Counterpoint: Star Trek, the Motion Picture. Pretty, pretty good.

I always look forward to Greg Ferrara’s weekly posts; I find myself nodding my head as I read, as if I was at a concert that got into a really rocking groove. Sometimes as I read, I have to wistfully cross off a blog idea from my to-do list, since Greg got there first and did it better.

But this past week’s remarks on Star Trek the Motion Picture provoked a different reaction in me. I had intended to write about this film this summer, but from an entirely opposite point of view. The comments thread to Greg’s essay showed the obvious: a lot of people don’t like this movie. I won’t argue with you on the facts–yes, Star Trek the Motion Picture is slow, oddly pretentious, and has atrocious uniforms. But I will argue that what works about this movie depends on and derives from its alleged flaws (maybe not the uniforms, but the other stuff at least).

The comparison to 2001 is fairly apt but there is at least one crucial distinction. Kubricks’s 2001 had to build its fictional world from the ground up. Everything we know about the world of that movie is developed and conveyed within its running time. By contrast, Star Trek starts off with a fully developed fictional universe and premise that it could fairly expect to be at least passingly familiar to its audience. The overarching agenda of Wise’s Star Trek is to riff on that familiarity, to exploit it in various ways for dramatic effect.

Before I go any further I want to draw a distinction between plot and story. The two are not interchangeable synonyms.  A plot is just the stuff that happens, the A-to-B sequence of events. A story is what it all means.

In the case of Star Trek the Motion Picture, the plot is pretty simple—you could probably burn through it in an hour or so. As has been noted already, it’s a remake of one of the TV show episodes, which got through the plot in 45 minutes, not counting commercials, in which a space probe develops sentience and returns in search of its maker. But the story of Star Trek is about the unmaking and remaking of its heroic team–about getting the band back together for one last big score.

The reason this film is so languidly paced is that the story needs to move slowly—the story isn’t about the mechanics of alien menace approaches Earth-Enterprise encounters it-Enterprise saves the day. The story is about humanity facing a humbling encounter with the unknown—and that requires time.

1. Let’s start with the opening sequence in which the Great Whatsit vaporizes some Klingon battleships. During the classic series, the Klingons and the Romulans served as analogues of the Cold War opponents Russia and China. Sure, on the bridge of the Enterprise, Western heroes worked happily alongside Russian and Asian comrades as if the contemporary tensions of the audience had magically vanished in the future, but the Universe simply swapped an Earth-scaled Cold War standoff for an interplanetary one.

Aside from the immediate Cold war parallels, though, the thing about the Klingons and the Romulans is that they were in equilibrium with the Federation. Week after week, Kirk & Co. could face weird gods and monsters and vanquish them in a single episode; but come the Klingons and it was always stalemate. Kirk could never defeat the Klingons—they remained a constant opponent, of equal power to the Federation.

So, to open the movie with the Klingons being zapped is a way of putting the audience on notice: the Klingons are the one thing the Federation can’t beat, and here comes something even worse.

2. The next thing the movie does is take the Federation out of play. Throughout the TV series, the Enterprise stood as the flagship of a vast empire whose military strength spread across worlds, and whose authority went unquestioned. Our heroes always had backup. But on this mission, it’s up to the Enterprise crew and that’s it. No Plan B.

3. Okey doke. Now it’s time to get to that famously interminable scene of staring at the Enterprise for what seems like half an hour.

I’d have been perfectly OK with this scene on its own merits—the special effects are quite impressive, especially in the context of when the film was made, and the music is one of the coolest film scores of all time, so you could justify this merely on surface pleasures alone. But there’s something else this sequence is doing.

For one thing, it is anticipating the middle part of the film, where we will see the Enterprise exploring the contours of a massive spaceship the way Kirk’s pod explores the Enterprise here. Or anticipating the finale, in how it treats inanimate machines as actual characters.

But mainly, it’s giving the Enterprise, and by extension her crew, a loving, almost fetishistic “hero” moment, indulging in all the iconic power that this beloved TV show has built up—all in advance of tearing it all down. Because right after this sequence, the movie is going to commit to ripping the rug out from under all this hero worship. To understand how messy this is all getting, how grim this mission is, we have to have some context to compare it against. And thus, the emphasis on iconography.

Simply having an alien menace that can whallomp the Klingons, and having the Federation enfeebled, doesn’t set the stakes high enough. Because this is still the kind of situation that was the TV show’s weekly bread and butter for over ten years. I don’t care that the series only ran for three seasons of original episodes—it thrived in syndication, its audience snowballing with time, fan clubs growing from cultish outsiders to mainstream insiders. Star Trek The Motion Picture was a big-budget tentpole movie marketed to a mass audience. And that audience came with the knowledge that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy routinely faced impossible odds and came out on top.

To set this story aside as something bigger and more substantial than a TV episode, the stakes are set much higher—and to that end, the fundamental setup of Star Trek is about to be destabilized. And in order to do that, the film first reminds us of what it plans to take away.

4. Things go bad fast once Kirk boards the Enterprise. Let us count the ways.

a. The ship is staffed by inexperienced kids and the actual machinery isn’t fully installed and operational yet. Stick a mental pin in this—we’ll come back to it.

b. The equipment isn’t working correctly. The transporter malfunction scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid—and I swore that I had actually seen the malformed bodies that emerged from the disaster. It was so horrifying, my own imagination got burned into my head along with the actual images.

Throughout the classic series, the transporter was a narrative convenience to keep the story zipping along – it was rarely considered as a plot point in itself. So to have this gimmick be presented first in such a serious and disarming way, and then to be removed from the arsenal of the characters altogether, sets a worrying tone for what is to come.

c. There are way too many people on board. The setup is supposed to be Kirk-Spock-McCoy. That’s three leads—the other beloved characters make nice supporting characters but we expect our three Jungian archetypes made flesh to take center stage and save the day. But there’s an extra character in Decker, throwing the equation out of whack. He challenges Kirk’s authority—and he’s right when he does so! It’s upsetting.

