1979: A Space Odyssey

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (DVD)

Star Trek was my childhood. While the other kids fished or played catch with their fathers, I scarfed down popcorn with my Dad as we watched aliens steal Spock’s brain. Of course, this also led to Dad taking me to see Star Trek V, which my therapist assures me is the source of my frequent night terrors.

Not every childhood is perfect and neither is the Star Trek franchise, which Star Trek: The Motion Picture makes all too evident. The film begins with the music video for “A Criminal Mind” or rather Klingons dressed like Gowan from the same. The Klingons are soon wiped out by a massive electrical field headed for Earth. For Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner), this emergency is the perfect excuse to relive his glory days as captain of the Enterprise. Kirk reunites most of the old crew save Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who boards the Enterprise of his own accord, drawn to the mind of whatever’s in that electrical field. Turns out it’s a big computer that the crew outwits by introducing it to emotions and teaching it how to love.

Established TV shows often fall prey to Swanson Dinner Plot Syndrome. Say you’re a writer and you can’t think of what to do with well-worn characters. Why create new plotlines when there are ready-made ones just waiting to be reheated when you’re too tired to care? That’s the film’s script in a nutshell. How often did Trek pit Kirk against all-powerful computers/children/aliens/space-hippies and defeat them with rhetoric and that double-handed punch he always does?

Despite script and pacing flaws, I enjoyed this Trek. Partially it’s hearing Shatner bark “Damnit, Bones! I need you… badly” like he’s in heat. Partially it’s nostalgia. Nevertheless, it’s always fun to see these characters together. The Spock storyline is an asset, showcasing Nimoy’s best turn in the role. Elsewhere, Shatner hams enjoyably and Deforest Kelley—though given very little to do—steals all of his scenes as Dr. McCoy.

Even when the original characters are overlooked for boring new ones or that laughable wormhole sequence (“TOOOOORRRPPPEEEDOOOO!”), the film compensates with astounding visual effects and Jerry Goldsmith’s stunning music. Goldsmith’s innovative score is undoubtedly one of the best in cinema history.

The new Star Trek: The Motion Picture DVD offers the theatrical cut of the film, but your best bet is to dig up an old VHS of it. That version has all of the added character scenes from the 2001 Director’s Cut, but retains the original special effects, without added CGI. If you’re going to prep for the upcoming Trek prequel (aka I Was A Teenage Shatner), there are worse places to start.

Adam Clarke