Mark Watches ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’

In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the old Enterprise crew is re-assembled to stop the destruction of Earth. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

THAT WAS SO GODDAMN GOOD, Y’ALL. I texted a friend upon finishing this, and their response was, “So, you actually enjoyed The Slow Motion Picture?”

Har har.

I suppose that my statement at the end of the video for this might make some of you laugh, as I had no idea that this was not well-liked by most people. I’m glad I didn’t know that going into the film because I have no qualms about saying I enjoyed this. Look, y’all, this was a slow-burn thriller about existentialism. IT WAS PRACTICALLY WRITTEN WITH ME IN MIND. I can understand someone not liking this, particularly if you thought it was going to be a lot like the show, but I came into this movie differently. I got to see the Original Series over the course of ten months with no waiting between episodes or between seasons. I got to appreciate why it was so beloved, and I also came to understand why it was kind of a hot mess at times. (“At times” really refers to “most of season three.”) I’ve been eager to move on because the recent batch of episodes in the last couple months have not been all that good, and I wanted to see what the creators and actors and writers would do with an expanded budget and, with The Next Generation, an adoring audience that would keep the show on the air and out of the hands of the network.

One of the big reasons The Motion Picture resonated so much with me is because the slow pacing does away with a lot of the problems I had with the narratives of the show. It takes nearly forty minutes for the Enterprise to actually leave Earth’s orbit, and for a movie that’s 132 minutes long, that’s pretty damn absurd. But why do this? Why spend so much time re-introducing the crew? Why develop Commander Decker’s animosity and bitterness towards Kirk? Why spend all that time examining the outer hull of the newly redesigned ship? These things ultimately matter to the story that’s being told. We need to know that it’s been over two years since these people have been in these roles, and that’s specifically the case with Admiral Kirk. We need to know that the Enterprise’s retrofit is so new that it hasn’t been tested. We need to know that Decker resents Kirk for taking away command at the last minute.

Okay, so maybe the snail-like pacing of the scene showing off the Enterprise feels like a vanity project. I can admit that. And hey, the special effects were pretty damn great at that! But The Motion Picture devotes a great deal of time to establishing certain character dynamics that become integral to the final twenty minutes of the film. That ending – which I wasn’t even remotely prepared for – is so intellectually bold and thematically heavy that we can’t go into it questioning the actions of any of these characters. We have to know why Decker is so willing to “join” with the probe version of Ilia. We have to see that scene in the beginning of the film that establishes Spock’s failure of the Kohlinar ritual so that when he finally meets V’ger, he can appreciate the human half of his self.

The show itself could only do so much without serialization and with a reset button hit at the end of each episode. Here, though, we’re given a story that analyzes why Kirk is rusty as a commanding officer, and that’s not something that’s swept under the rug minutes later. That’s something I wanted so badly from Star Trek, but couldn’t ever get in any lasting manner. I wanted the show to portray all the characters as possessing depth and flaws. Now, I can’t say that’s entirely the case for the characters in The Motion Picture. The movie kind of relies on us recognizing people like Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Bones, but is there any real growth with them? No. Some of that is emblematic of the problem with secondary characters, but I’m also willing to see if the films that follow this one can do more with them. There is a joy in simply seeing them on the screen and getting small updates about their lives. (DOCTOR CHAPEL. OH MY GOD, TRANSPORT OPERATOR RAND. I CAN’T.) But I think it’s fair criticism to say that the characterization present in this film is spread thin, with most of it between Spock, Kirk, and Decker.

As for the story itself? Look, I particularly love slow-burn thrillers, and they’re kind of my thing. So I’m willing to be patient, perhaps more so than the average filmgoer. I love movies that can build slowly, establishing tension over the course of a long narrative, all so that you can be rewarded in the end. The pacing of this film did not bother me. I think that this movie does not work for me unless it crawls along. As soon as the Enterprise arrives at the energy cloud, I was so impressed by this film. It took a lot of guts, amidst the science fiction explosion of the late 70s, to write a film that’s so deliberately sluggish. But I love those scenes of discovery because they cut so directly to the heart of the Enterprise’s purpose: to seek out the unknown. So I was entranced as they entered the energy cloud, as they interacted with the energy probe, and as they entered a ship that seemed impossible. The looks of horror and wonder on the crew’s faces were sublime, an indication of just how absurd and surreal this was to them (and to me!), and it added to the tension. I’m sure some of you hated it, but I loved that the Enterprise did not speed through the cloud or over the ship. That agonizing pace made this journey of discovery all the more suspenseful for me.

And Spock’s journey was SO FUCKING GREAT. I mean, the fact that this movie tackled his quest to remove emotion, only to find that he needed it, was pretty monumental. But even his role as an agent of suspense was brilliant. His spacewalk works so well because it allows the audience to see the sheer scope of the ship built around V’ger. It establishes that V’Ger collects information, but does so in a cold and calculated way. And yet? It’s still a living being.

That reveal… christ, y’all, that’s one of the better twist endings I’ve seen in a long time. The hints were seeded so perfectly that I didn’t question seeing THE ACTUAL VOYAGER  PROBE IN THE CENTER OF THE SHIP. I loved that they made it number 6, which establishes that the program continued for years after the real Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched. I LOVE THAT WE CREATED AN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE THAT GATHERED SO MUCH KNOWLEDGE IT BECAME A LIVING BEING. And I love that this movie goes to such an existentially dreadful place. V’Ger’s behavior is one of a rebellious child who is desperate for answers from their God, only to find that their creator isn’t listening. While this is later explained by the span of time since Voyager was launched, it’s still a powerful story. It’s about a being wanting to find purpose in life, and it ends with them – if I may borrow Kirk’s words – discovering that they can make that purpose themselves. Star Trek rarely invoked gods much throughout the series, and I found the use here to be a bold continuation of the idea of personal destiny over a theistic one. I mean, weren’t most of the gods on the show pretty terrible?

Anyway, this was a blast to watch, y’all. I’m still floored by the experience, AND I HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO WATCH. I needed something else to remind me why I’m doing this, given how Star Trek: The Original Series ended, and this was it. This reminded me why these characters are so fantastic, and why this fictional universe shows so much promise.

The video for Star Trek: The Motion Picture can be downloaded here for $2.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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