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STTMP, Part 7: Director

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In the course of this reconsideration of Star Trek:  The Motion Picture, we’ve looked at all the major aspects of production except for what some consider the most important, the director.  I don’t really have any strong feelings either way with regard to the auteur theory–I think there are cases to be made both ways.  In either case, the director is certainly one of the most important aspects of any film; and the director chosen to helm STTMP was the distinguished veteran filmmaker Robert Wise.

Robert Wise was a Hollywood veteran of long standing, who had worked in almost all cinematic genres.  He won Academy Awards for West Side Story and The Sound of Music.  More germane to the present consideration, he directed the movie widely considered to be the best science fiction movie of the 1950’s, The Day the Earth Stood StillHe also directed the science fiction thriller The Andromeda Strain.  Unlike later directors who often stamped their personality onto all their films, Wise had a reputation as a consummate craftsman who worked with what he was given to make the best movies he could.  Wise had not been familiar with Star Trek, but he had been a favorite director of Gene Roddenberry.  Thus, after several possible directors were discussed, Wise was chosen to direct Star Trek:  The Motion Picture.

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Star Trek: The Motion Picture: A Reconsideration

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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!

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

Score

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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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

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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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