And then there’s Ilea, whose position as a crew member would seem to put her on the same status as supporting players Checkov, Sulu, or Uhuru, but who seems to be positioned in a place of narrative priority above them.  It’s like watching someone younger and more junior than you get promoted ahead of you–who’s this upstart?  What happened to the character dynamics I was expecting?  (And mind you, I consider these strengths of the movie, not critiques–the disorienting effect of defying audience expectations is key to making the V’Ger menace sufficiently epic in scale).

d. There aren’t enough people on board. The setup is supposed to be Kirk-Spock-McCoy. But Spock isn’t here, and when he does show up he’s out of synch with everyone else and seemingly following his own agenda. His alien nature is supposed to be off-putting, but he is written (and played by Nimoy) even more out of place than usual. Taken together with point C above, we have this dilemma: the paradigm is Kirk-Spock-McCoy save the world. But we don’t have Kirk-Spock-McCoy, we have Decker vs. Kirk with McCoy and sort of Spock, maybe. The recipe is off.

And this takes us into the longest stretch of slow-paced inaction, as the Enterprise makes its way slowly through the V’ger cloud without any clear purpose or plan. I’d defend the majestic imagery and the glorious soundtrack again, but I said what I had to say on that count above, so I’ll continue in another vein instead.

Strictly from a plot standpoint, there’s next to nothing here—once they enter the cloud, the next important thing that happens is that they discover what V’ger is and save everybody. But what makes that discovery interesting and dramatic is how desperate Kirk gets, trying to buy time when he has no idea what to do. He gets backed against a wall and improvises—and that desperation feels more powerful when we feel time the same way he does. He’s had a lot of time to get ready—this movie goes on forever—and he didn’t use that time well. He gets to the very end, with mere minutes left before oblivion, without coming up with a plan of action.  We have to feel the clock run out with him.

Which then sets up that bizarre epiphany as they step into V’ger’s heart and see the rusty old probe, a museum piece, and have it all fall into place. In the end, Kirk answers a film’s worth of existential angst by avoiding the question of “what is the meaning of life” altogether and just playing a few lines of computer code over an old timey radio line.

Well, that and Decker’s bodily sacrifice, of course. This movie takes its existential anxiety seriously, even if Kirk doesn’t. True to the progressive spirit of Gene Roddenberry’s vision, the film adheres to the idea that the universe is a massive wondrous place beyond our understanding but not necessarily hostile.

You could spin through the narrative beats of this film pretty swiftly—not much actually happens, per se. But the ending depends on a sense of humility—a sense that the heroes can’t be expected to have every answer to every problem at ready access, that some problems take a while to grasp.

One of my pet peeves is science fiction films in which the characters encounter unprecedented crises—aliens, natural disasters, unique scientific phenomena—and yet immediately know what to do. Here, the very best the Federation have to offer face down a problem they only just barely manage to suss out, at the eleventh hour.

Mind you, I don’t think every Star Trek film ought to follow this pattern–in fact, I think doing it once is enough.  But while Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan is a vastly more satisfying and entertaining thing to watch, it definitely trades down from a “universe is big and hard to understand” concept to one of “Kirk & Co. fight a bad guy.”  Something worthwhile is lost in that trade.

Interestingly, the Star Trek reboot also uses the familiar icons of Star Trek to establish and then undermine audience expectations. The Enterprise is staffed with inexperienced youngsters and sent out into a mission for which it is poorly equipped (see 4.a above–I said I’d come back to it), and pointedly denies the audience the desired (and inevitable) Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate until the end. And these self-conscious refusals to conform to expectations, while exploiting all the iconic imagery necessary to continue invoking those expectations, is the same agenda that enervated Robert Wise’s film. Where the two diverge is that for all the epic time-travel looniness of J.J. Abrams’ version, it feels smaller—tighter, zippier, more thrilling, yes, but psychologically smaller. The horizon of Wise’s film is limitless.

And that’s what I meant about the difference between plot and story—the plot concerns V’ger’s return to Earth, the story concerns sentient life’s humility in the face of the unknown. One takes next to no time to explain, the other benefits from as much time as the film can allot.

0 Response Counterpoint: Star Trek, the Motion Picture. Pretty, pretty good.
Posted By Bill : June 30, 2012 7:43 am

Robert Wise may have been more of an auteur (RIP Andrew Sarris) than he was given credit.He shaped ST like The Andromeda Strain, with humans fighting an incomprehensibly large (small in Andromeda) alien force.The desaturated one-piece uniforms are from Andromeda, as well as the idea of humans beings as an “infestation”- Arthur hill in Andromeda calls humans among ” the filthiest beings in the universe”. Add to that the Kirk/Decker rivalry echoes the Gable/Lancaster one from Run Silent, Run Deep.

Posted By Bill : June 30, 2012 7:43 am

Robert Wise may have been more of an auteur (RIP Andrew Sarris) than he was given credit.He shaped ST like The Andromeda Strain, with humans fighting an incomprehensibly large (small in Andromeda) alien force.The desaturated one-piece uniforms are from Andromeda, as well as the idea of humans beings as an “infestation”- Arthur hill in Andromeda calls humans among ” the filthiest beings in the universe”. Add to that the Kirk/Decker rivalry echoes the Gable/Lancaster one from Run Silent, Run Deep.

Posted By kleeyaro : June 30, 2012 11:44 am

All I can say is that I like the movie because it was the first Star Trek movie, and the first time we saw the crew in 10 years. I’m a big fan and I do see the flaws in the film, but I still saw it 7 times in the theater when it was released and then 20 times when it was aired on pay television. Now I have the DVD, so I can watch it even more!

Posted By kleeyaro : June 30, 2012 11:44 am

All I can say is that I like the movie because it was the first Star Trek movie, and the first time we saw the crew in 10 years. I’m a big fan and I do see the flaws in the film, but I still saw it 7 times in the theater when it was released and then 20 times when it was aired on pay television. Now I have the DVD, so I can watch it even more!

