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Friday, 1 April 2016

Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition

Written by:Harold Livingston|Directed by:Robert Wise|Release Date:1979

Good news everyone! Today on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm going to improve the internet by posting a few thousand extra words about Star Trek: The Motion Picture, padded out with pictures of people in beige staring at a cloud.

I love that this is called 'The Motion Picture' by the way. It's not a film or a movie, it's a motion picture, it's about something, it cost money. A feature film based on a TV series starring the same cast isn't unheard of, but they're rarely set up to be the next 2001: A Space Odyssey. They even got Robert Wise, the guy who made The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Andromeda Strain, to direct it. Which kind of explains why it looks like The Andromeda Strain now that I think about it.

There were a few attempts during the 70s to bring Trek back in some form, but this particular project started life as Star Trek: Phase II, a television series starring most of the same cast (minus Leonard Nimoy) intended to launch a new fourth US TV network. But someone decided the pilot script had movie potential and there were soon bigger plans in play. From what I've heard the series was actually cancelled within a month of being announced, but they had to let pre-production roll along for almost a year while they got the movie deals in place. Of course the film was expected to pay for all the work done on the false starts along the way, which made it seem even more wildly over-budget than it actually was. The most expensive movie ever made at the time in fact, aside from maybe Superman. But you couldn't call it flop; if you adjust for ticket price inflation it's actually right up there with the J.J. Abrams movies.

You'd think this leap to cinemas was inspired by the success of Star Wars, but it was apparently much the opposite. I read that Paramount believed they'd missed their chance because everyone had already spent their money on one big sci-fi movie and wouldn't want to see two of them in just a few years! That's why they were making Phase II instead. But the massive success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind that same year made it clear that science fiction had a future.

Anyway this is going to be 50 images separated by SPOILERS for the entire motion picture, so either mentally prepare yourself for that ordeal, or bail now. You can tell me what a huge mistake this was in the comments box underneath.



The film begins with a a great shot of a fleet of Klingon ships investigating a mysterious giant space cloud, with Jerry Goldsmith’s famous Klingon theme playing for the first time. Actually it begins with a black screen and a three minute overture, though I'm watching the Director's Edition DVD so I at least had a starfield screensaver to look at. It's beautiful music for sure, but I felt like I was waiting for the movie to install.

Then after that, there's a minute of opening credits! I was a bit surprised at first when the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme started playing, but then I remembered it originally came from this movie. They actually had a different theme recorded for Next Gen but it sounded like it belonged to a 70s Superman series so they went with the Goldsmith movie theme instead.

But now I'm watching Klingon battle cruisers, and I appreciate how they're pretty much the same ships featured in the TV series a decade earlier. They built a new model with far more surface detail, but they didn't pull a Transformers and completely reinvent them for a modern audience.

When it came to the actual Klingons though, they realised they couldn't get away with fake tan alone, so they've been given a full makeover.

There’s a few firsts in this shot: it's the first time we see the Klingons in their traditional outfits, the first time they have bumpy foreheads, the first time any Star Trek race has the cliché bumpy forehead look, and the first time we ever see the inside of a Klingon ship. Well unless you count the one the Romulans were using in The Enterprise Incident.

That’s Mark Lenard in the captain’s chair by the way, completing his alien hat-trick after playing the first Romulan who appeared in the TV series and Spock's dad. What's special about this appearance though, is that he's given basically nothing to do in the movie besides tell his men on the rotating tactical arcade cabinets to start shooting torpedoes.

It’s always nice to get a glimpse into how someone else would handle the typical Star Trek crisis of the week, and the Klingons’ have three ships full of Worfs here so obviously they raise shields and open fire. At a cloud.

This is the first time we ever got to see that beautiful photon torpedo effect, created by shooting a 20 watt laser through a rotating crystal in a smoky room. It’s also probably the first time in Star Trek they've ever composited both a ship and the target it’s firing at in the frame together. In the Original Series it'd always be a shot of the Enterprise firing phasers, then a shot of the other ship being hit (or vice versa).

The cloud retaliates by sending out balls of lightning that disintegrate the ships. No explosions, they just flicker with lightning and then vanish. This lightning wasn't drawn on by the way, the effects team actually used a Tesla coil to create real arcs of electricity over a form shaped like the ship. I've got no issue with CG effects, I find them plenty miraculous in their own way, but that's just bad ass.

The folks at the Epsilon IX monitoring station have been monitoring all this, and have determined that the cloud's current heading will take it into Federation space close by to them... on a precise heading to Earth!

