Some huge force is making its inexorable way across the Universe, destroying everything in its path - and it's headed towards planet Earth. The crew of the starship Enterprise is reassembled to go forth and discover what the threat consists of, and how they can stop it before it reaches its destination...
Star Trek had never been off the world's television screens since its cancellation in the late sixties, due to constant repeats (and a brief cartoon series). Bowing to pressure from fans, and looking for a sci-fi hit post-Star Wars, Paramount set about creating this big screen adaptation, scripted by Howard Livingston from a story by Alan Dean Foster (which bears resemblance to one of the old TV episodes).
Just about every regular from the series was given a role, but instead of a straight, 90-minute long episode, The Motion Picture had grand ideas. Rather than a Star Wars-style blockbuster, it wanted to be speculative fiction in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with the wonder of Close Encounters of the Third Kind thrown in for good measure. And although it made a lot of money, TMP left a lot of people disappointed.
Until Star Trek: Nemesis came along, it was accepted by most fans that even numbered Trek movies were good, odd numbered were bad. The Wrath of Khan was seen as an improvement over this one. But I'm here to tell you, Khan is overrated and TMP is one of the best; well, that's not saying much for one of the most self-important film series of all time, but at least TMP has ambition to be more than simply a rerun of the old glories.
Although the familiar faces are there, the film isn't a cosy reunion. It has a gloomy look, and there are tensions between the crew: new Captain Decker (Stephen Collins) resents Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) taking over the Enterprise; Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is disappointed in himself, and reluctant to rekindle his friendship with his old crewmates. Even the Enterprise could be in better shape.
The film was criticised for its overlong special effects sequences (courtesy of Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra), but I like the way they lend a stately atmosphere to proceedings, emphasising the huge scale of the mission. As far as the message goes, it tells us to go for the happy medium: just as Kirk mediates between the scientific Spock and the emotional McCoy (DeForest Kelley), so the approaching threat has to reconcile its origins with its technological power.
Other good things are that Kirk doesn't get involved in a fist fight with anybody; indeed, a phaser is never fired in anger. Plus Shatner has no corny romantic scenes, that's left to Decker for the "Isn't humanity great?" finale. And best of all, not too much of that awful "We don't take ourselves too seriously, folks!" forced humour that mars the franchise; only the campy appeal of the original series is missing. So there you have it, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is OK - not fantastic, but better than its reputation. Have I convinced you? No? Please yourselves. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Watch for: Darth Vader and Miss Piggy (seriously).