Friday, February 14, 2014

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

So here is the first of 12 blogs covering all 12 Star Trek movies. A few months ago I picked up two BluRay sets, one with the first six movies from the original Kirk/Spock era, and a second with the next four movies featuring the cast of The Next Generation to go along with the copies I have had of the last two JJ Abrams franchise reboot movies.

I am not a die-hard "Trekkie." I have not seen every single episode, nor do I own any seasons of the various tv series. I have seen roughly a couple dozen episodes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager over the years and maybe just a handful of the original series and Enterprise, and until this blog I only recall seeing about half of the movies. With that said, I have always preferred Star Trek to Star Wars, probably because I was exposed to it more growing up with it having three separate television series on throughout the 90s and catching the occasional movie. Somehow, someway I was never really exposed to Star Wars from other friends in my childhood other than catching brief parts of it off cable here and there, so I do not have the fond reverence for it that almost everyone else has (I never saw the original trilogy in their entirety until about 5 or 6 years ago).

The last two JJ Abrams directed movies I was a huge fan of, and happening to run into great deals on the BluRay collections of the first 10 films inspired me to purchase them so I can catch up on my Star Trek history because there is no way I am watching all of those tv series. I dare you to join me on this Star Trek journey this year by watching all the films with me. If you are a casual Star Trek fan like myself, I highly recommend watching the 2010 documentary, Trek Nation, free off Hulu. It is a great way of catching up on the history of the franchise which is a nice overview of all the movies and tv series coming from the viewpoint of the son of the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry.

So now let's time travel back to 1979 with the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (trailer). The original tv series ended in 1969, and talks first started to get this film made in 1975. After the breakout success of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, it put the production of the first Star Trek film into warp speed, and production started on it the next year in 1978.

The Motion Picture kicks off roughly 10 years later from where the show left off timeline wise, with Captain Kirk (William Shatner) regaining the captain's seat of the newly upgraded Enterprise from Decker (Stephen Collins). Apparently an unidentified alien life force is approaching Earth which leads to Kirk regaining control of the ship, and shortly after reuniting with former number two, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and the rest of the original tv series crew.

I have some mixed feeling on The Motion Picture. The first act of the movie really drags, though I can understand why it did at the time. In the opening scenes, Kirk is getting escorted on a shuttle to the Enterprise from a spaceport, and the shuttle takes its sweet time going around the Enterprise. I am not kidding, it takes literally 10 to 15 minutes in this opening for Kirk to board the Enterprise. I presume Paramount wanted to show off the new special effects they were able to pull off with their much larger budget now, but damn did they take their sweet time. There are a few other scenes like this later on in the movie too, where you can tell the crew is in love with all the new technological advances they now have on their hands with a big budget, and they went overboard showing it off.

From where I was sitting it seemed like there was too much focus on establishing the tension between Kirk and Decker on their new roles on the ship. Decker is pissed that out of nowhere he is no longer captain of the Enterprise, and has to cut off Kirk a few times midmission to get him up to speed on all the upgrades to the Enterprise. Eventually, the film gets to where it needs to go, with a team landing on this mysterious space entity and discovering its true nature. I liked the explanation of its origin, and how they resolve it from colliding with Earth. My memories of the original tv series and movies are a little hazy, but I do not remember them being too big on action other than an occasional fazer battle here and restricted ship to ship combat with many cuts to a shaking camera on the deck there. That is essentially what we got here, with a bigger focus on storytelling and this first movie pretty much becoming a showpiece of their latest special effects.

I never watched the original film before, and had no idea what to expect from how it would hold up technically 35 years later. It looks quite splendid actually, I came to find out afterwards that the original director, Robert Wise released a special remastered version of the film on DVD in 2001 with enhanced audio and new special effects. I own a few BluRays of some older films, and it is disappointing to watch HD versions of some of my favorite films that are not remastered and still retain those old screen scratch effects from the original theatrical release. That is not the case here, and for a lot of the early shots that really showcase the Enterprise ship in all its glory look fantastic a few decades later, where I imagined they would have looked ridiculously outdated otherwise. You can still tell this is an old film, but Paramount made sure to polish off the rough edges and make this film pop as much as they can in HD with a commendable remastering effort.

The first BluRay collection of Star Trek contains a bonus disc with a lot of new special features, I do not plan on watching that until I watch all of the first six films as I imagine the features on there would give away main plot points on the other films I have yet to watch. The extras that accompany The Motion Picture are a mix of old previously released DVD extras and a couple new features. There is a new commentary track, and three short documentaries all around 10 minutes each. I recommend watching the following two special features: The Longest Trek is a nice catching up behind the scenes on what transpired after the tv series ended to get the first movie made, while a Special Star Trek Reunion has several extras from The Motion Picture getting together over 30 years later reminiscing what it was like to live the dream and be a small part of the movie.

One cool BluRay feature that helped me get through some of the slower stretches of the movie is the Library Computer. It is a interactive database of various Star Trek lore containing definitions and backstory of Star Trek characters, races, weapons and countless other pieces of information on the Star Trek universe.

I would not recommend The Motion Picture as must see viewing, and that is what I gathered from discussing the film with other people going into it. I do not regret watching it however, as there is a decent movie buried in there and I just had to scratch that itch to see what the first movie was like.

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