21st Apr2009

choo got MOTIONLESS PICTURE!?

by jerad.formby

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Star Trek has asked a lot from us over its run. It has asked us to embrace “refitted” ships, older versions of Shatner and friends, new crews in new time periods, new crews in new areas of space, and even a crew who did all their business on a space station.

Our favorite nerdy thing has constantly re-introduced itself to us with sleek new looks, but it has always brought us that familiarity we all embrace as Star Trek.

This isn’t the first time Star Trek has enjoyed a renaissance either. The fervor wrapped around this new movie, I’m guessing, is matched only by the release of the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

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Which is, without a doubt, hands down, balls blowing in the wind, my very favorite movie with Captain Kirk… excuse me, Admiral Kirk.


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Star Trek had been canceled in 1969. The show was only three seasons strong and NBC decided to pull the plug. It lasted as long as it did only because of a fevered fan base that kept it alive through letter writing campaigns. That was no small feat.

Paramount, in the 1970s, fancied the idea of creating a television network in the mid seventies and realized that a property they could use to promote their new channel would be Star Trek. Plans for a new show, called Star Trek: Phase II got underway.

Roddenberry was back. A number of other writers were back and scripts started to be generated. William Shatner and the entire cast was expected to return –everyone but Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy had a few issues with his famous conterpart –they were mostly financial.

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I see his side of it. It’s more than a little bizarre to see your face on everything from lunch boxes to beer-promoting billboards and not see any money for it. As negotiations with Nimoy seemed to be getting nowhere, the creators of Phase II endeavored to create a new Vulcan to replaces him.

The new Vulcan was called Xon and he would be a full Vulcan –no more half-human stuff. This Vulcan would be more interested in humanity than Spock… in fact he would endeavor to become more like humans. He would attempt laughter. He would attempt emotion. He would be… well, I hope you guessed already.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the United Paramount Network.

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Suddenly, space fever gripped Hollywood by the throat. It was suddenly time for everyone to get their Star Wars rippoffs on and cash in on a new phenomena –cool movies set in space.

That’s when Paramount realized they already had a property with the word ‘Star’ in the title. So they saw dollar signs. I also think they saw this:

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Paramount already had stuff developed for Phase II, so they switched the plan. Star Trek was going to become a major motion picture. And, as has happened so many times before and since, a release date was put into place and everybody had to race the clock.

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Development loaded in on the Phase II pilot script that was called “In Thy Image.” The script was written by Gene Roddenberry and the film’s producer David Livingston started an overhaul process that would haunt him through almost every day of shooting.

Robert Wise was hired to be the director and give the film automatic credibility. The development of Special Effects for the film was expensive and time consuming. When the film was finally released, it played more like a work print.

The film didn’t make as much as Star Wars, but it did make more money than any other Star Trek film ever has. Because Paramount was expecting Star Wars money, the film was not deemed a success.

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It was dubbed by everyone as “Star Trek: The Motionless Picture” because of the lack of fight scenes, ship to ship phaser fights, lack of Wookies (I guess), because of a missing sequence involving a shuttlecraft flying through V’ger to launch photon torpedos at the exhaust port, since there’s an unseen seedy bar sequence where rogue pilot Sulu has a ship for rent, evidently there were no struggles with Swahili Princess Uhura being tortured by an ominous figure, and obviously a severe lack of lightsabres.

Even some Star Trek fans will use the “motionless picture” jibe because it got them laughs in 1987. When the home video market was just beginning, fans would cite the first Star Trek movie as the one they didn’t like. I have never been able to get on that page… in fact, I will sooner pick bones with Wraith of Khan.

The Motion Picture is not the black sheep of the Star Trek film franchise.

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No. It just wasn’t what anybody wanted. But it was Star Trek. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the only Star Trek movie with the bravado to just be Star Trek. The influences of Star Wars are far from it. It’s a film about seeking out new life, it has an alien mystery, and it has Kirk relying on his team again.

In the film, the crew hasn’t seen each other forever and we get to watch them re-discover their footing with one another. Dr. McCoy rocks a medallion. Spock tries to distance himself from his friends. Kirk gets to steal command of the Enterprise from someone younger and brighter (something that always happened to him on the show).

