I guess I know the answer to that, actually.
Last night I watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture again. Let’s stop right here and take a moment to make sure we’re clear: I’ve never been under the misapprehension that it’s a good movie. There was no expectation that following this watching my eyes would be opened to unforseen subtleties in dialogue or plot, nor would my appreciation for any of the actors therein be bathed in a new light. And needless to say my preconceptions were not challenged.
Instead it reinforced them with a surprising might. The dialogue, even outside of the technobabble, was crap on crap crackers. I’m reasonably certain that the delivery of those shitty lines was worse, even, than the campy-as-all-fuck original series. The actors seemed rusty: the writers sure as fuck were.
The overall plot, when viewed in a dark room with a squint, is actually quite good. It’s very interesting, and it keeps in line with the overall Star Trek theme of science and exploration, rather than WOOOO ‘SPLOSIONS BOOOOOSH KAPOW! Which is nice. It was the finer points that started to drag it down. And of course those finer points are what we usually call dialogue.
But what got me most was the special effects. I’m not saying they were bad, far from it: for the time they were really damn good. Better, even, than the first Star Wars movie in many ways. Mad respect for the effects folks. On the other hand, the director’s and editor’s visions of those effects made it even worse. They might as well have called it Star Trek: HOLY CRAP WE HAVE AN ACTUAL BUDGET AND WE AIN’T GONNA WASTE IT. This was demonstrated in the overabundance of unnecessarily lengthy beauty shots of said effects.
For instance, the big reveal of the refitted Enterprise. A big moment to be sure: they went all-out to pretty it up for the movie and did a bang up job. It’s revealed as Kirk meets Scotty at a nearby space station, hop in a shuttle, and fly over to it and around it a bit, with a few short lines of dialogue about the importance of the mission. Ok. A couple of minutes is worth spending here, yeah. How long did they spend? From the 12:20 mark to 18:16. Nearly six minutes of beauty shot with very little plot. You could almost justify it. Again, it’s important to show off the new Enterprise. But it became redundant a few minutes later when Enterprise, leaving spacedock, got showed off again for several minutes. WTF.
There are several such instances, and too many to list. I will point out another, though, when the Enterprise entered the huge cloud of energy surrounding the V’GER probe. There were more effects as they flew into the heart of the thing, and yeah, it was good stuff. Built suspense for a bit. The I did the math and found that it was ten straight minutes of beauty shot, interspersed only with a few crew reaction shots (dumbfounded stares across the board), with a handful of lines of Kirk giving maneuvering orders. Time well spent? Hm.
But most of the rest of the plot is centered around trying to communicate with a hot bald robot lady with a glowing red tracheotomy hole who won’t shut up about everyone’s unit.
At the end, I had a nasty epiphany. I hate it when those happen. But lately, due to that brilliant and painful review of the crapheap that was Star Wars Episode 3, I’ve been comparing a lot of stuff to it. And I did so here. Before I continue, a refresher on Star Trek: TPM. The villain is Voyager 6, a probe sent from Earth that disappeared, was apparently discovered by a ‘machine planet’ (widely said to be the Borg based on Spock’s comment that ‘any show of resistance would be futile’, though the Borg weren’t brought up again for another decade in The Next Generation). The nameplate, covered with cosmic crap, made it look like its name was V’GER. Said machine planet built it a huge and immensely powerful ship so it could go back to Earth, complete its mission of transmitting data, etc. Ok? All on the same page? Good.
V’GER itself was inanimate. It had its big weird ship, yeah, and it created the android from that lady to try and figure out the crew of the Enterprise. It had no lines, it wasn’t scary looking once we saw it, and its big reveal showed that it wasn’t even hostile, exactly.
But it was a better villain than Darth Vader and the Emperor at the end of Episode 3.
Now, to be clear, I don’t mean he was better than those two through the original three Star Wars movies. Vader in the other three was the supreme villain of all time, ever. And it’s not as good as Khan in Star Trek 2… and the same ‘silent menace’ feel was done just as well in Star Trek 4 with the alien probe. Compared to the crappy plot and atrocious dialogue of Ep3 though? Really? The revelation is mind-boggling.
Anyway, yeah. Crappy movie. And I worry that it’s crappy movies like this that killed off speculative science fiction as a genre: scifi will now only mean lasers in space I guess. Producers are too afraid to take a chance that such a film might be good, and too afraid to take a chance on an audience that might, shockingly, be intelligent enough to appreciate it.
Oh well. At least the second one was good.