Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nitpickery: Star Trek, The Motion Picture

Hey y'all.  It's been an interesting week, to say the least.  First of all, my apartment building caught on fire.  Yep, that's not just a plot device in my fanfic.  Actually, I was very lucky.  The fire didn't come down to the first floor, and there was very little water damage where I was.  So most of my possessions made it out fine.  I'm in a new place, and everything is basically cool, though there was a day of frantic packing as we had to get everything out of the apartment -- the fire department thought that the roof might fall in from the rain.  It hasn't so far, but why push it?

So yeah.  It didn't do much more than interfere with my schedule.  I had a lot of homework due, but unable to turn in due to lack of internet access and for a time separation from the textbooks I needed to complete it.  Tomorrow I expect a pretty frantic time of scrambling around to get what I can done.  Also, it's caused me to fail NaNoWriMo.  You can't really work on a novel when you're moving in the rain, cramped in a sinus-drying and sort of creepy hotel, behind on obligations, or so tired you're about to pass out.  I expect that a lot of my future writing time is going to be concerned with finishing school work.  I'm just happy that most of my current classes don't have finals.

But there was a funny coincidence.  So I have temporary access to a lot of books and movies for free because of my job at a bookstore, and I was just about to turn in Star Trek IV to get Star Trek: the Motion Picture, to watch for this review.  But of course the fire happened, and I didn't want to bring the store's property to the hotel to be potentially lost.  That, and I didn't have anything to watch it with -- my poor baby laptop was locked in the building that first night, and I spent several intense hours wondering if it was okay.  I'm happy to say that she's completely unharmed.

But in any case, in the hotel I was getting settled in and trying to relax, and you know what came on TV?  The Motion Picture.  I could hardly believe it.  Maybe it was God trying to make me feel better about things, and letting me know he was watching out for me.  He certainly was, from how much of my stuff made it out of the apartment.  In any case, I stayed up far too late to watch the movie, and I must say I enjoyed the crap out of it.

Sure, the Motion Picture is said to be super long and super boring.  Let me tell you, it isn't really.  Well, it's not super long.  There are a few boring parts.  Though you could possibly consider these parts your break to go get popcorn.

To sum up, Kirk is now an Admiral, and he's taking advantage of his rank to go back to the Enterprise, which, due to his promotion, has a new captain.  However, a mysterious, destructive entity is on its way for Earth, and that gives Kirk a chance to pull rank and have his ship back.  Kirk drafts McCoy back, and Spock, finding no solace in the Vulcan ritual of Kolinar, decides it best to rejoin the ship.  All of the other crew members apparently don't ever get promoted, so they're stuck on the ship.

Throught what they've learned through past experience, the Enterprise manages to not appear as a threat to the entity, and the massive thing allows the Enterprise to fly inside of it.  There they learn of the mysterious V'Ger, a living machine looking for its creator.

--- Ten Things I'll Say about Star Trek: The Motion Picture ---

10. This movie is like trance.

I don't normally listen to a lot of trance.  It's mellow, doesn't vary much per track, and it's just not as much fun as some of the other electronic genres.  However, from time to time I give it a chance, and it cleanses my palate.  All of the techno, dance, metal, or whatever I happen to be listening to just goes away, and I can relax.

Just like this movie.  These modern times I've had to sit through a lot of pointless action, overstimulating visuals, and gimmicky camera tricks in movies.  It's like all the directors got together and decided that dwelling plot doesn't belong in movies anymore because they think no one has a good attention span.  We don't have ADD, the movie industry does.

But it's not even just about bad movies, or movies with bad pacing.  There's just a time and a place for really hard, biting sci-fi.  Not any of that nonsense on the syfy channel, but rather 50s-70s style fiction with bizarre ideas and otherworldly situations.  That is exactly what this movie is.  Sure, it took too long to make its points, but at the same time The Motion Picture allowed us to really dwell in the science of it all.

When I was watching it, I felt like it made the environment more real than in a lot of Trek movies.  For example, all of the extras filling the scenes made it feel like they really were working on the Enterprise.  So many times on the shows and in the movies that only the bridge crew really do anything, and the rest of the people are just set dressing.  In this movie, not only are they doing things that appear useful, but there's so many of them.

This movie is just a lot of palate cleansing, getting the viewer to take stock of life and think about it, all while enjoying bizarro visuals.

9.  I don't hate the costumes, but they're definitely not Trek.

I don't get it when people say they hate these uniforms.  I actually sort of like them.  Granted, they are somewhat awkward, and it just doesn't work for a colorful show like Star Trek to go all grey and white.  I will say that Shatner looked pretty good in his grey/white uniform, and that Sulu at one point early on had on this v-neck overshirt that really worked for him.   Heh, McCoy's collared uniform made him look like Peter Pan.

It was a bit odd, though, when everyone kept switching around uniforms.  I can understand Kirk changing out of his admiral's garb, and Scotty getting into an engineering suit, but it's just odd that most of the cast goes from outfit to outfit without any reason.

