VIDEO: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

It’s the debut of a new show, Tom’s Retrophilia, hosted by our own Thomas Stockel! You probably know Tom from the recaps he’s written for the site, mostly of the animated Star Trek series. He makes the jump from written articles to his own video show with this impassioned defense of Star Trek: The Motion Picture!

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Tag: The Star Trek Movies

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  • lemonvampire

    Great review!

    This has always been my favorite of all the Star Trek films. I’ve always considered this the only film the TOS era that actually feels like it captures the spirit of the series in a big, spectacular way, rather than being just a space action film. Wrath of Khan may be an amazing sci-fi action film, but The Motion Picture is an amazing science fiction film about space exploration, which is supposed to be the mission statement of the franchise.

    • Thomas Stockel

      Thanks, Michael. That’s pretty much how I felt about the film.

  • RobMcCune

    I can see the reason behind most of the points you made, but I still do not like this film at all. The pacing makes just about every problem mentioned worse (except for the costumes) than it would be in isolation. The time between the crew learning the information they need to stop V’ger, them stopping V’ger and the end of the film couldn’t be more than 5 minutes, just like in the T.V. show. In a film that long though, it’s less than satisfying.

    In fact the whole movie seems intent on wasting as much time as possible before getting to V’ger in the first place. During which time the crew (Kirk in particular) come off as incompetent or worse, which is a pity since most people can’t stay invested till Kirk actually begins to show why he should be in command. Interesting stuff like Decker and Ilia’s romance, and Spock’s search for answers feel like their underdeveloped, while the film feels excruciatingly long.

    It’s sad this movie turned out the way it did. It’s an attempt to make a speculative science fiction film rather than an action adventure one, which is something Trek films never did well.

    • Thomas Stockel

      I understand how you feel, Rob, and you have some valid points. I think that perhaps if Rob Wise had trimmed the fat just a bit then maybe you might see the film in a less unfavorable light. And you might be right in that if they had focused a bit more on Spock, Decker and Ilia, fleshing them out more, you could have had a more engaging film. Certainly it would have been nice to have had a Spock and McCoy moment

  • danbreunig

    Glad to finally see you onscreen, Tommy–welcome aboard! Even though you’ve really already been on board for some time now, so…I guess Eddie Harris is the last AB staff member to not do anything video-wise, right? And those who only ever wrote recaps without video reviews just…vanished since…
    I wouldn’t be on here today if it weren’t for Amanda Wells’ recap for When Time Ran Out. Yeah, that long a fan.

    I’m one of those fans who’s only fan enough when it comes to anything Trek. Meaning I best know and care about TOS, some TNG, TAS, and the occasional movie like this one, and also the recent relaunch. DS9, Voyager, Enterprise weren’t ever on my radar and…I said all this in another forum, so I’ll just skip it. So as such, I never had a real problem with this movie as far as Star Trek history and productions go. I think you’re the first reviewer I’ve seen who insisted on looking at the good more than the bad for Star Trek 1, and you hit one particular point that registers with me:

    Blowing things out of proportion. Is this a perfect movie, ST or otherwise? Of course not, but the thing is *no perfect movie of any kind exists* Even your all-time personal favorites will have something that make you wish just one detail could be changed. Maybe this one does run too long, but not to the point where it cancels out what works. One common complaint I keep seeing about ST1 (I don’t say “The Motion Picture” because they’re all motion pictures) it that it’s so dated. Yes, it’s dated–any movie will become dated with changing times and generations–so of course the 1979 effects look cheap and the pacing seems sluggish to a 2013 perspective. And for some that’s so huge a problem that they can’t let that go and take in the film on its merits, such as reuniting the cast, picking up where the TOS left off, and just having some favorites resurrected in film form (the Firefly analogy was a great example). Yes, the film has its low points–I just don’t let those low points overwhelm me so all I ever see are the lows. It’s the same way I approach the six Star Wars movies–I’m not concerned that each trilogy was made in a different decade with a different availability of special effects and where Lucas’ frame of mind was–I really do find that they collectively hold up as six chapters of one huge story, warts and all. I’m think I’m going off the rails now but–ST1 is all one more relevant Trek story to me, is how I take it. I guess I just made my point about blowing things out of proportion by doing it myself here–my pot calling my own kettle black.

