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Star Trek: The Motion Picture: A Reconsideration


The posts on Star Trek:  The Motion Picture have gone beyond the number I’d originally expected.  At this point, I’d thought I had no more than a couple posts left.   As I’ve continued, however, and as more themes and ideas have come to mind, it seems as if I’ll need at least four posts, and perhaps more than that, to finish what I have to say about it.  Thus, while leaving the essays on STTMP at the general Star Trek index, and putting the future ones there, as well, I’ve decided to give it an index of its own right here.  Enjoy!

Star Trek:  The Motion Picture, Part 1–Pre-incarnation

STTMP, Part 2–Synopsis

STTMP, Part 3–Pretty Sounds and Colors!

STTMP, Part 4–Script

STTMP, Part 5–Cast

STTMP, Part 6:  A Few Words about Costumes (ugh!)

STTMP, Part 7:  Director

STTMP, Part 4–Script

This story conference doesn't look like it's going to go well....

This story conference doesn’t look like it’s going to go well….

Previous installments are  here, here, and here.

Practically every name science fiction writer was suggested to write the script: Ray Bradbury, Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon, and Harlan Ellison, to name a few (the latter two had written scripts for TOS, in fact).  Finally, the decision was made to go with a script that was originally to have been the pilot episode of Star Trek:  Phase II.  The script was “In Thy Image”, about a damaged and repaired space probe returning to Earth (personal quibble–it ought to be “In Thine Image”–the form with the euphonic “n” comes before vowels).  One could be charitable and say that if waste were recycled as much as this script, we’d live in a garbage-free utopia….

“In Thy Image” is essentially a remake of TOS epidose “The Changeling“.  Insofar as it features an Inexplicable Looming Menace From Space, the script is similar to the episodes of TOS  The Doomsday Machine” and  “The Immunity Syndrome” (this theme would be reused yet again in Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home).  In the theme of Kirk having to reason with or outfox an implacable computer, the script resembles “The Ultimate Computer“, “Return of the Archons“, and “The Changeling” once more.  At least re-writing its own episodes is a venerable Trek tradition!

In any case, fans immediately caught the derivative nature of the plot, and this has been much discussed and derided.  It is also a long-standing custom to beat up on the extremely long FX shots with the actors doing nothing more than giving silent reactions, while the movie drags ponderously along.  These are valid criticisms, but they have long been made and are a part of fan lore.  Moreover, even a derivative re-write could have been done well, and excessive length is as much a matter of editing as script.  What I want to do is look at other problems with the script that in my view have not been adequately discussed.

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STTMP, Part 3–Pretty Sounds and Colors!


The first two installments of this review are here and here.


The theme of the original series (TOS)–the familiar dah dah DAH dah dah dah dah DAAAAHH–was composed by Alexander Courage.  Gene Roddenberry wrote lyrics for the theme.  They were never sung or performed in any of the series or movies of the Star Trek franchise, nor were they intended to be.   Roddenberry, chronically short of cash (until much later, after the franchise was re-started with this movie), did so merely to claim 50% of royalties on the theme.  He did so without consulting Courage, who long held a grudge against The Great Bird of the Galaxy (Rodenberry’s nickname among the cast) for this reason.

Veteran film composer Jerry Goldsmith was hired to do the score for Star Trek:  The Motion Picture (STTMP).  Goldsmith was talented and well-respected in Hollywood.  Goldsmith was also known as an innovator, always on the lookout for new sounds and methods.  A good example is his use of unique instrumentation in this movie, particularly the peculiar sounds used as a theme for V’Ger.  Goldsmith made two audacious moves for STTMP.

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Star Trek: Index

Star Trek Logo

I’m working on a multi-part review of Star Trek:  The Motion Picture.  I’ve put up two installments thus far, and will post at least two further (perhaps more).  I’ll be putting them under the “Reviews” section.  However, as a long-time fan of Star Trek in all its various iterations, particularly the original series (TOS), I may do more posts of a Trek-related nature now and then.  Thus, I’m putting up this index page for the continuing voyages of Trek writing, in which I’m also putting my earlier reviews of J. J. Abrams’s 2009 movie.  Live long and prosper!