Posted By cjmoseley : June 30, 2012 12:19 pm

Reblogged this on CJ Moseley's Blog and commented:
Narrative complexity aside, it is still THE slow motion picture…

Posted By cjmoseley : June 30, 2012 12:19 pm

Reblogged this on CJ Moseley's Blog and commented:
Narrative complexity aside, it is still THE slow motion picture…

Posted By Da ve M. : June 30, 2012 1:54 pm

Great to see a defense of ST:TMP. I’ve been a lifetime fan of Star Trek but was too young to see TMP in theaters.

When I first saw it on home video as a kid I found it slow and baffling as it didn’t resemble the Trek I loved from the TV show.
Revisiting the movie as an adult I can now appreciate the grandeur and mystery that is sorely lacking from later films where it really has become the Captain duking it out with a doomsday bent villain. Sequences like Spock’s mind meld and Decker’s union with V’Ger are truly epic moments that distill perfectly the human yearning to understand the universe and ourselves.

Posted By Da ve M. : June 30, 2012 1:54 pm

Great to see a defense of ST:TMP. I’ve been a lifetime fan of Star Trek but was too young to see TMP in theaters.

When I first saw it on home video as a kid I found it slow and baffling as it didn’t resemble the Trek I loved from the TV show.
Revisiting the movie as an adult I can now appreciate the grandeur and mystery that is sorely lacking from later films where it really has become the Captain duking it out with a doomsday bent villain. Sequences like Spock’s mind meld and Decker’s union with V’Ger are truly epic moments that distill perfectly the human yearning to understand the universe and ourselves.

Posted By Susan Doll : June 30, 2012 4:59 pm

I saw this film on a huge, huge screen when it opened, and the pacing of the film makes much more sense when seen on a big screen. For ex., the shots of the Enterprise as the camera lovingly moves around it were so impressive for fans used to seeing the ship on a small screen. In other instances, atmosphere and emotion are contingent on the pacing and sense of space, as mentioned above. Judging the film and finding flaws based on seeing it on a small screen is unfair; those opinions are just not valid. It’s like judging a famous painting by looking at a photo in an art book.

Posted By Susan Doll : June 30, 2012 4:59 pm

I saw this film on a huge, huge screen when it opened, and the pacing of the film makes much more sense when seen on a big screen. For ex., the shots of the Enterprise as the camera lovingly moves around it were so impressive for fans used to seeing the ship on a small screen. In other instances, atmosphere and emotion are contingent on the pacing and sense of space, as mentioned above. Judging the film and finding flaws based on seeing it on a small screen is unfair; those opinions are just not valid. It’s like judging a famous painting by looking at a photo in an art book.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : June 30, 2012 6:23 pm

Great post, David! I am without power and only intermittent cell access so more later!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : June 30, 2012 6:23 pm

Great post, David! I am without power and only intermittent cell access so more later!

Posted By tdraicer : June 30, 2012 8:34 pm

I’ve always liked Star Trek TMP but I think the extended cut (which I’ve only seen on the small screen) is the better version, with more Trek character development (Spock in particular).

Posted By tdraicer : June 30, 2012 8:34 pm

I’ve always liked Star Trek TMP but I think the extended cut (which I’ve only seen on the small screen) is the better version, with more Trek character development (Spock in particular).

Posted By Brian : June 30, 2012 8:42 pm

Great points David, and exactly why I was so put off by the movie. Trek (for me) was always about Kirk, Spock and to a lesser degree McCoy, the interaction of their characters and how their trust and support of each other bought out the best in them to solve each crisis they faced.
I was so put off by Decker (I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the bald chick either!)and the absence of personnel interaction from our heroes that any awe of the vast universe Robert Wise tried to instill just bored me. After waiting all those years for Trek to come back in my life I felt betrayed.
One the reasons I feel Nimoy was such a good director for 3 and 4 was his exploration of that principal. I loved how they paired into teams for Trek IV to save the whales and the future of the earth. Nimoy’s direction was 3 yards and a cloud of dust…a straight forward, scene by scene building of the plot to its satisfying conclusion.

Posted By Brian : June 30, 2012 8:42 pm

Great points David, and exactly why I was so put off by the movie. Trek (for me) was always about Kirk, Spock and to a lesser degree McCoy, the interaction of their characters and how their trust and support of each other bought out the best in them to solve each crisis they faced.
I was so put off by Decker (I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the bald chick either!)and the absence of personnel interaction from our heroes that any awe of the vast universe Robert Wise tried to instill just bored me. After waiting all those years for Trek to come back in my life I felt betrayed.
One the reasons I feel Nimoy was such a good director for 3 and 4 was his exploration of that principal. I loved how they paired into teams for Trek IV to save the whales and the future of the earth. Nimoy’s direction was 3 yards and a cloud of dust…a straight forward, scene by scene building of the plot to its satisfying conclusion.

Posted By robbushblog : July 1, 2012 11:32 am

I changed my mind about this movie in the past couple of years. I originally found it overlong and terribly boring. However, after acquiring and then watching the Director’s Cut DVD, I gained a new appreciatio for it. The old series did, at times, attempt to explore themes beyond the normal scope of an action television series. Star Trek: The Motion Picture attempted to do something similar on a larger, longer scale. I really like it now. Star Trek V however, is still weak sauce.

Posted By robbushblog : July 1, 2012 11:32 am

I changed my mind about this movie in the past couple of years. I originally found it overlong and terribly boring. However, after acquiring and then watching the Director’s Cut DVD, I gained a new appreciatio for it. The old series did, at times, attempt to explore themes beyond the normal scope of an action television series. Star Trek: The Motion Picture attempted to do something similar on a larger, longer scale. I really like it now. Star Trek V however, is still weak sauce.

Posted By John Maddox Roberts : July 1, 2012 1:31 pm

Star Trek was brought to the big screen by an unprecedented letter-witing campaign (remember letters?) by the fans that went on for years. Thus, to a great extent, the film was an homage to the fans, something unique in film up to that time. In this age of comic book franchises it’s easy to forget that this all started somewhere. The fans wanted to see 360 degree views of the Enterprise and they got them. They wanted to see the old crew, even the less important members. Note Grace Lee Whitney next to Scotty in that transporter room pic. She was only in a few episodes of the first season, as Yeoman Rand, but she had cameos in the first three movies, at least. It doesn’t make up for the inexplicable slowness of the middle section, but the filmmakers wanted to give the fans what they were demanding, and that’s something rare in movies.

