BQB Reviews Star Trek – Star Trek – The Motion Picture (1979)

Woo hoo! Star Trek on the big screen! Good for you for following this blog. When you do, you get news like this over 40 years late.

BQB here with a review.

I saved the first Shatner-centric Star Trek movie review for last for a simple reason. I literally have never seen it before.

I know. Gasp! Gasps all around. A man who professes to be a nerd having never seen this movie before. What can I say? It came out before my time while I saw the others either in the theater as a little kid (The whole trio of Spock dies, is reborn and gets delivered home arc) or on VHS (the last two.)

At any rate, I’d seen bits and pieces of it but never the entire thing at once.

So let’s dive in.

At the outset, you can tell that this film was released at a time when Star Wars unleashed a wave of space flicks, all the studios thinking there is gold in them thar space movie hills. I don’t think any of these space flicks matched up to Star Wars, though the Star Trek films were at least profitable and memorable.

You can tell though that the producers, writers, special effects team, etc. are all trying to do things with the franchise that would have never been possible in the original 1960s TV show.

It all begins with now Admiral James T. Kirk arriving at the Enterprise, where it is being worked on in space dock. In an early scene, Scotty pilots a shuttle craft, bringing Kirk to the ship and the scene is dragged out, going out of its way to show the sheer size and magnitude of The Enterprise in all its glory, whereas the best they could do in the old TV show was show a teensy model that we were supposed to pretend was big.

The special effects are amateurish compared to today’s CGI, but at the time surely wowed audiences. Smaller craft fly by the Enterprise. There are dudes in astronaut gear flying around it, though they don’t seem to serve any purpose other than some technician wanted to prove he could put a little astronaut guy out there flying around the ship. If you can forgive the bad effects, you do get a sense of awe as you picture what it might be like for a person in the 2300s seeing an enormous spaceship.

And now to the story. A bizarre entity, some sort of large energy field is headed on a path to Earth. Dum-dum Klingons try to intercept it only to be instantly vaporized. Kirk arrives to take control of the Enterprise from Captain Decker (Stephen Collins who would join the actress who plays the lady whale scientist in ST5 to play the other half of a couple with a lot of kids in 7th Heaven.)

A pissing match between Decker and Kirk ensues. The old Enterprise is no more. This is an all new Enterprise, complete with computers and bells and whistles that Kirk has never trained on. Decker knows all the changes. Kirk doesn’t. Decker presumes Kirk is just using the crisis to take over the Enterprise because that’s what he really wants. There is truth to this as Kirk hates being behind a desk and wants to be out on the open space road, living a life of adventure, punching out alien d-bags and getting jiggy with fine ass green space hotties.

It’s the late 70s, so Kirk and the original cast aren’t as old but they are all in middle age range. Shatner is actually kinda buff and studly in this one, so they go out of their way to put him in a muscle shirt. The film’s overall tone is quite serious, perhaps a bit more serious than we are used to in ST films. In Khan and later films, we really see the storyline embrace equal parts humor and seriousness. Kirk, Bones and McCoy find their niche as a quasi-Marx brothers routine as space explorers who get on each others’ nerves but at the end of the day, love each other.

Here, the trio comes out of mothballs. Kirk has been riding a desk. Spock and Bones, to my shock, have quit Starfleet only to reenlist (be drafted?) for this flick. McCoy returns with a bushy beard, greatly offended to have been forced back into service. Spock was on Vulcan, learning a process that would truly rid him of the little emotion he had so he can be a full blown logical mofo and not have to deal with emotions from his human side when he senses the entity’s presence and leaves to help his old Starfleet homies. Alas, he’ll never be considered 100 hundred percent logical by Vulcan’s exacting logic standards, though his human friends will always consider him absurdly logical. Dude just can’t win.

Long story short, the crew investigates, even flying through the entity, unraveling the mystery of what this presence is. All that is revealed early is that it calls itself V’Ger. Sadly, and in a rather creepy move, it kills then takes control of the body of Ilia, a Deltan navigator played by the late, great Persis Khambatta. We never see Deltans before or after this movie and all we know is that Ilia is a bald lady who blurts out to Kirk that she has taken an oath of celibacy upon her arrival on deck. The line seems strangely timed and I can’t tell if it is just a fact the writers wanted us to know or if Kirk is such a notorious space-poon hound that she felt she had to launch a preeemptive strike to let him know her lady parts are closed for bidness.

