Friday, September 30, 2011

Film Friday: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Boy did I hate Star Trek: The Motion Picture when it first came to theaters. Everything about this film was wrong. But over the years, I’ve had a change of heart. Don’t get me wrong, everything about TMP is still wrong, but it has one thing all the other Star Trek movies are missing. It has a sense of adventure.

** spoiler alert**

Let's list what TMP did wrong in order of increasing importance. This isn’t going to be pretty.

● The Uniforms: People hated the uniforms; they called them pajamas. I can see that. They aren’t very science fictiony, they’re too casual, and compared to the more Napoleonic dress uniforms of the later films they are way too dull. But I actually don’t hate them. I think they’re a sensible evolution from the series, and I particularly like the away uniforms being a throw back to the pilot episode The Cage.

● The Klingons: The Klingons don’t bother me per se. In fact, I thought they were pretty cool. But it’s poor judgment to so totally change the Klingons’ appearance and then only use them for the first two minutes of the film. If you’re going to radically change an icon of a beloved series, you should have a point.

● Sloppy Filmmaking: Now it gets worse. The film was directed by Robert Wise, who has impressive credentials (Andromeda Strain, West Side Story, Run Silent Run Deep), and yet the film was beset by sloppy filmmaking. The pace was so slow people called it “The Motionless Picture.” The story was stolen from an old episode ("The Changeling"). Unfinished sets appear in one scene. And much of it made no sense, e.g. in the opening scene, Starfleet taps into the Klingons’ view screens to watch the battle (which makes no sense technically) and not only gets images the Klingon's couldn't get, but also gets images after the Klingon ship is entirely destroyed, all of which immediately strikes fans as impossible. And how is it that assembling the Enterprise’s transporters and warp drive can be so difficult? These technologies are as mundane as cars or elevators today. . . they're frik'n plug and play! Yet all of Starfleet couldn’t figure out how to turn on the ship’s engines? Each of these moments and more was evidence the filmmakers didn’t think things through and assumed fans wouldn’t notice or care.

● The Vulcans: The Vulcans in the series had suppressed emotion and built a scientific, diplomatic society based on pure logic. But the film replaces that with mysticism. Hence, Spock goes from being computer-like to being a monk and in the process is robbed of the uniqueness of his character as he gets turned into something we’ve seen in dozens of other films. Moreover, this ruined the character dynamic, as I'm about to explain.

● The Characters: Now we come to the core of the problem. Star Trek IS James T. Kirk. The show was set up as a series of adventures and morality tales involving Kirk. Helping him were Dr. Leonard McCoy and Spock. They were his friends and his lieutenants, but they also represented the dual aspects of Kirk’s judgment. Spock represented pure logic. He analyzed everything with reason and he encouraged Kirk to make decisions without emotion. Dr. McCoy represented pure emotion. He urged Kirk to feel his way through decisions. Spock and McCoy fought each other constantly because they represent diametrically opposed forces. Kirk was the battleground. He had to choose between his friends while simultaneously navigating the duality of all decisions. This created an incredibly strong character dynamic because it meant each episode came with built in drama and it allowed the series to explore the decision process itself, where drama truly lies.

TMP tossed this out. When they changed the Vulcans, they took away Spock’s personality. Rather than being a creature of logic, he became a creature of calm who would no longer spar with McCoy as he had done. Instead of being one half of Kirk’s conscience, Spock instead became a monk who hands out sage advice. And since Spock no longer fought McCoy for Kirk’s soul, McCoy wasn’t needed anymore. So McCoy went from being the voice of passion and emotion to just being a cranky ship’s doctor. The triangular dynamic that let the writers explore the duality of humanity was gone.

But worse was yet to come.

As I said, James Kirk was Star Trek. And as the series progressed, we came to understand who Kirk was. He was superman, but not because he was stronger or faster or smarter than everyone else, but because he made great decisions. He was wise and moral and brave and ultra-capable. Kirk wasn’t inherently perfect, but he was a man who could overcome his own worst instincts and his flaws, who could put aside his ego, and who could learn from his own mistakes. Thus, he never made decisions for the wrong reasons. Essentially, he was each of us at our best.