    Just to end off quick, is Star Trek related subject matter your criteria for reviews, Tommy? Because after seeing your opening title I caught a glimpse of Space 1999–and I’d sure love to see your take on that someday.

    • Thomas Stockel

      Only one guy calls me Tommy, and that is Dan at the local comic book store. :) And well, said, all of it.

      I would like to tackle Space, 1999 one of these days. It’s sitting on my shelf collecting dust and I would like to revisit it. I remember it being tremendously cheesy but there are these really good episodes here and there. And the Eagles will always be one of my all time favorite space craft

      • danbreunig

        Sorry about that, Thomas–okay if I call you that?

        “And well, said, all of it.” Thanks.

        Yeah, if you can tackle Space 1999 I’d sure recommend it. There’s already plenty talk enough here and elsewhere about the classic TV sci-fis like any form of Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica, and rather recent cult classics like Lexx or Firefly. Many folks pass over Sp `99 because it’s so dated (it’s made in the mid `70s and it really shows) although the plots still hold up when you get into them. And as for it being old-timey, cheesy, and slower-paced–well, so was original series Star Trek! That’s what both shows have in common: more drama and speculation with just enough action, and aged special effects more about enhancing the plot than wowwing the eye.

        • Thomas Stockel

          Tom or Thomas is cool with me. And I agree that there is this era of sci-fi that gets overlooked, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to write recaps of TAS. I’m still going to do those every now and then, btw.

          Space 1999, UFO, all those failed Gene Roddenberry projects. I am thinking about tackling some of those.

  • I can safely say that you made me feel better about liking this movie despite its SLOOOOW pace, and thanks to this review, I see the uniforms in a much better light.
    THANK YOU. :)

    • lemonvampire

      Am I the only person who loves this movie because of it’s slow pace?
      Why are people always lauding 2001: A Space Odyssey with high praise even though it’s a film that features frequent segments that last for about twenty minutes of literally NOTHING happening, and has a story that’s deliberately incomprehensible and meaningless, yet they call this film boring because it has a couple of scenes that are slow-paced to give the film a proper sense of scale and weight? I mean, the entirety of the infamous drydock sequence lasts only about a fourth of the length of the opening scene of 2001 that just shows still shots of landscapes, but that film is regarded as an untouchable sci-fi classic and this one is derisively referred to as “The Motionless Picture.”

      • Its a complete mystery to me too, if 2001 wasn’t a known as a Stanley Kubrick movie, I seriously doubt it would receive all the praise it does, a good movie reviewer might still mention the high quality of the special effects for the time, the great soundtrack and how it averts many of the less realistic tropes involving space travel and even be impressed with the characterization of HAL, but those same reviewers would also complain that the pacing was horribly slow, the fact you could edit out over two thirds of this film without losing a single plot point and how 30 years before Seinfeld, someone made a MOVIE about NOTHING!

        • lemonvampire

          Exactly. Meanwhile every scene in Star Trek: TMP is an active scene that advances the plot. There aren’t any completely dead, still shots like there are in 2001, and every scene is a functioning part of comprehensive narrative. And all those shots of space and the V’ger cloud, and the Enterprise are all beautiful pieces of cinematography. I wouldn’t cut any of it.

          • Graeme Cree

            They are nice cinematography, but they don’t advance the plot. Ditto for the drydock scene. I like it, but it doesn’t advance the plot. It’s eye candy.

          • Patrick Waters

            The drydock scene has Jerry Goldsmith’s magnificent “Enterprise” theme. That alone justifies its five minute length.

