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Stardate 2013 - Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

First big screen outing for the crew of the U.S.S Enterprise.


Directed by: Robert Wise
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Majel Barrett, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins, Grace Lee Whitney

After destroying three Klingon warships, a mysterious cloud of energy does likewise to a Starfleet monitoring station. The cloud is discovered to be heading towards earth, where the famed Starship Enterprise is the only vessel close enough to intercept it. The ship, however, is in the middle of being refitted. It's former captain, James T. Kirk (Shatner), is now an admiral based in San Francisco. He assumes command of the vessel, demoting its captain, Willard Decker (Collins). Meanwhile, on the planet Vulcan, Spock (Nimoy) experiences a telepathic connection with the cloud, which appears to possess a conscience. He joins the Enterprise as science officer and is accompanied by Dr. McCoy (Kelley) to complete the old crew. The ship's navigator, Ilia (Khambatta), a former lover of Decker, is abducted by a probe from the cloud and replaced by a doppelganger. Decker endeavours to communicate with his lover's double while Spock attempts to mind-meld with the cloud.
The crew of Starfleet's most famous ship had been absent from screens for a full ten years by 1979, not counting the animated adventures. Ironically, given how many sci-fi fans nail their flags to the mast of either 'Star Trek' or 'Star Wars', it's George Lucas that Trekkers have to thank for the return of their beloved franchise. Thanks to the success of 'Star Wars' in 1977, sci-fi had returned to the mainstream on a scale not seen since the B-Movie craze of the fifties. Unlike that earlier decade, sci-fi was now big business, with movie producers eager to pump unprecedented amounts of money into what they hoped would be the next galactic blockbuster. If you owned a lunch-box in the late seventies, and indeed early eighties, chances were it featured 'Star Wars', 'Buck Rogers', 'Battlestar Galactica' or any other movie or TV sci-fi based franchise.
Paramount found themselves sitting on a potential gold-mine, owning the rights to the most popular genre TV show of all time. Earlier, in 1975, work had begun on bringing Trek to the big screen. Despite the efforts of a host of writers, including heavyweights like Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury, the studio couldn't settle on an engaging enough story and abandoned their plans in 1977, ironically just before the release of 'Star Wars'. Instead, they turned their focus on bringing the series back to the small screen, ordering work to begin on a pilot for 'Star Trek: Phase II'. The script for this T.V return, entitled 'In Thy Image' would ultimately form the basis of 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture'.
This is ultimately the film's weakness. The story is very grounded in T.V and would have satisfied as a two-part pilot in living rooms. For a movie arriving in the wake of the cinematic 'Star Wars', however, it's a huge anti-climax. Legendary director Robert Wise ('The Haunting', 'West Side Story', 'The Day the Earth Stood Still') does a fine job of making the film visually interesting but, as the crude old saying goes, "you can't polish a turd". Aside from the opening scenes of destruction and a great, though too close to comedic for some viewers, docking sequence which recalls '2001: A Space Odyssey', the film is stage-bound, (the stage in this case being the interior of the Enterprise).
For many fans, the best episodes of the series were often those which featured Kirk coming up against aliens on strange worlds. Kirk spends much of the running time of 'ST:TMP' essentially looking out a window. The relationship between Kirk, McCoy and Spock never gets to shine here the way it did so satisfyingly in the series. To put it simply, the film's just not a lot of fun. The greatest legacy of this first big-screen outing is probably Jerry Goldsmith's fantastic score. The movie opens with an overture, something not witnessed since the widescreen epics of the fifties and sixties, and the new theme would be re-used for 'The Next Generation'. Goldsmith's music, Douglas Trumbull's effects, and Wise's direction, lend the film an epic scale it ultimately struggles to live up to, thanks to its weak script. Thankfully, the sort of Trek movie fans were hoping for would arrive with the first sequel in 1982.
5/10