But that’s not the Jim Kirk of TMP. The Jim Kirk of TMP was arrogant, petty and insecure. He coveted the Enterprise so badly he abused his power to steal it from its commander. Further to create tension on this point, the filmmakers invented the ludicrous idea that somehow Kirk wasn’t familiar with the way this ship worked, which gave Commander Decker a basis with which he could fight back. Not only is this nonsense, but it leads to one of the most embarrassing scenes in Star Trek when Kirk cowers helplessly in his command chair like some science fiction version of Captain Queeg as Decker saves the ship from his folly. Kirk then retaliates against Decker to satisfy his ego and loses the respect of everyone around him. The Jim Kirk from the series simply would be incapable of such behavior. . . and yet there it is on film, leaving a bad taste in your mouth.

This is why I hated this film. This wasn’t STAR TREK: The Motion Picture, it was The Motionless, Lifeless Star Trek Imagery Picture. It gutted everything good about Star Trek and replaced it with pointless special effects and characters sitting around waiting for the end of the movie. There are no dramatic decisions, no tests of will or conscience. In fact, there's little for Kirk to do. Even the love interest gets tied to the Decker character rather than Kirk for some reason.
But. . .
But I’ve slowly changed my mind over time. I don’t retract anything above, but I’ve found a saving grace in this film, and it’s one I didn’t find until I realized why the other Star Trek films were all so hard for me to like. Sure, those films are better made and some of them are quite exciting. . . but they all feel hollow. What they're missing, which TMP has, is a sense of adventure.

Star Trek was a morality play, but it was also a show that looked to the future out beyond our little world. This was a show about people who went to other planets because they could. They weren’t flying between federation planets on a huge cruise ship cataloging space farts... sorry, gaseous anomalies, as the Next Generation crew did, and they weren’t out there engaged in geopolitics as the later films did. They were explorers. They were Columbus, Magellan and Lewis and Clark and Li Quan of Mars, and they wanted to see what was out there in the universe.

TMP captures that spirit. Sure, they went to stop a threat to Earth. But once they got there, the old explorer’s instincts kicked in and they wanted to see what was there. They didn’t just want to save the Earth, they wanted to know what V’Ger was. And when they got there, they used their wits to solve the puzzle they found. None of the later films did this -- they were all action films. This was science fiction.

I respect that.

Little in science fiction today contains any sense of adventure, and I miss that. Almost all of it is action films or dramas set in space. I honestly can’t think of the last show or film about a small group of intrepid explorers going to the stars to see what’s out there. . . going boldly where no man has gone before.

51 comments:

CrispyRice said...

"They were Columbus, Magellan and Lewis and Clark and Li Quan of Mars, and they wanted to see what was out there in the universe."

Now there is a classic Kirk speech!! :D

Honestly, I can't comment much, because I avoid the odd numbered films and haven't seen this in years and years. I just remember being bored by it. Sorry!

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Avoiding the odd numbered films is probably a sensible policy.

Yes, that is indeed a classic Kirk speech reference! I'm glad you caught it! :)

DUQ said...

Andrew, Excellent breakdown of why the Kirk/Spock/McCoy characters worked so well in the series and haven't worked as well in the films. In the films, they're more like old friends just hanging out and they have lost the edge they had in the series. I think "The Motion Picture" set up that new dynamic and they've never looked back.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks DUQ. I think this film actually set up a lot of things that would be repeated throughout the films -- the idea that Starfleet wants to take the ship away, Spock being into mysticism, McCoy having no real purpose, and more.

I think by ending the triangular dynamic between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, they really did serious damage to the characters -- damage which they never even tried to fix in the films.

By the way, Shatner, Nimoy and Kelly all were upset by the script because they felt it had lost the sense of the characters. They were right.

Ed said...

Interesting article. I think I agree, but I have to think about this and get back to you though as I'm still at work.

ScottDS said...

