I'm among those few who really enjoy ST:TMP now that we have some distance from it.
|Posted: 14 December 2019 at 6:31am | IP Logged | 8
I've told the story before of how my family almost never went to the theater and saw movies together. My father's schedule as a police officer did not allow for family outings for the most part. My mother was a dyed-in-the-wool Star Trek fan (a "Trekker" back when that was the term of preference) and wanted very much to see the movie. This caused a gigantic rift between them, as nearly everything did, and my father finally relented, heaping abuse and disdain upon the event taking away from his sleep and so forth. Mom endured it, knowing she'd be paying for this night for a long time to come.*
So when the movie died up there on the screen, we all died with it in no small way. That movie hurt my family. It hurt my mother. I was so indescribably furious with that film as it was playing out and as we left the theater. I was angry at it for years.
And I had loved everything about it up to that point. The promos. The ads. The commercials. The magazine articles. Before that night, I had loved it like I had loved nothing else. Star Wars kind of hit me sideways and again, the family didn't see it until after it had left the theaters and then come back. I was into the Starlog articles and what not; the humor magazine parodies, the comics, all of that, but the whole thing caught me unawares back in my early days. Star Wars just sort of showed up one day and was there.
Not so with Star Trek. We all were well-informed of its approach and completely primed for its arrival. Starlog was up on its feet by then and covering every element of its pre-production and development. Magazine racks were full of magazines with publicity photos in them. There were Scholastic magazines in school with Kirk and Spock on the cover that I pleaded for once they'd been on display for a few months. I was all about the coming Star Trek film. We all were. Ten years of lead-up and a sustained press barrage throughout the home stretch guaranteed high expectations.
Yet because of the deal the studio made with the distributors and the unfinished script they started with, there was no way the film could be made in time. They went with the wrong effects house and hired a better one much too late into the proceedings, forcing the two to work together in awkward concert. The actors were coming up with their own scenes and ways to resolve the story on set. There was no time to edit the film. None. Its length was pre-determined and every inch of effects footage that came in meant something else already filmed with the characters had to come out.
For Robert Wise, who made his considerable reputation as an editor, it must have been a nightmare. All this redundant "cloud big, ship tiny" footage replacing his stuff and he couldn't do anything to mitigate the damage.** A major blow to his career.
So, yeah. No one had a good time there. I agree.
Years have gone by, however, and I believe the film is worth revisiting. Nothing can save the unendurable wormhole sequence, yes, you're right. No, Stephen Collins does not light up the screen with charm and charisma. Much of what's taking place seems painfully awkward. No argument.
Here's what the film does have going for it, though: It's one of the best examples of Star Trek telling an adult story with its characters. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are at their most real. Their splitting up to go their own ways at the end of the series' five-year mission has left them sober and embittered. "Who wants to see that?" you roll your eyes.
It's a pretty daring choice actually. The film does not spoon feed us a happy, well-adjusted crew, all fresh-faced and ready for the challenge, as one might expect from a television movie brought to the screen. It treats its characters like 70's-era adults, with issues and defining elements that grind and twist a bit as they come into contact with one another.
Real life happened and time passed. People changed and made bad decisions. Star Trek had long been remarkably adroit with making its characters "feel" real for a TV show, but here, they were multi-dimensional people with careers and personal concerns, not at all happy with where the story finds them at the start.
Over the course of the film, by working together as they once had, they are able to find their way back to those central characterizations we'd taken for granted on the series. They were at their best at a certain point in their lives and then moved on from there, into less forgiving territory. Now, they were back. The end of the film puts the pieces back into place and allows us to feel good about what their next day is going to be. Or rather, it would have had the film we'd just seen them in been better. :-)
It's interesting seeing Kirk, Spock, & McCoy in this light. We appreciate how in sync they are in TWOK a bit more because we've all learned, both them and us, how things work when they're apart. Once again, time and event are dismantling the team, but they remain in touch this time. They're talking about it and working together to deal with it, as friends do.
