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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Star Trek Confronts the Ineffable -- The Successes and Failures of the first Star Trek movie


A cloud-like ship is indestructable.  It destroys Klingon vessels that attempted to probe it, and now it is headed toward Earth.  The USS Enterprise is sent to grapple with these unknown alien beings with a knowledge that far surpasses any known living creature in the universe.

I immediately took a shine to the film the first I saw it.  This mysterious, nearly indestructible entity gripped my imagination.  The long sequences of USS Enterprise and the alien itself, if memory serves, excited me.  Clearly it bored many others.  This latest viewing has me siding with those who think it long, but only for subsequent viewings when you know what's behind the mystery.  No doubt, they followed Andrei Tarkovsky's [Solaris] and Stanley Kubrick's [2001] critically successful models of long shots in SF.  It does add suspense if a rather static one. For those who have watched the movie and those who do not like the long shots, the sequence could be edited for more speed.  Star Trek fans, however, were likely accustomed to a different pace.  It is admittedly slow, but I'm not certain if that's a failing--at least in the first viewing for those excited about the grand ineffable.

Character:  Spock

Early in the film, Spock is not able to purge emotions from his human side.  His desire to search the universe is larger than his desire to join his fellow Vulcans.  The emotion masked is well played in his subsequent scenes--it has humor and a touch of brokenness--the inability of Spock to join his people.

Spock joins crew and everyone, one at a time, greets with great enthusiasm.  Spock, however, says nothing.  Even when Admiral Kirk greets Spock, Spock has his back turned he pauses but does not reply or turn around.  He is there to fix the engine.

Doctor McCoy:  Spock, you haven't changed a bit.  You're just as warm and sociable as ever.

Spock:  [lifts brow]  Nor have you, Doctor, as your continued predilection for irrelevancy demonstrates.

Spock refuses to sit down despite repeated orders to do so.  When he does, he's the only one to sit up straight while McCoy and Kirk are relaxed.

Character:  Admiral Kirk

It's a simple thing but it adds an interesting dynamic.  Kirk is an admiral and takes over the Enterprise.  The story doesn't go into why he's there; therefore, this lends credence to Captain Decker's and McCoy's complaint that Kirk is just there to take over, to renew his adventures.  This creates nice tension.

Characters:  The Gang's All Here!

When Star Trek: The Next Generation appeared, I was stunned at how close TV had approached movies in epic scope.  Yet when ST:NG hit the screen, the story quality was merely equal to the TV series.  They somehow hadn't enlarged their scope as the first series had.  Why not?

I'm still not sure, but looking at the characters may give some clue.  When ST:NG reunites, the characters grin and punch each others' shoulders, joking around.  The original series is not afraid to pit characters against one another in friendly competition, or worse.  Moreover, it develops these characters along similar lines across the series.  ST:NG may have tried too hard to be a good ship full of good guys--too goody-goody.

These are minor to me, even though I'm a science geek.

Newton's First Law of Gravitation (inertia)

An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by a force.  A number of shots violate this--often with the space-suited figures.  In the beginning, a space suit thrusts "down" in his jetpack but continues forward. Ships swing around (not to mention pointless twirling around in space).  The worst scenario is Kirk catches Spock who is spinning.  Spock's spin does not impact Kirk's motionlessness relative to the ship.

Artificial Intelligence and Life

Admiral Kirk:  "It [V-ger] amassed so much knowledge...."

It is curious how we have continued to equate knowledge with consciousness.  This is a staple definition in the SF diet, yet would we say that babies are conscious before they amass knowledge?  Surely a number of animals have more knowledge than a human baby and we would not equate that with consciousness.

Also curious, how has V-ger acquired and applied this knowledge?  Perhaps the machine planet somehow aided and developed this capacity.

Admiral Kirk:  "It became a living thing." 

It became conscious, not living.  Life has a different set of parameters that defines it.


The desire for a connection with one's creator, albeit here the creation is greater than it creator.  The purpose of machine intelligence is nothing without flawed human to give machines purpose--even a sexual one.

Once again, my rating is closer to IMDB's--6.4--although I'd bump it up to a 7.5.  I suspect with judicial editing (most people don't want to wade through long shots--Kubrick's 2001, notwithstanding), IMDB's rating would match mine. 

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