I'd say the odd/even rule ended with Star Trek: Nemesis. :-)

Re: the script, this film was in development for years and had a ridiculous number of writers, directors, and designers attached to it. It's amazing we got a semi-watchable movie out of it! Seriously, there are volumes written about the making of this film and, to this day, I'm skeptical we'll ever get the complete warts-and-all story.

I also have to ask, what version of the film are you watching? I assume it's the Director's Edition on DVD which, while not perfect, is the best of all possible worlds. I only ask because you mentioned unfinished sets - to the best of my knowledge, that only happens once in the "Special Home Video Version" which was released on VHS and LD with a lot of cut material (a.k.a. fat) added back in. Had this scene been in the film, it would've been augmented by a matte painting.

As for me, I think the film has aged remarkably well, Bones' disco-era civvies notwithstanding! Oddly, I was never bored with the film, even watching it as a kid on TV with commercials (inflating the running time to three hours). I'll address some of your criticisms later (instead of spewing it all out in shot, as I am usually wont to do). In the plus column, the visual effects are great and mostly still hold up today. I believe they had two teams working around the clock for months to meet the December release date - the original FX company had been fired.

And lest we forget, this film has (IMHO) one of the best music scores ever written. Many film music nerds consider this Jerry Goldsmith's masterpiece.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: I agree basically, although I do think The Wratch of Khan partially restored the old dynamic temporarily. But it was too late, and the rest of the Kirk/Spock/McCoy episodes were never quite the same (despite the fun with San Francisco and saving the whales). When they finally did the Kirk/Picard crossover, it was all over for me.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, No problem. Take your time.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I've read a good deal about the problems with the script and this is certainly an example of what can go wrong when there is no firm hand controlling the process. This is essentially script by committee. I too am amazed it turned out as watchable as it did -- though that doesn't really justify the issue.

I've seen all the versions by now. The unfinished set I believe was reinserted when they brought it to television, having been yanked out in the first theatrical version. The version I have now is the Director's Edition, but I watch it on television too whenever it comes on.

Yeah... the soundtrack was pretty darn good. That's one of the few things where this movie really set the bar very high -- and the rest of the incarnations have done a good job of living up to it.

In terms of being boring, when this film came out, it became a bit of a national joke how dull it was. It was the kind of thing you would hear poked fun at in Tonight Show monologues for a few weeks. And I think the complaints are justified. There is far too much "sit and stare at effects" in the script. The effects are really good, they are just too much and without purpose. In that regard, the later films are much better films. They just aren't very science fictiony -- they're action films.

I look forward to your points...

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the later movies stunk or anything -- I enjoy them a good deal. But they don't feel right as Star Trek to me because they really changed the characters. Khan was probably the closest to bringing back characters because it was focused on Kirk again, but it still wasn't right if you ask me.

T-Rav said...

Hmmm. Maybe this is why I never got into Star Trek; I've only seen or heard about the later versions (Picard era). It would seem, based on what you've said, that the Kirk stuff has a better sense of adventure and a stronger character dynamic. But I'm just spitballing.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I think you would like the original Star Trek. It's much stronger than TNG. The effects aren't as good (nowhere near as fact) and it's not soapy like TNG, but the stories are much more solid and dramatic and the issues are much strong. It's also got a strong libertarian streak, whereas TNG has a strong liberal streak.

At some point, when I finally get some time, I'm planning to delve into the old episode and talk about their politics. If you want, I can recommend some of the best.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Let me clarify -- it's not just libertarian, but it's also grounded in morality.

ScottDS said...

Re: the uniforms, I agree with you. I do like the two-piece tunics and Kirk's admiral uniform but the others... not so much. And the one-piece is definitely not flattering! However, I also like that they have field jackets. It irks me that the spinoff series did away with these. It's the little touches like this that give the Trek universe a sense of verisimilitude.

Re: the Klingons, this never bothered me. I'm sure most fans simply assumed this was how they were always supposed to look, at least until DS9 hilariously pointed it out in "Trials and Tribble-ations" and Enterprise actually did a two-part episode about it (genetic engineering, if I recall).

