A mysterious cloud is flying through space and happens upon 3 Klingon battlecruisers that are unable to analyze the cloud itself. Fearing it may be a potential enemy, the Klingons attack with no success whatsoever. As a Federation communications station intercepts the Klingon transmissions, the Klingons themselves are destroyed in short order and the cloud continues on its path, its destination: Earth.
On Vulcan, Spock has been studying a ritual called the Kohlinar, which is the way of embracing total logic in all aspects of life. At his ceremony to receive his reward, he is pulled away by a voice being projected by a powerful consciousness in space. Rejected by the Vulcan Masters, he ponders what his life may have been like if he could have ignored the voice.
At Starfleet Headquarters, Admiral Kirk meets with Starfleet Commander Nogura and manages to take command of the USS Enterprise for this emergency. He has Commander Scott take him over in the shuttle and makes his way to the bridge. When he finds that Captain Decker is in Engineering, he meets Decker down there, and informs him that he would be taking command of the Enterprise. As the crew comes to realization that Kirk has taken over as Captain, a transporter accident kills the science officer and one other person.
Kirk gathers the crew on the Recreation Deck and they learn about the powerful cloud. They receive an emergency signal from the Station and the cloud subsumes them. Kirk waits for the last crewmembers, which includes Lt. Ilia, who used to have a relationship with Decker. The last crewmember to board is heavily bearded Dr. McCoy, who complains about being drafted. Enterprise launches and the crew readies for Warp speed, but the ship is not tuned correctly and plunges into a wormhole. They manage to escape after destroying an asteroid, but it reveals that Kirk has allowed his obsession to take the Enterprise as his own to overwhelm his command abilities.
Before Enterprise continues on its mission, it takes on another passenger, who turns out to be Commander Spock. When he reaches the bridge, he offers his expertise as Science Officer. He then heads to engineering and helps Mr. Scott to retune the engines and the Enterprise heads off to confront V’Ger. They have as much success as the Klingons had, but the Enterprise’s shields hold against V’Ger’s assault. Spock senses the alien intelligence, and reconfigures the communications equipment just in time.
The Enterprise travels inside the cloud, and finds it powered by nothing ever before encountered. Near the center of the cloud, however, they find a large object that could be a ship. Enterprise flies above the ship and is soon scanned by a probe. Rebuffed by the crew, the Probe absorbs Ilia and the Enterprise is taken by a tractor beam to the inside of the alien ship. In the shower of the Officer’s quarters, Ilia reappears, but is different from before. Spock and McCoy discover that V’Ger created an android in the likeness of Ilia. It is soon suggested that Decker work with the Probe to attempt to make the Ilia probe somehow turn against its creators.
Spock, however, is still looking for answers. He incapacitates a crewman and takes a space suit to travel inside V’Ger. Spock flies through the secret interior of the ship and mindmelds with the V’Ger recreation of Ilia. The power of the meld causes brain trauma and Spock drifts back to the Enterprise, where he is rescued by Kirk.
The probe has reached Earth and has begun its attempt to contact its creator. Receiving no answer, it has decided that all carbon-based lifeforms need to be destroyed. With little time left, Kirk bluffs his way to see the V’Ger lifeform itself. Kirk, Spock, and Decker leave the ship with Ilia Probe and walk to V’Ger, which resembles an old Earth space probe. A closer examination by Kirk reveals that V’Ger is indeed the old NASA Probe Voyager 6. With this deduction, everything else falls into place; Voyager 6 disappeared into a wormhole, emerging on the far side of the galaxy and landing on the planet of living machines. The machines deduce its programming – learn all that is possible and return it to the Creator – and build the ship to allow V-ger to complete the mission.
Enterprise then transmits the code group that would allow Voyager 6 to transmit its data, but V-ger stops the attempt. Decker decides to repair V-ger and finish the code sequence. Ilia Probe stops Kirk from interfering and Decker begins to “evolve.” Ilia Probe joins Decker and V-ger begins to glow. The landing party rushes back to the ship, and V-ger disappears in a bright glow. Kirk delivers a report to Starfleet, Spock decides to stay with the crew, and Enterprise flies off into space at warp speed.
Review and Analysis:
Star Trek has always been a show that purported itself to be about examining the human condition through the use of science fiction. And, on the small screen, the show, for the most part, fulfilled this part of its mandate.