Also of note: The production values in TMP are fantastic. You may not like the costumes (I do), but the ship and the crew have never looked better. We take it for granted because the visuals are all kept onscreen for much too long (an editor would have helped here) but they are among the best visuals Star Trek has ever had. Everything since is a poor stepchild of those original re-imaginings.
Berman said in interviews that he did not feel beholden to the candy-colored, plywood look of the original series. What he wanted onscreen in his shows were the films, and those proceed directly from what we saw in TMP.
Another element I enjoy: Most of my favorite ST episodes take place primarily on the bridge. It is kind of nuts that with a stratospheric budget and the opportunity to go anywhere, TMP spends most of its time on one set. It is closer in tone in that regard than fans give it credit for. I like watching Kirk get his sea legs back and begin to process things as he used to. TWOK has this element as well, making the captain a far more human character than he is generally regarded as being. Kirk has flaws that Janeway and countless others don't, but when he clicks, there is no one better.
So... End of the day... I don't like to remember that night when I first saw the film. I got a program from it (skipped popcorn to defray the expense of it, but still got a wave of resentment over how much it cost) and that thing made me feel bad every time I looked at it. Not a good time.
And the central story of TMP is lacking, no question. It was an irreparable mistake going forward with a TV script from a failed series (Roddenberry's Planet Earth/Genesis II) that closely mirrored an existing ST episode***, but the studio execs made that call, first when it was a pilot for Phase II**** and then again for the big screen, probably with zero consciousness of what the TV show might or might not have already done.
Now that I've exhausted the number of times that I can re-watch TWOK and the rest, I find coming back to TMP a pleasant and rewarding trip. Everyone looks good. The direction is crisp, even if the scenes roll on. No one edited the damn thing, but I can sort of see what each scene was supposed to be if I squint a bit. Which completely destroys the clarity of those countless di-opter shots, but y'know... :-)
I like the characters. I like that scene in the conference room. (I do not like the painted-on nacelles sticking out the back window in the Remastered version. Special Edition crap.) I like watching the lost heroes finding their way back to their best selves. I don't hate Decker (although I do keep comparing him unfavorably to Burt Lancaster who played the same part in RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP.) I actually really like Ilia. I wish more had been done with her.
ST:TMP requires you bring a great deal of forgiveness to the party (a hell of lot on my part, I feel) but I think it pays off in ways today that fans have never given it credit for. Shatner, Nimoy, and company showed up and put in good work, in many ways improving upon what they were given. It's not their fault the studio went with a less-than-half-finished photocopy of a used TV script. And they looked good doing it. The whole movie looks amazing.
I fast-forward through the V'ger shots and wormhole sequence the same as everyone else, but I do feel that sense of wonder and alive excitement my younger self felt at the same time. It's a compromised thrill, but a genuine one nonetheless. Like our heroes, despite some hardships, TMP allows me to find my way back to a better version of myself.
* For the record, Dad was never physically abusive with any of us that I know of, but man alive, when he was having a bad time, he made certain everyone had a bad time.
** I don't find the Director's Cut, btw, to be an improvement except near the end when the ship "pulls in" to dock with V'ger's core. There are missing effects shots there that the storytelling did need. The additional stuff with Nimoy is welcome as well. Many of the choices made by the editing team hurt the film considerably I believe, especially the transporter malfunction scene. Robert Wise may have signed off on the re-do, but he, and the audience, are still not well-served by it.
*** Also from that series, bumpy-headed bad guys whose spines continued up over their skulls.
**** Remember ST:TNG's pilot with unimaginative, derivative Trelayne 2? How about the next episode, a literal re-write of yet another existing script? TV has no problem with re-cycling. The film should have, but everyone was in such a hurry...
P.S. Looking over this post, I can see TMP isn't the only thing that could use a little more editing... But it's late. :-)
Edited by Brian Hague on 14 December 2019 at 7:04am