This week saw the release of the remastered Director’s Edition of Star Trek: The Movie on Paramount+, delivering a glorious 4K restoration of a version of the film that was previously only available on DVD.
The film has a somewhat complicated heritage. The film was a huge commercial success, placing fourth at the domestic box office in 1979, ahead of films like Revelation now or Extraterrestrial. It earned three Oscar nominations the following year. It basically revived the star trek franchise, bringing it back to live-action for the first time in a decade and launching a six-film franchise. However, the film was not an unqualified success.
In the pages of star diaryHarlan Ellison describes it as “a boring movie: an often boring movie, an incredibly predictable movie, a tragically medium movie.” In The Los Angeles Times, Charles Champlin conceded that the film was “slow”. In The New York Times, while impressed with the scale of the film, Vincent Canby explained that the cast was largely “limited to exchanging meaningful glances or staring intently at television screens, usually in disbelief”. Critics called it “The Motionless Picture.”
These criticisms are certainly correct. The plot of Star Trek: The Movie is largely derived. He owes a lot to 2001: A Space Odysseywhich seems oddly appropriate given that 2001 was released in the gap between the second and third seasons of the original star trek and may have rendered the show obsolete. It also recalls the plot of “The Changeling”, an intermediate episode of the second season of star trek. However, The film is also proof that the plot isn’t everything.
The film is definitely relaxed in its rhythm. It makes some sense, considering the movie was adapted from the aborted project’s pilot. Star Trek: Phase II TV show. This pilot, “In Thy Image”, was originally intended to be 90 minutes on television, which stretched to two hours in the theatrical cut (and two and a quarter hours in the Director’s Edition) takes its toll on the hardware.
However, this is also part of the appeal of The film. “My urge, as I slid into my seat and the stereo sound surrounded me, was to relax and let the movie give me a good time,” admitted Roger Ebert in his initial review of the film. “I did and it did.” There is a sense in which The film works better as an immersive experience than a feature film. It’s a window to the imaginary world of star trekinviting the public to come in and get lost.
This explains some of the more free choices within Star Trek: The Movielike the decision to open the film with a literal opening. The film and The black hole were the last two major films to open with an opening until Lars von Trier’s A dancer in the night in 2000. One of the film’s most famous sequences, including one affectionately mocked Lower decksis a five-minute flyby reintroducing the redesigned USS Enterprise.
It is worth pausing to put this in its cultural context. Supreme President Michael Eisner had been inspired by the success of star wars and Dating of the Third Kind At transition star trek on the big screen. Gene Roddenberry claimed that the returns on star wars “pushed” the studio to greenlight the film. Almost every review of The film made a few allusions to George Lucas’ sci-fi fantasy epic, with many complaining that it lacked what “made star wars so funny.”
However, while The film was undoubtedly a much slower and more deliberate film than the original star wars, it shared several key attributes with this era-defining blockbuster. For simplicity, The film marked the first time the star trek the universe felt like real space governed by its own logic and following its own rules. Despite, or perhaps because of, the film’s somewhat broad plot, The film often feels like a travelogue from an imaginary realm.
To be fair, there was some continuity in the original star trek series. The Klingons and Romulans were recurring antagonists, and the disappearance of a spaceship model behind the scenes necessitated the addition of universe-building dialogue about a potential alliance in “The Enterprise Incident”. The team had visited Spock’s homeworld in “Amok Time,” though what little they saw of it was cheap scenery on a studio backlot.
However, the original star trek The series was a network television show in the late 1960s. The plot was always going to be paramount. What little world-building happened in episodes like “Journey to Babel” or “Lights of Zetar” was often incidental or opportunistic. The show often twisted its internal logic to suit the demands of the story being told, such as seemingly contradictory references to “eugenics wars” or “World War III” that awaited humanity’s future.
On the other hand, freed from the constraints of television broadcasting, The film can bask in the finest finery of the star trek universe. In “The Trouble with Tribbles”, Korax (Michael Pataki) boasts that half the quadrant is “learning to speak Klingonian”, but The film opens with an extended sequence set mostly on a Klingon ship with dialogue captioned. The Klingons don’t speak English, probably because there’s no intended human audience.
This sequence is followed soon after by a trip to Vulcan. The planet looks like very different from what he did on the TV show. Director Robert Wise uses widescreen composition and special effects to deliver an impressive sense of scale and spectacle. It feels like a truly alien world. The audience joins Spock (Leonard Nimoy) during the Kolinahr ritual, to purge their emotions. Again, because there are no human characters present, the characters speak entirely in the fictional language of Vulcan.
There are many other smaller choices like this, which are designed to reinforce the feeling that the star trek the universe exists beyond the artifices of the plot of The film. The film devotes a lot of runtime to the Enterprise departing from the space dock, then it quickly establishes that warp drive should not be used in a solar system, a rule that has been applied with varying consistency to throughout franchise history, but an established rule nonetheless.
There is a certain extravagance to Star Trek: The Movie. Does the film need all of its sets, like an incredibly elaborate engineering bay? When the ship’s navigator Deltan Ilia (Persis Khambatta) is converted into a probe for the mysterious V’ger entity, his old lover Decker (Stephen Collins) takes him to the recreation deck and gives him a guided tour of the various recreational activities and games. options available. For all the movie stakes, it almost feels like a futuristic version of Cradles.
Going from television to cinema, The film is able to set a new benchmark for the quality of the show presented. When star trek was on TV, the simple battle sequence swapped in “Elaan of Troyius” could take months to come true, costing a lot of money and pushing the episode far back in the release schedule. While the film’s special effects budget has spun out of control, the film’s universe still feels alive and rich. It’s really immersive.
In many ways, The film established a firm identity for the star trek mark in the future. The production design on Star Trek: The Next Generation would be more like that of The film than original star trekin the same way as the production design of Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard owes more to JJ Abrams’ reboot franchise than designing shows like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Star Trek: Voyager.
Several elements of Star Trek: The Movie transferred directly to The next generation, like Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music. Ilia and Decker provide the models for Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes). Like Ilia, Troi is initially introduced as a sensual empath. Like Decker, Riker is introduced as a career-minded young officer who views his position as general manager as a temporary speed bump. Like Ilia and Decker, Troi and Riker were once lovers.
At points, The film looks more like a manifesto than a movie. This is particularly the case of Gene Roddenberry’s literary adaptation, which sometimes reads like a religious text reflecting the concerns of its creator. The third sentence of the novel reveals that James T. Kirk (William Shatner) was named after his mother’s “first teacher of love”, and there are asides about the “sense of oneness with the All”. Vulcan and the emerging “group consciousness” of so-called “new humans”.
From the very beginning, star trek promised his audience the opportunity to explore “strange new worlds”. However, it is only with The film that these worlds seemed truly tangible.