Stars: ** out of Four
Summary: A stunted, mediocre debacle, with entertaining moments, but without an overall sense of catharsis.
Review: So this is going to be a short review. It’s not a remarkable movie in either direction, good or bad. It’s just stunningly mediocre. It has its fun moments, and its bad moments, and its moments where you just can’t wait for the movie to end. Despite my terrible comment on the original poster’s tagline — which was created early on in production, when the studio still had high hopes for the movie — it isn’t unwatchable. Unfortunately, it has earned such a bad rap all around that I feel like I have to keep it in the ‘Not-So-Classic’ category. It’s not a classic. It’s not an utter failure either.
This was original ‘Trek’ star William Shatner’s only directed entry of the series. He had a huge scope for the original story, and obviously inspired great confidence in the studio, as is evident by the early marketing campaign. Judging from some of his novels, including some he had also intended to become ‘Trek’ films, the action-idea was probably too ambitious. I’m trying to be fair, here, to counterbalance some of the anti-Shatner backlash that the film generated. I think he, and the rest of the production team, really thought they were going to make a winner. Unfortunately for Shatner and company, the scope proved to be too much. The studio couldn’t afford to pay for the special effects needed. So instead of inspiring ‘Star Wars’-like thrills, it inspired confusion and disappointment in Trekkies everywhere.
The story, though odd, does have a vein of potential. The idea was to put the Enterprise crew on a spiritual quest, an encounter with God. In the end, they only found a counterfeit, but I believe the intention — though vaguely captured, at best, in the final film — was to show that the true God was way beyond anything the Enterprise crew could fathom. This strikes again at the philosophical richness of ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’, which ironically also failed to communicate its original story in a fulfilling way.
The characters and the execution leave a lot to be desired. The film is far too comedic, going into the realm of slapstick and not showing the restraint of the previous installment. Things feel disrespected, dishonest, and pretentious. Some of the moments — such as Uhura stripping naked and dancing to distract a couple bad guys — are completely out of place. The “villain”, Sybock, is overwrought and unconvincing. We never get the needed sense of pathos to sell his character right.
A disappointment, really, after an impressive trilogy preceding it. Shatner feared he had killed the franchise. In fact, he may have, had it not been for the studio supporting a sixth picture due to the then-upcoming 25th anniversary of ‘Star Trek’. And that film fixed everything.