I don’t know what to tell you — I’ve grown to really love and respect ST:TMP. It remains controversial and many dismiss it. I will grant the naysayers this: it is different from every other piece of Kirk-led Trek out there. It is very serious. But. . .you know. . .not everyone acts the same all the time, right? Sometimes, even goofy fun people act seriously, right?
ST:TMP has the biggest relative budget of any of the films and it shows. Not just in special effects (which were and still are cool — the zappy blue light probe is SO freaky and the wormhole time-delay effect ain’t bad either) but in sets and graphics. Director Robert Wise loves cutting to computer screens (much like in Andromeda Strain) and the blippity-bloops on display here are all a) awesome and b) so incredibly ahead of their time for 1979.
There is an aesthetic of late 70s/early 80s sci-fi that we all know and love. It isn’t on display here — it exists only as a base and is improved upon tremendously. I’m going to be bold: ST:TMP has the best production design of any of the films.
The story? I dig it. I certainly dig the opening “getting the band back together” sequence. And if you really concentrate you can actually follow what’s happening in the plot and, more importantly, see how it is effecting Kirk, Spock & others on a human level. Spock goes through a lot of changes in this film. I don’t really know if the upcoming sequels play this out, but he basically sacrifices his entire life’s work for his own hybrid philosophy: Vulcanism with a hug.
Paramount could have just copied “Star Wars” when they took Trek out of mothballs. They didn’t — they allowed for art instead. Laugh if you will, but this is one of the few Hollywood films I know of that strives to reach a “2001: A Space Oddysey”-like plateau in its content as well as its form. It cost the franchise some fans and they certainly reversed gears for “Wrath of Khan,” but I like a change of pace. ST:TMP is a marvelously sui generis entry to the canon. . .and a movie I don’t mind watching over and over again.
(It also has the coolest poster ever, as seen above. I didn’t see ST:TMP in the theater, but I remember being fascinated the poster. In fact, a story: X-mas of 1979 the Hoffman clan decides to stay in Manhattan for a few days. We stay at a hotel in midtown, one now defunct but near a theater showing ST:TMP. It may have been the Ziegfeld. I keep whining and pointing to the mysteriously compelling poster. “I want to see that!” But my mother will have none of it. She’s taken us to the City to see theater (Mummenschanz and some Chinese Acrobats) and for her to go shopping. Secretly I am relieved. I am fascinated by the poster and stare at it each time we pass it. . . but I am also a little frightened of it. Who is that stern man on the right? What kind of effect does he have on me? I am five years old and have never heard of Star Trek.)