Wednesday, September 22, 2010


One of the things that people don't often discuss about Stanley Kubrick's 2001 is how boring it is. Oh, that's not a criticism. I think it's a deliberate effect intended to simulate how boring a long space voyage might actually be. On the other hand, one of the complaints about the first Star Trek movie has always been that it's a crashing bore. Andy Warhol famously said of it: "It's boring, but I like to be bored." I hadn't seen Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979, directed by Robert Wise) in (mumble mumble) years, but that jibed with my recollection of it. The truth of the matter is a little bit different from my memory. It's not actually boring, per se, so much as it's devoid of action. Instead, you have a heavy emphasis on special effects (and actors standing around reacting to special effects that they can't see). You can see an uneasy compromise between the cerebral, "boring" 2001 and the whiz bang wonderment of Star Wars in this movie. On the whole, the producers' choice not to stage any action sequences strikes me as misguided (see Star Trek II for a compelling counter-argument), but the movie isn't nearly as lugubrious as I remembered.

As a specimen of production design, this is horribly dated. Oh, there were lavish resources expended here, and it certainly doesn't look like any of its cheaper sequels, but it reeks of the 1970s. Mind you, the subsequent films--particularly the Star Fleet uniforms--are of their times, too, but not to the extent of this film. Is this the last major sci fi film untouched by the "used future" of Star Wars and Alien? It might be.

As a story, this recycles the original series' episode, "The Changeling." A vast destructive force approaches the Earth. The Enterprise is dispatched to investigate, with Admiral Kirk resuming command at the expense of Commander Decker, his hand-picked successor to the command. Once the Enterprise engages the alien, it becomes evident that the entity, V'ger, is a reconstructed Voyager space probe augmented by a race of living machines to a godlike power.

Some of the conflicts in the movie are interesting. The relationship between Kirk and Decker is nicely defined, if underdeveloped. Persis Khambatta's Lt. Ilia has an amusing moment upon first sizing up Kirk, when she says that "My oath of celibacy is on record, Captain." Funny.

That all said, huge chunks of the movie seem like they're recreations of 2001's stargate sequence. Had this been made a decade earlier, it would have been one of the great psychedelic movies. It's certainly eye candy, occasionally resembling an album cover by, say, Roger Dean. I think the boredom the film sometimes evinces stems from a film too in love with its special effects vistas. A good example of this is the initial fly around of the Enterprise, which goes on way longer than its dramatic weight requires. The same footage was edited into a much tighter sequence in the second film to much greater effect.

There is one element of the movie that has continued to resound in the years since its release. That would be Jerry Goldsmith's splendid score. It pretty much towers over every other element of the film.


Deborah said...

What strikes me about the movie is how in love with Star Trek it is. This is a very expensive fan project; it makes sense in terms of the ten year journey to Bring! Back! Star Trek! The long, slow sequence with the Enterprise in the docking bay is a lover's gaze lavishing the beloved.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

Hi, Deborah,

I think you're right. The shots of the Enterprise throughout the movie, actually, seem almost fetishistic.

By the way, is that the best that William Shatner has ever looked? I know he dropped a ton of weight for the first movie (and promptly gained it all back for the second). It was almost certainly his best hair.

Jaye Schmus said...

Have you seen the Director's Cut of a few years ago? It does away with some of the long, boring shots and fixes some of the dialogue (they didn't really mean to make the size of the V'ger cloud 82 AU). Plus, some of the more dated effects have been replaced with modern CG stuff. I was impressed with the redone V'ger, among other things. It's still a long, actionless film.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

I watched the director's cut for this review.

Véro B said...

And when you say "boring," do you mean "elegiac"? :)

I remember when I first saw this film how disappointed I was. Yes, it was great to have Trek back, but they mined so many of the TV show scripts that it felt wrong.

I've never seen the director's cut, but I have seen the film again since then. Strangely, it seems better to me than I remembered from the first time. Maybe it's because it's now in the context of the other films.

I totally agree about that sequence where we look at the Enterprise from every angle. Total love!

Vulnavia Morbius said...

Regarding 2001? Naw, I mean boring as in inducing boredom. Soporific, even. I think it's a deliberate effect, and who's to say it's not a legitimate effect given the subject matter?