Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) review

Rated: 4 / 5

“It knows only that it needs, Commander. But, like so many of us… it does not know what.”


“Each of us… at some time in our lives, turns to someone – a father, a brother, a God… and asks…”Why am I here? What was I meant to be?””

So the tagline for this film was, “There is no comparison.” It’s at that point that Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick tells them to kiss their ass all the way into the next generation.
Maybe that’s why they changed the tagline.

It is actually a good Star Trek film if you can withstand the long dragging sequences of grandeur, in space! From the sequence of Kirk taking a look over the outside of the upgraded Enterprise, to the Enterprise taking off, to the sequence of going into the vast plasma cloud (and deeper and deeper, over the course of a few separate segments). One would ask, “What the hell is the point? To show off special effects? To replicate 2001: A Space Odyssey? To create some sort of atmosphere only pot-smokers and dope-sniffers would appreciate?” Well, I can’t say you’re wrong on any of those presumptions.


But there is one thing they all have in common. To show the insignificant size of man compared to the scope of everything around him. Mankind has created such structures of awe, such as the Enterprise, and we are allowed to bask in its glory. But then later we see the Enterprise dwarfed by the plasma cloud, and the alien vessel contained within. That as much as we accomplish, we still seem infinitesimal compared to all that is out there. Powerless before it, all we can do is bask in its glory and hope for the best.

Longer, like Sulu’s erection.

And yet, we are not so insignificant. The Enterprise is a vast ship far bigger and grander than the team of people who have built it, yet mankind is responsible for its creation, providing mankind another step up into a more significant role in the Universe. Even by the end, once it is revealed what the origin of the alien vessel is, one can say mankind’s role has already become significant, with all the steps already taken towards progress. Even when told we are insignificant, this proves false when the other being can’t comprehend mankind can create machines that are not deemed insignificant, thus mankind is significant.

Last poster, I promise.  I just find the changes to each a bit fascinating.

There is also a much-needed coexistence for the sake of a brighter future. V’Ger seeks information about its purpose, about its creator, but cannot comprehend the “ideas” of those because it runs on nothing but pure logic, with no emotion. Spock seeks a place among his own people, seeking to live as a being running on pure logic, yet is internally conflicted about it, since his human-half (as opposed to his Vulcan half) isn’t eradicated and thus can’t be fully ignored, which makes him comprehend early on that logic alone isn’t enough for a true fulfilling life. Something he senses in V’Ger, and learns for himself later on. Logic must coexist with emotion, with passion, with the ability to dream and think beyond the boundaries of pure logic (ie to comprehend the idea of things that can’t be entirely proven). The concept of God, the concept of an afterlife, of making theories to attempt to explain the unknown.  Else the question goes unanswered that many, the logical and the illogical ask, “Is there nothing more?”

“What more is there than the universe, Spock?”

Other dimensions. Higher levels of being.”

“The existence of which cannot be proven logically. Therefore, V’Ger is incapable of believing in them.”

“What it needs in order to evolve… is a human quality. Our capacity to leap beyond logic.”

In addition, those that run on pure logic will suffer from feeling alone, even if they do not “feel”. Their only means of dealing with this is to do what only pure-logic beings can do, seek out more information, gather as much as possible about everything around them and beyond, anything that is observable. But in the end it doesn’t matter how far they’ve searched, how much data they’ve gathered. Even if all observable data in the universe was gathered they still wouldn’t be satisfied. Because emotions, the ability to think illogically would allow for one to ponder that which cannot be observed. Because there are things that cannot be observed which make life fulfilling. A sense of belonging, companionship, ideas for the future.

Of course, the other side of the coin, the “emotional” side, also has its downsides. Kirk’s desire to regain control of the Enterprise even though he is not familiar with the ship’s new design and upgrades. Logically, he shouldn’t be the captain, as the other individual on-board, Decker (no relation to Blade Runner) is familiar with all the inner-workings of the Enterprise, since he has been there from the beginning when making the upgrades. On a few occasions, he had to take action to save the crew from Kirk’s blunders, and point out to Kirk the necessity of him questioning his orders. At the same time, Kirk isn’t always wrong, as his brash actions are sometimes necessary to get the job done, to save Earth from potential destruction. It is necessary at times for logic to intrude on his brash thinking to reel him in from doing something disastrous.

I think we gave it the ability to create its own sense of purpose out of our own human weaknesses, and the drive that compels us to overcome them.

At the end, the union of the logical with the emotional gives birth to a new being that exists on a higher plane of existence, and that’s where the 2001 comparisons become unavoidable. It’s ironic though. The Star Trek television series has laid the groundwork for so many other sci-fi movies and shows which have copied/stolen elements from it off and on, and yet the first Star Trek motion picture is the one that steals/borrows from another sci-fi film from the past. Then again, Gene Roddenberry and Isaac Asimov may have wanted their own version of the story Arthur C. Clark told in Stanley Kubrick’s film (and were just angry that he got to it before they did). Plus, photographic effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull had also worked on 2001, plus Close Encounters of the Third Kind, prior to working on this film; and he has stated he was influenced by a Canadian documentary titled Universe when it came to the set/model designs of the interior V’Ger cloud. If nothing else, this film is a more easily digestible and cheerful version of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  But in all fairness, the ending to 2001 is more of a statement regarding the evolution of human beings as individuals, that we are destined to evolve to a higher plane of existence sooner or later.  The ending to this film, on the other hand, is more of a statement on how the union between two different individuals/species/lines-of-thinking can create something more grand than either as separate entities can achieve on their own.  In a sense, it encourages peace and unity, while 2001 focuses more on the sensation of isolation.

Film soundtrack lovers can eat their hearts out with the opening theme to this movie. The Star Trek theme that overshadows that found in the original series. A theme so fantastic it was utilized as the opening theme in The Next Generation. A theme so great it makes me not want to fast-forward through the opening credits. It’s questionable as to whether it’s more memorable than the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and in the end, regrettably, I’d have to say 2001’s theme beats out this one (plus it was utilized by Ric Flair, Whooooooo! You can’t top that.).

But the film does have one cultural influence it can take credit for that 2001: A Space Odyssey cannot. Star Trek: The Motion Picture served as the basis for McDonald’s first movie-based happy meal (Source). So it gets one over on 2001. 2001 was getting people hooked on acid for its final 20 minutes, Star Trek was getting people hooked on fast food. Take your pick on which one is the lesser of the evils (acid is the lesser, so long as we’re talking about that kind that doesn’t eat metal and melt skin).

Have to admit, at the end of it all, it is refreshing nowadays to revisit old sci-fi films like these that have no space battles, not conflict of that sort.  Rather, films that are more cerebral.  If one leaves the cerebral out of sci-fi flicks, that is doing a disservice to their potential and, dare I say, their purpose.

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