Star Trek has been severely absent from my life. Up until last night I hadn’t seen ANY of the original Star Trek movies. My knowledge of Star Trek has come by osmosis through pop culture and 2009’s Star Trek.
So last night I decided to begin my Star Trek Maiden Voyage into this Star Trek movie adventure. It’s a difficult subject to write about because I’m aware of the long long history and knowledge of fans and the cult following that comes along with it. As a sci-fi fan I feel shame for waiting this long to start watching these films. It’s simply a matter of me growing up with no real influence to watch Star Trek and surrounding myself with friend’s that also had no interest.
Upon starting Star Trek: TMP I knew that it was considered by most fans to be one of the weakest movies of the series. But for me, having no knowledge of the quality or substance of the other films, helped me come away enjoying TMP.
Right away my impression was that this movie was made purely for the fans of the TV series. We’re not given any background to any of the characters or the history of humans or other species, or any real explanation of their technology. We’re thrusted into this already developing story. Of course I was aware of who Kirk was, but when he takes over the ship it’s just plain baffling. It seems that his only motivation is to feed his ego. We have zero idea where Spock is supposed to be at the beginning, and we’re confused when McCoy comes aboard. But having seen Star Trek (2009) it was much easier for me to recognize who was who and their general characteristics and their purpose on the Enterprise.
For me it’s impossible to not compare this to Star Wars having grown up a Star Wars fan, and both movies coming out in the same period of time. I liked that TMP had a more classical filmmaking style. I loved the framing of the characters with the wide angles and deep focus that emphasized space between characters. It was very Orson Welles-esque. The dialogue and character growth worked for me, although there were times when Shatner would drive me up the wall.
It’s easy to tell that TMP was made purely for the fans of the TV series. Any time the Enterprise is shown I felt like the filmmakers were just making love to the ship. We are forced to sit through these grandiose shots showcasing every inch of the ship. It reminded me of when the Titanic was first shown. Although I understand the desire to drool over the Enterprise for the fans in what must have been a much improved special effects display, I don’t think that holds up if you aren’t already a fan of the show.
I enjoyed the simple, static nature of the movie. There wasn’t much action, but instead, there was a lot of talking and a lot of buildup before we eventually reach V-ger. It was a welcome change from the Star Wars style of story and even 2009’s Star Trek. In some ways I felt that TMP was trying too hard to be 2001: A Space Odyssey. The long drawn out sequences when they approach the cloud with the music score crescendoing got extremely dull after 5 mins. Partly because all we see the crew do is give reaction shots to their viewer monitor. The design of the cloud is muddy and confusing. We never really know the scale of the Enterprise compared to whatever the heck it is we’re supposed to see. Every minute I thought they had finally reached the center only to find out they were still far away from reaching the center.
Overall, I really enjoyed the themes discussed in the film. In some ways it reminded me of a reversed Prometheus with the desire to seek out one’s creator and the realization that one is a creator/creation. Even when Decker joins V-ger to create a new birth, it reminded me of the ending of Prometheus.
There’s a part of me that thinks TMP is a glorified 30 min TV episode. Although ideas in it are grand, it could have worked better in a shorter format.
Star Trek: TMP was a welcome step away from action sci-fi which is what we mostly get nowadays. There are still some unanswered questions I have such as why the Enterprise seems to be the only ship in Starfleet even when they get back to Earth. Starfleet must like to let Enterprise do things by themselves.
Having no other Star Trek movie to compare it to, I enjoyed the movie. Although I wouldn’t classify it as great, I definitely wouldn’t classify it as horrible.