Posted By John Maddox Roberts : July 1, 2012 1:31 pm

Star Trek was brought to the big screen by an unprecedented letter-witing campaign (remember letters?) by the fans that went on for years. Thus, to a great extent, the film was an homage to the fans, something unique in film up to that time. In this age of comic book franchises it’s easy to forget that this all started somewhere. The fans wanted to see 360 degree views of the Enterprise and they got them. They wanted to see the old crew, even the less important members. Note Grace Lee Whitney next to Scotty in that transporter room pic. She was only in a few episodes of the first season, as Yeoman Rand, but she had cameos in the first three movies, at least. It doesn’t make up for the inexplicable slowness of the middle section, but the filmmakers wanted to give the fans what they were demanding, and that’s something rare in movies.

Posted By bill : July 1, 2012 4:16 pm

Letter writing had nothing to do with bringing Star Trek to the screen- Star Wars did. Robert Wise hadn’t seen the show and was uninterested in “giving a gift to the fans”. Roddenberry was responsible for whatever “winks’ there were in the film, but it was never made to please a small group of Trekkers,who, as the article states were among the most dissatisfied.

Posted By bill : July 1, 2012 4:16 pm

Letter writing had nothing to do with bringing Star Trek to the screen- Star Wars did. Robert Wise hadn’t seen the show and was uninterested in “giving a gift to the fans”. Roddenberry was responsible for whatever “winks’ there were in the film, but it was never made to please a small group of Trekkers,who, as the article states were among the most dissatisfied.

Posted By chris : July 2, 2012 4:21 pm

Fans of the show may have been the most dissatisfied. However, a number of them loved the film as only True Believers can. The way some Star Wars fans came of Phantom Menace loving it only to recant later when seeing it on video.
I always thought that ST: TMP was a decent enough movie that overemphasized the special effects(Hey, look ma at what we can do).
As for Roddenberry, just about everyone involved with the film acknowleged that as much as he deserved credit for getting Star Trek that far he was also that much of a hinderence as it was being made.

Posted By chris : July 2, 2012 4:21 pm

Fans of the show may have been the most dissatisfied. However, a number of them loved the film as only True Believers can. The way some Star Wars fans came of Phantom Menace loving it only to recant later when seeing it on video.
I always thought that ST: TMP was a decent enough movie that overemphasized the special effects(Hey, look ma at what we can do).
As for Roddenberry, just about everyone involved with the film acknowleged that as much as he deserved credit for getting Star Trek that far he was also that much of a hinderence as it was being made.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 3, 2012 3:01 pm

Finally! I finally have electricity and internet again! Woo-hoo!

David, thank you for the kind words at the top of the post. This is, both visually and story-wise, a beautiful film. I wouldn’t have put it on my post if I thought it was hopeless. Let’s face it, I own the DVD, I saw it in the theatre on opening weekend and I’ve watched it every time I happen upon it on cable. I’m a trekker by nature and I can even sit through STAR TREK V if it’s on. That said, you make an excellent case that it’s my very same Trekker nature that’s queering the deal for me. Perhaps the next time I watch it (and, yes, believe me, I will again at some point) I’ll watch it with your points in mind.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 3, 2012 3:01 pm

Finally! I finally have electricity and internet again! Woo-hoo!

David, thank you for the kind words at the top of the post. This is, both visually and story-wise, a beautiful film. I wouldn’t have put it on my post if I thought it was hopeless. Let’s face it, I own the DVD, I saw it in the theatre on opening weekend and I’ve watched it every time I happen upon it on cable. I’m a trekker by nature and I can even sit through STAR TREK V if it’s on. That said, you make an excellent case that it’s my very same Trekker nature that’s queering the deal for me. Perhaps the next time I watch it (and, yes, believe me, I will again at some point) I’ll watch it with your points in mind.

Posted By xweaponx : July 4, 2012 1:41 am

You are missing some important historical facts about Trek, the Universe of Trek, the Making of Trek, and a lot of other things.

One of them being, Star Trek: The Motion Picture almost destroyed the franchise for good: It went millions of bucks over-budget, it was conceived with NO script. As a matter of fact, they began filming with No SCRIPT at all. Gene thought that the star of the show was the actual Ship, the USS Enterprise: And that the fans of the show would come to see the almost 10-minute unveiling of the “refurbished” NCC-1701.

But in fact, people wanted to see the interactions of Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, of which there were NONE in this film.

Add in to this, they add a new “Bald” woman and a “young” Captain (Captain/Commander Decker, son of the “Commodore Decker” from the Original Series episode “The Doomsday Machine”)-Making this film, as NON Trek as possible.

It is because every Trek fan in the universe wanted in on this production, even being filmed in a HUGE scene where Kirk shows “V’ger” swallowing a space station. All of the #1 Trek fans are in that scene: Bjo Trimble, David Gerrold, etc.

Just another “Huge” boring scene.

I’ll tell you the one thing The Motion Picture gave to Trek: The Klingons new look. That was the one and only decent thing in the whole film.

This movie was so expensive to make, there was almost NO Star Trek II: ThE Wrath of Khan. If you watch that film, which was made for a considerably lower budget the TMP, you will see that right away, the MAGIC of Trek had immediately returned. This is why that film, just as TMP almost Killed Trek, TWOK revived it.

But you have put your foot in your mouth when you spoke against JJ Abrams reboot: What you are forgetting is TMP reveals a crew that has had about 15 years of familiarity between them. This is NOT the case with Star Trek XI, what is shown there, are the same Star Trek characters, who have never MET before. TMP was about experience, JJ Abrams Trek was about Beginnings, beginnings which had been altered by someone from the future coming back and basically erasing the original timeline. This is the gift of JJ Abrams: He knows how to write stories that involve Alternate Timelines and Realities: This is why “Fringe” related to “Star Trek” – It is because a gifted young writer/Director/Producer knows how to tell good stories.

