star trek the motion pictureParamount Pictures

“It’s life, Captain, but not life as we know it.”

What started off as a routine ship inspection turns into a matter of life and death for the inhabitants of Earth when the mysterious space entity called V’Ger cuts a destructive course through space, headed for Earth.  Admiral Kirk takes over command of the newly refitted Enterprise, along with his veteran crew and new members to intercept this entity and determine its true purpose and restore the safety of the galaxy.

Just a little back-history here, concerning the first movie adaptation of the Star Trek franchise:  Star Trek: The Motion Picture had its genesis in a failed attempt to bring back the television show in the 1970s, tentatively titled Star Trek Phase 2 (which, incidentally, lives on as a popular internet fan film series).  After being scrapped, several of the story lines for Phase 2 were salvaged and used as the basis for a possible movie adaptation.  Which the movie studios weren’t too keen on making…until the unbridled success of some movie called Star Wars.  Then you couldn’t green light the Star Trek movie fast enough.

My history with this movie started off when I was but a wee lad of 6, not actually seeing it in theater, but digging on Star Trek: The Motion Picture toys that came with the Happy Meals back in the day.  Yeah, McDonald’s had a licensing agreement with the Star Trek property back then.  I never really got the item I wanted – an iron-on Starfleet insignia.  Instead, I got this cheep flimsy wrist tingie that, when you popped the top off, a ticker-tape came out with printed stat reports.  Woo-hoo, fun.  Anyway, when I did finally manage to see the movie, on HBO when I was 7, I got about halfway through and fell asleep.  Happened every time I attempted to watch the thing.

Now that I’m an old, seasoned man of 38 as of the time of this writing, and owning the two-disc director’s cut collector’s edition DVD (naturally), I must admit that, coming from a long-time fan of the Trek franchise, both the television shows and the films, this first entry into the movies is, to put it bluntly, not their best foot forward.  Mind you, it’s a visually stunning film; the Enterprise being fully realized in all its glorious three dimensional glory, the new outfitted look of the ship and the uniforms, the first look at the V’Ger entity and it taking out the Klingon ships…the entire scope is EPIC from the get-go.  In that aspect, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a fantastic movie rendition of a beloved sci-fi classic.

Where things get tripped up is the pacing.  This is a 2-hour and 12-minute film.  Most of that is the looooooooooooooong, slooooooooooooooooow shots that, had they been trimmed down to just a couple of shots, we could have gotten the same awe-inspiring effect.  The alternate title to the movie was Star Trek: The Slow Motion Picture, and you can understand the snarkiness when you watch this front-to-back without stopping for anything.  I dare you.  Bring snacks, and hope your bladder isn’t sensitive, there.

So, while not my favorite entry in the Original Cast Film Series, Star Trek: The Motion Picture at least helped us realize a show once regulated to syndicated reruns on the big screen.  The visuals are stunning, and yes I still get that tingly feeling when I first see the Enterprise in dry dock.  And to see the original gang back together, along with some new faces (including a future star of 7th Heaven) taking on a big mysterious threat is pure sci-fi goodness.  The pacing could have stood a good tightening up, along with some of the dialog, and would have worked with a standard 90 minute running time.  But, otherwise, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is still much better cinematic sci-fi than a lot that have come since.