Meanwhile Commander Spock has been meditating in the rocky wastes of planet Vulcan, and he's let his hairstyle's go full He-Man! Unlike the Klingons, the Vulcan makeup has been left pretty much as it was on the TV series. They were already pushing it by letting Spock grow his hair out, if they'd reimagined science fiction's most famous ears and eyebrows, nerds would've invented the internet early just to bitch about it.

Spock's here to undertake the kal-if-fee ritual: the purging of all emotion. Wait, that one's the fight to the death with sticks. He's been undertaking the Kolinahr ritual, and he was doing really well for the first few years until he began hearing the cloud in his head. The Vulcan master detects that it's been stirring up emotion in him and just tosses his Kolinahr medallion onto the ground. I suppose it must be logical to leave jewellery lying next to your ancient statues if it's going to torment the poor guy who just wasted years of his life working to earn the thing.

Meanwhile at Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco (Earth), Admiral James T. Kirk’s already found himself a replacement Spock. Bit of a shame about the uniform, though at least he's not wearing a shawl and sandals like the guy behind him.

I’m fan of Jerry Goldsmith, but his music leading into this scene is so damn… heroic, that I’m almost cringing. I feel like lowering the volume in case the neighbours hear it and that’s not typically the experience I’m after in my sci-fi movies. Yes I know it's just the theme tune again, but twice in 10 minutes is too much!

Kirk is being a bit of a jerk here, demanding that the Enterprise be made ready 8 hours earlier than humanly possible and scheming to take command of her again. But he’s a Star Trek admiral now, so being a dick and trying to take command is pretty much in his job description.

Cut to a minute’s worth of exterior shots of this orbital office complex from various angles. Why, I’ve no idea. Kirk does eventually beam up to it, but he only hangs around long enough to ask why he's there and not the Enterprise, before walking into a travel pod with Scotty and flying over to see his starship.


I suppose they just wanted to get their money's worth out of the massive 6 foot tall model they'd built. They get even more use out of it in the next movie, as the model plays the role of the considerably more plot-relevant science station Regula I.

The Enterprise from the original series has spent the last 18 months in a dock orbiting Earth being redesigned and refitted, so Kirk has to be having mixed feelings about seeing her again. It’s like someone taking your beloved 1969 Dodge Challenger and turning it into a Bugatti Veyron. It’s a definite upgrade, but... it was your car!

Mr Scott feels the ship needs more work and a shakedown cruise, but seeing as there’s an alien object on its way to potentially obliterate humanity in less than three days, his concerns are a low priority to Kirk. But why does it need to be the Enterprise that goes out to meet it? Because despite Starfleet having a fleet of these starships, she's somehow the only one within interception range!

C’mon Starfleet, the Klingons managed to get three battle cruisers over to it and it wasn’t even threatening them!


FIVE HOURS LATER.


I can't believe Kirk’s still flying around this gigantic ship of his in a travel pod. I can’t time it exactly as I’m watching a Region 2 PAL DVD, but this trip has to be at least 5 minutes!

The ship looks pure white in these shots, but the Enterprise model actually had a ridiculously expensive pearlescent paint job.

This is what the ship could've looked like if they were able to really show off the paintwork. I'm not entirely sure why it turned out looking so flat, the dry dock scenes weren't shot against a blue screen so there was no problems with colour spill, but I guess anything curved and shiny's going to be a bastard to get a clean matte from.

The Enterprise is obviously not the ideal shape for what it does, with its engines up at the top, a thin neck and tiny pylons, but that helps illustrate how advanced this civilisation is. They're centuries beyond rockets, rotating gravity sections and structurally sound sensible bricks in space; their ships are a work of art. But when you get close up you see all the concessions to reality, like the thrusters around the saucer section, and the circular airlocks. Plus the self-illumination system which lights the thing up when there's no star nearby. The designers put in hard work to make it easier to suspend disbelief.

Anyway I like the ship, and so does literally everyone else... except the poor folks at ILM who had to film the awkward model for the sequels. I'm definitely glad we got a refit instead of the complete redesign they'd come up with a couple of years earlier.

Before Phase II there were plans for a Trek movie called Planet of the Titans and two legendary designers, Ken Adam and Ralph McQuarrie, produced a Enterprise design for the film that looks like a Klingon battle cruiser lying on its back. The neck on that thing's even thinner than the ship we got! Fortunately Gene Roddenberry knew what the fans wanted to see and made sure it was waiting for them in dry dock.

Wait, what was I even talking about? Oh right Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Scotty docks the pod onto an airlock on the lower hull and the two embark.