This is why I found “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” one of the worst movies ever made, as far as story, it was horrible. I did however like the imagery that was given to us, but you cannot make a film using just imagery, you have to have story and character development to carry it through.

And what most people forget, is the connection between Star Trek XI and the Original series and first six films: Which is SPOCK. In 2009s Star Trek, what is THE FIRST thing Spock “Prime” says to the young Kirk? “I have always been and shall ever bee your friend” – Which he said to Kirk Prime right before he died at the end of ST:TWOK. So, as most people uneducated in Trek would think that 2009s Trek was a Misrepresentation of the Franchise, is it not. The Spock character bridges THAT Star Trek with the original series of 1966.

But 1979s The Motion Picture, had no connection to The Original Series in any way, shape or form. It was an excercise in how NOT to make movies.

Posted By xweaponx : July 4, 2012 1:41 am

You are missing some important historical facts about Trek, the Universe of Trek, the Making of Trek, and a lot of other things.

One of them being, Star Trek: The Motion Picture almost destroyed the franchise for good: It went millions of bucks over-budget, it was conceived with NO script. As a matter of fact, they began filming with No SCRIPT at all. Gene thought that the star of the show was the actual Ship, the USS Enterprise: And that the fans of the show would come to see the almost 10-minute unveiling of the “refurbished” NCC-1701.

But in fact, people wanted to see the interactions of Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, of which there were NONE in this film.

Add in to this, they add a new “Bald” woman and a “young” Captain (Captain/Commander Decker, son of the “Commodore Decker” from the Original Series episode “The Doomsday Machine”)-Making this film, as NON Trek as possible.

It is because every Trek fan in the universe wanted in on this production, even being filmed in a HUGE scene where Kirk shows “V’ger” swallowing a space station. All of the #1 Trek fans are in that scene: Bjo Trimble, David Gerrold, etc.

Just another “Huge” boring scene.

I’ll tell you the one thing The Motion Picture gave to Trek: The Klingons new look. That was the one and only decent thing in the whole film.

This movie was so expensive to make, there was almost NO Star Trek II: ThE Wrath of Khan. If you watch that film, which was made for a considerably lower budget the TMP, you will see that right away, the MAGIC of Trek had immediately returned. This is why that film, just as TMP almost Killed Trek, TWOK revived it.

But you have put your foot in your mouth when you spoke against JJ Abrams reboot: What you are forgetting is TMP reveals a crew that has had about 15 years of familiarity between them. This is NOT the case with Star Trek XI, what is shown there, are the same Star Trek characters, who have never MET before. TMP was about experience, JJ Abrams Trek was about Beginnings, beginnings which had been altered by someone from the future coming back and basically erasing the original timeline. This is the gift of JJ Abrams: He knows how to write stories that involve Alternate Timelines and Realities: This is why “Fringe” related to “Star Trek” – It is because a gifted young writer/Director/Producer knows how to tell good stories.

This is why I found “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” one of the worst movies ever made, as far as story, it was horrible. I did however like the imagery that was given to us, but you cannot make a film using just imagery, you have to have story and character development to carry it through.

And what most people forget, is the connection between Star Trek XI and the Original series and first six films: Which is SPOCK. In 2009s Star Trek, what is THE FIRST thing Spock “Prime” says to the young Kirk? “I have always been and shall ever bee your friend” – Which he said to Kirk Prime right before he died at the end of ST:TWOK. So, as most people uneducated in Trek would think that 2009s Trek was a Misrepresentation of the Franchise, is it not. The Spock character bridges THAT Star Trek with the original series of 1966.

But 1979s The Motion Picture, had no connection to The Original Series in any way, shape or form. It was an excercise in how NOT to make movies.

Posted By xweaponx : July 4, 2012 2:16 am

I, er, forgive me, I MUST leave an addendum, of some things I have noticed, especially about the Trek Movies of the 80′s.

ST:TMP was so long and boring, that when producer Harve Bennett took over the franchise for Star Trek II, he created a “Formula” that has been RIGIDLY adhered to, for all of the films up to Star Trek: Nemesis. And that is this:

Where ST:TMP had long, boring scenes of visual Trek-urbation, ST:II was edited into a rapidly moving, quickly transpiring story, and along the way, dropping Bombs: Kirk’s SON, David… Kirk, wearing Glasses… Spock, teaching SCHOOL. Little Bombs like these exploded all through the film, culminating in the final climax of the film, how to get a Starship into Warp when you have 3 minutes to live, and the correct time to kill off a MAJOR character, and WHY.

The reason? To tell the story as quickly as possible. But I think, in my opinion, they pared it down TOO MUCH. If you compare the Theatrical Release of ST: II to the Directors Cut, there are MANY extrapolative scenes added, which are just plain better. Scotty has a NEPHEW who gets killed. This is NOT explained in the Theatrical release, there is just a “Kid”: who Scotty brings to the Bridge, for NO reason at all if you consider the Theatrical release, for da**ed good reason, in the Director’s Cut. The Director’s cut shows us who that IS. There is at least 15 to 20 extra minutes of extrapolative scenes like this, added back in make the film very much more enjoyable. I for one DO like long movies, as long as I am entertained every minute of them.

But this practice was continued for all of the Trek movies up to Nemesis, in Star Trek: Generations where was a scene of Kirk doing an Orbital High-Dive: CUT out for the Theatrical. Then there is a scene where Dr Soran is torturing Geordi LaForge. Cut out, the movie LOSES many things, mostly explanations of why things are happening: Like, WHY Geordi had to be RUSHED to Sick Bay immediately on his return.

It was just poor editing. Which is another reason Star Trek XI got High Praise from me: And I really hated the idea of that film, but when I SAW it, it was edited very well. It was not a LONG film, but it did have as many interesting Visual things as TMP had, but the break-neck speed and pacing of the film, allows it all to be told in just about two hours. If you compare the STORY of TMP to the STORY of ST:XI there is simply 50 times as much in the latter, while the former is one bloated story of some huge gaseous blob that swallows Klingon Ships. In TMP, there is not even a “B” story, which became part of the formula for the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine franchises: There were always at least TWO main stories in each episode. THAT is what made those series so good, episode after episode of great story arcs.

