Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979 IMDb)

Categorization

The whole franchise is nominally science fiction.

Subject

According to the eighth feature film in the franchise (First Contact, 1996), there was a devastating war on Earth around 2053. Ten years later, the first human travelling faster than light was detected by a friendly intelligent species. This inspired all of humankind to end "poverty, disease, war" over the next 50 years. A couple of centuries later, humankind is united under some vague archist/US-libertarian utopian democracy, living mostly in a post-scarcity economy and interacting with huge numbers of other sapient races, the majority of these apparently being humanoid.

Commentary

Good Mead. Easily the best plot seed in Star Trek movies, but still a Star Trek movie. The franchise is historically significant, but only in terms of its politics as applicable to a bygone era: A black woman and a Russian working as heroes on American television in 1966, and a somewhat early interracial kiss. (The first documented specifically African/Caucasian pairing in a kiss on American TV as of 2016 was Movin' With Nancy (1967), predating the Uhura/Kirk kiss in a 1968 episode of Star Trek.) The ideological foundation is otherwise insipid: In this utopia, the “best” people want to join the navy and live like soldiers.

It was 9 years after Twin Peaks (1990) that Star Trek TV finally broke the chains of status quo ante in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1999). The chains are ugly. The ontology is incredibly messy. For instance, teleporters annihilate matter in one place and perfectly replicate the object elsewhere, in a world where FTL is easy. What passes for science here is a plastic backdrop for poorly scripted anthropomorph drama and fuzzy thinking. In a since disregarded episode of Star Trek: Voyager (1995) for instance, the main ship went so fast that it was everywhere in the universe at once and the crew evolved into lizards.

The movies have two advantages: Budget, and an exception to the franchise's aversion to serialization. Each episode of nearly every Star Trek TV series strives to be unsustainably self-contained, so that the franchise can continue to appeal to casual viewers and kids. This results in a small fraction of the thought experiments being interesting, with no reason to watch the whole deathless shitfest. (Fans will be able to tell I stopped watching Star Trek on TV a few seasons into Voyager.)

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Sequel:

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982 IMDb)

Commentary

No attraction but the kitsch.

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Sequel:

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984 IMDb)

Viewing

Seen in 2013.

Commentary

The anti-scientific mysticism reaches intolerable levels. The mere fact that a space station is built as a giant greebled garage makes my brain burn. (This is rectified in Generations.) Still, I appreciate the somewhat nuanced portrayal of the Federation, the fact that plot threads are carried over and resolved in a sometimes sane manner, and Christopher Lloyd as a Klingon captain.

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Sequel:

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986 IMDb)

Viewing

Seen in 2013.

Commentary

A much more pure and honest form of kitsch than the earlier films. A comedy, as befits the premisses.

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Sequel:

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989 IMDb)

Viewing

Seen in 2013.

Commentary

The script has two distinct phases: It's a somewhat competent Star Wars (1977) imitation up to the point where Sybok's vision is revealed. Then the film becomes a travesty of intellectual and philosophical science fiction, to its end. Themes usually left in the background and best left entirely by the wayside are foregrounded as plot points, particularly the leap of faith. Do not trust a charismatic fanatic whose rousing speech includes the falsehood that Columbus proved the Earth is round. On the plus side, Spock is not constantly stating the obvious: things are illogical.

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Sequel:

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991 IMDb)

Viewing

Seen in 2014.

Commentary

Interesting production history. A pleasant attempt to re-examine some of the previous idealism in a sober light, but it is not entirely successful. The ending shows just how much stupidity is being dragged along: The old crew endures a martyr's torpedoing without injury, before abruptly saving themselves with hand-waved “innovation”, beaming down to rescue everyone through physical force and say a few incoherent words.

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Sequel:

Star Trek: Generations (1994 IMDb)

Viewing

Seen in 2014.

Commentary

Without having counted at all, I would say this is the record-holder in number of cuts where people on bridges are thrown about like rag dolls while sparks fly inexplicably from their instruments. Star Trek is frequently at its most interesting exploring its own creepy ideology of personal “improvement”, where Ayn Rand meets L. Ron Hubbard. In this ideology, the “Nexus”, where people are happy without having to clean the hallways of the Enterprise with a toothbrush every three hours must be shown as flawed and consequently rejected. Utterly predictable, but it's pretty well done here.

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Sequel:

Star Trek: First Contact (1996 IMDb)

Viewing

Seen in 2014.

Commentary

The interesting story here is the “Blue Marble” moment where a scientific achievement puts a dent in human narcissism. That is a science fiction story. Unfortunately, the grime and grit of this story feel completely fake on the cheap sets, the humour of it is childish, and the consequences are examined only at a 300-year remove. Much more annoying than this, the interesting story is purposely overshadowed by the glib overachievers of the Enterprise enhancing their glory by directing the historic moment and fighting an irrelevant war with the Borg. The first corridor warfare scenes are unusually suspenseful, but there is no getting around the silliness of the enemy: all drones are humanoid(!), never move faster than a walk, are never armed, and are easy to kill with hands and bullets, unlike the comparatively primitive android member of the crew. There is no thought process behind the Borg as a faction, and it shows. I think the writers just wanted the emotional reaction displayed here by Lily: mindless disgust.

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Sequel:

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998 IMDb)

Viewing

Seen in 2014.

Commentary

About average for the series, despite the negative reception. As usual the crew of the Enterprise is forced to rescue the Federation by rebelling against it. It is interesting how the writers keep returning to that motif, evidently unsatisfied with the way that Star Trek is held up as a positive and hopeful vision of the future. Another interesting point here is the technophobia, greatly generalized from the phobia of the Borg exhibited in the previous film.

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Sequel:

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002 IMDb)

Commentary

Forgettable.

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Fan film:

Really Bad Star Trek (2004)

Fan film:

The Final Frontier Revisited (2004 IMDb)

Commentary

Sweet camp; who cares about camera shadows anyway?

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Theatrical feature (reboot):

Star Trek (2009 IMDb)

Commentary

There is nothing in it, not even a thought experiment.

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