Star Trek: The Motion Picture ★★★★★

2016 movie viewings, #35. This is about to be eliminated from Netflix Streaming, so I watched it again last weekend for the first time in probably ten years or so, and I was struck once again by the same question I had last time -- "Who thought it was a good idea to make a summer sci-fi blockbuster in which there are no enemies and not a single shot is fired in anger?" The answer: The 1970s thought it was a good idea, that's who, chump, and especially that lovable but frustrating genius Gene Roddenberry, who spent his entire career firmly entrenched in the Silver Age, Mid-Century Modernist optimistic school of science-fiction, even as the genre morphed around him in his later years to become nearly the exact opposite.

Make no mistake, Roddenberry only got the opportunity to make this movie because of the surprise success of Star Wars two years previous; but he had no interest or intention of making another space opera like that one (a trope that Silver Age sci-fi authors like him poo-pooed as "Golden Age children's story nonsense"), delivering instead a nuanced story for adults about artificial intelligence and the limits of free will. That's what makes this first film in the series a widely misunderstood little gem, one that would've been perfect if released in the early '70s around the same time as other downbeat genre classics like 2001, Solaris and Silent Running; but unfortunately for him this came out in the late '70s, when all audiences wanted was more laser guns and adorable robots and big hulking villains who are completely unambiguous even to four-year-olds. And thus it is that the very next movie in this series dumped nearly all the Silver Age thoughtfulness in order to concentrate instead on a cackling, hammily scene-chewing Ricardo Montalbán, with the next movie after that mostly being about the newly uglified Klingons, thus finally delivering the brain-dead space opera that Paramount wanted all along.

Let's be clear -- as much as you may like them, Roddenberry is currently spinning in his freaking grave over the JJ Abrams reboot of the Star Trek universe, which has nearly completely eliminated every single thing that Roddenberry originally meant for the franchise to be about, in order to instead deliver two hours of "RUN, SPOCK, RUUUNNN!!!!" PEEEW PEEEW! BANG CRASH BANG! "RRUUUUUUNNNNNN, SPOOOOOCCCCKKK!!!!!!!!" BANG CRASH PEEW PEEW!!!! That's making a crapload of money for Paramount, don't get me wrong; but it's a real slap in the face to Silver Age writers like Roddenberry who were trying to do something completely different than that in science-fiction. For ample evidence of this, I recommend sitting down with this first Star Trek movie again if you haven't in awhile, this time with open eyes and discarding any Star Wars actioner prejudice you may have had last time, where you'll find an underappreciated classic that should more fairly be lumped in with the work of Asimov and Heinlein than the shoot-em-ups that were just starting to dominate the genre at the time.

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