Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)


Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi TV series Star Trek (1966-1969) limped through three ratings-challenged seasons on NBC, then became a moneymaker in reruns during the ’70s. Several attempts to revive the franchise for television failed, including a one-season animated series, but when Star Wars (1977) became a monster hit, Paramount dug the Enterprise out of mothballs for a big-screen adventure. Then Roddenberry picked a story without enough action, the studio hired a director prone to overlong running times, and special-effects delays kicked the budget into the stratosphere. As a result, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a lumbering monolith running over 130 minutes, with none of the swashbuckling joie de vivre that distinguished the TV series’ best installments. All of the original actors returned—James Doohan, De Forest Kelly, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, George Takei—but neither they nor newcomers Stephen Collins and Persis Khambata were given anything fun to do. Instead, the Enterprise crew is sent to investigate a gigantic energy cloud that’s creeping toward Earth, swallowing everything in its path. So rather than battling intergalactic baddies, the crew spends most of the movie watching weird celestial phenomena and talking about philosophy. For anyone but devoted fans of the franchise, the movie is close to interminable. Having said that, Star Trek: The Motion Picture can’t be entirely discounted because it’s a landmark for musical scoring and visual effects. Long FX sequences of the Enterprise in a docking station, a close encounter with a wormhole, and a trip through the energy cloud’s interior chambers are filled with gorgeous flourishes, even if the scenes are dead weight from a narrative perspective. And throughout the picture, Jerry Goldsmith’s music is magnificent: His rousing main-title fanfare became the franchise’s musical signature throughout the ’80s, and his use of an electronic instrument called a “blaster beam” gives scenes related to the energy cloud a truly otherworldly feeling. The story’s twist ending has a certain existential kick, too. None of this is quite enough, however, to compensate for the picture’s needlessly humorless tone or for such cringe-worthy false notes as Khambata’s stiff performance. (Even Shatner, believe it or not, is too restrained here.) On the plus side, Nimoy lends enjoyable gravitas, and the revival of the franchise set the stage for many delightful subsequent adventures, beginning with the infinitely superior Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).

Star Trek: The Motion Picture: FUNKY

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