Re: sloppy filmmaking, I already addressed the unfinished sets. I agree with the viewer - they shouldn't have been able to receive anything after the destruction of the Klingon ships and Epsilon 9. As for the transporters, this has always been an odd inconsistency: how many transporters are actually required for beaming? One or two? So the ship's transporters aren't operating, necessitating Kirk's shuttle trip. But if the space station's transporters are operating, aren't those good enough? Besides, this is more of a plot thing than a tech thing: the transporters have to malfunction so the Vulcan (Sonak) will die, leading to Spock's arrival later. And the warp engines have to operate differently so Kirk can chew out Decker later.

And they do point out that the ship isn't ready for launch but that leads to the other big problem: why the Enterprise? Surely there are other ships positioned closer to V'ger. "We're the only/closest ship" quickly became a cliche the writers relied on waaay too often, including at least two other films.

I can't address Spock at the moment but as for Kirk, one could argue this is simply his character getting older. Trek II handles this much better but it's clear Kirk's place is on the bridge of his ship and not behind a desk. I think previous drafts of the script delved a bit more into this and even featured Kirk's meeting with the admiral, which is only mentioned in the film.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I agree -- little things like jackets do give a show a more complete feel and make the world seem more real. Most sci-fi films should spend more money on the little things and less on the big stuff.

On the Klingons, you're looking at it in hindsight. At the time, this was a bit of a surprise for people and some people didn't like it. I didn't have a problem with it, except that they seemed to be a throwaway in the movie and it strikes me that you don't make such a significant change as a throwaway.... "oh, by the way, Vader is Luke's dad... see ya later!"

On the filmmaking, clearly this stuff was used to create plot, but my point is that anyone who was a fan of the series would see this as nonsense and it was like a big red flag telling fans that the filmmakers didn't really respect Star Trek. And while I can find reasons to explain or, it's bad writing to include something that isn't explained or intuitively obvious in a script. Anything that causes your audience to stop and say "that's not right" is bad.

In terms of being the closest ship which they've used repeatedly in the films, I frankly think it's absolutely stupid. Do we really believe that somehow the Enterprise in drydock is the only ship within reach of Earth? What kind of idiots are running Starfleet? This to me is just more evidence of bad writing that they can't come up with a realistic reason why the Enterprise would be the ship involved in this particular problem. There are literally limitless ways to make the Enterprise the relevant ship, yet they keep going back to this same silly idea.

On the characters and this being "old Kirk", I can definitely come up with all kinds of reasons how Kirk has changed or whatever -- though I honestly can't see how the real Jim Kirk would ever become this Jim Kirk barring a mental breakdown.

But that's not my point. My point is that they inherited these incredibly complex and well-balanced characters who are literally set up ideally to inject an amazing amount of drama into anything they handle. . . and they gutted that. They wiped out the dynamic entirely by needlessly changing the characters. And then they gave us a Jim Kirk who bore no relationship to the Jim Kirk of the series. These were horrible choices to make as writers and really reflected the fact that they didn't get it. This is also why the film was so dull -- because Star Trek was about character, not plot as the critics like to mischaracterize it, and this film took out everything that made the characters work. So all you had left was plot. And the plot here does not sustain a two hour film.

ScyFyterry said...

I agree with you, but I still don't like the movie. Sorry. :D

AndrewPrice said...

ScyFyTerry, What didn't you like?

ScyFyterry said...

It was just boring. Not much happen during the film. That's about it. It would have helped if they had a bad guy.

AndrewPrice said...

ScyFyTerry, I can't say you're wrong seeing as how so many people called it "The Motionless Picture." And as I note, I didn't like it much for years either. But I do feel it has something the other Star Trek films are missing.

Doc Whoa said...

Andrew, You do an excellent job breaking down where this film went wrong. I understand that the actor made similar complaints. I wonder that no one fixed this before they began shooting?

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Doc. I also understand the actors complained about the script, but nothing was done. Why? I don't know. This script was re-written so many times that maybe they just got sick of it? That's a bad reason, but it wouldn't surprise me.

