Back in the late 1970's, I was a ten year old Trekkie (we didn't call them Trekkers yet) who spent every late afternoon tuning into the classic series to follow the adventures of Jim Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise as they warped around the galaxy screwing green chicks, blasting Klingons, and laughing in the face of the "prime directive". I had my Mego action figures, my Star Trek pajamas, board games, magazines, books, virtually anything that could be associated with the series. Of course, I'd been thoroughly introduced to the Star Wars universe as well, and had my share of Lucas approved swag, but Star Trek still reigned supreme in my little head, so when the announcement of a feature film was made I was more than happy; I was complete.
Just a month or so before the film was released, my mother took me to McDonalds, who had just launched the Happy Meal (you know, the cheeseburger, small fry, thimble of soda and toy encased in a colorful cardboard box). Imagine my elation when I saw that the new Happy Meal featured Star Trek: The Motion Picture! I eagerly dug into the box and as I took bites of my burger and child sized sips of my soda, I scoured the outside of the box and absorbed every bit of information that could be gleaned from the puzzles, pictures, and pop-outs that decorated it's exterior. I wondered who this bald chick was, why there were no Klingons, and what the deal was with these awful new uniforms, but my excitement level was still at a fever pitch, and, when the day arrived, me and a few friends were escorted by our folks to the theater to see what I was sure would be the greatest motion picture of all time.
I think I cried all the way home.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture took everything that was cool about the series, tossed it in a bucket, squatted over it and let loose a fiery brick of self-important Kubrick-influenced Sci-Fi shit that settled upon the film like a mortar in which the action was hopelessly bogged down. Instead of a take no prisoners kick-ass Kirk, Shatner seemed like more of an angry diplomat. Spock wore a dress. McCoy...well, the tight suit looked pretty bad. In other words, I fucking hated it. It didn't make a lick of sense, there was little to no action, and I came to the realization that my beloved TV Enterprise crew, well.......BELONGED on TV! I could not believe that this was the same Star Trek, and, apparently, most of the fans of the era agreed. While Star Trek: TMP did okay at the box-office, it flopped with critics and fans alike and almost shut the door on future Trek films entirely.
Now, more than two decades later, Robert Wise's film has been painstakingly re-assembled, with enhanced visual effects, a newly remastered score, and plenty of deleted footage added to the mix to bulk out the film to a brawny 136 minutes (although an even longer cut of 143 minutes was shown on television). So, does all of this tweaking make the film any better?
Yes and no.
The story still spends much too much time focusing on the wooden caricatures that are Commander Decker (Collins) and Lt. Ilia (the late Khambatta) and their blossoming interdimensional love affair, while the stalwart crew of old sit back and make lots of "Oooh!" and "Aaah!" faces as though this were their first mission into space. The plot of the film, obviously, wasn't changed by the addition of glossy new CGI effects, so, while it's polished, it's still a bit of a turd.
I think the main problem with Star Trek: TMP is that it takes itself so seriously that it loses the fun aspects that made the cheap-o television show so entertaining. Shatner's over emotive acting was fantastic on a small screen standing amongst papier-mâché sets, but in this painfully inept homage to the "thinking man's Sci-Fi" sub-genre, he seems hopelessly out of his league and comes off as a rather bad actor in an equally bad hairpiece. The rest of the crew, with the notable exception of veteran film presence Kelley, come off just as bad or worse, and the whole thing looks like a cable access TV show cast being thrown into a multi-million dollar version of their old homemade show.
To be fair, I have a long hateful relationship with Star Trek: TMP, and am an avid subscriber to the theory that odd numbered Trek films are rubbish while their even numbered counterparts are brilliantly fun and entertaining. This film, being number one, kicked off the trend, and, while I've tried to love it, I just can't. It's just not Star Trek. However, it isn't entirely bad, and Wise's director's cut does improve upon the original film somewhat by excising a lot of the expository nonsense that slowed the original down to a crawl. It's still fairly dull, but compared to its theatrical release, it's a leaner, meaner shade of dull.
The DVD from Paramount is filled to the gills with extras, scattered across two discs, including a lively and informative commentary by Wise, special effects supervisors Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra, composer Jerry Goldsmith, and Stephen Collins. The second disc features three mini-documentaries with interviews with the cast and crew, loads of trailers, even more deleted scenes, storyboard archives and more. It's a great package, and worth getting if you're a serious fan but for those who subscribe to the odd/even Trek film theory, probably best avoided.