G! It was rated G, guys! Nothing is rated G, especially when people die and get replaced by robot clones! Also, there's some mildly scary scenes of Spock being driven insane by the vastness of V'Ger. But I'm never going to look a G-horse in the mouth. It's because he has amazing, family-friendly teeth. G.
DIRECTOR: Robert Wise
Oh man, I'm setting a really dangerous precedent here. I mean, I technically did this with Logan Noir, but I'm writing another entry about a movie that already has a post. I wrote about Star Trek: The Motion Picture when I first started this blog. It was this scant little thing and I didn't know what I was doing with this blog. (I still technically don't. I tell myself that quantity doesn't equal quality, but do I listen? No. No I don't. Look how much I wrote there.) But Paramount+ tricked me into thinking that "The Director's Edition" is a different movie from the original cut, so here I am trying to justify that decision. But this also allows me to revisit a movie that, for all intents and purposes, might be one of the weaker Star Trek movies.
My last take on Star Trek: The Motion Picture was that it was a 2001: A Space Odyssey knock-off that was hindered by creative differences and deciding whether or not that this was going to be a TV show or a movie. (I read one of William Shatner's memoirs because I'm that cool of a guy.) All that holds up. But something that I also have to concede is that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the most Roddenberry Star Trek film by a mile. Roddenberry hated the space military that Starfleet ended up being in the movies. He was about the potential of mankind and knowing its place in the universe. He was about getting over the things that hindered our evolution and focused on building a future where ego disappeared. Like Rod Serling with The Twilight Zone, he wanted to tell tales with messages. Now, The Motion Picture is sci-fi storytelling through-and-through. It's not insane that something so entrenched in the genre would have a message attached to it. But there is a theme in the film that I never really attached to until this viewing of the film. Kirk's personal journey, which is far more subdued than his internal conflicts in future films, affects the external conflict in a way that is both fascinating and worth noting.
It's really weird watching Captain Kirk be the bad guy for a lot of the film. From what I understood, Kirk and his crew were not supposed to be part of Star Trek: Phase II. It was going to be the story of Decker and his crew. The idea that Kirk would be narratively stepping on Decker's feet to get a hold of that command chair is unsettling, to say the least. But what Kirk is all about is not about a love of the Enterprise, which is definitely a part of his personality. It's the idea that he has to meet his creator, albeit in his own way. Yes, it is the Enterprise that takes him to the unknown. But if we replace the idea of "God" with "Where No Man Has Gone Before", the story is about God meeting God. From Kirk's perspective, he is heading out to meet this unfathomable cosmic power with intentions of destroying anything that gets in his way. His conscious mind sees this as a threat and knows that, based on his track record of commanding the Enterprise, he can stop it. But his unconscious needs to experience this. It's why he's adamant about commanding the Enterprise rather than simply acts in an advisory capacity, which is what his rank affords him. Decker makes a strong point: the Enterprise in its current condition is not the ship that Kirk commanded. That's supported by the fact that Kirk almost kills everyone by going to warp prematurely, a situation that Decker has to rectify. That need for Kirk to be in command may be read as hubris, but it is more along the lines of needing to meet God, something that would be poorly revisited in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Similarly, V'Ger's goal is to meet its creator / God. It recognizes that it came from Earth, but imagines that the creator is in the form that mirrors its own. There's a weird irony that V'Ger is almost eager to destroy its own creator because it doesn't meet the expectation established by V'Ger. It's creator is flawed and does not recognize its creation. There's something laughable (in a sinister way) about V'Ger's thought process. After all, it can't imagine that it is the product of something so simple and primitive. But Kirk has the same attitude. Wise, with his lifting of visuals from 2001, establishes that V'Ger is beyond comprehension. It is so beautiful and so massive that Spock cannot comprehend it, despite the fact that it is a being of pure logic. But Kirk is there not only to understand V'Ger. He's there primarily to destroy it. Everything is about this countdown to the apocalypse for Kirk. He says the right things, like a proper 23rd Century admiral does. He acknowledges that he doesn't want to provoke it and treats it with all the grace and sensitivity that comes with a first contact experience. But Kirk also makes it known that he would destroy it given the proper opportunity and provokation. V'Ger wants to destroy its creator. Kirk wants to destroy God. All that's left is Spock.
I never really bonded to the Spock subplot of this movie. It always feels like it was written in to appease Leonard Nimoy, who vocally stated that "He was not Spock." But Spock's plot is also kind of interesting, the more I think about it. If the entire thing is about meeting God and dealing with expectations, Spock is the one who is searching for faith. There's something odd that happened to Spock between the events of the TV show and the film. The TV show was all about humanizing Spock. He was adorably curmudgeonly, treating human emotion as simplistic, despite being half-human. That formula would follow through almost all of the other Star Trek TV shows, so I shouldn't be saying anything shocking. But Spock starts off The Motion Picture as a logic zealot. Rather than evolving due to his time with humanity, he treats emotion like something to be scorned. About to achieve a state of absolute logic, he senses V'Ger as an answer to a next stage in the faith journey. He is haunted by the idea of the greatness of God and shoehorns himself into the mission to encounter V'Ger. There is admiration and love on the part of Spock, similar to that of a religious zealot. He sees V'Ger with the fear of God that Jonathan Edwards would sermonize about. It's odd that Spock becomes more human because of his encounter with V'Ger. While V'Ger views Earth as primitive and Kirk views V'Ger as hostile, God disgusts Spock to a certain amount. He finds himself enamored by that disgust, seemingly experiencing paradoxical feelings. But seeing the blindness that absolute logic presents, it offers him a morality tale of the dangers of absolutism.
What's weird is that Roddenberry presents an odd story of what it means to have a soul. Lieutenant Ilia is dead. When V'Ger probes the ship, it rips Ilia apart and integrates her knowledge into its collective hive mind. When the living probe comes in the form of Ilia, it is not her body. It is a recreation of her body with a robot brain controlling everything. The robot has access to Ilia's memory, but it is simply pulling this data from the network. But Kirk and Decker's plan involves trying to reason with the Ilia element of V'Ger, trying to merit sympathy. It's very heartfelt, but it is odd. On one hand, there's the Thomas Riker paradox (Oh yeah. I know me some Star Trek). Thomas Riker still has the thoughts, memories, and morals of Will Riker, but has the unfair disadvantage of being found second. The Ilia-Probe physically looks like Ilia. She has access to Ilia's memories. But Ilia is dead. The Ilia-Probe has a different set of directives. So when Decker wants to rejoin Ilia through the probe, there's that odd notion that the original Ilia has been replaced and everyone is cool with that. Not only that, but Decker is growing to be one with Ilia's killer. The woman she loved is dead and he's bonding with the killer who is wearing her skin. Now, I acknowledge that it is more complicated than that, but I also argue that the other argument has also been treated too simply.
What's funny is that, based on this blog, this movie sounds amazing. Heck, just writing about this again made me love it even more. But I also say that it still isn't that great. It's oddly mostly a bottle episode of Star Trek. For all of its starship [word redacted to avoid filters], it's still a bunch of actors in ridiculous outfits talking to a viewscreen. Yeah, I like that stuff. But it doesn't necessarily make a great film.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.