Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a high concept movie that doesn’t work as cinematic entertainment. Does that make it a bad movie? Not really. What it does is create an extended feature length movie that feels like an extended TV pilot. Given the origins of the film, that’s to be expected. It just makes you wish that Roddenberry and company took another draft to hammer out how to make Star Trek work on film.
FUN Fact: Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the first promotional tie-in for a McDonald’s Happy Meal.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture proved one thing to the world during Christmas 1979. People embraced space opera and less cerebral takes on Sci-Fi. While the smarter Sci-Fi would always have its fans, the material limits crossover attempts to a wider audience. Star Trek would fix a lot of this under Nimoy’s direction with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. However, that was still seven years away at this point.
The fact that Motion Picture even got made by Paramount was a coup that is rarely seen at the theatrical level anymore. While Roddenberry had a touring con/lecture event, the series had experience a cult following at best during the TV re-run cycle. NBC had mild success with the early 70s animated series, but there wasn’t a ton there to warrant a return.
Thankfully, Star Wars arrived and every single studio fell upon themselves to get some sort of Sci-Fi onto the big screen. But, why Star Trek? Why this movie?
Ever wonder what William Shatner thought of all of these Star Trek movies?
The Wrath of Khan gets all of the fan love and casual viewer appreciation for a reason. It’s broad, appealing and is buoyed by best of decade Sci-Fi performances all around. Star Trek: The Motion Picture has a much fiercer hill to climb, as it’s convincing audiences to make the jump from television to film. The problem is the cobwebs of fixed sets and limited budgets were hard to shake off in the age of Death Stars.
Director Robert Wise had no knowledge of Star Trek before starting the movie. He was a classic Hollywood director that began as an editor under Orson Welles. Wise defaulted to the Trek actors to make sure everything was staying on point and true to the characters. His main concern seemed to be making sure the FX shots and complicated set work got done in time for the 1979 Christmas season.
Ultimately, Star Trek: The Motion Picture isn’t a bad movie. It’s what happens when people will a movie into existence without concern for why it should exist. Star Trek has a rich film life that didn’t really begin until Wrath of Khan. Hell, think of The Motion Picture as Parks and Recreation Season 1. It was so busy trying to be something else, that it never thought of what it needed to be to escape a prior shadow.
If you’ve never seen the film before, I recommend checking out Motion Picture and Wrath of Khan back to back. The sheer cost of this movie caused Paramount to force certain restrictions on Wrath of Khan. Having to work smarter and harder to carve out a story in a post Star Wars world made Wrath of Khan stronger. Plus, having the better plot didn’t hurt either.
Paramount has offered up these amazing original 4 Star Trek films on 4K UHD. While I’ve talked about them in the past, they are easily among the Best 4K releases of 2021. Not to jump ahead of ourselves here, let’s talk about what’s on the discs. You get all of the deleted scenes and featurettes ported over from the Blu-ray. I wish we could’ve gotten a 4K exclusive special features.
But, I’ll take what I can get. Especially for a box set that didn’t see fit to include all of the Classic Crew’s movie. Undiscovered Country deserves 4K!