So it’s a Robert Wise double bill, with The Andromeda Strain yesterday and today Star Trek The Motion Picture. Broadcast on New Year’s Day. Probably 1989, although it could be 1990.
I saw this film when it was first released (yes I am that old) and my memory is that I loved it, and desperately wanted to watch it again immediately – in those days cinemas did ‘continuous performances’ with no assigned seating, so if you go to an early show, you could just stay put for the next showing. I don’t think I actually did stay, because my dad would have been waiting outside to drive me home (yes I’m not quite that old) but I do know that I really, really enjoyed it.
Time has not been kind to it, though. Perhaps I should call it the ‘Space 1999 effect’ – films and TV you adored in your youth don’t always hold up well when you revisit them.
First, though, can we just admit that Jerry Goldsmith’s score for this movie is probably the best Star Trek score ever? And according to interviews, he had to write it in a couple of weeks, because the deadlines and the post production were so tight.
In the opening sequence, when Klingon ships approach a spatial anomaly, and are destroyed, the Klingon captain is played by Mark Lenard, much more well known for playing Spock’s father Sarek. His role as a Klingon here meant he was the first actor to play all three major Star Trek aliens – Vulcan, Klingon and Romulan. This was also the first appearance of the bumpy-headed Klingon design, a design which has persisted through most subsequent incarnations.
One of the humans who are monitoring the Klingon attack is David Gatreaux, an actor who was cast in an aborted attempt to reboot Star Trek a couple of years previously. He was supposed to play the Vulcan officers Xon. This role doesn’t seem like a fair reward.
Spock is on Vulcan, studying to be super logical, but he senses the big scary cloud, so he fails the final exam. They really tried hard with the massive Matte Painting, but on TV you really can’t make out the details of the tiny figures standing at the base of the statue. Also, whilst I applaud the decision to invent a Vulcan language, it’s painfully obvious that the language was invented to fit the lip movements of the obviously English dialog spoken by the actors on set.
I know a lot of people think the sequence where Scotty takes Kirk to the Enterprise on a shuttle is overlong and self-indulgent. They are wrong. It’s a love scene. Even the main theme has been arranged as a love theme. And it’s a deliberate tease for the audience, as we approach the ship as it’s in spacedock. We can see parts of the ship behind the dock structure, and we see Kirk’s reactions, the music builds and builds, until there’s a glorious crescendo and a cut to the unmistakable front view of the ship. Even with bits missing from the saucer section – the model work here is glorious – it’s a beautiful thing. This is the best version of the Enterprise, and this whole scene is there for the fans. I love it.
In retrospect, it’s probably lucky that Stephen Collins only appeared in this film, and didn’t become a recurring character, given the yewtree-like revelations about him.
The new transporter effect is really shiny, although they didn’t keep it in subsequent outings. In this scene, the transporters are malfunctioning, though, and scrambling two soon-to-be late crewmembers. This was a rather gruesome bit of body horror only really hinted at
Transporter Chief Rand is played by Grace Lee Whitney. She’s a very familiar face to viewers of the original series, as she was a Yeoman in the first season. It’s nice to see career progression is a real thing in Starfleet.
For the scene where Kirk addresses the crew, most of the extras in the scene were recruited from Star Trek fandom. Susan Sackett, Gene Roddenberry’s assistant, used to write a column for Starlog magazine, and she wrote one about the filming of this scene.
Another new crew member is Lieutenant Ilia, played by Persis Khambatta. She’s very much an example of how SF in the early days was often the domain of pervy men. “My oath of celibacy is on record” is a line she says more than once. She “wouldn’t take advantage of a sexually immature species”. It’s a typical example of a trope that was all over early SF – that our attitudes to sex were primitive, and that more enlightened lifeforms would not have any taboos about sex. You can see this repeated in the character of Deanna Troi in The Next Generation, and their nudist weddings. To me, it always seemed a bit like dirty old men fantasising about having free and guiltless access to women’s bodies at any time.
