What Star Trek: The Motion Picture Teaches Us About Star Trek

Along with everyone else in the universe, I admit that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a pretty awful picture, a not-terribly-fascinating episode expanded into 2+ unnecessary hours.

But it is a "fascinating" insight into Trek's cultural and creative origins--

First: Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the product of the industry that produced 2001 and Tron. Star Trek: Motion Picture came out after 2001 and before Tron but the notion of long, long, looooong shots of spacecraft and flashing graphics persisted for a long time.

Okay--the movie costumes
are somewhat more beige!
Second: Star Trek: The Motion Picture is eerily more in line with Roddenberry's vision than Star Trek: The Original Series. The clothing seems so completely wrong and yet, it is fairly close to Roddenberry's original pilot--in which women actually wear trousers and beige is the color of choice.

Moreover, the engine room is far closer to the engine room in Star Trek: The Next Generation than in anything else in the Star Trek name.

Rimmer and Lister
Finally, the plot is a Roddenberry classic. Roddenberry loved the idea of the terrible misunderstanding: "The alien keeps shooting at us and killing our red-shirted crewmen, but that's just because it's a frightened being that we can nobly rescue!"

Roddenberry brought all the good and silly aspects of liberalism to Star Trek. His penchant for misunderstood aliens reminds me of Red Dwarf where Rimmer is convinced that a garbage pod contains an alien race wanting to communicate; it also reminds me of "Pangs" in which Spike points out that being shot at by a Native American--no matter how justified that Native American feels--doesn't exactly rouse the "oh, gosh darn, let's not shoot back" instinct.
Spike Freaking Out

Still, from a cultural analysis standpoint, it is . . . fascinating how solid a place this narrative occupies in the Trek universe. And it can be well-delivered as in the heart-breaking "Duet" and "The Wire" in which characters' identities continually shift, leading others from judgment to pity to a kind of comprehension.
Garak in "The Wire"

Regarding Star Trek: The Motion Picture, my conclusion: "Man, this is a boring movie!" But I also came away thinking, "That is so very Star Trek! Okay, so the weird Federation bureaucracy changed everybody's uniforms again, but hey, the movie still isn't as much an anomaly as I remembered!"


Kezia said...

Despite its many drawn-out parts, I have a soft spot for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Frist, I like the concept of V'ger and the lack of an obvious villain. Second, I really enjoy Spock's character arc in this movie. The shift from attempting to emulate pure logic to accepting and appreciating his human side and emotions is appealing and relevant for me, although it makes me wonder what happened to Spock after the series that prompted him to pursue the Kolinahr in the first place. Spock's discussion with Kirk after his mind meld with V'ger is one of my favourite scenes from all the movies.

"Duet" and "The Wire" are also two of my favourite episodes. Whenever I go back to rewatch DS9, I usually watch all the Garak episodes first. I've probably seen "Cardassians" at least ten times.

On a sidenote, I remember working out one of my baby teeth while watching TMP -- I must have been around 7, and it kept me entertained during the slow sections of the Enterprirse entering V'ger.

Kate Woodbury said...

I'm rereading I Am Spock by Nimoy, and I've been impressed (all over again) but how hard he worked to preserve the integrity of Spock's character, long before he knew Spock was a cultural phenomenon (I don't suppose even Nimoy could prevent "Spock's Brain").

I've also been impressed (all over again) by how notably objective he is about Shatner--in comparison to other Star Trek cast members. This may explain why directors appear to find Nimoy so comfortable to work with!