I’m telling all of you that The Motion Picture pays you back for being a fan a thousand times over and to any Star Trek fan who hates the part when Scotty shows Kirk the Enterprise!? I hereby demand your pips, toy tricorder, combadge, plastic phaser, any and all action figures, paintings, books, posters, film cells, uniforms, patterns for uniforms, and any make up prosthetics you might own because you’re seriously outside of this phenomenon, need to be stripped of your rank, and you are a poser.

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I know it’s easy to forget this, but Kirk never really gets to see his ship (because he’s inside of it). Scotty knows this. Scotty hooks him (and us) up with the rarest of opportunities and their silence, reverence, and Jerry Goldsmith’s score is amongst the most beautiful sequences in the Star Trek canon.

Recently, a DVD version of the Motion Picture came out. This Special Edition was re-visited by Robert Wise and the pacing was brought closer to what he imagined the film would be. Special effects that had been missing before have been created and placed where they should be. It is fantastic. So if you haven’t seen the film since VHS, I can’t imagine a better primer for our new Star Trek movie than watching the first movie that got Trekkies itching to get into a theater.

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Your DVD viewing will begin with a starfield and overture from Jerry Goldsmith. DO NOT FAST FORWARD you pansies! Let that music sweep over you and lead you into Trek’s most daring screen venture ever. The overture is a long dead film tradition that the Motion Picture employed to signal that Trek was no longer for the small screen.

This May we will discover a similar announcement from a new group of filmmakers. I can’t wait.

It feels like 1978, I think. Of course, in 1978 I didn’t know how awesome Star Trek really was. What’s your excuse?

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  • Adam

    Wow…

    Complete disagreement from me over here, although I have watched it twice in the past 3 years, and it wasn’t *as bad* as I thought…

    However, I do wish they would bring back the overture–at least just for the new movie. Star Trek has been away for so long–they should just milk it for all it’s worth and put up a slowly moving starfield with badass music by Michael Giacchino.

  • April Hebert (Cmdr.Tahryn, Prof. T’Pril)

    Yeah, I’m kinda with Adam on this one…I can’t really sit still for TMP. Except for that one incredible scene, the glorious reintroduction of our beautiful and beloved ship. I remember sitting in the theater wiping the tears from my eyes so I could see her. Nothing was ever so beautiful. Unfortunately, after that…I think I fell asleep.

  • http://twitter.com/super_spock jerad.formby

    @april hebert Ah ha. Because it’s not Star Wars enough? ah ha!

  • zancho

    First off i am obliged to point out that i am an avid Ice Pirates fan. oh yes i will stand up for this film in any venue… comedy, time travel, totalitarian empire, lost planets, action, romance, and lets not forget the one and only appearance of the Space Herpie! The Ice Pirates satisfies on many other levels as well….a must see to be sure!
    as far as TMP goes, it being the “odd duck” of trek, i love it for it’s gorgeous 50’s 60’s style presentation. every scene is drawn out forever, music telling the story, the imagry a fantastic collection of sci fi artwork. this particular film harkens back to the style of many earlier science fiction films in terms of pacing and presentation which for me is a great bit of nostalgia.
    these ponderous, non action having, almost art pieces, were largely responsable for my love of the “space film”.
    TMP belongs to that particular class of the old school and simply needs to viewed without the star trek goggles on to be truly appreciated. it’s got “Star Trek” in it for days but it’s also got alot more….
    but alas…..”i know engineers, they love to change things….”

  • Grunt

    Yes, yes, a THOUSAND times yes!

    ST:TMP is, and always has been, my favourite Star Trek film by a massive margin. Those who like Wrath of Khan better are WRONG – if they prefer action scenes and people hitting each other and ‘splosions and all those other pituitary split-second amusements then they really haven’t grasped an entire slice of what Star Trek is also SUPPOSED to be about. Exploration, strange new worlds, pitting humans against the UNKNOWN (not ‘villain of the week’)…TMP not only beautifully shows you all of that, it does so beautifully, in a way that still haunts long after you’ve finished watching the film. In fact, even 20+ years later I still get goose-bumnps recalling the Enterprise’s tense journey into the heart of V’Ger’s enormous, wondrous gas clouds. Needless to say I bought the special cut on DVD and felt that same wonder all over again.

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