DeForest Kelley returns as Dr McCoy, and is always a delight, complaining about having been drafted, and reluctant to use the transporter, especially after the earlier accident.
The first attempt at Warp Drive isn’t successful. This doesn’t inspire confidence in the engineering practices at Starfleet – you’d think a warp engine was a fairly well understood thing at this point. But I liked the swirly computer graphics used for the wormhole effect that they fall into.
The weird slow motion effects maybe aren’t that successful. I can’t tell if they were shot in slow motion, and the dialog was re-recorded at the correct speed, or whether the actors were acting as if in slow motion.
Spock arrives at the Enterprise in a shuttle. I’m sure I had a plastic model of this, but I can’t be absolutely sure.
Spock himself is still a bit distant, not really registering anything at meeting his friends after a long gap.
The next part of the film is definitely the main source of its nickname, ‘The Motionless Picture’. Seemingly hours of endless shots of moving through the space cloud. Maybe if the images weren’t so murky and dull, this might be better.
A probe from the cloud enters the bridge. This was a fairly good scene in terms of the effects, mainly because they did shoot it with a really bright vertical tube of light being pushed around the stage by stagehands, so all the light in the scene is really there, and they didn’t have to fake it somehow by doctoring the footage. The probe downloads the computer, then zaps Ilia. So she’s fridged already.
But fear not, because she’s resurrected by the cloud as a probe to communicate with the crew. Why the cloud chose to bring her back in her shower is anyone’s guess. Because the writers were pervy old men?
Decker has to try to get through to Ilia. He plays a game they used to play together. 23rd Century games are a bit shit, aren’t they? Even Ker-Plunk looks more fun than this.
Spock flies out of the ship in order to mind meld with the cloud, to discover what it wants. And because this version os the extended TV version, and there’s extra scenes, we get this shot of Kirk preparing to go out to follow him. I think it’s supposed to be the bottom of the saucer section, but the bits at the top, and on the right, are just the stage scaffolding. They haven’t even bothered to matte in a painting to hide those bits.
Eventually, they have to leave the ship to find whatever is at the heart of the cloud, and try to communicate with it. I do like this shot, which establishes something of the scale of the Enterprise.
What they find at the heart of the cloud is this.
Ilia has been calling it ‘Vejur’ (that’s the spelling they used in the novelisation, so as not to tip off the reveal) but Kirk rubs off a bit of dirt to find its full name: Voyager 6 (hence V’Ger). What this demonstrates is that the machine intelligences which found the satellite, built a colossally powerful ship to return it on, don’t understand the concept of dirt.
In the end, Decker somehow joins with V’Ger (and robot Ilia). I guess it’s a happy ending for him.
So there we are. it is, undoubtedly, a very slow moving story, but there’s still plenty of stuff I like about it. Most of that is the visual stuff, admittedly, but I was young, and those things are important.
After this, there’s a programme that looks at the success of the Australian soaps like Neighbours and Home and Away. What’s slightly odd is that it’s presented by Barry Norman. Well, I guess he got an Australian holiday out of it.
One of the fascinating things about Australian soaps is that they are full of young actors who would eventually become huge stars in Hollywood. Here’s a very young Guy Pearce doing a promo for the show’s move to Channel 10.
The tape ends during this programme.
In the ads, I noticed one featuring Royce Mills, who died a month ago, so I thought I should mention it.
- National Power
- The New You
- Direct Line
- Hogg Robinson Travel
- Gale’s Honey
- Buxton Spring
- Sony Discman – Emo Phillips
- The Very Best of Elton John
- Harrods Sale
- Thomas Cook
- Sofa Sleepas
- Yellow Pages – Happy New Year compilation
- Royal Caribbean Cruises
- trail: Soap Down Under
- trail: Ghostbusters
- trail: Spurs v Man Utd
- Dishwash Electric
- Post Office
- trail: EL C.I.D.