A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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January 16, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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