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Star Trek: The Motion Picture
STAR TREK I The Review

Human Rating: 3 / 5 Alien Rating: Crop Circle

It's life, Captain, but not life as we know it.

Star Trek INo doubt big screen adaptations of 'Sixties televisions shows are in vogue right now. Besides familiarity with the show's name, Lost in Space (1998)'s studio is hoping on cashing in on the current sci-fi craze. After all, one of last year's biggest hits was the sci-fi comedy, Men in Black (1997). To be honest, if you're living outside the States there would probably be little chance that you would ever have seen an episode of the original "Lost In Space" - never mind remembering it fondly! I, for example, only know the show from some comic books I read as a kid. Most of my fellow South Africans are clueless - and I don't blame them: the show never aired here.

Back in 1977, Paramount Pictures were hoping for something similar that the Lost in Space (1998) producers are hoping for now. However, they needed have worried (although they probably did!). The film they were planning was also based on a 1960s television show, but it was one which enjoyed universal recognition, namely Star Trek. Even here in South Africa almost everybody knew who Captain Kirk, Spock and Scotty were!

Star Trek IMuch has been said about how the memory of Star Trek was kept alive by fandom after its final first-run show of the third season on June 3, 1969 without having to retread familiar ground here. Also, about how Paramount wanted to do a big-screen version of Star Trek throughout the early and mid-1970s but then changed its plans to do a Star Trek II television series featuring the original crew (with the exception of Mr. Spock, since Leonard Nimoy didn't agree to return).

However, plans fell through and two weeks before photography on the new series was due to start, Paramount announced that it was going to expand the new series' planned first episode into a full-length movie directed by Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), West Side Story (1961)). One of the reasons for this? The unexpected commercial success of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)...

Star Trek IStar Trek I saw release in December 1979. Although it opened to mixed reaction from critics and fans, the film has been perceived since then to have been a failure - both commercially and artistically. Besides, the common wisdom since then was that odd numbered Star Trek movies were rubbish: the first Star Trek movie, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and Star Trek: Generations (1994). And while there's some truth in that - Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), directed by William Shatner, remains the weakest Trek movie to date - it's time to reclaim Star Trek I as one of the best films in the series...

Here's why:

  • The movie is good to simply look at. After all, the first special-effects team on Star Trek I was fired, and the movie's release was delayed a year while new effects were devised and photographed. The effects are brilliant. Eye-candy as critics pointed out, sure. However, in the process the Enterprise was updated to look like other spaceships we've already seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Silent Running (1971), Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) and Alien (1979). Especially the alien spaceship which seems to stretch out into infinity is excellent.
  • The plot is only predictable in so far as it is prime Star Trek stuff: the crew of the starship Enterprise confronts some kind of alien entity. At the end basic human values are affirmed. But the basic idea behind the picture - of the alien entity asking very much the same questions we humans are - is actually interesting stuff. When I first saw the film, it reminded me of Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama novel.
  • There are enough in-jokes and references to keep any self-confessed trekkie happy.

Star Trek II, for one, was just glad back in 1979 to see the faces of the familiar Enterprise crew again. Little did I know that the film's commercial success would ensure nine big screen outings, several spin-off television shows, you name it. Enough to keep any Star Trek fan happy...

Star Trek I turns 20 next year. So how about it, Paramount? Bring this unacknowledged sci-fi classic back to the big screen - where it belongs!

Review by James O'Ehley from The Sci-Fi Movie Page.

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