This is how Trek should be: TMP was filmed and edited in Traditional Hollywood EPIC style. ST: II was edited more like Episodic of Television. But ST: XI had elements of both, it was happening so fast, that the common viewer had no time to let incredulity enter in, only after you had seen it, do you start thinking about goofs. And there ARE goofs in that film, but the point is, a good film can be loaded with blunders, but still be good.

This is why I use ST: II as a template in my mind for quality. There are some incredible editing goofs in the film, but cleverly hidden. But when you consider, they were using the exact same set to film two different Starship Bridges, when you watch the film you DO believe that Khan is on The Reliant and Kirk is on The Enterprise, even though, there are both in the same exact place.

Posted By xweaponx : July 4, 2012 2:16 am

I, er, forgive me, I MUST leave an addendum, of some things I have noticed, especially about the Trek Movies of the 80′s.

ST:TMP was so long and boring, that when producer Harve Bennett took over the franchise for Star Trek II, he created a “Formula” that has been RIGIDLY adhered to, for all of the films up to Star Trek: Nemesis. And that is this:

Where ST:TMP had long, boring scenes of visual Trek-urbation, ST:II was edited into a rapidly moving, quickly transpiring story, and along the way, dropping Bombs: Kirk’s SON, David… Kirk, wearing Glasses… Spock, teaching SCHOOL. Little Bombs like these exploded all through the film, culminating in the final climax of the film, how to get a Starship into Warp when you have 3 minutes to live, and the correct time to kill off a MAJOR character, and WHY.

The reason? To tell the story as quickly as possible. But I think, in my opinion, they pared it down TOO MUCH. If you compare the Theatrical Release of ST: II to the Directors Cut, there are MANY extrapolative scenes added, which are just plain better. Scotty has a NEPHEW who gets killed. This is NOT explained in the Theatrical release, there is just a “Kid”: who Scotty brings to the Bridge, for NO reason at all if you consider the Theatrical release, for da**ed good reason, in the Director’s Cut. The Director’s cut shows us who that IS. There is at least 15 to 20 extra minutes of extrapolative scenes like this, added back in make the film very much more enjoyable. I for one DO like long movies, as long as I am entertained every minute of them.

But this practice was continued for all of the Trek movies up to Nemesis, in Star Trek: Generations where was a scene of Kirk doing an Orbital High-Dive: CUT out for the Theatrical. Then there is a scene where Dr Soran is torturing Geordi LaForge. Cut out, the movie LOSES many things, mostly explanations of why things are happening: Like, WHY Geordi had to be RUSHED to Sick Bay immediately on his return.

It was just poor editing. Which is another reason Star Trek XI got High Praise from me: And I really hated the idea of that film, but when I SAW it, it was edited very well. It was not a LONG film, but it did have as many interesting Visual things as TMP had, but the break-neck speed and pacing of the film, allows it all to be told in just about two hours. If you compare the STORY of TMP to the STORY of ST:XI there is simply 50 times as much in the latter, while the former is one bloated story of some huge gaseous blob that swallows Klingon Ships. In TMP, there is not even a “B” story, which became part of the formula for the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine franchises: There were always at least TWO main stories in each episode. THAT is what made those series so good, episode after episode of great story arcs.

This is how Trek should be: TMP was filmed and edited in Traditional Hollywood EPIC style. ST: II was edited more like Episodic of Television. But ST: XI had elements of both, it was happening so fast, that the common viewer had no time to let incredulity enter in, only after you had seen it, do you start thinking about goofs. And there ARE goofs in that film, but the point is, a good film can be loaded with blunders, but still be good.

This is why I use ST: II as a template in my mind for quality. There are some incredible editing goofs in the film, but cleverly hidden. But when you consider, they were using the exact same set to film two different Starship Bridges, when you watch the film you DO believe that Khan is on The Reliant and Kirk is on The Enterprise, even though, there are both in the same exact place.

Posted By davidkalat : July 4, 2012 9:49 am

It would be foolish of me to try to argue with such passionately held opinions, xweaponx–if you genuinely don’t like the movie, nothing I say is likely to change your mind. That being said, I’d like to counter two of the points you make in your comments above, if I may.

First, I want to clarify that I had no intention of “speaking against” the JJ Abrams reboot–far from it, and if my post was interpreted as a critique of that movie I was misunderstood. The point I intended to make was that both the Abrams and the Wise movies operate on a similar storytelling logic: they both presuppose an audience familiarity with what Star Trek is “supposed” to be, and then deny the audience that particular formulation until the end. The particulars of how that denial is made obviously differ greatly between the two films, but it’s the same fundamental agenda.

The second comment I wish to make is that it isn’t strictly true that Star Trek TMP went before cameras without a script–it went without a completed script. There’s a difference. The story had been developed as the intended premiere of a television reboot called Star Trek Phase II, which was to reunite most of the original crew. Leonard Nimoy initially refused to return, so to fill the void left by an absent Spock the Phase II series introduced some new characters including Persis Khambata’s Ilea.

Before Phase II got very far, though, Paramount decided the premiere episode sounded crackerjack enought to be a feature film to compete in the Star Wars-bandwagon-jumping sweepstakes and changed gears.

But the on-again-off-again behind the scenes drama kept interfering in the scriptwriting, and they went into production without having worked out an ending–the finale was in some ways improvised by the filmmakers much the way Kirk pulls it off his butt onscreen. (Sorry for the crude wording, but really that’s what makes Kirk so endearing a hero–his complete lack of reverence for the crises he faces)

Posted By davidkalat : July 4, 2012 9:49 am

It would be foolish of me to try to argue with such passionately held opinions, xweaponx–if you genuinely don’t like the movie, nothing I say is likely to change your mind. That being said, I’d like to counter two of the points you make in your comments above, if I may.

First, I want to clarify that I had no intention of “speaking against” the JJ Abrams reboot–far from it, and if my post was interpreted as a critique of that movie I was misunderstood. The point I intended to make was that both the Abrams and the Wise movies operate on a similar storytelling logic: they both presuppose an audience familiarity with what Star Trek is “supposed” to be, and then deny the audience that particular formulation until the end. The particulars of how that denial is made obviously differ greatly between the two films, but it’s the same fundamental agenda.

