More noise than signal

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

It took ten years from the demise of the Original Series for the consistently strong syndication results to finally pull the tigger on a revival, eventually settling on a feature presentation, which no doubt came as an unpleasant surprise to those working on the planned Phase II telly show. Some small comfort could perhaps be gleaned from one of the proposed scripts being hastily repurposed, then seemingly re-written daily to meet this strangely gestated production.

The original cast return, who I suppose for the uninitiated we should introduce. William Shatner’s Admiral James T. Kirk, apparently promoted after the conclusion of the series five year mission, is overseeing the refit of the Enterprise, currently undergoing a troubled shakedown. After a transporter accident kills some of the new bridge staff, a suitable replacement science officer is found in the shape of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, rejoining DeForest Kelley’s Dr. “Bones” McCoy, George Takei’s Helmsman Hikaru Sulu, Walter Koenig’s Tactical Officer Pavel Checkov, Nichelle Nichols’ Communications Officer Nyota Uhura and James Doohan’s shonkily accented Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott.

The classic crew are joined by newcomers Stephen Collins as Captain Decker of the newly refitted Enterprise who is immediately usurped by Kirk, and Persis Khambatta as Ilia, an navigation officer and former lover of Decker who for reasons we’ll get to in a minute doesn’t get to show off her full capabilities. Tensions immediately rise when they’re forced to respond to an urgent situation despite their unreadiness, and Decker must hurriedly countermand an order from Kirk that would have destroyed the ship, due to Kirk’s unfamiliarity with the state of the half-finished vessel.

This prompts some questioning and soul searching from Kirk and his buddies who wonder if Kirk’s as happy working behind a desk as he says he is (spoiler – he is not), but that has to go on the sub-plot back burner as they approach the source of that urgent situation – a strange cloud of energy travelling directly towards Earth destroying everything in its path. Intercepting the phenomena, they find themselves attacked by a strange probe that seems to annihilate Ilia, then promptly returns her. Or, a cloned version of her, anyway, one that’s now acting as a emissary for one “V’Ger”. A distraught Decker attempts to simultaneously get information from whatever Ilya is while trying to reawaken her original self that he desperately hopes is in there somewhere, while the rest of the crew try and figure some kind of way out of here.

After Spock takes a 2001 inspired, trippy spacewalk to the centre of the cloud he discovers that V’Ger is a machine that’s become self-aware and sentient, after inadvisedly mind-melding with it. It was a probe sent by humanity, well, sometime round about now, I’d imagine, to gather information but believed lost. Much later, it drifted by an alien race who massively upgraded it and sent it on its way back home, gathering so much information that it developed sentience, which isn’t quite how artificial intelligence works, otherwise we’d better be worried about these 8TB hard drives.

According to the wikipedia page, which does a far better job of explaining what’s going on than the film itself does, having completed its mission it lacks any sort of focus and is striking out in frustration, having no sense of purpose. The crew converge on the original probe as V’ger demands that its creator appear to receive his transmission of data, which somehow, don’t ask me how, translates into it merging with Decker and zipping off to another dimension, leaving Kirk and co scratching their heads and saying “Well, that was a thing”.

To be polite about it, the entire main story is hot garbage. If that. It might just be cold garbage, redolent with the signs of being stretched unbearably thin over the running time, and basically anything to do with V’Ger is scientifically illiterate and dramatically bereft. The only reason this scrapes by into watchability narrative-wise is the confident, assured performances from a cast who know these characters inside out, and a sub-plot about Kirk’s doubts about his return to Captaining, which is a welcome piece of character development in a movie not otherwise teeming with it.

This doesn’t look like a forty six million dollar be-budgeted film, but that number’s more a consequence of the unusual pre-production gestation period. Which is not to say a great deal of money wasn’t thrown at the film, especially at Doug Trumbull’s special effect house, called in at the last minute to complete the model shots which look great for the time. Just as well, as you’ll be seeing a lot of them, particularly in the first half, with that loving pan around the outside of the Enterprise that lasts a full eighteen hours.

It’s tough to recommend this to modern audiences, or, well, audiences regardless of timeframe. It moves at a snail’s pace though a void of material, and the small touches that can be appreciated are few and very far between. Of the original series of film I like this one the least, which is not to say that it’s necessarily the worst. Others, at least, shoot for something and miss – this largely spends its time not doing much at all, making it boring. And that is something up with which I will not put.

Eminently skippable.