The Reviewinator: Star Trek – The Motion Picture (1979)


10 years after the show was cancelled, the entire cast of The Original Series reunited to make the first movie in a franchise that’s still going strong to this day. With Star Wars becoming a monster success in 1977, renewed interest in all things Sci-Fi motivated producers to rush the first Star Trek movie into production. Unfortunately, like all rushed productions, it leaves a lot (and I mean a lot!) to be desired.

Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) gets himself demoted to Captain so that he can command the redesigned Starship Enterprise to stop an intergalactic “cloud” from destroying Earth. One by one his old crew returns; some willingly, others reluctantly, but all of which predictably return to their posts. Joining them is Decker (Stephen Collins), the rightful captain of the Enterprise, and Ilia (Persis Khambatta), the bald-headed navigator who has a romantic history with Decker. As the Enterprise crew attempts to communicate with this “cloud”, they learn that it’s searching for its Creator, who apparently resides on Earth. And it will not stop destroying everything in its path until its Creator is found.

One thing immediately apparent going from the show to the movie is how much older the cast looks. They’re all middle-aged here, and this is just the first of six movies (more for some!). Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has aged the most; ironic considering Vulcans are supposed to age slower than humans. One wonders how this movie would have been remembered had they only made the one, like former action stars struggling to recapture their youth. It’s still nice to see them all here, and they do fit together like a well-oiled machine. Speaking of machines: the redesigned Enterprise just doesn’t have the same appeal as the original. The bridge feels even more like a movie set than the old one, and since they spend most of the movie in that single location, you’ll get very sick of it very fast.

As for the story, I think we need a new word between “slow” and “dead” to describe this one. With a plot hardly worthy of a 50-minute episode, they somehow manage to stretch it out over a 2hr.-10-minute runtime, filling most of that time with epic shots of the redesigned Enterprise, slow-moving approaches to mysterious objects in space, and the wondrous facial expressions of the Enterprise crew staring at the viewer screen. It should be obvious now that this is NOT an action movie by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn’t even try to be. It’s a Sci-Fi mystery, and the mystery isn’t all that compelling. While the slow-moving approach to that “cloud” may seem like suspense-building at first, it becomes obvious after an hour of inactivity that this is all the movie has to offer and it’s not going to change. And without giving too much away, I will say that the climax renders the original Enterprise crew the least important characters in the entire movie, doing little more than tagging along while the handful of new characters both discover and neutralize the movie’s main threat. If they were hoping to make Star Trek relevant again, making the returning cast so incredibly boring and useless is the worst possible way to do it.

After 10 years off the air, “Trekkies” deserved far better than this. First we’re shown the redesigned Enterprise, then we’re re-introduced to the old crew, and then we go on the slowest, most uneventful trek of their entire career. I’m not saying it needs to be like a J.J. Abrams movie, but a little excitement would have gone a long way for a movie as hyped as this one. Or at the very least, give the characters something more to do than sit back and stare at the viewer screen. We, the viewers, are supposed to do the watching. They, the characters, are supposed to give us a reason. Other than a bit of nostalgia, and the introduction of Jerry Goldsmith’s classic theme, there’s really nothing here.

2 out of 5

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