Star Trek (reboot), Part 1:  How to Do It Pretty Much Right

Star Trek (reboot), Part 2:  How to Do It Pretty Much Right

In Keeping With the Star Trek Theme

Movie Review:  Star Trek:  The Motion Picture, Part 1–Pre-incarnation

Movie Review:  Star Trek:  The Motion Picture, Part 2–Synopsis

Movie Review:  Star Trek:  The Motion Picture, Part 3–Pretty Sounds and Colors!

Movie Review:  Star Trek:  The Motion Picture, Part 4–Script

Movie Review:  Star Trek:  The Motion Picture, Part 5–Cast

STTMP, Part 6:  A Few Words about Costumes (ugh!)

STTMP, Part 7:  Director

Star Trek or Star Wars?

STTMP, Part 2–Synopsis

The first installment of my review of Star Trek:  The Motion Picture is here.

Three Klingon battle cruisers, while on a mission in deep space, encounter a large, mysterious cloud-like structure.  Deciding it is a threat, they fire photon torpedoes at it, to no effect.  The cloud retaliates with huge balls of light which dissolve and absorb the Klingon ships.  Meanwhile, a deep space Federation monitoring station receives images of this from an automated probe.  Plotting the cloud’s course, they realize it is headed directly towards Earth.

Meanwhile, on Vulcan, Spock has completed rigorous training in the Vulcan discipline of Kolinahr, by which all emotion is finally expunged.  About to receive a token of this from a priestess, he stops.  The Vulcans assembled there have all telepathically felt a strong, alien mind.  Spock is affected by it, and the priestess, telling him that the consciousness has stirred his human side, drops the token to the ground and says he has not, in fact, attained Kolinahr.  She leaves him, saying, “His answer lies elsewhere.” Read the rest of this entry

Star Trek, The Motion Picture, Part 1–Pre-Incarnation


I formerly called this a review, but it has expanded far beyond that into a series I’m still working on.  Thus, I’m calling it a “reconsideration” now.  I’ve been intending to write about Star Trek:  The Motion Picture for awhile; not so much a traditional review, as my thoughts on seeing the movie again for the first time in a long time.  Originally, I was just going to plunge right in with no synopsis; but upon thinking about it, I changed my mind.  Many may not have seen it, and those who have may need a refresher.  In this context, it occurred to me also to put in some production notes, background, and other relevant information.  To do all of this in one post would make it extremely long even by my standards (regular readers know that some of my posts are on the long side!); therefore, I’m breaking this into multiple parts, beginning with how STTMP came to be made in the first place.

Throughout the early 70’s, Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, had churned out a string of failed sci-fi (yes, I know that “sf” is correct, and sci-fi is derogatory–but the use here is intentional) pilots, most of them (Spectre, Genesis II, and Planet Earth) awful, one passable (The Questor Tapes) and several that never made it out of the concept stage (two of these, years after Roddenberry’s death, were made into the relatively good series Andromeda and Earth:  The Final Conflict).  None of these worked out, but as the decade wore on and Star Trek became a cult hit in syndication, Roddenberry decided to try to get it back on the air.  Paramount, which owned the rights, was planning to launch a fourth TV network to complete with CBS, NBC, and ABC.  The idea of a renewed Star Trek as a flagship show for the network sounded good; so pre-production began.  The resuscitated show would be christened Star Trek:  Phase II.

The 70’s to that point had not been good to William Shatner.  Typecast, he was reduced at one point to doing small-town dinner theater, dramatic readings, and (reluctantly) fan conventions, while literally living out of his truck.  He was immediately on board with the idea of reprising Captain Kirk.  On the other hand, Leonard Nimoy, also typecast (but working much more steadily in Mission:  Impossible!, In Search Of, and other series and movies), had shied away from his identification with Mr. Spock, famously writing the book I Am Not Spock.  This was controversial in fan circles, and won Nimoy some foes.  In any case, he refused to come back to series TV.

