|Kirk inspects the newly remodeled Enterprise in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture."|
Director Robert Wise added the reflected Enterprise to this shot for his 2001
"director's edition" of the film.
That's understandable. "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" — or "TMP," from here on out — was rushed into production, with a script that rehashes Season 2's "The Changeling." As released in theaters and aired on television, TMP seems only partly finished. In truth, that's because it was only partly finished.
Robert Wise's "director's edition," released on DVD in 2001, improves the pacing and completes some effects shots that remained rough in the race to meet TMP's locked-in Dec. 7, 1979, release date.
Yet with or without Wise's touch-ups, TMP deserves reappraisal.
Wise's operatic approach to "Star Trek" makes Alan Dean Foster's story more than "The Changeling, Part 2." In Wise's hands, TMP becomes a humanistic retort to Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's "2001: A Space Odyssey."
In "2001" humanity has lost its sense of wonder, and in the process, its humanity. The most fully realized character is HAL (Douglas Rain), a self-aware computer, who becomes neurotic, then murderous. Emotions, when combined with big brains, are bad news.
While HAL is excited by the prospect of scientific discovery, the humans in "2001" are bored by space. It's simply where they work, as mundane and uninteresting to them as an office cubicle is to us.
Wise's TMP, building on Gene Roddenberry's hopeful vision of the future, flips Kubrick on his head. Harold Michelson's production design has much the same cool, antiseptic look as the production design of "2001," but here it's a setting where humans are still human, even when they're extraterrestrials.
In "2001," Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) naps during his trip to the moon. In TMP, the Enterprise crew stare wide-eyed and mouths agape at the immense living starship V'Ger. Wise drives his point home with an extended scene of the Enterprise flying through the energy cloud that surrounds V'Ger, our point of view shifting between the breathtakingly rendered alien craft and the crew's awestruck faces.
Eventually, the crew learn the ship is, like HAL, a living machine. But unlike HAL, V'Ger is cold, emotionless and searching. Without feelings, V'Ger can find no meaning, even after having traveled the length and breadth of the known universe.
Emotion is at the heart of TMP. The first familiar character we see is Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who has returned to his home on Vulcan to undergo a ritual that purges all remaining emotions. But he forgoes the ritual in order to join the Enterprise for its rendezvous with V'Ger, whose powerful consciousness Spock senses across the light years. Later on, Spock, having learned to accept his human half, weeps for the barren V'Ger as he would for a lost brother.
|Decker and Ilia finally unite, and in a literal sense, when Decker becomes one|
with the living machine V'Ger.
The scene depicting Kirk's approach to the Enterprise is the film's emotional high point, and Wise milks every second of it, accented by Jerry Goldsmith's sweeping score, making it the science fiction equivalent of the Bernard Herrmann-scored love scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo."
For Kirk, TMP is a love story that sees him reunited with his one true love. For two new characters, however, TMP is a slightly more conventional romance.
Decker (Stephen Collins) and Ilia (Persis Khambatta) are star-crossed lovers who come together at the end only when Decker volunteers to join with V'Ger, giving V'Ger the emotional capacity it lacks. V'Ger, Decker and Ilia become one, and the emotions that were HAL's undoing become V'Ger's salvation. Love conquers all, and humanity prevails because of its humanity.
V'Ger, like Spock, learns to feel, and the crew of the Enterprise help give birth to a new life form, one that seems far more hopeful than the creepy, ambiguous "star child" at the end of "2001."
Thanks to some "foolish human emotions," the human adventure is still just beginning.