By Matthew E. Milliken
April 25, 2017
A strong case can be made that 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the most ambitious movie in the Trek franchise, as well as the one that holds truest to the science fiction tropes of peaceful exploration that were famously embodied by Gene Roddenberry’s original television series. And an equally strong case can be made that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is among the least watchable of all the Trek films, both on the franchise’s own terms as well as those of cinema in general.
(Reader beware: Mild spoilers ensure.)
Before I dive into either argument, a plot summary: An presmense and incredibly powerful energy field of unknown origin is flying toward Earth after having erased three Klingon battle cruisers without breaking sweat. Strangely, although Starfleet is headquartered on Earth, the organization has only one ship capable of intercepting this vast cloud, which we eventually learn calls itself V’ger. That vessel, naturally, is one U.S.S. Enterprise. She is fresh off a two and a half year long refit without having undergone a shakedown cruise, she’s assigned to an untested captain, and her crew is young and largely untried.
Enter one Admiral James Tiberius Kirk (the one and only William Shatner), who has (it is strongly implied) spent the interim period serving as chief of Starfleet operations. He persuades his boss (the unseen Admiral Nogura) to restore Enterprise to his command, usurping the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Capt. Willard Decker (Stephen Collins). As the crew struggles to prepare the starship for its upcoming encounter, and as Kirk comes to grips with the challenges of the situation, the starship finds itself facing a powerful entity that regards humanity as an infestation. Life on Earth could be exterminated unless Kirk and his top officers — Decker, a cranky Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and an incredibly remote Spock (Leonard Nimoy) — find a way to work together and satisfy V’ger’s desire to unite with God.