The Ilia-bot scenes are scary indeed. The late 70s/early 80s saw a lot of movies where humans end up controlled by machines and this might be the most disturbing. Her computerized voice, the way she stares coldly at the crew as they realize she is recording info and sending it back to V-Ger, all strange indeed. Decker, who once had a romance with Ilyia, is crushed.

Sidenote: If you look her up online, Persis Khambatta’s story is inspiring yet sad. She was somewhat of a Cinderella story. Born and raised in India, her father abandoned the family at a young age but her mother and siblings scraped by. She gets model work in her teens, gains national Indian notoriety in soap commercials. Becomes a Bollywood star. Gets recognized by U.S. Hollywood. Lands this role. Gets steady work in US movies in the 1980s. Sadly, develops heart problems in the 90s and dies young at 49 in 1999. I always hate to see people die young but at least her star was able to burn bright in her youth.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. The colors are drab and it is definitely trying hard, perhaps too hard, to be very serious. One might argue that when a giant, strange entity is on approach to destroy earth, there is no time for humor, but then again, something is always trying to destroy earth in the other films yet the writers manage to strike a balance between humor and high stakes. There is a scene where the transporter malfunctions and you get to see the horrifying dark side of what happens to people when the transporter shits the bed, making you wonder why anyone would get into the transporter beam field at all. It is a bit of a plot hole that there are no safety protocols, i.e. no one calls and asks ahead like “Hey is your transporter working?” before they start beaming people aboard but oh well. It’s all part of the film’s attempt to say, “Hey, this is grown up adult Star Trek” before someone at the studio apparently advised to make things a little lighter, which I’m glad they did so little kids like me back in the day could have fun watching these flicks.

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3 thoughts on “BQB Reviews Star Trek – Star Trek – The Motion Picture (1979)

  1. The Wrath of Khan was definitely worthy and one of (if not the best Trek movie ever), but for a first go out of the gate, ST:TMP was a pretty good attempt. I can listen to Jerry Goldsmith’s score all day long, beautiful and mysterious with that fabulous theme for the Enterprise (because let’s face it, it was a love song between a ship and the man who loved her more than anything… and the scene took it’s sweet time letting it unfold). The Trinity of Kirk-Spock-McCoy was certainly bent a bit, but not broken. Kind of an awkward “haven’t seen you in a while” college roommate dynamic, but it was there (and the relationship perfected in TWOK).

    The filmmakers definitely had a bigger budget to play with and didn’t have a story with some hidden social messages like they did in the show. Instead they used loved characters to make a straight-up mysterious sci-fi story. Probably why I love it so much, admittedly, though after finally watching the original series the past few years, I can get some TOS fans’ distaste if that was their initial basis (I saw the flicks first LONG before a full episode).

    This flick’s definitely in my top 20 fave films list. I can’t help but love it… and on that note, I’m gonna go listen to the soundtrack (which I was planning on anyway, funny enough… seriously, been listening to soundtrack snippets while working all day).

    • I wasn’t a big fan of the transporter scene where the beaming gets botched. Scotty’s like “Oh my God someone’s trying to beam in but our transporter isn’t working.”

      I mean, wouldn’t there have been some safety protocols? Maybe Scotty could have put the word out “Hey don’t beam aboard.” Maybe no one is allowed to beam aboard unless a crew member can verify that the transporter is working.

      But I guess they wanted the scene to happen. And I’ll admit either the transporter isn’t working or the engine is broken or the warp drive is broken.

      As an adult, Scotty banging on everything with a wrench shouting she’s not gonna hold or I’m giving it all she’s got, Cap’n, this feels like real life even if it’s aboard a space ship.

      I know in my real life everything is always broken or in some state of disrepair. I go to get my car fixed and something new will break literally a day later, sometimes on the drive home from the shop. Appliances are always on the fritz. You can’t buy a computer and expect it to still work a month later. Why would future space be any different?

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