A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 322 – Star Trek: The Motion Picture (director’s edition)

Star Trek: The Motion Picture – January 16th, 2011

And so it begins. When we began this project we knew we would have a few longer series to watch, like Star Wars and Harry Potter. But when we stopped and thought about it, we realized that the biggest of all would be Star Trek. We didn’t even own them all when we started and still it was going to be the longest run we had in the collection. Soon we decided that we had to go buy the ones we didn’t own and complete the set, because if we’re going to do that much Star Trek then we’re going to do it right. Thus, we are now in for two weeks of Trek. Beginning tonight and going through the original cast movies, TNG movies, reboot, documentaries and a parody, we will have two full weeks of Star Trek. There will be no turning back. There will be no denying that we are indeed fans.

A little background is in order, I believe. When I was a child my parents watched the original series regularly. Whenever it was on, and I’m fairly certain one of the local channels (56 or 38) did reruns on a nightly basis. Sure, we’d skip some episodes (my mother was never a fan of Mudd’s Women) but my parents knew some/most well enough to say the lines along with the cast. Whenever the ship was fired on and hit and there was a shot of all those crewmembers inexplicably wandering through the corridors during a Red Alert, getting bounced around? We’d all scramble to get up and jostle each other like we were on the ship. Why yes, we are geeks. Even my brother, long disdainful of the entire franchise, got into DS9 when he was in college. When TNG started I remember my excitement, sitting all of maybe two feet in front of the television and watching this brand new show, with a bald captain and omg female doctor and female security officer and there was a Klingon and an android and a kid who I totally immediately crushed on. We never went to conventions (okay, we went once, to a one-room con for the sole purpose of getting Brent Spiner’s CD, Ol’ Yellow Eyes Is Back) but Star Trek was my childhood and my adolescence. It’s pure comfort for me, even when it’s bad.

So, today, when we put in the first movie and I heard that music I admit, I felt something catch in my chest. I can’t deny it. I won’t be shying away from flaws in these movies, and let’s face it, they’ve got plenty. But I am viewing them through fondly rosy glasses. I am biased. I am a fangirl. I am a Trekkie (please, no terminology arguments – I’m a firm believer that you get to pick your fannish title of choice) and I am not ashamed.

All that being said, what the hell is up with the uniforms in this movie? It’s 136 minutes and often jokingly referred to as “The Motionless Picture” but my biggest complaint is the Starfleet aesthetics. They’re so bland, it’s like the life got sucked out of the show like it was salt and Nancy Crater’s been by1. Seriously, did someone decide beige was the new black? There’s a scene early on when Kirk addresses the whole Enterprise crew and they’re all in pale neutrals. Spock shows up and at least his neutral is black, which has some oomph, but soon enough he’s nice and washed out in baby blue. It’s just such a huge digression from the saturated colors of the original show. Take a look at the colors, and not just the blue, red and mustard with black uniforms. The lighting is bold, the baddies wore silver and black and red and the aliens were often brightly colored (probably to warn of danger in the case of the Orions, sort of like poison dart frogs). It’s all so wonderfully saturated and then this movie has a pale wash over everything except the mysterious energy field that’s headed towards Earth, plowing through everything in its path. I don’t know why the aesthetics look like they do, but for me it just adds to a feeling of drowsiness throughout the film.

The plot, following Kirk and his crew (led, of course, by all of our old favorites from the series) as they head off from Earth to confront this menacing energy field as it grinds its way through the galaxy towards our home planet, isn’t really a bad one. It’s a new riff on a somewhat familiar plot we’ve seen before, but it’s not badly done. It’s an extended episode of the series, sort of, and that was, apparently, its original purpose. It reintroduces the crew, gets them all into their necessary positions and it introduces some new faces. And right, I think I’ve figured out why the uniform colors got changed. If they’d introduced the new faces and put them in red we’d have twigged to the upcoming body count. Clever! So they find this energy field – whose name is V’Ger, not Melllvar – and it sucks in the ship and they have to figure out what the source of it is and what it wants and how they can satisfy it so it won’t destroy Earth. Turns out it’s a sentient machine looking for its maker (spoiler: it’s us) and Kirk, Spock and McCoy, along with one of our poor doomed single-movie pastel-shirts manage to communicate with it and help it to go through puberty.