ScottDS said...

The script was pretty much being rewritten on the set and both Shatner and Nimoy were involved in those discussions. There were also major disagreements between the credited screenwriter (Harold Livingston, who had been hired for the aborted Phase II series a few years earlier) and Gene Roddenberry. In addition, some of the film's problems (mainly the pacing) might've been fixed if there was enough time but the film never even had any test screening - there simply was no time left. The reels were still wet from the developer as they were being shipped to the theater for the premiere!

Incidentally, I think this film is much more interesting because it doesn't have a villain. Khan set such a precedent that many of the subsequent films (mainly the TNG films) tried to up the ante each time, with Picard facing yet another megalomanic villain. It got boring after a while!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, and here I thought I was the only one sick of megalomaniac villains! LOL!

It is a risky choice not to have a villain because it makes it harder to generate tension for the hero, as there's no one to play off of. But if you're up to the challenge writing-wise, then I think it can make for a pretty memorable movie, especially as you need to delve deeper into the characters to find the drama at that point.

Unfortunately, this film both didn't have a villain and it didn't really replace the lost conflict with anything.

On the script, I have heard this many times about many films about scripts being heavily re-writing during shooting and I honestly can't imagine how anyone could green-light a film without a finished script? To me, that sounds like building a factory before you've decided what kind of product to make.

And I can't honestly think of any examples where that worked for a film?

ScottDS said...

To me, that sounds like building a factory before you've decided what kind of product to make.

That is exactly what happened in this case and it affected every other department. Jerry Goldsmith was still on the scoring stage a week before the film's premiere and the FX crews were working around the clock - in one instance, they were shooting one end of the V'ger miniature as the other end was still being built.

There is a definitive making-of book just waiting to be written but it'll never happen. Not in our lifetimes. Paramount even had the DVD's meager extras censored to avoid any potential legal troubles.

Re: re-writing on set, I can't think of any examples off the top of my head where the final film was a success.

BUT... Die Hard comes to mind. And here's the hint: the bad guys walk out of the Pacific Courier truck early in the film but at the end of the film, the computer hacker character drives an ambulance out of it, where there was no ambulance before. Why? Because when they shot the first part, they didn't know they'd need an ambulance because they didn't know how the film would end.

By the way, this film and The Black Hole both have something in common - they were the last films with an overture.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I'm surprised Paramount doesn't write the book itself -- it sound like there's money to be made.

I know that minor re-writes happen all the time. And that actually makes sense to me because sometimes things don't translate well from paper to screen. I've even seen that in court, where something seemed like a lock on paper, but completely fell flat once spoken aloud.

But major re-writers are a disaster. If you get to that point, then you might as well call a halt until you get things sorted out. And frankly, I wouldn't start in the first place unless you had it worked out.

One of the biggest problems with writing (of any kind) is that things change as you work your way through it and you suddenly realize that things that sounded like they would work don't work. And that often requires a serious re-write from start to finish. To start filming before you've uncovered all of those points is just negligent.

Another problem you can run into, and that may have been the case here, is that the original idea itself simply doesn't work, and no amount of writing around the problems will help. This film feels that way to me, like they set out with the expectation that their plot would be solid. . . and then found out it was only worth about 15 minutes of film, so they started ad-libing scenes just to film the time.

That's the sense I get from this, like almost everything you see is an afterthought that came about because someone said "we need something about 10 minutes long right here."

Ed said...

I'm back! First, great article as always. I'm particularly impressed with your breakdown of the relationship between Kirk and Spock and Bones and your observation that drama lies in the decision making process. I know you've written about writing before, but have you considered writing about that? That would be interesting.

Second, I do get the same sense you did that this film has a sense of adventure. The only other film that has this is Star Trek V, but they muddle it up in my opinion.

I do, though, think this film is fairly dull. But it's not horrible. It's dull in the sense of "2001" dull.

Ed said...