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A Little Romance


Or a little about romantic comedies, at least.

Earlier today I posted When Harry Met Sally as being at least partially New Year’s themed.  I also noted that it was a bit atypical of the movies I usually post here (old B movies, off the wall sci-fi, and generally weird).  Thinking of this movie again, I was inspired to post more in the genre.  In my mind, romantic comedies fell on hard times around the turn of the century, and there haven’t been many in the last decade or so that I’ve been interested in enough to see, or which (having seen them) I’ve liked much.  However, When Harry Met Sally launched a decade of romantic comedies by Meg Ryan, “America’s sweetheart” at the time.  Thus, I had thought to take an extended walk down memory lane by posting her three films with Tom Hanks.  Alas, the movies I select to post here are largely determined by what I can find free on YouTube, and I was unable to find these movies there.  I will keep trying, and if I find them, I’ll post them.  In lieu thereof, I thought I’d briefly discuss them.  This won’t be a review, per se, but spoilers are possible, so any who haven’t seen the movies discussed here, be forewarned!

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Star Trek (reboot), Part 2: How to Do It Pretty Much Right

Let’s trek some more!  Ransom spoilers possible!

OK, we’re talking about J. J. Abrams’s reboot of the Star Trek franchise, titled (logically enough) Star Trek (no roman numerals, subtitles, or other qualifiers necessary). Actually, one interesting thing about this reboot is that in all the interviews and stories I read before it came out Abrams adamantly refused to call it a reboot. He danced somewhat coyly around the topic, saying just that the main themes and characters were intact, he had changed some stuff, but nothing essential, and the fans would like it. I think he was trying to cover his tracks a bit, keep speculation down, and let the movie speak for itself. Trek does, admittedly, have one of the more rabid fan bases, and Abrams shrewdly, I think, wanted to avoid alienating anyone. On the other hand, let’s call it what it is, a reboot–and let us be eternally thankful to Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.  Speaking as an old-time fan who can vaguely remember the original series before it went into syndication, I think old-timers will like it. As to the younger crowd to whom Star Trek means Captain Picard or Captain Archer, or who may even (heresy!) have never seen a Trek show at all–well, I think this movie will make believers of them.

Rather than summarize the plot (if you’ve not seen it, go and make it so! Or, if not, you can get a synopsis from other reviews), I’m going to discuss some of my impressions of the movie.

Cast: Excellent. No one is imitating the old cast, but everyone really has a good handle on the characters. Chris Pine has got Kirk perfectly as boyishly charming, in a James Dean sort of way, a little bit of a loose cannon, and a brilliant commander. He shows us why Kirk became the youngest starship captain in the fleet. Zachary Qinto, of Heroes, is picture perfect as Spock. Of all the new cast, I think he has the greatest physical resemblance to the corresponding original cast member. More importantly, he conveys well the constant tension between the human and Vulcan sides of his psyche. Karl Urban is a great “Bones” McCoy–crotchety, slightly technophobic, but with a heart of gold. After all these years, his well-known backstory–joining Starfleet after a career as a civilian doctor and a nasty divorce, are finally made fully canonical. Uhura (Zoe Saldaña) is finally given a lot more respect and a lot more to do than just saying, “Hailing frequencies open, sir!” or “Captain, I’m frightened!” As we’d expect, she is a skilled linguist as well. Some may be a bit surprised by the romance between her and Spock, but I’m not. Look at early episodes of TOS where Uhura is hanging over Spock, casting eyes at him and singing as he plays the Vulcan lyre.  Something there–the potential just became actual in the new ‘verse! As to the rest of the cast, all were great. Sulu did his samurai smackdown (he put his fencing skills to use!), Chekov mangled English and was excitable and handy, Scotty managed to pull the ship through, etc. etc. Read the rest of this entry

Star Trek (reboot), Part 1: How to Do It Pretty Much Right

I’m working on a review of the very first big screen Star Trek movie, Star Trek:  The Motion Picture.  I’d really wanted to post it first.  However, other things have intervened, and I don’t want to rush it and do a chop job.  Therefore, I’ve decided to go ahead and post this two-part review of the 2009 reboot, titled simply Star Trek.  I’ll get the other review (which is also multi-part) up as soon as I can.  In English composition, they teach you that in a series, the last is the most important.  Consider that the case here, too.  This review of the Star Trek reboot was originally written soon after it came out in 2009.  It is slightly edited and updated here.