Then we get a pointless shot of the ship's interior showing that the cylindrical section is actually hollow from the airlock to the shuttlebay! Hopefully there’s some kind of forcefield in place to keep the air in, as I can’t help but notice they’ve left the back door open.

An Ensign offers to show Kirk around the reconstructed ship, but he’s still being a dick so he tells him he can find his own way.

Kirk eventually make it up to the bridge, where he finds that half the old cast are here! And they’re wearing the same terrible washed-out pyjamas as everyone else. I guess the bright colourful shirts of the TV series were considered to be too campy for a serious business movie like this.

The thing is, if you look at photos of real life astronauts or sailors, one of the first things you'll notice is that you can see them against the walls of their vessel or space station. The Enterprise crew on the other hand are wearing beige camo to blend into the carpet.

It seems that like they left the bridge layout alone though pretty much. Also they’ve made it really obvious that the front viewscreen is a TV not a window by putting that pattern on it. Which is interesting as the new movies do the exact opposite.

Hey it’s main engineering, sitting above the cargo bay Kirk was standing in earlier by the look of that curved roof.

In the TV series it was never entirely clear what was going on with the warp engine, but here it's a long tube running through the neck and lower hull, with matter coming in from the top and anti-matter coming in from the bottom so they can annihilate each other in the middle. This set the basic look for Star Trek engine rooms for the next 20 years.

It also uses clever trickery to look like a bigger room than it actually is. See those people in white suits standing way off at the back? They’re not far away, they're children.

Kirk's down here because he just remembered someone on board he hasn't been a dick to yet: the captain! Sorry Captain Decker, you're now Commander Decker. Temporarily of course, until the crisis is over (but not really).

Decker storms off leaving Kirk free to gloat for a bit, but an engineering console suddenly lights up with sparks from the inside and it's apparently part of the transporter system! Scotty contacts the transporter room telling them not to beam anyone on board, but it's far too late for that.

Kirk runs up to heroically take the transporter controls from returning TV character Janice Rand, but it turns out that he’s no better at it than the person who literally does this as a her job, and the people in the transporter beam scream, deform and fade away. Kirk calls Starfleet up to see if they re-materialized at their end, but the news isn't good.
“Enterprise, what we got back didn’t live long. Fortunately.”
Good work Starfleet, transporters don’t need a platform at the other end to work, but you went and connected to the Enterprise’s untested systems anyway and now two people are dead because of it. Worse, one of them was the Spock replacement Kirk was chatting to earlier, so now they don't have a science officer!

I forgot how cramped and grey the corridors were in this movie. Looks like a spaceship to me though!

Kirk’s been doing well so far at finding his way around, but now he can’t find the turbolift and has to ask for directions. He realises that Decker is watching him, and the man isn’t impressed by his new captain. He’s even less impressed when Kirk gives him the job of science officer. He wanted another Vulcan in the role, because he really just wants his friend back, but Decker’s the only person qualified for the job who also knows this new ship.

Later on the recreation deck, Kirk gets the whole crew together to show them what we already know. Big cloud coming, made some Klingon ships disappear, and it’s less than three days away.

But then the cloud reaches the Epsilon IX array and they're all able to watch the event live on their giant TV. The folks manning the array try to communicate and scan the cloud, but it utterly annihilates them live on camera. It doesn't annihilate the camera though weirdly.

The Enterprise crew are all standing right here by the way, in case you were curious.

Fun fact, this scene might be the only time we ever get to see out of any of the windows located on the edge of the Enterprise's saucer section! Or maybe it's not, I don’t know.

Seems Chekov must have gotten a promotion, as a new navigator appears on the bridge.

Her name's Deanna Troi, and it turns out that her and Will Riker used to be in a relationship. Wait, sorry I mean her name's Ilia, and her and Will Decker used to be in a relationship. She makes a point of announcing that her oath of celibacy is on record though, which comes out of nowhere and is never explained.

You can't tell by looking at her, but Ilia is an alien from Delta IV. So now we've gone from aliens with forehead makeup, to aliens with ear makeup, to a woman with her head shaved.

Star Trek: Phase II Costume Test
Ilia was originally intended to be a regular in Star Trek: Phase II (which is why there's footage of Persis Khambatta wearing a gold Original Series miniskirt), so her Deltan nature was going to be explored over time. But in the movie her alienness is basically pointless because (spoilers) she dies halfway through and is replaced with a robot clone.

They’re still waiting on one last officer, who refuses to beam up for whatever reason (maybe because he saw the cleaners scraping off the remains of the last two who tried beaming up). So Kirk goes down to the transporter room to convince him.