It’s not a bad plot, and to be honest, it’s not really badly acted. I do question the speed at which some people delivered their lines – they could have cut a good ten minutes if people had picked up the pace a bit – but it’s pretty much exactly what I wanted out of the cast. It’s just that it’s a movie that has to play the triple role of a feature film plot, a reunion plot and catch us all up on current Federation/Starfleet goings-on. And it spends great sweeping amounts of time doing all three of those, plus plenty of lovingly detailed establishing shots of ships and the energy field and the crew and so on and so forth. We didn’t get a hold of the VHS “longer version” (yes, that is what it’s called) but I can only imagine there are more panoramic views of things. It is a movie that loves its source material and wants you to know that. It wants you to know that it’s all going to be awesome, because Star Trek is back and it’s moving into the future and we can all come too.

And so while it’s slow and padded and the color palette is a snoozefest, I am more than happy to hop on board. Two weeks of Star Trek. I am so happy I could cry.

1Yes, I know it’s not really Nancy, but that’s the guise the creature uses for most of the episode, so pedants please hold your nitpicking, and I’m looking at you, Matt.

January 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (The Director’s Edition)

January 16, 2011

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (The Director’s Edition)

Today we embark at last on one of the most ambitious series watching projects in the brief history of our movie-a-day blog. Our fourteen day mission: to explore familiar old worlds, to seek out cheesy life-forms and dated science fiction, to boldly go where every fan before us has gone before! It’s Trekstravagansa! There are eleven Star Trek movies and we own every one of them, and we have a couple other related movies we adding on to the end when we’re done with those. As will probably become apparent over the next few days both my wife and I are enormous Star Trek fans, so we’ve been anticipating this for some time. It was rather difficult to get a copy of this, the first movie in the series, but now that we finally have it we can get started. Two whole weeks of Star Trek. It’s going to be fun.

There are a number of different versions of this film out there. We were amused by the accurately titled “Longer Version” which was released (without director Robert Wise’s input) on VHS a while back and has many longer effects shots. The version we’re watching tonight is the Robert Wise approved “Director’s Edition” which includes additional CGI effects created to blend with the original footage for home video release in the nineties. (The Blu-Ray HD version apparently is only the theatrical cut since the additional footage was not produced in high enough resolution to work with the original filmed footage in HD.)

This movie has an odd and experimental feel to it. I believe it was made in response to the success of Star Wars, which proved the viability of a space adventure story a year before this movie came out, but this is not in any way an action or adventure movie. It is a strange sort of character study, concentrating far more on the interactions of the Enterprise crew than the mysterious space phenomena they’re dealing with. If I had to site a single film for influence on this movie it would be 2001, which came out more than a decade before. It’s full of long, long establishing shots of the Enterprise and the alien structure it is exploring. It has a sort of deliberate and unhurried pace – more concerned with showing us amazing visuals than with moving the plot along. (At one point it almost devolved into self-parody when during an “action” sequence everything shifts into slow-motion.)

In many ways I think of this entire film as a single colossal establishing shot. It’s a creation that had to be made to re-establish the Star Trek franchise, but it isn’t really a movie. The task here was to take a cheesy sixties sci-fi series and give it a big-budget makeover. We get to see in this movie the first appearance of the bumpy headed Klingons (as opposed to the shoe-polish colored mustachioed caricatures of the original series.) We get to hear the Klingon and Vulcan languages for the first time. We get to see a big budget effects crew’s vision of the Enterprise (contrasted with the old TV series Enterprise with it’s whirling lights.)

The real heart of Star Trek of course is its cast. Oh, sure, Gene Roddenberry created a world that captures the imagination – a future where an enlightened mankind reaches out to explore the universe (and blow parts of it up.) Ultimately, however, this is a movie about Jim and Bones and Spock and Scotty and Uhura and Sulu and Chekov. It’s a classic “getting the band back together” sort of movie. When the Earth is threatened by a vast and mysterious destructive energy cloud Admiral Kirk comes out of retirement to take over command of the newly refitted Enterprise (bumping the new dashing captain of the Enterprise, Will Decker, down to Commander – which causes much head butting and clashing of egos.) He drags a reluctant Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy out of retirement (in the most unintentionally hilarious scene in the movie when Bones shows up in a very seventies leisure suit complete with collar open to the navel and medallions draped around his neck.) When the new science officer is killed in a transporter malfunction he is soon replaced by a very stoic Mr. Spock, who has been on Vulcan undergoing a ritual intended to rid him of all emotions.

This movie accomplished its task brilliantly. It is not a thrill-a-minute adventure, but it is a wonderful launch to a franchise which transformed at this point from a well regarded but slightly cheesy low budget Wagon Train in space with a small core of rabid fans into a major milestone series which would dominate the world of science fiction for more than two decades to come. Maybe it’s not the greatest movie of all time, but it worked well enough to prove that Star Trek was alive and well. Tomorrow we’ll watch the movie that proved there were still great adventures to be had with these characters and that they could star in a grand action film with powerful emotional heft as well as pretty visual effects.

January 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment