not complaining about the poor quality. I’m aware that this was state-of-the-art and groundbreaking back when the film was released. But at the same time, it does distract from comprehension a bit. Just seeing blue streaks and clouds that are indecipherable and a mix of other colors thrown in makes it hard to understand what exactly they’re trying to show. Combine this with the fact that it’s on the screen for minutes at a time and it is just one big question mark. All they had to do was just focus on interior shots of the bridge or other locations and bring in the visual effects only when absolutely necessary. It’s one thing for the visual effects to be a weakness (despite being great for the time); but it’s another to realize that as good as they are relatively, they still aren’t good enough to get the point across.

So the Star Trek chain starts out with a bit of a dud. My memories of the film were much better going into it but having seen it a second time, I can safely say that this is not one of the better films in the franchise. I don’t know how well it will rank against others and if it is merely an outlier, or more the norm. That’s to find out.

RATING: 2 out of 5