Sunday, January 20, 2013

Let’s Review a Movie: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Well Star Trek: Into Darkness is hitting the theatres in less than six months, and so in the run up to the release I decided to take a look back at the other films in the franchise.  

In an earlier post I described this film as having a high concept and being less interesting than watching paint dry, and I stand by that statement.  It has the opposite problem that a lot of the other bad films in the franchise have I think, the theme is there, and is quite well thought out, but the vehicle to delivery that theme in is bland and boring.  

Now I think part of that comes down to the look of the film, and I’m not just talking about the effects, I get to those in a minute, I’m talking about the costumes and the sets.  Man the costumes are bad in this film.  It’s not just that they look like pajamas as many people have said to me it's that they look like footy pyjamas that little kids wear, it makes everyone look absolutely unprofessional; and those shirts that look like potato sacks that Kirk, McCoy, Spock, and Decker are in when they go to connect with V'Ger don't help that image at all.  And furthermore it makes the characters almost blend in with the sets.  While the old show certainly didn’t have a lot going on in the costuming department at least those uniforms had a distinct bottom and top to them.  Also the bright colours of the uniforms, and their different coloured divisions, made everybody stand out against the grey backgrounds.  Here it almost looks like everything is just one big greyscale, and it’s just not enjoyable to look at it.  And honestly I know that wasn’t what they were going for since so much time and effort was spent on effects shots to make this film look good.

The effects themselves have actually held up really well.  I like the effect of V’Ger digitizing the Klingon ships, because it wasn’t just some explosion where you could be sure they were destroyed.  It leaves room for mystery and intrigue about what is really going on here.  I like the warp effect, except the wormhole part that I don't understand and probably never will, all the different chambers of V’ger look really nice, and I loved all the lighting work done on the Enterprise when it was in spacedock.  There was simply too much screen time devoted to the effects at the expense of the characters.  Things like the long fly by of the Enterprise.  I can totally see why this was done.  This is the first time the fans will have seen this ship in a decade, we’re seeing it on the big screen lets show it in its true glory.  Show how big it is, how sleek, let us see why this is Kirk’s pride and joy.  This scene just goes on far too long though.  I personally think it should have cut off right when the shuttlecraft got to the front of the ship rather than making it seem like docking the shuttlecraft is the most awesome thing ever, at least according to the music.

Speaking of the music that’s a thing in this movie that really works; the score is just awesome.  I even like the overture.  There’s nothing to really watch on the screen so I like to go make popcorn while it plays, but that doesn’t make the music bad.  Sure since the main theme was then reused as TNG’s theme hearing it over the opening credits with the original cast's names is a bit jarring, but that doesn’t make it bad either.  In fact I really like the slow version of the theme that plays through-out the rest of the movie better.  I think it helps convey the majesty and vastness of space far better than endless shots of V’Ger and people staring at it with no dialogue.

So what about the whole V’Ger thing does the whole storyline of a machine needing to evolve and wanting to bond with its creator work?  Yes and no in my opinion, and that comes down to the argument that this movie is a rip off of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Do I think the creators leaned heavily on that film for ideas when making this one?  Absolutely.  Take 2001 and the TOS episode ‘The Changeling’ smash them together and you have this movie.  Now this actually isn’t a bad thing on paper.  After all the original series certainly took ideas from other fictional works and used them in their own way.  It isn’t billed as “Wagontrain to the stars” for nothing.  Also the fact that this came out of the whole Phase II thing I can see why ideas from the old show were in scripts for the new one.  The later spin-offs shows would do this too.  A small problem that comes from this is the use of the captain's log, no doubt left over from when this was a TV pilot.  You don't need Kirk to narrate events in the movie to the audience, because there aren't any commercial breaks.  The main problem for me though comes in, in the fact that they didn’t use this idea of man and technology and both of them moving to the next level in their own way, they just took Kubrick’s idea and transplanted it into Star Trek.  Kubrick used sound and visual imagery to convey the themes of man and technology in his film, relying very little on characters and dialogue.  But Star Trek always used character relationships and dialogue to convey its message.  So having a bunch of effects and sounds doesn’t work here, having character connections does.

When this story used the characters things actually started working.  For instance I love the whole parallel of V’Ger looking for something more and Spock looking for answers too.  I like that this was set up early too with the priestess on Vulcan telling Spock he would have to find his answers outside of logic, and initially Spock ignores this.  He thinks he will find the answers he seeks in a being of pure logic, and that’s why he is so intent on melding with V’ger.  But he comes to realize that logic is not enough, that he needs his human half, he needs those emotions after all, and in that sickbay scene we see him accept that.  We see him actually content for the first time all movie.  He calls Kirk Jim and acknowledges that what they have between them is genuine, and that he is okay with it.  He even trades a quip with McCoy about dealing with human emotions as the film wraps up.  Also McCoy is the only one bringing any kind of humour to the film and it is so sorely needed.  I even like little physical character details like Scotty growing a mustache.  It looks good on him and makes him really stand out from the other cast members.  Finally Kirk offers a lot of gravity in the film with his competition with Decker.  We see him work to regain what he has lost since he became an admiral.  His ship, his place in that centre seat.  He works to get McCoy back on board and he tries to substitute Spock with another Vulcan, trying to get his life to be what it used to be.  And I love that that only really happens when Spock comes back, and when Spock is really at peace with himself.  At that point Kirk becomes like the man we used to know and that was great to see.  And I love the parallel of Kirk and Spock and Decker and Ila.  These two people who are so different have to come together to really complete each other and move forward.  Through Decker Ila, as a probe, gets in touch with emotions that it, V’Ger, desires.  And Decker is with the one he loves again.  Spock has found comfort with his emotions and Kirk has found his balance again now that he has Spock back at his side.    

In the end what drags this movie down really is that the focus is in the wrong area.  People are so concerned with effects and camera angles and make the movie look good, heck the people doing the effects get top billing in the credits for crying out loud, that the characters and the pacing suffer.  The connections are all there to have something really good and I like a lot of those individual character scenes, even with the crappy costumes, but it’s not enough to save the film.  I like to watch clips of this film.  I don’t like to actually sit down and watch it the whole way through in one sitting, I couldn’t even do that for this review.  Yes the effects are good, and the music is lovely, but too much emphasises was put on them at the expense of everything else.             

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