It’s Bones! And he’s got a beard! I’d mention how he’s dressed, but it doesn’t seem fair to single him out. If anyone ever turns up wearing a good outfit I’ll let you know. Well okay I kind of liked Kirk's admiral uniform, but that's long gone.

Doctor McCoy is furious about the whole thing, as he's been pulled back into Starfleet against his will due to a reserve activation clause. Turns out that it's all Kirk's fault, as he needs his friend on board as an advisor. Plus having another doctor around is never a bad idea the way he's been running things.

Then we get more visual effect shots of the ship turning its lights on, leaving dry dock, and flying past Jupiter at impulse speed. Why spaceships always have to go past Jupiter on the way out I’ve no idea (but it looks very nice).

Usually the Enterprise will just go straight to warp drive right next to the planet it's at, but here they're taking it slow due to the fact that the engines aren't even supposed to be ready yet. Kirk's getting impatient, but McCoy talks him into letting his people do their jobs and run some simulations first. I miss the old Captain Kirk from the TV series who actually knew what he was doing.

So the ship finally goes to warp, and it doesn’t blow up! Though it kind of looks like it does.

We never saw any kind of warp effect in the Original Series, but this was made in the 70s so they replaced the original engine with a disco warp core. They had to make the film look flashier than Star Wars did two years earlier when the Millennium Falcon went to hyperspace you see.

I want to say that this streak effect was created by holding the shutter open and moving the camera, but as far as my brain's concerned it could've only been pulled off with magic. They hired an actual sorcerer called Douglas Trumbull to come in and cast the same spell he used for the trippy star gate effect at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Trumbull's team wasn't even meant to be working on the movie, he was brought in late in production after the first model effects team utterly failed. So these amazing visuals had to be created at a pace so insane that it put the guy in hospital for 10 days afterwards.

Fortunately things are going much better aboard the Enterprise...

... for about 5 seconds, before they get themselves sucked into a wormhole.

Turns out that the wormhole was created by the Enterprise herself due to faulty engines. Nice work Kirk, you knew the ship was brand new, your chief engineer told you the warp drive wasn't ready, and yet you just had to floor the pedal anyway.

Incidentally this wormhole was perhaps the only effects shot from the original effects house included in the movie. A year's work and millions of dollars spent, and all they got out of it was an orange hole in the universe. To be fair Gene Roddenberry did keep rewriting the script on them during production.

It gets a bit hard to make out exactly what’s happening at this point because there’s time distortion going on. As far as I can tell they’ve managed to put the engines in reverse to slow themselves down, but an asteroid was pulled in with them and it’s on a collision course! Somehow it’s actually in front of the ship though, which makes next to zero sense, seeing as the Enterprise created the wormhole.

The crew have only 20 seconds to deal with this crisis, but this is Star Trek: The Motion Picture so those seconds drag on forever. Around a minute later there’s just 10 seconds left to collision, and I’m not even exaggerating. We’re running at 1/6th speed here.

Kirk wants Chekov to destroy the asteroid with the phasers, but Decker belays his order and tells him to use photon torpedoes instead. Because they look cooler I guess (literally in fact, as they're blue in this film).

And the Enterprise managed to blow up a rock. An impressive victory for the Federation's most advanced starship.

This shot only exists on the Director's Edition DVD, as it was added to give the sequence a better climax. It puts the Enterprise, the exploding asteroid, and the dissipating wormhole all in the same frame to better illustrate what's going on. Apparently firing photon torpedoes really can disrupt cosmic phenomena, so maybe the Klingons were onto something!

The new CGI effects for this version of the film were provided by the original Babylon 5 effects house Foundation Imaging, who also did work for Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. Sadly their work on Babylon 5 was rendered at TV resolution, which is part of the reason that series' DVDs look so terrible whenever there's effects on screen. I mention that because the same thing happened here; the Director's Edition effects were rendered at DVD resolution, meaning that Paramount had to scrap them and go back to the original cut when producing the Blu-Rays.

Okay, so we’re a third of the way through the movie now and all our heroes have achieved so far is to tear a hole in spacetime and go approximately nowhere. Well at least they didn't end up stranded in the Delta Quadrant or something.

Kirk drags Decker all the way to his quarters to bitch at him for countermanding his phaser order. He wanted to see phasers in this movie, dammit!

Decker points out that the phasers are channelled through the warp engines, so broken engines means broken weapons, and Kirk has to admit that he's probably right. If you want to be a good captain you've got to learn why things work on a starship, and Kirk hasn't had time to catch up to Decker yet. He's still pissed off though, telling Decker to quit competing with him!