In the comments, I agree with your point that the issue isn't that Kirk couldn't have become what he becomes here, the issue is that they made a stupid decision to change his character. They have taken an excellent character and ruined it in effect. While they have the right to do that and there can be many reasons for it, it's still not a smart move.

Ed said...

One more. On there being no villain. I think it depends again on how you define things. I know this is just semantics, but V'Ger is really the villain, it's just not an exciting villain like HAL or the terminators, but I do accept the point even though it sounds like I'm not.

A recent movie I would give as an example would be "Inception." This is a movie without a villain in the classical sense. Although technically it is crawling with villains: Mol, the subconscious of the target, and even Leo himself. But it ultimately does not have a villain in the sense of a single opponent who must be defeated to resolve the movie and who is fighting back.

ScottDS said...

Interestingly, Ed is not the first person to compare this film and Star Trek V. Both films are conceptually flawed, deal with man's place in the cosmos and other Big Ideas, and end with nothing more than spaced-out light shows. (And both feature great Goldsmith scores.) :-)

Re: the decision-making process, I've always felt that some of the best Trek scenes involve the characters either on the bridge or sitting around the conference room table simply figuring out the solution to their current problem. As I mentioned in my Generations piece, even the writers of that film feel the best scene is one with Picard and Data just talking.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ed! I could write about that. I haven't specifically thought about it, but it might make a good topic.

On Inception, I've also heard of that mentioned as a film without a villain. I think that's true, but what's interesting is that you really don't notice the absence of a villain because there are so many objectives and people standing in the way at each step. So you feel like the thing is crawling with villains, when it really isn't.

Interesting comparison between V'Ger and HAL. I hadn't put that together before, but in many ways 2001 and TMP have a lot in common. They are very different machines, but hmmm. I'll have to think about that.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott and Ed, I thought quite a bit about Star Trek V when I wrote this. In a general sense, Star Trek V is a return to adventuring as they are setting out to look for God. BUT... it's not really the crew. They're being forced to go on this journey, so there is no spirit of adventure in the film.

In terms of some of the best scenes being when they were sitting around trying to figure out what to do, I agree with that. Drama comes from the decision process -- what do we decide, why do we decide it, and how do we get there. That is what lies at the core of entertainment. Unfortunately, so many modern films are undermining this because they take away everything except the execution of the plan after the decisions have been made. We no longer get a sense of the conflicts the characters must resolve, we just see them doing it.

And then the drama is artificially created by imposing near-misses, chase scenes, unexpected obstacles, and double crosses. But the real dramatic mechanism of putting someone in a conflicted situation is rarely used right now because Hollywood considers "talking" boring.

Indeed, Scott, if you spend time looking at Scriptshadow, you'll see that over and over, where he mentions that "here's another scene with the characters just talking." What's really important is what they say, not just that they are talking.

T-Rav said...

Yeah Andrew, the effects probably wouldn't bother me that much. I'm so CGI'd out, it'd likely be nice to see, you know, actual set work for a change.

I would be interested in a piece on the politics and such of the old episodes.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I'll see what I can do. Maybe I can put together something like a Top 10 conservative message episodes? Let me think about how to handle that.

DUQ said...

I think a list of the best old Star Treks would be great.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, You haven't seen them all? ;-)

I'll see what I can put together.

tryanmax said...

I think you need to author a post about the best films without a villain. You talk often about how Hollywood is stuck in a rut, and one of the deepest ruts they've worn is the idea that every film needs to have an antagonist.

I realize that part of this is because cinema is the descendant of theater, and theater is about putting people in roles. But of the seven modes of conflict, Hollywood has relied most heavily on the Man against Man narrative. This is only satisfying to a point because it relies exclusively on the hero's strength being greater than his foe's. This also leads to increasingly implausible stories in an attempt to up the excitement.

Science fiction is at its best when it delves into stories about Man against Nature or Man against Society because it is able to wonder, what if the world or culture were totally different? Here, the odds are overwhelmingly against the hero, and while he must exhibit strength to overcome, we know at the outset that the most he can do to "win" is to carve out his place in the wild or sow the seeds of change while succumbing to the futility of immediate reform.