          • Graeme Cree

            I sort of agree with you… and sort of don’t. As I said, I like the Drydock SCENE (theme included). I’ll also say that I like the soundtrack. I not only bought the album, but I bought the Director’s Cut with additional tracks that weren’t in the original album. So the scene definitely appeals to me personally. Much more than the boring Cloud scenes. A lot of people say the ST:TMP soundtrack puts them to sleep, but I think it’s the best of Goldsmith’s 5.
            So the Drydock Scene is a good piece of film. But is it a good scene in a movie, or is it just a very big Easter Egg for fans? Arguably it is NOT a good “scene”. It does nothing to advance the plot. And the emotional message it’s trying to send (i.e. |”OMG, it’s the Enterprise again!”) doesn’t really work. All the first time viewer can think is how DIFFERENT the ship is, not how it’s the same ship. It’s like going to High School reunion, seeing old friends again, and they’re barely recognizable.
            And that’s for first time viewers. If you’ve watched no end of Star Trek movies, and are watching this one again, it barely registers at all. It’s just slow. So, I like the scene, but consider it a guilty pleasure.

        • $36060516

          “if 2001 wasn’t a known as a Stanley Kubrick movie, I seriously doubt it would receive all the praise it does,”

          2001 was one of the main reasons Stanley Kubrick received the praise he did and does. It wasn’t given a break because of his legendary reputation, it was one of the main films that created that reputation.

      • Cristiona

        Presumably because people expected a less plodding pace from Star Trek.

      • Graeme Cree

        A story like 2001 (and this one) work better with a cast of strangers. The story is about the experience, not about the astronauts. This movie is hampered by the fact that we know all these people, and are dividing our attention between them, having them back together, et cetera, and the whole V’ger story.

      • Graeme Cree

        If you’ll watch both movies back to back, you’ll see that the slow pace hurts Star Trek, and helps 2001 precisely because Star Trek is a movie about familiar characters and 2001 isn’t. Since you don’t care about the characters as much in 2001, you can start to focus on the situation. But in Trek, you don’t care about the situation, you just want to catch up on what all those characters you love have been doing the last 10 years.
        I do find TMP boring in parts, but also a little childish. They take 20 minutes to try to impress upon you that V’Ger must be awesome because it’s so BIG! It’s very big! Let’s fly over it 20 minutes to impress on you how big it is. It’s a simple lesson over-played. Much more elegant in The Changeling (the episode that TMP ripped off the most) when Spock comments that “intelligence doesn’t necessarily require bulk”. They put something just as powerful as V’ger into something the size of a Jack in the Box call speaker. That was interesting

    • Thomas Stockel

      And thank you, PM. :)

  • Spocksbro

    Seconding Michael – Great review!

    I first saw ST:TMP in the theaters when I was 12 and over the years I’ve come to appreciate it pretty much exactly as you’ve described your thoughts (it’s like we’re mind melding!).

    • Thomas Stockel

      Thanks, man.

  • Mark Brown

    Good review, and I have to agree… pretty much the only thing I disliked was the slow pace (it had a musical intermission FFS!). Aside from that, I loved it. It also made for striking difference between The Motion Picture and Wrath of Khan, to the benefit of both films in my opinion.

    • Thomas Stockel


    • charlesvan

      They pretty much tried to do the same film as 2001 as Space Odyssey.
      2001 had an “intermission” also.
      Like 2001 the pacing is so unbelievably slow that only die hard fans can pary attention.

    • Patrick Waters

      It’s not an intermission; it’s called an overture. The next to last movie released with one to date. The last one was Disney’s “The Black Hole”. Which was released two weeks after “TMP.” TV airings of “TMP” (including runs on Paramount’s own Epix channels) drop the overture. The DVD and Blu-Ray discs include it.

  • The_Stig

    I think the reason people bump on TMP more than even ST:V was that as horrible as The Final Frontier was, at least it wasn’t dull.

    All I’ll say about the uniforms is….it was the disco era.

  • freddy

    It has been literal years since I saw The Motion Picture. Like, probably at least ten or fifteen. In that time I’d forgotten almost everything but the bare bones plot. But the scenes inside V’Ger have stuck with me all these years. I wouldn’t cut a minute of those. Vast, incomprehensible, and utterly, utterly alien.