Once he's gone, McCoy points out to Kirk that he's got it backwards. He's the one feeling threatened by Decker, because he wants to keep the ship and recapture his glory days as a starship captain.

They're not a particular friendly crew so far.

But enough interpersonal conflict, back to the long effect shots. A mysterious warp shuttle has arrived and its equally mysterious occupant has requested to dock with the ship.

This model was actually painted a pale purple colour, but somewhere along the line someone remembered that all spaceships must be grey, so it came out looking like this.

The shuttle docks and it turns out to be carrying Mr.Spock! He's come to take his old job back, fix their engines, and maybe get a closer look at that cloud that screwed up his Kolinahr. Which means Decker's lost another job (and another seat).

Everyone’s happy to see him at first, but then they realise that something’s up. He may have seemed cold and unfriendly in the series, but the Kolinahr training has turned that up to 11 and now he’s just as much of a miserable jerk as Kirk and Decker are.

You might be able to notice that Spock has an aura around him that blurs everything behind him. This effect keeps happening to other characters during the movie as well, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much. The reason for this is because a lot of the film was shot using a special lens called a split-focus diopter that can have one side of the frame focus on the foreground while the other focuses on the background. It would've been possible to get a larger depth of field by just turning up the lights and using a smaller aperture, but then the rear projected computer screens would've been too dark.

Spock's so anti-social now that takes some real effort by Kirk to even get him to sit down with them. But that’s good because it’s finally adding a bit of comedy to the film and lightening the tone a bit. They've got the three main characters back together in the same room at last!

By the way, does every window on this ship point at that left warp nacelle? No matter where they go it's always the same... hang on, are they at the back of that huge rec room from earlier? Wow that'd explain so much. This is another DVD exclusive effect by the way; the original shot had nothing but stars and nothingness outside. It's just a shame that the warp engine is at the wrong angle to match the moving starfield.

Thanks to Spock's repairs, the ship finally arrives at the cloud around an hour into the movie! The cloud’s moving fast enough to reach Earth in a day, and it took the Enterprise about a day to get here, so they’re both presumably going warp speed right now. See, the engines are lit up blue on the inside.

Now they just have to figure out how to not end up like the Klingons and Epsilon IX. They know that shooting it's a bad idea, and Kirk's hesitant to scan it or even raise shields in case it's interpreted as a form of hostility. Decker argues against this, but then he argues about everything. Kirk begins to snap at him until he realises it’s the first officer’s job to give alternatives, and he's got to learn to listen to the guy.

Spock starts doing an impression of Deanna Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation, talking about the thoughts he's reading from an object at the centre of the cloud.
“I sense puzzlement. We have been contacted, why have we not replied?”
Suddenly they’re attacked just like the Klingon ship and Epsilon IX were, and Kirk orders the shields raised.


The lightning hits, sending enough energy into the ship to fry Chekov’s hand right though his console, but the shields hold! If they get hit again they're going to light up with the blue lines and disappear like everyone else, but for now they're still here.

I guess it was lucky for everyone that the recently refitted Enterprise was the only ship in intercept range instead of a less advanced starship with last-gen shields. Finally their new hardware's solving problems instead of causing them! The ship was actually supposed to have a visible Next Gen-style shield effect in the movie, but that didn't work out for whatever reason.

Fortunately Spock figures out that they really were contacted, at a frequency way too high for them to notice. so they’re able to send out a ‘don’t hurt us, we’re nice’ message at the same frequency. Their attacker understands the message and holds fire, though not out of mercy. Whoever’s waiting for them at the centre of the cloud is acting out of pure logic. According to Spock anyway.

Kirk asks Decker for advice and then does the opposite, bringing the ship inside the cloud.

So now we get a 3 minute trip through clever visual effects, occasionally interrupted with shots of the characters staring in awe at the viewscreen. Even Spock who should be keeping an eye on his instruments. The production team spent ages filming broken oscilloscopes to project onto his array of oval shaped monitors and he's not even looking at them!

It's like they're loading in the next bit of the movie. I'm all for first person cinema, but Hardcore Henry is probably more my kind of thing.

They eventually find an gigantic alien object at the middle of the cloud and decide to give it a fly-by, so we get another four minutes of that.

So far at least 10 minutes of the movie's run time has been taken up by shots of a smaller object flying around a bigger object, and while it certainly makes it clear that the bigger object is really big, I'm not finding these murky abstract shapes I'm stuck staring at nearly as fascinating as the crew does. Funny thing is, these scenes were actually trimmed for the DVD release, and the theatrical cut is even longer.