The second comment I wish to make is that it isn’t strictly true that Star Trek TMP went before cameras without a script–it went without a completed script. There’s a difference. The story had been developed as the intended premiere of a television reboot called Star Trek Phase II, which was to reunite most of the original crew. Leonard Nimoy initially refused to return, so to fill the void left by an absent Spock the Phase II series introduced some new characters including Persis Khambata’s Ilea.

Before Phase II got very far, though, Paramount decided the premiere episode sounded crackerjack enought to be a feature film to compete in the Star Wars-bandwagon-jumping sweepstakes and changed gears.

But the on-again-off-again behind the scenes drama kept interfering in the scriptwriting, and they went into production without having worked out an ending–the finale was in some ways improvised by the filmmakers much the way Kirk pulls it off his butt onscreen. (Sorry for the crude wording, but really that’s what makes Kirk so endearing a hero–his complete lack of reverence for the crises he faces)

Posted By bill : July 4, 2012 10:49 am

Points for mentioning Kirk’s lack of reverence:”What does God need with a starship?’. Altho we don’t want to get into THAT movie just yet.The prototype for STTMP’s ending may be found on youtube. It’s the transformation climax for Phase IV. John Dykstra did sfx for both.

Posted By bill : July 4, 2012 10:49 am

Points for mentioning Kirk’s lack of reverence:”What does God need with a starship?’. Altho we don’t want to get into THAT movie just yet.The prototype for STTMP’s ending may be found on youtube. It’s the transformation climax for Phase IV. John Dykstra did sfx for both.

Posted By xweaponx : July 5, 2012 8:24 pm

Thank you for the response. Yes, I remember the abortive “Phase II” debacle, actually many of the set pieces made for that were used in subsequent Trek. The Regula Space Station is of course the orbital offices complex, simply flipped upside-down.

It is difficult to finger exactly what bothers me with TMP, individually we have scenes with Spock, in an incredibly cool and best looking Planet Vulcan ever… And my favorite part of the film, bones being beamed up and he instantly starts checking his body for “missing parts” – these little things are why I do not totally hate the film. But collectively, there is a huge “Thing” that the enterprise, in episodic television would never have gone up against. The script as it was, was a leftover from the Phase II project, and several writers including David Gerrold tried to unsuccessfully fix it: eventually the job went to Alan Dean Foster: a big name in Science Fiction and Fantasy from the late 70′s, but his strong suits were in the novelization of television episodes, not really in “World Building”

This is why I enjoyed the 2009 reboot so much, as Abrams really knows how to do the parallel worlds thing: which had been a trick used in all of the main televised Trek shows: TNG, DS9, VOY, and ENT. But where all of those interrupted timelines were returned to normal, Abrams changes the timeline and DOES NOT return it.

This same kind of writing was used by Marvel Comics in the 1994 “Age of Apocolypse” saga: A character named Legion goes into the past and tries to kill Magneto, but kills Professor Charles Xavier (Ironic that Jean-Luc Picard played him in the 2000 X-Men franchise) instead.

WONDERFUL storytelling: Eventually they brought back the original timeline after a year of “Mirror Comics”- but some of the changes from that timeline were brought to the prime timeline. For instance, the alternate Hank McCoy aka “The Black Beast”- Creator of your namesake, the “Morlocks” (not the time-machine Morlocks).

But there were no writers back in 1978 capable of writing as good stories, and the resultant arguing trek writers seriously injured this first attempt.

Now Robert Wise lacked one thing: he was surrounded by Hollywood talent, but he needed a different kind of talent. He needed to himself be inundated by the Trek universe.

This was why in 2009 JJ was much more successful, because he himself had over 30 years of Trek story to reflect on, and he even nods to Enterprise. When Scotty claims he lost Admiral Archer’s “prize beagle” in his transporter experiment.

There was nothing like that in TMP. I’m sure Wise did as best as he could, but he was not handed a viable property at that time. It seemed to me, they were simply in too much of a hurry to make this film: And the same fate befell ST:V for the very same reason.

Posted By xweaponx : July 5, 2012 8:24 pm

Thank you for the response. Yes, I remember the abortive “Phase II” debacle, actually many of the set pieces made for that were used in subsequent Trek. The Regula Space Station is of course the orbital offices complex, simply flipped upside-down.

It is difficult to finger exactly what bothers me with TMP, individually we have scenes with Spock, in an incredibly cool and best looking Planet Vulcan ever… And my favorite part of the film, bones being beamed up and he instantly starts checking his body for “missing parts” – these little things are why I do not totally hate the film. But collectively, there is a huge “Thing” that the enterprise, in episodic television would never have gone up against. The script as it was, was a leftover from the Phase II project, and several writers including David Gerrold tried to unsuccessfully fix it: eventually the job went to Alan Dean Foster: a big name in Science Fiction and Fantasy from the late 70′s, but his strong suits were in the novelization of television episodes, not really in “World Building”

This is why I enjoyed the 2009 reboot so much, as Abrams really knows how to do the parallel worlds thing: which had been a trick used in all of the main televised Trek shows: TNG, DS9, VOY, and ENT. But where all of those interrupted timelines were returned to normal, Abrams changes the timeline and DOES NOT return it.

This same kind of writing was used by Marvel Comics in the 1994 “Age of Apocolypse” saga: A character named Legion goes into the past and tries to kill Magneto, but kills Professor Charles Xavier (Ironic that Jean-Luc Picard played him in the 2000 X-Men franchise) instead.

WONDERFUL storytelling: Eventually they brought back the original timeline after a year of “Mirror Comics”- but some of the changes from that timeline were brought to the prime timeline. For instance, the alternate Hank McCoy aka “The Black Beast”- Creator of your namesake, the “Morlocks” (not the time-machine Morlocks).

But there were no writers back in 1978 capable of writing as good stories, and the resultant arguing trek writers seriously injured this first attempt.

