The intergalactic mac daddy of TV shows boldly going over to the medium of film, Star Trek didn’t exactly have the triumphant start you would have hoped considering it had been an entire decade since the original show had been cancelled.
Bringing back the original crew for a big budget extravaganza should have been a photon powered open goal but an overly pretentious tone and a pace that had the drive of an engine-less Robin Reliant left this triumphant return with all the warmth of a polar bear’s taint.
Even the fact that it was helmed by Robert Wise – the man who made everything from Run Silent, Run Deep; West Side Story and The Haunting – couldn’t stop this laboured slog across the final frontier from being the sci-fi equivalent of waiting for a bus that’s already been cancelled…
A trio of Klingon warships discover a trippy, wavy anomaly in space and, naturally being Klingons, try to shoot the crap out of it, however this only results in their craft being atomised but it raises the alarm to Starfleet that this mysterious space thingy is on a collision course with earth.
In response, Admiral James T. Kirk is given back the command of an updated U.S.S. Enterprise, much to the chagrin of acting captain William Decker who rightfully feels sidelined by the bullish legend, but his misgivings are eased by the appearance of shapely slaphead Ilia, a crewmate whom he once shared a relationship with years ago.
As Kirk starts stacking the bridge with familiar faces to aid him on this mission to intercept this malevolent entity he eventually gets the Enterprise that’s vaporized virtually everything it’s come into contact with so far, but falling back on his old friends may not be as useful as it once was. The returning Dr. Spock, for example, has returned from Vulcan after trying to purge his remaining human emotions when he felt a connection to the anomaly; is the fact he’s not exactly his old, warm, smiling self (set phasers to sarcasm) a telling sign that his intentions do not exactly mine up with Starfleet’s?
Soon Kirk and co. finally confront the cosmic gobbleygook that’s been causing all the ruckus which rudely obliterates Ilia and replaces her with a proper who is an exact copy and who provides a much needed mouthpiece for their immensely powerful foe that they learn calls itself V’Ger.
Will the crew (and by the crew, I mean Kirk, Spock and Decker as everyone else sits around open mouthed) discover the answer behind the riddle of what V’Ger is and who “the creator” is it’s relentlessly searching for?
There’s a scene early on that plays as a fairly apt metaphor for the entire movie in general and it involves two unlucky swines that are caught in a malfunctioning teleporter. As their bodies are twisted out of shape thanks to being stuck between two destinations you can help feel that the maiden cinematic voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise is trapped between wanting to be as flashy as Star Wars and thought provoking as 2001: A Space Odyssey while still hoping to evoke the forward thinking values of the classic TV show. That it never truly succeeds in any of these endeavors speaks of it’s origins as a refitted pilot for a comeback tv series that had way too many captains sitting at the helm that struggles as uneasily within it’s own constraints as Shatner’s dad bod does inside his series of pastel coloured tunics.
The main issue is that, as I hinted at a second ago, all it really is is a feature length episode with ramped up effects that doesn’t give itself much room to relax and feel comfortable in it’s new skin. The vast majority of the film is spent on the bridge of the Enterprise as everyone watches the three leads openly discuss their theories which has the exciting effect of making you feel like you’re trapped in a very beige dentist’s office as you endless wait for something to actually happen.
Despite being off screen for a decade (exempting reruns and that janky animated series) the movie also neglects to give any of these beloved characters the introductions they deserve and they all just wander on screen and get to work – although Dr. McCoy’s arrival, complete with unexplained Grizzly Adams beard and a medallion so big that would give Superman a hernia, is fairly memorable. With that being said, one member of the crew does get a big welcome and by that I mean the legendarily indulgent sequence that introduces the franchise’s signature ship in what only be described as Enterprise porn as the camera drinkd in every inch of the iconic ship as Kirk and Scotty do multiple passes in their shuttle craft while Jerry Goldsmith’s cracking score stretches it’s muscular legs. The fact that this scene goes on for over four bloody minutes just goes to show how badly off the movie is when trying to achieve a cinematic booster shot to it’s core concept as we literally bounce between debates on the cramped bridge to long special effects sequences where nothing actually happens. I’m not saying that the movie should drop in some action scenes to – no wait, that’s exactly what I’m saying, because as ballsy as it is to go the Kubrick route, it forgets that it’s supposed to exciting too.
The cast show up and do their best, but there’s a noticable disconnect with these iconic characters as despite their many adventures together, they all seem as cold as a Vulcan’s sweet sixteen birthday party and you long for the easy chemistry of the sequels when everyone didn’t take themselves too seriously and it looked like the gang were actually having fun.
Uhura, Chekov, Scotty and Sulu all literally have nothing to do except look concerned from behind their consoles while the big three just go through the motions of being cocky, logical and gruff as the plot happens around them. There’s a glint of the good stuff every now and then, Shatner’s caffeine powered response to Spock’s surprise appearance is classic Shat, but you can’t shake the notion that everything important thing that occurs is actually happening to Decker and Ilia, which means it’s a guaranteed cert that our core cast is ultimately safe as houses which dilutes any and all tension.
For all the repeated chatter of warp speed, it’s painfully ironic that this first Trek to the big screen is so teeth grindingly slow, but thankfully far better adventures were on the horizon that arguably took the franchise to new world and new civilisations – ones that were thankfully more enjoyable than this…