I think the genius of Star Trek TOS is what you described with Spock and McCoy. It served as the vehicle to give every episode the Man against Himself angle. Can you imagine how many more Kirk/Shatner monologues there'd have been without them? And that makes another point. Man against Himself could be woven into almost every other conflict, and yet Hollywood seems quite satisfied with heroes that do not develop outside of musical montages. (Somehow the 80's weren't enough to make them completely cliché.)

RE: decision making process. I think the most obvious symbol of TNG's more leftist slant is the boardroom (or whatever it is). In TOS, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy would just huddle up to quickly hash out a decision. Everything on TNG is done by committee. In the instances where Picard acted unilaterally, he almost always had some opportunity to take one crew member or another aside into his ready room for a little one-on-one "consensus making."

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I absolutely, 100% agree with everything you've said! Well said!

TNG really does feel "corporate" doesn't it? And all their decisions were made as a big happy group. In fact, the once or twice Picard made a decision which went against the group, it was a scandalous moment and Riker or Troi needed to come see if Picard was feeling ok. Kirk never had that. He was expected to make the decisions.

I think the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic truly is the core of TOS and it makes for a heck of a solid show no matter what else they were doing. I'm surprised more shows haven't found a way to copy it. Instead, they seem to have copied the idea of the invincible leader (Kirk) but skipped the rest of it... where the great story telling actually lies.

I agree completely about the way Hollywood has ignored everything except man v. man. I find it particularly galling that every single modern movie eventually devolves into a chase scene ending in a fight these days. It's almost not even worth watching the last 40 minutes of most films. And that's because they all follow this same formula of giving plot only up to the point where the hero needs to beat the villain. Then it's all CGI and hand to hand combat. There's little else.

I think you're right too that science fiction is best when it's about man v. society or man v. nature or man v. technology or man v. himself. That's where the really neat ideas lies because that's about defining who we are as people.

I'll see what I can do about coming up with an article about the best films without villains.

tryanmax said...

Oh, that would be super-awesome! I look forward to it.

AndrewPrice said...

No problem! Give me a week or so to come up with some of the better movies.

tryanmax said...

A couple nominations: Inception (already named) and Jeremiah Johnson.

AndrewPrice said...

Good choices! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

A great article and a beautiful thread of comments.

Loved the original series (saw it on NBC) and stayed with it in syndication through the 70's. But something happened to me in.that.first.movie.

I think it was that "you can't go home again" feeling.

STTMP was so bad I couldn't bring myself to believe it really had been THAT bad the first time I saw it and actually went to see it again. And to this day I still remember walking away from the theater somewhat numb and telling myself that I couldn't believe I'd waited all those years and through all the rumors and false starts... for this??

Ahh, if only they'd have scrapped the entire script and looked up a writer with the talents of a Ted Sturgeon or Jerry Sohl. But a whole cultural revolution had taken place since TOS (heck, even during that series you could see it in Spock's character – from cold-hearted machine logic to pacifist in just three years – McCoy was already becoming irrelevant in the writers' minds).

And that might make an interesting topic in itself.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Anon!

I know exactly what you mean about the you-can't-go-home again feeling. I feel that more and more throughout the films. While they are good films, to me the overriding feeling I get is sadness -- a sense that they know "the magic" was gone and they were just running out their time. Even starting with Wrath of Khan a large chunk of the dialog in each film deals with them getting older and feeling out of place.

It gets depressing when you think back on what they were in the series and then see what they became in the films.

In terms of how bad TMP is, I can't argue with you on that point. I hated this movie for a long time. It's only in hindsight and compared to the others that I feel there's still a glimpse of the original series in this movie. But it's still just a glimpse.

They would have been better off going back to some of their stronger writers and asking them to write the script. They did have some great writers during the series.

You're right too about TOS and how is changed near the end. The philosophy behind it really began to change in the third year and it took on a much more cynical, defeatist mentality, which is very different that how it started. That's unfortunate. And I wonder if that contributed to it's being canceled?