Now Robert Wise lacked one thing: he was surrounded by Hollywood talent, but he needed a different kind of talent. He needed to himself be inundated by the Trek universe.

This was why in 2009 JJ was much more successful, because he himself had over 30 years of Trek story to reflect on, and he even nods to Enterprise. When Scotty claims he lost Admiral Archer’s “prize beagle” in his transporter experiment.

There was nothing like that in TMP. I’m sure Wise did as best as he could, but he was not handed a viable property at that time. It seemed to me, they were simply in too much of a hurry to make this film: And the same fate befell ST:V for the very same reason.

Posted By xweaponx : July 5, 2012 8:47 pm

Actually there were several GOOD things about ST:V (Including the line you quoted). As I stated above, no script, no film. Although the main story was weak, there are several intersting things. Like the scenes on the observation deck where McCoy and Spock share their pain. It was a big mistake for Kirk not to do it too. It would have been more effective to share his pain, but still refuse to help Lawrence Luckinbill. And they NEVER should have had Uhura do that lap dance for those aliens.

I liked the idea that the Enterprise-A was a hunk of Junk- Kirk missing his “old chair” and the very beginning scenes were very funny, especially bones cursing through the binoculars. And at the end of the film I dug those huge rock “Fingers” that come up from the ground, Shatner figured out some of those effects by himself, and he did a good job.

I just watched, for the first time ever, the final episode of “Enterprise”- As an episode it was good, although Jon Frakes was way to old to reprise that role. But as a finale, and a series finale at that? It was an insult to the actors and crew of that show, not to mention the fans.

Rick Bermans rule of the Trek Franchise, bestowed upon him by Gene Roddenberry himself- ended when that episode was aired. But I do not blame him, I blame Brannon Braga: Who was the idiot that destroyed the Enterprise D “because it didn’t look good in 16:9 aspect ratio”- hogwash, the D is shown in that finale, looks just fine in widescreen.

I’m assuming then, in “all good things” the future Admiral Riker went back to Veridian III and salvaged the saucer section that had crashed there, and rebuilt the Enterprise-D with three cool looking warp nacelles.

Posted By xweaponx : July 5, 2012 8:47 pm

Actually there were several GOOD things about ST:V (Including the line you quoted). As I stated above, no script, no film. Although the main story was weak, there are several intersting things. Like the scenes on the observation deck where McCoy and Spock share their pain. It was a big mistake for Kirk not to do it too. It would have been more effective to share his pain, but still refuse to help Lawrence Luckinbill. And they NEVER should have had Uhura do that lap dance for those aliens.

I liked the idea that the Enterprise-A was a hunk of Junk- Kirk missing his “old chair” and the very beginning scenes were very funny, especially bones cursing through the binoculars. And at the end of the film I dug those huge rock “Fingers” that come up from the ground, Shatner figured out some of those effects by himself, and he did a good job.

I just watched, for the first time ever, the final episode of “Enterprise”- As an episode it was good, although Jon Frakes was way to old to reprise that role. But as a finale, and a series finale at that? It was an insult to the actors and crew of that show, not to mention the fans.

Rick Bermans rule of the Trek Franchise, bestowed upon him by Gene Roddenberry himself- ended when that episode was aired. But I do not blame him, I blame Brannon Braga: Who was the idiot that destroyed the Enterprise D “because it didn’t look good in 16:9 aspect ratio”- hogwash, the D is shown in that finale, looks just fine in widescreen.

I’m assuming then, in “all good things” the future Admiral Riker went back to Veridian III and salvaged the saucer section that had crashed there, and rebuilt the Enterprise-D with three cool looking warp nacelles.

Posted By bill : July 5, 2012 8:48 pm

Just to clarify:I was referring to Phase IV,a 1974 movie directed by Saul Bass. In the excised ending. a man and woman circle each other before merging into a new species. John Dykstra devised this,a he would the thematically idntical scene in STTMP.

Posted By bill : July 5, 2012 8:48 pm

Just to clarify:I was referring to Phase IV,a 1974 movie directed by Saul Bass. In the excised ending. a man and woman circle each other before merging into a new species. John Dykstra devised this,a he would the thematically idntical scene in STTMP.

Posted By bill : July 5, 2012 8:59 pm

Ted Turner’s gonna kick us out of here if he finds out geeks are taking about Trek and not Gone with Wind.Anyway give ST:v points for coming down subtly but solidly in favor of athieism.Not just one false God but all Gods. “But a dream”.

Posted By bill : July 5, 2012 8:59 pm

Ted Turner’s gonna kick us out of here if he finds out geeks are taking about Trek and not Gone with Wind.Anyway give ST:v points for coming down subtly but solidly in favor of athieism.Not just one false God but all Gods. “But a dream”.

Posted By Tony Dayoub : July 26, 2012 9:48 am

Sorry, I’m arriving late to the party, David, but this is an excellent defense of ST:TMP. Perhaps because I love the TREK franchise so much, I have difficulty putting on my critic’s hat and expressing in words why this difficult entry is not to be easily dismissed.

You even do a fantastic job of outlining the importance of the Kirk and Scotty Enterprise flyby scene. It’s my favorite scene of the film for pure fanboy pleasure, but I always found it hard to defend its inclusion from a cinematic structure perspective. Now I can just pull up your article whenever I want to reference a well-coinsidered explanation.

Kudos, this is worth sharing on Twitter (going right now), even at this late date.

Posted By Tony Dayoub : July 26, 2012 9:48 am

Sorry, I’m arriving late to the party, David, but this is an excellent defense of ST:TMP. Perhaps because I love the TREK franchise so much, I have difficulty putting on my critic’s hat and expressing in words why this difficult entry is not to be easily dismissed.

You even do a fantastic job of outlining the importance of the Kirk and Scotty Enterprise flyby scene. It’s my favorite scene of the film for pure fanboy pleasure, but I always found it hard to defend its inclusion from a cinematic structure perspective. Now I can just pull up your article whenever I want to reference a well-coinsidered explanation.

Kudos, this is worth sharing on Twitter (going right now), even at this late date.

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