Saying Goodbye With a Crappy Movie

You can’t go home again. It’s a tired expression, but damn it if Netflix doesn’t bring it into relevance with alarming regularity. Case in point:

Something sad but hopeful happened a few weeks back. The world lost the great Leonard Nimoy. He was many things, a poet, director, artist, singer (well, okay) but his most enduring legacy will be the character he developed and perfected, the incredible Mr. Spock. (Spock lives, forever and ever.)

Although perhaps he COULD make up his Vulcan mind...

Although perhaps he COULD make up his Vulcan mind…

So there I was, sad that he was gone, but overjoyed for the human race that the man existed at all, and boy had he lived a great life. Nimoy exemplified The American Dream: the son of Jewish immigrants rises to Hollywood immortality. But I was still selfishly sad. I needed closure. To say my goodbye, it would have been easy to just pull up Wrath of Khan, for obvious reasons. Instead, I decided to go back and feel, as Carol Marcus would say “Young, as when the world was new.” I ran to Netflix and watched a flick I hadn’t seen in its entirety for well over twenty years. The original 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I remembered it being one of my least favorite episodes of the series, and I also remembered having a bit of buyer’s remorse after seeing the film in the cinema with my mom and brother. We’d had the option of seeing Disney’s The Black Hole and opted for Trek instead. Keep in mind that we kids had already been blown away by Star Wars two summers previous, so it was going to take an awful lot to impress us. I think my brother might have dozed off during STTMP. Maybe it was me. I’m sure someone was snoring. Fast-forward to many years later and Star Trek the Motion Picture’s appearance on one of the cable movie channels. I watched it with a more discerning eye, a little more seasoned. I remember thinking that it wasn’t terrible, but still not great. Plus, I really appreciated the late Persis Khambatta. Mmmm-hmmmm!

"Stand back, Jim. I'm not sure how big this thing gets."

“Stand back, Jim. I’m not sure how big this thing gets.”

So that brings us to now. I hadn’t seen the film all the way through since that cable experience in my early-20’s. I sat through the entire thing on my couch, and…wow, is it bad. I mean, really bad. I’ve heard (but not yet researched) that the original plan was to make a revamped Star Trek television series, but after Star Wars made such mad dough, suddenly every studio wanted a big space epic. As a result, what should’ve been maybe a one-hour TV pilot became over two-hours of…well…mainly the bridge of the Enterprise.

You could literally re-enact 97% of the movie with this one playset.

You could literally re-enact 97% of the movie with this one playset.

Seriously, there’s a long (TOO long) exterior shot as Scotty and Kirk fly out to the newly-overhauled and refitted NCC-1701 and it’s nice, for about forty-five seconds.  Then it’s “Oooo, there’s the old gal! She looks so silvery! And look! They’ve added 1957 Bel Air wings to ‘er!” Afterwards, it’s mainly the bridge and a few corridor shots. And for some reason (perhaps to distance it from the primer-colored uniforms of the original series) they opted for a de-saturated color palette. Everything is grey or shades of flesh-colored fabric. It’s really quite bad. The only saving grace is the incredibly sharp grey-and-white dress uniform that Admiral Kirk wears in his early scenes.

All the poon.  James T. Kirk got ALL the poon.  In the galaxy.  All of it.  There ain't none left.

All the poon. James T. Kirk got ALL the poon. In the galaxy. All of it. There ain’t none left.

Those uni’s were sharp enough to get re-cast in the J.J. Abrams reboots. Classy duds. Especially compared to Kirk’s weird, too-snug, short-sleeved white tunic that looks like it belongs on Mr. Clean or a tropical cabana boy. Bizarre.

"My God, Jim!  He just used the same photo twice in the same blog!"

“My God, Jim! He just used the same photo twice in the same blog!”

But the stuff that really looks cheap are the matte paintings. Gods be good, but I’d swear most of them looked like they’d been borrowed from Forbidden Planet. Don’t get me wrong: Forbidden Planet is one of the all-time great science-fiction films and one of my personal favorites…but Jesus, man. We’d just seen Tatooine and the Death Star. You can’t come at us with eight-color acrylic industrial landscapes and expect us to take you seriously.

Seriously, is this like a Colorforms playset?

Seriously, is this like a Colorforms playset?

But for all the lackluster elements to the damned flick, it did boast a huge check mark in the plus column: that wonderful score, repurposed years later for Star Trek: The Next Generation. A word about that Jerry Goldsmith composition. It really is at its best when they use the largo version, slowed a bit, a more rolling pace. It’s actually a movement entitled “The Enterprise.” It sounds nautical. Grand. Somewhat melancholy. Lovely. (It gets really familiar around 1:37)

Even though TRUE Star Trek fans know that THIS is what we think of when we think of Star Trek movies…James Horner’s brilliant and enduring Wrath of Khan stuff.

Then again, Michael Giacchino’s “Enterprising Young Men” has been also been a smashing success…

(Not to self:  do an entire blog about sci-fi musical scores.)

I guess in closing I’d say that it’s sort of a miracle, to me, that the studio even decided to go ahead with a sequel. It really was a make-or break proposition. When you think about it, STTMP was one of the earliest examples of a Hollywood reboot. New ship, new uniforms, new Klingons, new score. Consider that the production budget was (according to Box Office Mojo) around $35 million dollars. Joss Whedon’s Serenity had a budget of $39 million, and Star Trek Into Darkness cost $185 million…but adjusted for inflation, that first Trek would’ve had a budget of over $112 million dollars. Sort of right in the middle of the big sci-fi epic production costs. So when it earned just shy of twelve million dollars (less than half the cost to produce) on opening weekend, well…I imagine that some folks at Paramount likely shit their collective pants. The good news is that the film went on to earn $85 million, so the studio ended up doubling their money and then some. Thus was a franchise born. And now, here we are 36 years later, in the midst of another cinematic reboot. New cast, new ship, new Klingons.

A new Spock.

You really can’t go home again…but that’s fine. Because its so much fun to wonder what’s out there…thattaway…

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