I’ll start by saying that nothing can ever match the original Star Trek.  At the end of the day, it was new, ground-breaking, and showed the audience of the 60’s–and after–a vision of what could be.  Also, unlike a movie, a series, being ongoing, has time to delve into the characters and themes, and achieve a greater depth.  It’s worth pointing out that while the new Star Trek is lots of fun, it is quite lightweight in comparison to the depth of the original at its best.  Of course, the sequel has been announced, and we’ll see what happens.  Right now, though, Star Trek (the reboot) is sort of like the Robert Downey Sherlock Holmes franchise, at least at this point.  Not least for those of us who grew up on The Original Series (TOS), no one can ever truly replace William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, and all the rest in our hearts.  They are true paradigms, practically archetypal.  Thus, please keep in mind that for any raving about the reboot, the Original Series will always hold pride of place in my heart, mind, and outlook.

Having said all that:  after thirty years, the curse of the odd-numbered movie has been broken.  Old time Trekkers know the long-standing fan lore that the odd-numbered movies in the Star Trek series of movies have been, to be charitable, weak (when they haven’t outright stunk!).  The eleventh entry in the series, though, has killed this truism with a vengeance.  Star Trek has not only jettisoned numerical suffixes and subtitles (it’s just plain old Star Trek!), but it has also jettisoned the encrustations that have gradually been choking the Trek franchise to death and has restored it to glorious life. Read the rest of this entry

Reviews, Views, and Culture, Pop and Otherwise: Index

I noticed on my stats page that someone had read my review of Gladiator, which I posted a long time ago.  I’ve got some other movie, book, and other reviews that I’ve got planned (some written years ago, some that I’m planning to write), so I thought I’d make a central index for them as I get them written and posted.  Some essays will be not traditional reviews, but may look at themes in one or more works.  Within genres, reviews are alphabetized by the title of the work reviewed.  Enjoy!

Update (6 August 2018):  I have a number of posts on various topics which, while not quite (or not at all) reviews as such, still touch on various pop-culture (and sometimes mainstream culture) topics.  Rather than making a separate index for such posts, I’m renaming this page “Reviews, Views, and Culture, Pop and Otherwise” and putting in a separate section for the other posts I’ve written.  Enjoy!



A Double Shadow (this goes to the index for it, since I wrote several essays on it, none of them a traditional review–but, oh well)

His Dark Materials, Part 1:  Literary Agendas

His Dark Materials, Part 2:  Commitments, Propaganda, and Blurry Lines

Lion of Macedon



Star Trek (reboot), Part 1:  How to Do It Pretty Much Right

Star Trek (reboot), Part 2:  How to Do It Pretty Much Right

Star Trek:  The Motion Picture:  A Reconsideration (this is the index page, since this is an ongoing series on the movie)

The War Lord

If You See Yoda on the Road, Kill Him!


Mystery Science Theater 3000 (this is an index page for the occasional series I wrote on the show)

Space:  1999–A Brief Appreciation

Pop Culture

True (?) Identities

A Little Romance

The Most Evil Song of All Time!

The Second Most Evil Song of All Time!

Aliens, Robots, and Perpetual Motion

What is Needed for Good Science Fiction

Star Trek or Star Wars?

The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?

Space:  Stars, Solar Systems, Galaxies, and Such

Einstein and the Millennium Falcon–The Timeline of The Empire Strikes Back

Too Much Meta!

Space, the Final Frontier–and Why It Will Stay That Way

Aliens and Angels