  • James Elfers

    Good review, Aside from the pacing and way too many shots of the Enterprise in dry dock this is a perfectly fine Trek film. I especially love how Kirk is portrayed in this film. He is a selfish needy, insecure SOB which he really is but keeps in check during the series and most of the films. Face it for Kirk to become a star ship captain at the young age he did he HAD to step on many toes and ruffle many feathers. There are officers he stepped one, sabotaged, and performed character assisination upon to get his command. There are Deckers all over star fleet! Kirk is respected but outside of McCoy and Spock he is NOT loved. Kirk has a titanic ego. The Orginal Series and the movies tried but failed to camoflage that fact.

    • Graeme Cree

      The movie doesn’t really spend enough time on exposition, to explain exactly why Kirk is the way he is. The novelization does a much better job. The movie just is not a very human adventure.

  • doc

    It was trying too hard to be like 2001, which in my opinion, is also a boring movie that could have been about 45 min shorter. I understand that when it came out in 68 it was groundbreaking and no one had ever seen anything like it before and blah blah blah, but the first hour or so is so drawn out and unnecessarily long.

  • Graeme Cree

    This is a novel defense of the uniforms. The idea that Roddenberry, who spent so much time trying to retcon away the military nature of Starfleet, chose the uniforms to make them look more military. I very much doubt it. It’s more likely that they were copying Space: 1999 than the military. Actually, the standard duty uniforms, pyjama-like though they are, are the least objectionable of the bunch.
    Actually, the movie is a rehash of more than just The Changeling. It also owes a lot to The Immunity Syndrome and a couple of others. Actually, The Changeling did it better. Where this movie spends an eternity flying over V’ger to impress on us the idea that “It’s BIG!” (and of course, bigger means better), The Changeling handled the same thing more artfully, with the simple line “Intelligence does not necessarily require bulk.”
    The main problem with this review is that it’s too omigoshgolli. Yes, it’s nice seeing the crew back together after 10 years. That doesn’t make it a good movie, though. If the thing that’s good about this movie is that it was the first, that’s not a defense of this particular film at all. ANY film that was the first would deserve the same kudo.

  • Capt. Harlock

    You didn’t wait in line to watch this dog, did you?

  • Ryan Ann

    This movie si so long and boring. The special effect were awesome though as well as the great musical score by Jerry Goldmsith. It is a dated movie though. Nichelle Nichols’ hair is SO 70’s. What an afro! The two leads, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, did decent jobs. Nimoy was quite cold throughout the movie and in the first part of the movie that hippie look on Vulcan was quite jarring. Leonard Nimoy as a hippie :) However his character was supposed to go through a development and his performance throughout was one of the highlights of the movie. Leonard Nimoy has a knack for saving bad movies (look at Star Trek V). I actually have never seen Nimoy do a bad job in a movie. Deforest Kelley was not bad and he had his moments (the scene with him as Dr McCoy and Kirk and Commander Decker-Stephen Collins-comes to mind and Deforest Kelley more than held his own when Bones told Kirk the error of his ways). However, DeKelley’s development as Bones comes into his own especially in Star Trek 3 and beyond into the rest of them movies where his character really shines. In Star Trek 1 and 2 Bones is mostly just there even though he has quite a moment in Star Trek 2 (a scary one for sure in Nebula One). James Doohan as Scotty is ok but the rest of the cast is wasted. Uhura (Nichols), Sulu (George Takeii) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) have nothing to do in the movie but spout off commands on the bridge. They were never memorable characters anyway. The supporting cast (Decker: played by Stephan Collins: and Nylia, played by Persis Khambata) were passable but somewhat annoying. That little love story between them was not needed. Persis Khambatta as Nylia was quite funny in some scenes. Stephan Collins got on my nerves as Decker at all times. “The Motion Picture” was the worst picture in the series and the movies definitly started with “The Wrath of Khan.”