Outlaw13 said...

I can't say I enjoyed this movie much. I did enjoy the reference to it in the movie "Free Enterprise" however. That was one funny movie that any SF fan or someone who grew up reading Starlog would enjoy.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, Sadly, I have to admit that I have not seen that. :(

I guess I should check it out!

Outlaw13 said...

You should, it's really funny.

Kit said...

Ahh, McCoy. In order to understand his civilian outfit you have to try to understand the New York Times effect on man.

You see, you can tell by the way he uses his walk he's a woman's man with no time to talk. He likes the music loud, the women warm, and has been kicked around since he was born. But that's all right, its okay, you can look the other way, but you just have to try and understand the New York Times effect on man. Whether he's a brother or whether he's a mother he's stayin' alive, stayin' alive.

Astronut said...

Just read this. Excellent piece. I've always been a fan and staunch supporter of TOS Trek. When ST:TMP hit theaters, I was 15 years old and I will never forget how incredibly excited I was the months leading up to its release. Starlog was one of the only things we had, no Internet. Just bits and pieces, which made it all the more thrilling when I finally took my seat in that theater. But wow, let me tell you, I walked out of that theater in utter stupification... I could not believe how they fumbled the ball... just so much potential wasted. I will say though that I do agree: the film has its moments and I have grown to appreciate its finer attributes. The effects were pretty cool, still are, the soundtrack is EPIC, and there are some great bits of tension (only a few). I always - to this day - loved the "wormhole" sequence. It's a trip because Kirk was obviously in over his head and shitting a brick. The light trail effects and the wormhole itself are effects which I really like, very well done. In any event, I have the Director's Edition (with the added SFX) and I do put it in and watch it at least once a year. There are some great things contained in the movie but yes, this was CLEARLY an attempt to blend Trek with 2001 - not a bad idea, really, since Trek IS about "boldly going" but sadly, with the character flaws and the staring and staring at V'GER for what seems like HOURS... the film does not achieve what it set out to ultimately accomplish and that is, EXCITE US.

Thanks again for the article. I'm about to bump around on your site to see what other Trek stuff I can read...

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Astronut! I had the same experience, I was so excited and then I saw the film and I was stunned. I couldn't believe how just wrong the film was. But over the years, I've really come to appreciate its finer points and I really respect what it was trying to do.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem with TMP is that people were expecting Star Wars: Trek-Style. Of course the film had issues. Everyone acknowledges that. I really enjoyed listening to Robert Wise's commentary on the Directors Edition where he defended the lengthy V'ger flyover. There was a reason for it even if it wasn't particularly well accepted by a majority of the fans.

In years since i've come to regard The Motion Picture more or less as Kirk & Spock getting their mojo back. This was totally lost in the original theatrical relase but in the television and Directors Cut editions key scenes that hammered this home were put back in (for examples:Spock weeping for V'ger on the bridge realizing that V'gers search cannot be found by logic and knowledge alone & the Enterprise about to self destruct as a last ditch effort to stop V'ger). Why these weren't included in the theatrical cut is beyond explanation.
I also love TMP in that it doesn't look or feel like any of the other Trek franchise films. Goldsmith's score is, of course, timeless. The fx are probably the best of any of the films.

I was 18 when the film was released. I had grown up with Trek from first run in the 60's through its rebirth in syndication in the 70's. I was looking forward to The Motion Picture as much as anyone. Did I think it was a rehas of The Changeling? Yes. Did I think the V'ger flyover was waaaaay to long? yes. Did I still love the movie? Yes. And even all these years later TMP still holds a very special spot in my heart.

Thanks for being kind to it as it really is a special film.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, You're welcome! It took me many years to realize that my initial judgment of the film was too harsh, and the more I watched the later films (which are so different) the more I came to appreciate it. It really does have heart.

I thought the same thing about "The Changeling" for years and yet no one else ever seemed to mention that! To me, it was just incredibly obvious. I don't know why no one else seems to have picked that up?

Post a Comment