Sunday, June 2, 2013

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

  I do consider myself a Trekker. Though since I have no problem being called a Trekkie, nor have I ever been to a convention I have a feeling some would argue with me. Though, I've seen and own every Star Trek movie thus far (This year's Into Darkness being the obvious exclusion for the time being.) and I've seen most all of the shows. Several of them in their entirety... several times. So I can safely say I am as well versed in Trek as one can be. So I do believe I am thoroughly qualified to review this from both a Trekker standpoint, and from that of a casual moviegoer.

  This movie is undoubtedly an oddity of historic proportions. It's truer to the spirit of what Star Trek is and stands for, yet it's the furthest possible thing from the established formula of what came before it. Namely, the original TV show. Which, upon recent review is not entirely the two-fisted, psychedelic, retro romp that so many remember. Episodes were most often focused more on the story and less on the phaser fights. Conflict was sparingly resolved with a punch and roll, and more often settled using diplomacy and negotiation tactics.
Kirk and crew sought to out-think adversaries and make peace whenever possible. It was not a constant fist fight like some people think.

  I feel it was important to point that out and make it clear. Star Trek was always an adventure show, but not always an action show. It's spirit was always about exploration and peace; discovery and the unknown. Yet, what makes The Motion Picture such an oddity is that it strips the formula of adventure/exploration down to such fundamental elements, that it feels much different than anyone could've possibly expected. In short? It's slow. Very slow, almost painfully slow. The opening few minutes are thrilling, but for the next hour, the movie takes it's sweet time showing off it's sets, the new Enterprise, and rallying up the crew.

  For anyone not slavishly devoted to Star Trek, this could be grating beyond belief. It's obviously been constructed with such a grand fondness for the characters and the world of the original series, but seems to have turned a blind eye to it's formula. While the show wasn't always about the fights and shoot outs, it was always a quick paced and intense drama-play. Whereas The Motion Picture plods along at such a tediously slow pace, the sense of adventure is sapped from the proceedings. It maintains no suspense for the first hour, feeling more like a family reunion and less like the high-concept sci-fi drama it wants so badly to prove it is.

  However, it does get underway. Mostly. Even after all the pleasantries are done with, and the Enterprise warps into action, it's a slow and tedious task at best. Even the most basic of dramatic moments, like getting caught in a worm hole, or fixing the warp engines, are slow and glacially paced moments. Yet... there's something captivating under all of it. If you can surrender your attention and time to the story and the characters, and get yourself invested, you'll find that there is an amazing movie under all this.  This movie succeeds in landing the high concept science fiction themes it grasps at. Which would feel more at home in an Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris, Stalker) movie, or as a kissing cousin to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  The movie marries these concepts with some of the most elaborate and breathtaking images of space things imaginable. Things so fundamentally alien, one can't help but feel the gargantuan sense of irony by the time the twist is revealed. There is no clear cut protagonist in this G-rated outing. There is a threat though, but one obviously not able to be combated with phasers and the like. It must be studied and examined, and stopped if possible. A mind-blowingly massive sentient space-cloud with devastating destructive abilities makes it's way towards Earth. Kirk and crew must stop it.

  Once we get to the cloud, the visuals alone should carry your attention. Though they take up nearly half an hour of screen time. This can easily be seen as inane overkill. As the Enterprise is drawn into the space cloud, 15 minutes, give or take of nothing but alien visuals, and shots of the crew's reaction. If you're invested by this point, you'll feel the growing sense of awe and danger. If not? This is about as entertaining as watching paint dry. The pacing is about the same. I feel like it's impossible to favorable to this movie without tearing it apart as well. The problem with it is that it is a Star Trek movie. Thus there are established expectations for what it should be like. A slow paced, high-concept, sci-drama was not something Trek fans expected. Much less wanted.

  If this were it's own beast, free of Star Trek, it may have gotten more respect and notice. Or it may have been dwarfed into obscurity by the hulking shadow of 2001. A movie which is frequently referred to when discussing The Motion Picture.  Thus it falls into a strange place. It's notable because it's a Star Trek movie, the first Trek movie, it revolutionized Star Trek- yet it feels like a far cry from anything else one can be familiar with about Star Trek. It's more akin to an art-house sci-fi flick than a big matinee space adventure. It's a stunning movie in it's own right, but it requires patience. Without patience and dedication, you'll be bored and yawning before the first hour.

  A thorough knowledge and appreciation for Star Trek is almost required to sit through the first hour, yet it's that same familiarity which can alienate you to the whole of the movie itself. The last act however, inside the alien space-cloud is a virtuoso piece of science fiction. It evokes a grand and sweeping sense of awe if you're with it so far. The visuals can blow your mind, the mystery can draw you in, there is a payoff. There are fantastic scenes of raw science fiction, and the energy of it alone is great. The story and the visuals compliment each other perfectly, both invoking a cosmic sense of grandeur, but unfortunately, rarely one of excitement and adventure. "Fascinating" to coin a phrase, but sadly... rarely engaging. It's intriguing, and interesting, and artful. However, it is not an adventure in the conventional sense of the word. There is little actual excitement to be had since the movie works against itself so badly.

  All in all, if you, as a viewer can strike the right balance with watching this movie as part Trekker, part cinema lover... it's possible to even love this movie. Because there IS so much to love. It's simply lost within itself. Abandon all expectations at the door, make sure you're ready to surrender your patience, and try to enjoy this sprawling space drama. Spaceships and special effects have got to be something you like seeing on screen. Even when they're not blowing up. Star fields and space-clouds are this movie's bread and butter. There are no chases, no phaser fights, no fisticuffs, just raw... high-concept science fiction. With amazing visuals. If that sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to give it a look. This movie needs more fans. I count myself one of them.

Also, if at all possible, see it on a massive hi-definition TV on Blu-Ray. The crisp picture and fantastic sound go a long way towards making this slow journey, an impressive one.

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