Star Trek – Adventures on the Big Screen (Part One)

Following on from my last blog, I was asked to say what I thought of the movies. There have been 11 in all, stretching over thirty years, So I’ll break them up and try to do two or three each blog post. So, with no further ado, let’s kick off with….

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Plot: Something’s coming. Klingon Battle Cruisers are no match for it. And it’s headed straight for Earth. Apparently the only ship in its way is the Enterprise (displaying a lack of preparation only matched in Starfleet by the lack of primary colours). They ignore final refit steps and head off to meet the entity head on. Kirk (now an Admiral and on a narratively very timely tour of inspection) takes command and thus begins the most turgidly boring voyage a Starfleet vessel surely ever had.

Goofs: The whole introduction to the new Enterprise. I get the need to do an extended fly past – it’s a new movie series, and a new ship (not to mention the most impressive bit of the whole movie) but it’s unnecessary. They do a shuttle trip because the Enterprise transporters are malfunctioning, completely ignoring the fact that this doesn’t matter – just use a transporter on Earth. You only need the one, guys….

Thoughts: This movie came to being after a planned new TV series failed to launch. They re-used the concept, some of the scenery, and the plot from one of the episodes. And not to put too fine a point on it, but it shows. As a 45 minute TV episode this may have worked. As a 132 minute movie, the pace is such that in a race, it would be beaten by both the tortoise and the hare. It’s like the additional 87 minutes are ALL filler, with excessively lengthy flight sequences through space, through the nebula, and out to the entity itself. Everything feels so slow, that you wonder how they managed to get the green light for a second movie. Thankfully, they did, otherwise we’d just be left with this pastel pastiche…

Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn

Star Trek returned with a vengeance – and a quest for vengeance – in the second movie instalment, when we met up with a man destined to become possibly Kirk’s greatest adversary – Khan Noonien Singh. TOS viewers will recall the episode Space Seed, when a stasis pod containing some genetically enhanced humans from the late 20th century was discovered, and after thwarting Khan’s attempt to take the Enterprise, Kirk maroons them on Ceti Alpha V.

Plot: roll forward many years, and the USS Reliant (complete with science officer Pavel Chekhov) have picked Ceti Alpha VI as the ideal testing ground for a new terraforming device, codenamed Genesis, which basically scours all life from a planet and reforms it from the sub-atomic level upwards.. They pick up faint life signs, and when they beam down, Chekhov and Captain Terrell discover the remnants of Khan’s crew, and realise that they have landed on Ceti Alpha V. They are forced to abandon the Reliant to Khan and his men, who set off in search of Kirk and Genesis. They succeed in damaging the Enterprise, marooning Kirk and the others on a lifeless rock, and stealing Genesis. Kirk of course escapes, chases Khan down, and the scene is set for the final showdown – but what price victory?

Goofs: The movie does a good job of tying in the old and the new, with the plot-line in the TOS episode faithfully supported…. with one key omission. Space Seed is a season one episode, and Pavel Chekhov didn’t join the Enterprise crew until season two. However, he recognised Khan (sure – he could have seen a picture or have been told about him) but how did Khan recognise a Starfleet officer that he had never met before?

Thoughts: The second movie in the series is so far ahead of the first effort on just about every level, that it’s generally accepted as a great movie. This perhaps says more about the failings of the first movie than the strength of the second, because there are a number of things that they could have done better. The whole sub-plot about Kirk’s family feels thin, the dialogue between Kirk, Carol Marcus and David is stilted and weak. For a genetically perfect superhuman, Ricardo Montalban appears to have aged terribly in the years since Space Seed – even accounting for the harsh conditions on Ceti Alpha V. However, the positives far outweight the negatives, the pace zips along very nicely, the end battle is great, and Khan does make a wonderful baddie. The final scenes, however, tend to steal the show. The way that they handled Spock’s death was touchingly frank and showed levels of emotion that few would have credited either Shatner or Nimoy.

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One thought on “Star Trek – Adventures on the Big Screen (Part One)

  1. Stitchgroover says:

    The biggest problem with Star Trek: The Motion Picture is that it tried to turn Star Trek from a fun romp into 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 drags for all the same reasons that you mentioned above – excessively lengthy sequences showing off the ship, V’ger and the nebula.

    Clearly the producers learnt their lesson by the time it came to make the sequel, and returned to what they new the fans loved – a relatable villain and the strong man-triangle of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

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