However, the little weird bit on the front is wonky.  I think they're supposed to be life sign indicators or whatever, but they're placed on a very strange part of the body.   The stomach is soft, so any time a person sits or bends over to pick something up, they get a mechanical device jammed into their gut.  So not cool.

8. Why is Spock being so Spockward?

It's weird.  Spock has apparently not seen his friends in a long time, judging from their reaction as he comes onto the Enterprise.  Naturally, they're all very happy and excited to see him.  Frankly, I was too, even though I'm on a Trek kick and have seen him not too long ago.  However, Spock instantly turns away whenever one of them expresses their happiness, as though he has no patience.  Sure, Spock is an emotionless Vulcan, but he's been around humans for a long time.  Surely he'd at least give some sort of comment as to thanking them for their welcome.  Or just nod.

Seriously, it was pretty jarring.  You could argue that he was so obsessed with figuring out the whole V'Ger thing that he just couldn't react properly, but it's still off.  I've been watching a lot of TOS lately, and Spock seemed to at least understand that there were times to defer or show courtesy to human emotion.

Oh, and that's another thing.  How come Spock can feel the presense of V'Ger even though he's all the way on Vulcan?  Vulcans are touch-telepaths, and therefore can't sense thought over any real distance.  Especially not though space.  That's just silly, and adds a touch of the implausible to the plot.  I'm sure they could have come up with some other reason for having Spock rejoin the crew.

7. Wow, Captain Decker really badmouths his commanding officer.

So before Kirk took over, the Enterprise was being commanded by Captain Decker, the son of someone who appeared in TOS.  However, that old episode is never mentioned, so yeah.  In any case, there was definitely familiarity between Decker and Kirk, and their first encounter is a friendly one, where Decker assumes Kirk is just seeing him off.  And then Kirk mentions that he's taking over, and Decker just lets loose, short of swearing at him.

Wow, that's a pretty amazing way to treat one's superior.  Way to acknowledge that chain of command.  Maybe Kirk was right to take it over, because Decker has no sense of discipline.  Okay, not really, it was still scumy of Kirk to take advantage of his role in Starfleet to gain a position he coveted.  I really do like the flawed way the film portrays Kirk, and it's not underhanded to give Decker some harsh lines.  It just seems a bit odd.  Maybe Decker knew from the beginning that Kirk would try to get the Enterprise back.

6. Kirk works the transporter?

This is a minor point, but when the transporter has its malfunction, Kirk immediately rushes down to deal with it himself and try to save the two people being teleported.  It's a really gruesome death, when you think about it.  In any case, why is Kirk handling the transporter?  Aren't there technicians and operators who have been doing that for years?  Not the guy who stands in the front and gives orders?

Yeesh.  Maybe that's why the Vulcan kid and his friend didn't make it.

5. So apparently if you're a Starfleet Medical officer, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want.

I love Dr. McCoy.  DeForest Kelley is one of the best actors of his day, and every time he's on the screen I want to smile.  The writers clearly know this, which must be why the Chief Medical Officer is running on and off the bridge at will.

So Kirk is about to take Decker aside and chew him out for belaying Kirk's order in the previous scene.  All of a sudden, McCoy asks to tag along.  What is that?  When you're chewing someone out, it's generally good manners to do it in private.  Sure, McCoy's inclusion leads to a really good conversation where he gets on Kirk's case for mistreating Decker, but it's implausible.

From then on, McCoy just sort of bobs in and out of the bridge whenever it suits him, and for no other reason than to join the others in staring at the 70s computer graphics flashing on the viewscreen.  And then he gets to join them to confront V'Ger.  Why?  Because McCoy.  That's why.

And on an unrelated note, his beard at the beginning was amazing.

4. I do love the imagery and camerawork.

Call me a sucker for old fashioned graphics, but the makers of this film really put a lot of work into them.  In a book somewhere it mentions that they couldn't use the first set of digital images, and had to try again with a different studio.  This paid off, and even all these years later I found the visuals to be relaxing and fun, if a bit wonky.  Though I remember the visuals on the VHS looking slightly different during the wormhole bit.

I also like how they used visuals in different scenes as a part of the set.  At the beginning when Kirk is on the space station, it looks great, and really like a place where people are busily getting ready for space trips.  Each room on the Enterprise looks great and livable, as opposed to ships in modern movies which have to look as "cool" as possible (insert obligatory JJ Abrams insult).  I especially love near the end, where we get to see V'Ger on a rocky, hexagonal perch with the Enterprise lowered to about level with it, and our heroes have to climb atop the ship to get to V'Ger.  Really iconic, right there.

The camerawork was also pleasant, with some interesting shots and yet never interfering with the viewer's ability to understand what is going on.  A couple of money shots made for pleasant storytelling.

