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Mark Geraghty
Wed, Mar 1, 2017, 11:14am (UTC -6)
Re: Star Trek: The Motion Picture

STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE was a response by Paramount Pictures to the success of STAR WARS two-and-a-half years earlier in 1977. The STAR TREK TV series had found a large youth audience in syndicated re-runs in the early 1970s and it was partly this audience who had swept George Lucas's space opera to box office domination throughout 1977 and early 1978 right around the world. As it so happened, Paramount was looking to resurrect a TV version of STAR TREK throughout 1976 and 1977, based on the original show's syndicated performance, as a head-line show on Paramount's new TV network. When STAR WARS "happened", Paramount management decided that Gene Roddenberry's STAR TREK could be the studio's answer to the George Lucas science fiction adventure.

STAR TREK had had an element of action, but it was action on a television budget and it was not viewed as a "thrilling space adventure". The discourse that had been built around the show during its syndicated success in the early 1970s had more to do with its intellectual appeal and the humanist arguments that Gene Roddenberry had publicly presented about the reason why the show told the stories it did. The challenge for STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE was always going to be in the type of story that was selected to tell for its big screen adventure. Alan Dean Foster received the story credit for the film and Harold Livingston the screenplay credit, but the central concept of the story is very much Gene Roddenberry's.

The movie that finished up on the screen was certainly more compromised than most productions. Not only was the screenplay something of a hostage to expectation, the participation of the actors who had made the television series so successful was not guaranteed. Leonard Nimoy held-out until shooting was nearly ready to start and contingencies had been made just in case Nimoy was a no-show. Various accounts of the principal photography have told how the continuous screenplay revisions made it difficult to keep up with what version of a scene was being shot at any given time. On top of the issues on the soundstages, the production also ran into trouble with its special effects requirements. The sheer number of shots over-whelmed the original effects house engaged to produce them, but the extent of their difficulties did not become apparent for many months and, as a result, Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra were brought on board the film in early 1979, less than 12 months before the release date, to complete twice as many effects shots that had been present in STAR WARS!
One of the main difficulties associated with STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE is its pacing. The film is leisurely-paced and doesn't ever create an urgency or excitement in the same way that films like JAWS, STAR WARS or SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE had created in the preceding four years. The responsibility for this lies with Director Robert Wise and his Editor Todd C. Ramsay. During the film's principal photography, concerns had been raised that Wise was working far too slowly even by the less frantic feature-filming pace. This practice seemed to flow into the film'e editing and was reflected in the way scenes were edited together, with more time than necessary spent searching for "moments" that would please the show's fans and give the broader audience a better sense of who the characters were. The problem was that both fans and non-fans felt that the finished product was boring and some even went so far as to suggest that the film's sub-title should be changed to: 'The Motionless Picture'.

The film's story is pretty straight-forward. A hostile alien probe is headed toward Earth and the Starship Enterprise is the only vessel that can intercept it before it arrives at Earth! At the time, the premise must have seemed sound. Retrospectively, it's really easy to poke holes through and ask a lot of questions that seem quite, dare it be said, logical. For example, why is the Enterprise the only vessel that can intercept? Surely, Starfleet would take precautions for the sake of humanity to have Starships whose responsibility it was to protect our Solar System ... Why would Kirk be allowed to take command of a ship and crew he doesn't know after sitting behind a desk for years? It's a story point that is addressed in the film, but it just doesn't make sense. There's a lot of things that a lot of people would like to do in the world, but they don't get the chance because there's a greater sensibility being applied. Just because Kirk thinks it's a good idea doesn't mean it's a good idea ... Why is there only one transporter room on the Enterprise? After all those years exploring the galaxy in the original series, it must have occurred to someone when they were refitting the ship that several transporter rooms were required and that they needed to be run independently of each other just in case, heavens above, they broke down ... Why are Klingons so determined to die? The opening sequences with the Klingons actually creates a false sense of security in the audience because it's the part of the film that has energy, excitement and jeopardy. The effects are cut together with the live-action footage really well and are superbly backed by Jerry Goldsmith's 'Klingon Battle' theme. It's a real shame that this wasn't the pace that was maintained throughout the entire film.
One of the other main criticisms of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE was its utter lack of humour. One of the endearing elements of the STAR TREK TV series was that the crew didn't always take themselves seriously. Episodes like 'The Trouble With Tribbles' demonstrated that the science fiction setting of the show allowed its writers to take the audience beyond their own frame of reference and introduce the unexpected and sometimes downright ridiculous. None of this exists in the 1979 version of the film, but that's not to say it didn't exist in Harold Livingston's screenplay. The STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE - The Director's Edition, released in 2002 on DVD, is proof that character 'moments' were part of the story and those scenes were even filmed. Robert Wise confirms this in his liner note that accompanied this DVD release:

We had removed several key dialogue scenes in order to accommodate our incoming effects work, but no time remained to work on properly balancing these two components.

One of the most baffling puzzles about STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURES is how Jerry Goldsmith did not walk away with every major film score award for 1979. Goldsmith's score elevated the entire film beyond what it may have deserved as his majestic, swelling tunes took what could have been extremely tedious effects segments and provided them with a grandeur that, at points in the film, make you think you could be watching LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in outer space! The first three pieces of music heard in the film really set the scene, as the opening scenes from the film are preceded by a very 'old school' overture piece that doubles as 'Ilia's Theme' throughout the film. In addition to 'Ilia's Theme' and the 'Main Title' that incorporates the Klingon battle music, the 'Floating Office' rack became a signature piece of music, as it incorporated the extended arrival of Admiral Kirk aboard the refitted Enterprise via shuttle.
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