With the success of Star Wars in theatres, Paramount wanted Star Trek on the big screen. Unfortunately, the money that was spent for the project climbed quickly, because the studio waffled for many years on whether the return of Star Trek would be on TV or in the movies. Paramount took no chances whatsoever and hired both award-winning director Robert Wise and super-composer Jerry Goldsmith to work on the film.
The result is this film. And the results are mixed.
When distilled of the special effects, the majority of the film is simply the cast standing around, looking at things. It is only when V’Ger does something that the crew reacts and does anything to move forward.
High Levels of Sexism Detected in the Movie, Captain:
Yes, Persis Khambatta is a very attractive woman. And while William Theiss has been known to make costumes that can accentuate the attractiveness of the wearer, I do question why the Ilia Probe spends the entire movie wearing a bathrobe.
Spock Saves the Day…
In the TV series, Spock’s character saves the day often. However, McCoy, Scotty, and Kirk also have saved the ship/crew/mission on many occasions, with Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura sometimes giving the needed insight to help complete the mission.
Unfortunately, The Motion Picture sidelines everyone else in favor of Spock. When the Enterprise’s engines fail, it is Spock that fixes them. When V’Ger attacks the ship, it is Spock that senses the alien’s communications AND recalibrates the systems to respond correctly. When the plasma Probe hacks into the computer, it is Spock that stops it. When the key to V’Ger was required for the story to move forward, it would be provided by Spock. When V’Ger contacts Earth, it is Spock that analyzes the communications data. When V’Ger stops the final transmission, it is Spock that diagnoses the problem. And, throughout the movie, it is only Spock’s insight that ever correct.
Then there is the matter of this:
There are no charges filed, obsession notwithstanding. In fact, in the next film, Spock jumps to the rank of Captain and takes command of the Enterprise in The Wrath of Khan.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the classic definition of a Mary Sue. As I’ve stated in my review of The Wrath of Khan, a charismatic actor will mask faults the first few times around.
Uhura, We Barely Know You:
If you look at the list of things that Spock solves throughout the film, you may notice that many of these items should have been solved by the communications specialist. However, it is apparent that no one really considered what it is that Uhura actually performs as communications officer aboard the starship Enterprise, so she is simply relegated to interstellar telephone operator. In that regard, Uhura is allowed to do that job without incident. However, when it comes to items on the periphery, such as recalibration and diagnosis of equipment, Uhura is not allowed that kind of competency. This is part of the reason why the communications position was dissolved in Star Trek: The Next Generation. What should have been one of the most important positions within the fleet onboard any ship that has the possibility of first contact with alien species is simply relegated to answering a space telephone, you’ll get results like this.
Especially when the writers and producers fail to give the role any relevance because the actor is both a Woman and a Black Woman. And, yes, such a thing matters.
Willard Decker, although not explicitly mentioned, is the son of Commodore Matthew Decker, who died along with his ship and crew in the Original Series episode, “The Doomsday Machine.”
He just happens to have been in a relationship with a woman who would join the Enterprise crew for its first mission, who hails from a Greek-letter planet, where the culture is more mature sexually than that of Earth.
This sounds familiar:
The Motion Picture should have been called Mr. Spock Saves the Universe. No one else does much of anything in the film to resolve any of the problems that the film raises, and any malady suffered by the ship is also resolved by Spock. James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei get next to no work in the movie, and the Director’s Cut eliminates many of their spoken lines.
There are only two women of color in the film. Nichelle Nichols is sidelined for the majority of the film, and Persis Khambatta gets redshirted. And because the series was decommissioned, Persis and Stephen Collins (Captain/Commander Decker), who were supposed to join the cast for the TV Series (called Star Trek: Phase II) were sent away for good.
In other noteworthy observations, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is probably one of the movies that is closer to actual space exploration (similar to 2001 and the like) than some of the movies that came before it and many of the movies that came after it. Unfortunately, this includes the Star Trek movies with the exception of The Final Frontier.
Gene Roddenberry was relieved of his duties as Producer for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. While his vision of space travel is probably closer to the reality of present day man than that of his main rival George Lucas, Roddenberry’s idea of a movie did not resonate very well with American audiences.
The musical score is well remembered, and many of Jerry Goldsmith’s fans consider this one of his top movie scores of his career. The main theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation is based mainly on his theme here (as well as Alexander Courage’s Star Trek main title theme for the TV series) . Goldsmith would go on to score William Shatner’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, as well as Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, & Star Trek: Nemesis. He would also compose the main title theme to Star Trek: Voyager.
Sadly, however, the tides of Star Trek would change for both the better and for the worse with this film. And Star Trek’s identity would both expand and suffer because of it.