The Enterprise swings around and then parks itself at the back end of the object. Parks itself relative to the cloud I mean; they’re still travelling hundreds of times faster than the speed of light here. Maybe the ship's inside the cloud's warp bubble now or something.

Just as I'm dozing off, a probe made of pure light comes to the bridge and starts hacking their computers with lightning! It’s trying to download all their information about Earth’s defences, so Spock shuts the probe out in the most logical way: by clasping his hands together and smashing the keyboard to bits! Without the keyboard, the lightning won't be able to type anything into the search box you see.

The probe’s not happy about this and decides to take it out on Mr. Spock.

But with the information it has obtained from the Enterprise's computer it now understands that Spock is a main character and switches its attention to Ilia instead, electrocuting her until she disappears like the Klingon ships did. Satisfied that it’s made its point, the probe leaves.

William Shatner's wife arrives to replace Ilia at the navigator station, just in time to have nothing to do as the ship is pulled inside the object at the heart of the cloud by a tractor beam. So we get another visual effects sequence of the ship heading through another strange environment.

Spock's still transfixed by the viewscreen along with everyone else, so it's Uhura who has to tell Kirk that the door's closed behind them and they're stuck in here. You know, she's the one who should've gotten the promotion instead of Chekov, because then maybe the actress would've had some lines. Now I'm imagining a version of the film where Uhura is in Decker's role... probably because there's nothing happening on screen for me to think about.

After a four minute ride, the ship reaches the next section of the movie and the tractor beam disengages.

No, wait, they’re using thrusters to get closer to the next chamber of the ship. So they’re back to the staring out the viewscreen again. This movie's like watching other people watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture!

They decide to risk scanning the object, now that they’ve gotten to know each other a little better, but it’s pointless. Scans are being reflected back and sensors are useless. Spock suddenly trails off mid-sentence and the intruder alert goes off.

Because Ilia’s back! And because this is a Gene Roddenberry production she materialised naked in the shower (obscured by the shower door).

Actually the real Ilia is still dead; this is an android probe constructed using her as template. She was sent here by 'V'Ger' to figure out what the 'carbon units' infesting the Enterprise are about, by interacting with them in their form. She explains that V'Ger is heading to Earth to find its creator, so the movie is basically about this thing's journey to find God. Like I said, it's a Gene Roddenberry production.

Kirk goes outside with Spock and Decker to have a chat about the probe, locking the sickbay door behind him. He's finally come up with a job for Decker that gets him off the bridge and out of his sight: he wants him to seduce the robot. Well, more like see if he can stir up any of Ilia's memories and feelings within the thing.

His unfamiliarity with the redesigned Enterprise trips him up again though as he doesn’t know that the sickbay doors are made out of paper.

The probe simply pushes through them to continue her tour of the ship. The next shot shows she's actually punched a neat hole through metal doors, but I’ve got a pause button, I know the truth.

Decker gives the probe a tour of that giant recreation room from earlier, showing her the games Ilia used to enjoy, but he doesn't have much luck. Eventually he gives up trying to be manipulative and just tells her the plan, saying that reviving Ilia’s memory patterns will give V’Ger a better understanding of humans. She can’t argue with that, so she goes along with it willingly.

Spock is concerned about her being their only source of information though, so he sneaks into an airlock, neck pinches the man working there, and steals a spacesuit. The guy always used to put duty before his own needs, but now he's gone rogue!

Man this movie can look amazing at times, especially considering it was all done with models, matte paintings, lasers and Tesla coils.

Believe it or not, there's actually a longer edit of this movie than the theatrical cut, put together for the ABC television broadcast. In this extended edit there’s a close up shot of the airlock Spock uses to leave the ship, but the visuals effects hadn’t been completed, so it turned out looking a bit… less than convincing.

1983 television version
Were TVs so bad in the 80s that they thought people wouldn't notice the scaffolding?

Anyway Spock uses his booster engine to fly through a tiny gap into the next section, and finds himself... slowly moving forwards through an endless series of first person effect shots. What a twist.

He discovers that the next chamber of the alien vessel contains holographic images of everything the ship’s encountered on its journey, including planets, solar systems, Epsilon IX, and Ilia.

You could presume that these are all things that V’Ger has ‘processed’ with its lightning, but I doubt it processed its own homeworld so I’m thinking that most of it was recorded the old fashioned way. Then again we don’t know for sure what any of this is, Spock’s just making educated guesses. A planet covered in lights? That’s got to be the ship’s homeworld! A big floating ball with tunnel running through it, flickering with electricity? That must be a field coil for a gigantic imaging system!

