Friday, 17 December 2021

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Standing in stark opposition to the briskly paced action adventure of its box office contemporaries - see Star Wars - Robert Wise's Star Trek: The Motion Picture is structured more like a seafaring voyage; a methodical pilgrimage into space to meet a machine God on a collision course with Earth. This digital deity seemingly intent on swallowing the planet whole. Wise's film is unhurried, a special effects piece completely infatuated with the miniatures mocked up by Douglas Trumbull and his team to represent warp speed craft and thundering technological landscapes alike. The camera pores over these scratch built mechanisms, demanding viewers slowly sink into the film. Verisimilitude achieved by asking the audience to consider these futuristic wonders in topographical, rather than toyetic, terms. The sequence used to introduce a docked Enterprise is long then but not laborious. William Shatner's Kirk and James Doohan's Scotty travel around the starship, both clearly awed. 

The Enterprise is photographed in segments, the film cutting back and forth between fresh glimpses of hulls or engines and two older men basking in a silent, collective, delight. While the characters gawp, the camera - their viewpoint - appraises the ship as if it is the most enormous, beautiful, body they have ever seen. V'Ger, the undulating plasma cloud that frustrates Kirk and crew, is shot with a similar affection but its form is less inviting; a mix of aortic leaflets rendered in contracting metal and radiant alloy cathedrals. Genuinely foreboding, at least at the outset, Star Trek: The Motion Picture consistently returns to an idea of impartial machinery attempting to assess or decode the human body in a similar fashion to Kirk's appreciative drive-by. An early teleporter malfunction, that results in a barely introduced Vulcan being reduced to (offscreen) screaming blubber, is the first such instance. It's an incident that neatly introduces the idea that when a dispassionate intelligence attempts to communicate with a species it views as vermin, we might then expect to see fragile bodies twisted into wreckage.

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