Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Star Trek -- Motion Picture is bigger, not better

Cleveland Press December 22, 1979

"Star Trek -- The Motion Picture" is a long (two hours and 16 minutes) expensively made ($40 million) theatrical version of the TV show for which audiences pay $4 for to see the Starship Enterprise and Mr. Spock's pointed ears in Panavision and Technicolor.

It is the latest proof in that bigger is not necessarily better.

For all of its length it has about as much plot as one of the original one-hour TV shows, maybe a little less than many of them had.

The film's chief virtue for fans of the series is its reunion of the the original cast after a decade, picking up the old relationships and rivalries, repeating lines of dialog that have become permanently associated with some of the characters.

Listen for the cheers as Spock talks about logic, as Dr. McCoy growls his cynical remarks.

The movie also takes the camera outside the space ship for exterior views of the kind television never did. While these are colorful and dazzling they are rapidly becoming old hat.

Spock (Leonard Nimoy) remains cool and emotionless, Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is just as caustic, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is upright to the point of stuffiness, unbending for a smile or two at the end.

Undoubtedly, Trekkies would want it no other way.

But non-Trekkies may wonder what it is all about. The allusions are entirely out of the old TV series.

The plot is pure science fiction, filled with the kind of technical jargon indigenous to that form.

Something strange in the form of a huge cloud is headed straight for the earth. Destruction is inevitable unless Kirk and his crew can penetrate the unknown and somehow change its course.

The thing is described as a superior intelligence, one that even the all-knowing Spock cannot fathom. This sort of thing is always "a superior intelligence." Tales of the future have a way of giving us all an inferiority complex.

There isn't much anybody can do about this except peer at the approaching cluster of light and vapor through TV monitors and cope with occasional malfunctions that threaten to destroy the ship.

The TV cast regulars are augmented by a couple of outsiders. Stephen Collins plays Dekker who is nominally in command of the U.S.S. Enterprise but displaced by Kirk who has been upped to Admiral in the two years or so the ship has been in dry dock. It's been closer to 10 that the series has been in the same place.

The other newcomer is Parsis Khambatta, former Miss India, shaved bald for the role of Ilia, an exotic visitor from another planet. She could put hairdressers out of work, but I doubt other women could look this good shorn of their hair.

These two flesh out the plot by way of the Dekker vs. Kirk conflict and the suggestion of a past and possibly future romance between Dekker and Ilia.

Plot elements are pretty minute. Mostly the movie goes in for the kind of philosophical and metaphysical musings that seemed so apt on the small screen and which emerge so pretentious on the larger one.

The film has a clever twist at the end taking a page out of Genesis and some slight suggestions "The Planet of the Apes" and "Zardog."

The movie was directed by Robert Wise who made not only "Sound of Music" and "West Side Story," but "The Andromeda Strain" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" as well. The last remains one of the best science-fiction films of all time.

What Wise was able to contribute is difficult to fathom. What with the gimmicks and the hardware the technicians were far more important.