I love the original cast.
Except for one movie, all of theirs get ranked ahead of both the Next Generation and the remake casts. Out of the twelve Star Trek movies, this one is my fifth favorite:
Star Trek : The Motion Picture
This is the one everybody hates. “It’s boring!” “What’s the point of it?!?” “Why are they wearing pajamas?”
These are all good points/questions. I was lukewarm about this one through my childhood. Then I heard that it was okay to hate it, so I joined with that crowd. But after a rewatch in my late teens, I discovered a spiritual sequel to what I consider the greatest film ever made, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Many others have made this comparison, so I won’t belabor it.
First of all, this is Star Trek. It doesn’t have a little asterisk next to it. There’s no parentheses around the title. It is Star Trek. Even without Kirk, Spock, and the Enterprise, this movie is so entrenched in what Star Trek is all about.
This might be the most Star Trek of all the movies actually. What I mean is that this is the movie that is about exploration, which is supposedly a main theme of the franchise. Anyone just watching the movies might not pick up on that. The TV shows all show a good amount of exploratory adventures. The movies resort to more basic good guy/bad guy stuff. This is the one movie, out of all of them, that is purely about the crew exploring an unknown thing.
It is telling that the unknown thing being investigated is really not so unknown. The strange ‘alien’ presence that has been nearing Earth is really an artifact of our planet’s early space explorations of the 1970s. Looking out always seems to lead to looking in.
The franchise itself bears out this concept. TOS and TNG are both shows about going out, exploring, seeing “what’s out there.” Deep Space Nine shifted the series to sitting still, showing the trials of managing just a small corner of the Star Trek universe. Then Voyager comes along and sets the goal on earth. Each episode of Voyager is about seeing new things and meeting new aliens, but the big goal is to just go home, which is very different from what came before. The last Star Trek show reverted even further. Again, the week-to-week stories showed exploration and new experiences. But the premise of the show was to go back to what we used to be. Somehow this show about the future stopped asking, “What might we become,” and started asking, “How did we become that?”
That trend towards reflection starts here. Sort of. Star Trek as a show about exploration hits its height with this story, and also begins its detachment from that. It’s sort of like the roller coaster car getting to its highest point, and then immediately beginning its descent.
Not to say that that’s a bad thing. Stories about extra-human exploration can be wonderful. And this story, which is the closest Star Trek has yet come to pure exploration, is sort of wonderful in its own way. But once that gorgeous, 2001-ish journey through V’Ger is completed, the story comes back down to ground level.
We are no longer looking into the unknown. We are, for one thing, looking at a human creation. The Voyager deep-space probe was built on earth, by humans. For another, the climax of the story rests completely on three people. The solution to the V’Ger mystery is solved by Spock connecting to it, which shows us more about Spock and his humanity than about V’Ger. And the question of, y’know, what to with V’Ger is to send Decker and Ilia into the thing, to become its imagination. (Waitaminnit. Is Ilia the Borg Queen?)
So the whole film tells us that there is more out there. And the more out there comes near. And it turns out to know pretty much everything. What else is there? The answer might be the mostly crassly humanistic point made in any Star Trek (which is saying something). The V’Ger alien super-intelligence needs a human’s creativity if it’s to continue learning. It’s all about us.
There’s a theological truth in there though. Star Trek never answers what makes us so darn special. The Bible says that we’re made in the image of God. With a source like that, maybe we would have something to offer to a super-intelligent alien robot thing. Without the image of God, what do we have? We’re so evolved that now we’re creative? Eh, that calls into question how the aliens that accepted V’Ger got to be so evolved and never bothered about creativity or imagination.
Anyway. I love this movie. It can get boring. It can feel like they’re trying to bug the audience by moving super slowly. But this movie has so much wonderfulness to it. I love the look. I’ve never been too bothered about the space pajamas. In fact, I think they’re more practical and realistic than the TNG uniforms. (Best to worst Trek uniforms: Enterprise, red ones from TOS movies, Deep Space 9/TNG movies, Voyager, TOS, The Motion Picture, Next Generation). The special effects are top-notch. The cast looks amazing on movie film. Decker and Ilia are interesting and valid additions to the crew. He’s like a version of what Kirk might have become if he hadn’t achieved command so young. And she is like an interesting version of my least favorite Star Trek character ever, Deanna Troi.
I want to watch this movie right now. Who wants to come over this weekend?
The list so far:
The Motion Picture