The inagural “Star Trek” film was filled with problems when it finally arrived in theaters in December of 1979, most of which was the result of a rushed filming schedule that left little time for the post production process. While a fairly good film, it’s painfully slow and overly ponderous to the point of making even the most devout Trekkies want to cry blood. When it was rereleased on dvd in 2001, Paramount invited director Robert Wise to revisit his work and finish what he started 22 years earlier. Now “Star Trek” is not only a finished film, it’s also finally gets to fulfill its potential of being an excellent film.
“Star Trek” opens when three Klingon cruisers are literally disintegrated by a mysterious entity, whose next destination is Earth. Captain Kirk and his trademark crew are reassembled with a newly refitted Enterprise, and ordered to intercept this perceived threat to the lives of billions. Soon they encounter the massive presence known as V’ger, intent on traveling Earth to meet it’s creator. But exactly who on Earth has the technology to create something as advanced as V’ger, and what will occur when it does meet its maker?
In a time when science fiction was more in the action oriented vein of “Star Wars”, writers Harold Livingston and Alan Dean Foster were courageous to go against the grain and deliver a smartly thoughtful script. Especially clever is the origin and identity of V’ger, which provides an engaging twist in a third act that might have otherwise proven anticlimactic. The dialogue and character interaction is equally good; this is more prevalent in the scenes between Captain Kirk and the younger Captain Decker, who’s been in charge of the Enterprise before Kirk’s sudden return. Veteran helmer Robert Wise shows why he’s so well regarded in Hollywood. He manages to inject plenty of emotion and soul into the cold dark of space, especially in the struggles of Spock and V’ger with feelings of isolation and loneliness; the same can be said for Kirk’s insecurities in dealing with a younger man that was placed in charge of the ship he loves. Jerry Goldsmith’s score effecti vely underscores the film, and its nice to see the debut of his famous “Klingon theme”.
John Dykstra and Douglas Trumbull as usual do an amazing job with the special effects, erasing any snide comments about the cheapness of the original series special effects. Probably their best work is the newly revamped Enterprise, a gorgeous looking ship that lives up to its billing as the flagship of the Federation. Strangely, the film’s effects proved to be its undoing; the lack of editing time forced the filmmakers to basically insert the sequences as they were. As a result, we’re forced to see some great looking but overly long scenes that grind the film to an almost dead stop. It’s no wonder fans have dubbed this effort as “The Motionless Picture”.
But at long last, the problem’s that plagued “Star Trek” have mostly been fixed. With the effects sequences now trimmed down to size, the movie has a much faster pace that allows for more drama and suspense. A few extended scenes involving the Enterprise’s crew add for a bit more humanity among all the futuristic hardware. A new sound mix adds a much needed ominous touch previously absent, and the foley effects are finally fixed to give the production a bit more polish. Newer CGI scenes have been added to enhance the effects sequences, these are best appreciated on Vulcan and the interior of V’ger. Before these aspects of the movie seemed understated, but now they are given the appropriate attention they deserve without looking disruptive.
While all these improvements haven’t made “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” a perfect film, its still a vast improvement over what fans have had to deal with before. Less action packed than the sequels and a bit lengthy with its 136 minute running time, then return of the Enterprise gang may not live up to all the hype it was given. But anyone who enjoys an intelligent, diverting science fiction film would do best to give this a try.