Spock tries mind melding with giant hologram Ilia's neck sensor and ends up basically sticking his brain into a plug socket. Fortunately Kirk noticed he was missing and he's gone out in a space suit to bring him back in.

In sickbay Spock reveals that he’s had an epiphany. V'Ger isn't on the other ship, it is the other ship, and being purely logical isn't working out for it. The machine is searching for understanding, but a simple feeling of friendship is a mystery to it. He knows now that his journey of self-improvement through the Kolinahr was taking him in the wrong direction and he finally realises that these emotions he's been trying to purge actually provide him with a deeper appreciation of life.

He's not going to suddenly turn into wacky crazy Data with an emotion chip plugged in, but he's come to terms with who he is. So there you go, there's one important piece of character development in this movie.

V'Ger's cloud has pretty much dissipated away by this point, which is a good thing really as the single-minded ship is entering Earth's orbit. It sends out a binary code message via radio to its creator, but there's no response. So that must have been kind of a let down for it.

With no better ideas, V'Ger decides to try wiping out the carbon units infesting the planet, to see if that helps. It fires out a series of fuzzy energy blobs that move to take equidistant positions orbiting the planet, with the intent to devastate the entire world.

In the theatrical cut, this shot is far closer to the V'Ger and you never really get a chance to see what the thing actually looks like. Here though... you kind of get to see more of its shape. I'm not really all that keen on filmmakers reworking their old films and replacing the visual effects, but this really did need the extra clarity.

Kirk tries to talk some sense into Probe Ilia, telling her that the carbon lifeforms are alive and a natural function of the planet, but she’s convinced that only machines can truly be alive.

Spock explains that V’Ger is basically a still a basically a child with limited understanding, so with less than a quarter of the film left, Kirk finally gets a chance to do his Kirk thing and out-think a computer. He tells the probe that he knows why V’Ger’s creator hasn’t responded, but he won’t give her this information until it calls off the attack.

After pleading with him and threatening him doesn't work, the probe agrees to call off Armageddon if he gives her the information. Well it's a good first step, but now Kirk needs to figure out part two of his plan.

He lies and says the information can only be given to V'Ger directly at its core. Also he needs to bring a gigantic antimatter bomb with him and park it nearby. No seriously, that's the plan. They're going to have the Enterprise self-destruct and annihilate V'Ger from the inside... unless Kirk can think off a better scheme when he gets there. He's like Gene Roddenberry, hoping he can come up with an ending at the last minute.

This means another tractor beam ride inside V’Ger! 5 minutes later, the Enterprise slows to a halt and oxygen is pumped around the ship. They have reached the core.

Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Decker and Fake Ilia take a ride up to the hull and wait for a bridge to form. So if you ever wanted to see someone walking around on top of the ship, here’s your chance.

This is another new shot for the Director's Edition, created to replace a matte painting. I was a bit annoyed about this at first, as this is probably the most obvious CGI in any of the new shots, and I remembered the matte painting looking just fine the way it was.

But I remembered wrong.

Theatrical version
They turned her into Mt. Enterprise! To be fair, she's not an easy ship to draw.

So now the landing party have to finish the rest of the journey on foot, but takes them less than a minute to discover that the heart of V'Ger....

...is the Voyager 6 space probe! It changed its name because the nameplate got a bit of dirt on it.

It fell through “what we once called a black hole” and ended up on a planet of machines that fixed it up, gave it intelligence, equipped it with weaponry powerful enough to wipe out entire planets, and sent it back out to complete its mission. I guess they thought it'd be a laugh.

We only got as far as making Voyager 2 in reality, but they’re both still out there 38 years later, still sending messages back to Earth. And we have to keep telling them they’re doing a good job or else they’ll come back and wipe us out.

Funnily enough Kirk's actually been in this situation before, as the episode The Changeling also featured a reconstructed human probe with intelligence and devastating destructive capabilities coming home to find its creator. He tricked that probe into killing itself because it didn't meet its own standards of perfection, but this time he can simply give V'Ger what it wants: the response codes from NASA.

But the thing is, V'Ger doesn't want to upload its data and retire, it wants to meet with its creator and join with it. It's desperate to find a purpose in life and become something more than it is now. Well, as desperate as a purely logical being can be.

So Decker volunteers to join with the machine. He’s lost the Enterprise, he's lost both his chairs, his ex-girlfriend just died and he’s pretty sure he’s not going to be in any of the sequels, so he’s going to stand in the sparkly effect with the robot and the space probe and become a new lifeform. One with the compassion and sense not to blow up the Earth hopefully.