3.  I like how Kirk doesn't get the girl.

In fact, I like how Kirk was never even interested in the girl, nor she in him.  Ilia, for those unfamiliar, is a helmsman who got captured and turned into a probe with which the massive, foreign being could investigate the Enterprise and figure out what its deal is with all that organic life on it.

She was Decker's girl from the start.  Sure, she had this vow of celibacy, which was a bit of an odd topic to bring up when you first get on the bridge, but Ilea clearly had a thing for Decker.  The feelings were mutal, but until a giant, computer-generated laser sucked her out of the ship, the mission came first.  It then became Decker's job to communicate with the Ilea probe, and try to access the memories of the real Ilea and get her to stop the alien construct from destroying Earth.

It's a really great plot, if you think about it.  A guy, Decker, chooses his career above the woman he loves, and ultimately pays the price for it.  It's really a beautiful story.  A lot more beautiful than a girl-of-the-week coming in and flirting with Captain can't-keep-his-pants-on.  Kirk feels more mature in this movie than he did in TOS, and it's nice of him to show his true side, which is that he loves his ship more than any woman.  Decker chooses the opposite, and this enables them to part ways peaceably.

2. It's really bad to watch this movie when there's commercials.

So I'm in the hotel, trying to watch this movie, when every so often up comes a commercial.  Besides me hating commercials (we don't watch normal TV at home), I highly doubt that anyone is very excited about shopping on Walmart on Black Friday.  Not people with options, anyway.

Thing is, there's about two cups of plot in two pounds of movie, what with all the long shots of the Enterprise, needlessly extended visuals, and such.  So that meant there where times when I would have to put up with another peanut butter pop tart commercial (yuck!) after what felt like two minutes of something actually happening.  Not entirely fun, that.  If I'm watching a really slow movie, making it more slow with tons of useless commercials does not improve it.

1. There's nothing major wrong with the plot.

Now, The Motion Picture does have genuine flaws.  Certain scenes are too long, and the uniforms are non sequiter.  However, for all the claims of this movie being boring, you can't blame the storyline.  There are lots of plot elements that work extremely well, despite being poorly paced.  There's of course the conflict between Decker and Kirk, with both competing for the command of the Enterprise.  This shows Kirk's flaws in a way TOS never did, and deepens the character significantly.

There's also the fact that the Enterprise is dealing with living machines.  Not just a creature with a metal body, but machinery that is really and truly alive, so much so that it thinks the Enterprise is a being and all the people on it are simply parasites.  It doesn't realize that organics are people too.  And then when the thing turns out to be a satellite Earth sent out centuries beforehand, that's pretty interesting too, and gives legitimate reason for why the antagonist of the film is headed for Earth rather than somewhere else.  How could this be any more science fiction?  The machine's childlike desire for its father is compelling and utterly bizarre.

And then there's the idea of Ilea and Decker getting to be together in the end, in the form of V'Ger and the believed creator "becoming one", whatever that means.  Since V'Ger is of human origin, and Decker is a human, he takes the place as creator.  This makes a lot of sense with the Ilea romance.  Think about it.  V'Ger is using her as a probe, but her memories and feelings are still intact.  Because she has such strong feelings for Decker, this makes V'Ger think her attachment to Decker is logical, and thus the idea that he is the creator becomes a reasonable one.  To V'Ger, anyway.  The end of the movie ends up feeling really good.

So long story short, all the plot is perfectly fine, with the exception of Spock's odd plot hole in detecting V'Ger across space.  That doesn't even hurt the film that much.  Basically all of this film's flaws were in its presentation, not in the story.  Every element here is good and compelling, and it works as a science fiction.  Sure, maybe this is too cerebral for the people that just want to sit in the theater and turn their brains off (I'm not slandering -- I know people who have told me it's the best way to watch a film), but for most the story is interesting, and with a little spit and polish it could be made more accessible to general audiences.

For now, however, I must reiterate that this movie is trance.  It's there to refresh the palate and bring peaceful feelings to people who just want to sit on the couch and relax, and maybe get some knitting done.  That's why I haven't been able to rant about it like I usually do with movies.  It's like a glass of water: refreshing, good for you, but nothing really to get excited over.

Best actor: Leonard Nimoy as Spock.  Granted, there was a lot of delicious acting with all the main characters, and a good movie has good extras.  However, I'm giving this one to Leonard Nimoy, as he seems to have understood the flow of the movie well, and he put his all into his performance, even despite all the things that were odd about his character.  That's the problem with the writers.  Nimoy throws himself wholeheartedly into the role.  Props to the actors playing Decker and Ilea, though.  Their romance was completely believable and fun to watch.

This movie is for:
- Neeeeeeerds
- Geeks
- Trekkers
- People bitter about modern movies
- Someone who wants a nap
- Someone who wants background noise
- Science fiction fans
- Orchestra fans

This movie is not for:
- Action flick junkies
- Chick flick followers
- JJ Abrams fans

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