Hey everyone, since this is the first installment of Reel Rewind, let me explain a bit what I’m up to. Every month I’m going to be taking a look back at some of my favorite films, bringing along artists that I can’t get enough of for some fun collaborations which bridge the gap between film appreciation and art. To commemorate Star Trek Into Darkness, Matt Ferguson and I are looking back at the original crew’s first 6 films. Energize!
Director: Robert Wise
Writer(s): Story by Alan Dean Foster, Screenplay by Harold Livingston
Region of Origin: U.S.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
35mm, Color, 132 mins
Despite the original series’ early cancellation and an endless amount of production woes, Star Trek: The Motion Picture finally hit the big screen in 1979. My first memory of the film is watching it years later on television, when I was much too little to understand that it wasn’t Star Wars. I couldn’t quite understand what was going on, wondered where Yoda was, and could just feel that it was… different (to be clear, I now love Trek more than Star Wars). So how does it hold up? Remarkably well, actually. No, it isn’t a perfect film or even the best that Trek has to offer, but it’s still got plenty to love regardless of it’s much maligned and divisive reputation. Even with all of it’s flaws, it’s held together by the very fabric that makes Trek so wonderful, namely it’s sense of hope, camaraderie, imagination and the study of what it means to be a human amidst so much technological advancement. With the one-two punch of legendary director Robert Wise and stunning visuals from Douglas Trumbull, the original crew’s first foray to the big screen is a journey worth taking.
Picking up sometime after the events of the original series’ five year mission, the story finds the original crew disbanded, with the Kirk, Spock and Bones no longer serving aboard the Enterprise. When a massive and destructive entity begins making it’s way towards Earth however, Admiral Kirk uses his power to forcefully resume command of a newly renovated USS Enterprise, the vessel he could never truly leave. With precious little time, it’s up to him and his newly reunited crew to intercept this mysterious threat, racing against time to save all of mankind.
To it’s credit, there’s never any doubt during the film’s runtime that it has it’s heart entirely in the right place and tells the right story — it just never does it in the most efficient way. This is most notably due to the fact that the film started production without a finished script or even an ending, leading to an overreliance on extended FX sequences which don’t do anything to further the plot. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the romanticism of the Enterprise reveal, but with it clocking in at almost 8 minutes, much of it and moments like it (the wormhole dilemma) could’ve been easily trimmed for more relevant developments or danger. What we end up with instead is the crew stuck in the Enterprise for most of the ordeal, without any sense of urgency or real danger despite the knowledge of the central conflict’s looming deadline.
Still, there’s plenty that the film just gets right. The main antagonist for example, the living and unshackled artificial intelligence V’Ger, is the perfect device to illustrate the franchise’s constant undercurrent of friendship and acceptance, bringing to light the bond between cast and crew. It also provides a somewhat cautionary tale that mines the importance of emotion in addition to pure logic and thought, ultimately leading to a hopeful and clever resolution. In addition, the film still looks good to this day, thanks to Douglas Trumbull’s incredible visual effects and a few designs from Syd Mead. The influence of Close Encounters and even Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (both of which Trumbull worked on) are easy to spot, and they contribute to the biggest, jaw-dropping scope that Trek has ever seen up to this point. Let’s also not forget Jerry Goldsmith’s powerful score, which is the perfect audio equivalent of Trek’s hope and optimism.
All spectacle aside, Trek would be nowhere without it’s cast and crew though, who remain one of the best heroic teams to ever galvanize pop culture. Though the original cast was getting together for the film almost 10 years after the last television episode, their rapport carries on as if they’d never left each other’s side. There are plenty of brilliant moments here, like Bones begrudgingly showing up with his beard and instantly causing a ruckus, Spock’s cold, but hilariously stone-faced reactions to the excitement of his arrival, Christine Chapel’s promotion to MD, Janice Rand’s appearance, and of course the three-way-bromance between Kirk, Spock and Bones. On a more serious note, Leonard Nimoy shares a poignant moment when Spock comes to realize that logic just isn’t enough, while new characters Decker and Ilia infuse the proceedings with some heart. These relationships have always been what I love the most about Trek, and the palpable chemistry here is unlike any other.
If anything, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the stepping stone that the show needed to prove that it could stand the test of time. Flaws and all, it’s wondrously big, epic adventure that doesn’t lose track of it’s humanity amongst all of the awe and wonder. The human adventure was truly just beginning.
Crome Rating: 3.5/5
Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, Matt Ferguson’s drop-dead gorgeous poster! I want to sincerely thank him for all the hard work he’s put into this, and for his kind collaboration in making this column possible! This is by far one of the best posters for the film I’ve ever seen, and I can’t wait for you guys to see the rest. Check out his website for more art, follow him on Twitter and read a bit about his process down below. Fun fact: Matt did the art for the recently released Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One box set.
From Matt: I’m a life long Trekkie and a dream project for me would be to create posters for the original crew films (including the reboots). I wanted to make a set of posters that had a uniform size and composition while still staying true to each individual films themes and story.
About the first poster: I have always loved the sense of adventure in The Motion Picture and the model effects work is some of my favourite ever, so I wanted to carry that through into my poster. I thought it would be cool to show the magnitude of V’ger by having Ilia and the V’ger ship dwarf the Enterprise and her crew, and then to tie it altogether the Enterprise replaces the red crystal that is on Ilia’s neck.
See our entire Trek retrospective here: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek (2009).