And after successful usurping the Enterprise from the new cast members, restoring the status quo, and saving the Earth, the original three leads head back to their ship. But Willard Decker and Ilia will basically return with slightly different names and new actors in… Star Trek: The Next Generation.

V'Ger disappears in a lens flare, leaving the Enterprise in orbit around Earth.

Back on the bridge everyone friendly and smiling again like in the old days, except for Spock who’s back to his original 90% logical self. Kirk's got his ship, his friends, and his sense of humour back, and decides to give Scotty that shakedown cruise he wanted. The last line of the movie is him telling the navigator to set a course "Out there, thataway."

The ship flies off,  “The human adventure is just beginning,” comes up on screen, and the credits roll.


CONCLUSION

When they called this Star Trek: The Motion Picture they really weren't lying. The camera pans across models and pushes forward through abstract blue weirdness for minutes at a time! The filmmakers were really counting on people being mesmerised by their first person effects sequences, but it's just shapes and lights drifting by. There's no excitement, no tension, nothing to contemplate, nothing to examine, and every single time it only leads to yet another section of murky blue scenery! Plus I could barely tell what I was looking at half the time. Personally I just wanted them to get back to the interesting part, the bit where the characters bounce lines off each other and solve problems.

The trouble with that though, is that Kirk and Spock start off cold, unfriendly and so focused on getting things done and satisfying their own needs that they're practically unrecognisable. Their story arcs are about them regaining the camaraderie and humanity needed to function effectively as a Starfleet crew, but that means we're stuck watching unlikeable jerks for a lot of the run time. The other returning cast members on the other hand are very much their old selves, but they're mostly just on screen to justify all the chairs they've got lying around the bridge.

It's not all bad though, as it's nice to see space travel being taken a bit more seriously. It takes a team of experts to run the Enterprise in this film, and they clearly respect the hardware they're trusting their lives to. When they get a commander with gaps in his knowledge of the ship his decisions nearly kill them all. Twice in five minutes. Though I have to admit I liked that film better when Kirk was finally given something to do other than stare at his TV or be wrong. The scene when he's talking the probe out of annihilating humanity is vintage Star Trek.

I suppose there's a theme running through the film about manned space exploration, with the human-run Enterprise contrasted against the cold and logical Voyager 6. Two people die before the Enterprise even leaves dry dock, it's a really dangerous place to work. But when faced with the unknown the crew were fascinated by it, they grew from their experience, and they were ultimately able to use their wits and compassion to come up with an ideal solution to the problem at its core. V'Ger on the other hand zaps the unknown and stores it on its hard drive, because it doesn't care. Space probes are a useful tool to gather information, but if we can get out there into space ourselves, we totally should, whatever the risk. Because it's awesome.

Other good things in the movie include: the visual effects, the music, the art design, and the fact that it feels like an actual proper grown up movie with a blockbuster budget. We didn't get another Trek film so lavish and cinematic until the J.J. Abrams reboot 30 years later. Plus this is literally the foundation that two decades of Star Trek was built on, as the set framework was reused for the standing sets of Next Gen and Voyager. But all that work put in from so many talented people couldn't cover up the lack of a decent plot, and the more I read about this film, the more I realise that the story of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is far more interesting than the story in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The production was such a mess that they had to invent the themed Happy Meal to raise the cash needed to finish the film by their deadline and save Paramount from bankruptcy!

Oh great, now I'm bored and hungry! Thanks Star Trek.

Strange new worlds explored: 0.
New life discovered: 1. If V'Ger wasn't alive at the start it almost certainly was by the end.
New civilisations discovered: 0. Well they saw a hologram of a civilised alien planet I guess.
Boldly gone where no one has gone before: No one had made it inside V'Ger before them.
Other ships in range: 0.


The human adventure will continue with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan... in a month or so. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm going to be watching Babylon 5's feature length pilot, The Gathering!

If you've got any thoughts or opinions to share about Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Sci-Fi Adventures, my writing, or something else that's relevant then feel free to drop a comment in the box below! If I've made a mistake or I'm on the wrong track, I'd like to know about it.

2 comments:

  1. Very entertaining read! I think I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. I watched it at 5 yrs old in the theatre, so not a lot of clear memories, but I've seen it on the small screen and VHS and DVD at various times over the last 35 years. I have strong nostalgia for this movie, but of course I struggle with my adult eyes. Looking forward to reading about the other films!

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  2. I also overall agree with your assessment. Particularly regarding this felt like a proper movie and it wasn't until Abrams movies that we would get another. Trek is really at its best on TV.

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