Why they should have stopped at Star Trek: The Motion Picture

This one is off the beaten path a bit, but with six days left until the congressional elections, a break from the political shenanigans is in order, and I have decided to take that brief break by talking about Star Trek.  After fifty-two years it is time to let Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise sail off into the starlight.  And the vehicle I will use to bid my farewell is Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

To most fans of the Star Trek movies, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is not a favorite.  The movie gets panned for its slow pace.  I have even heard critics compare Kirk’s reunification with the Enterprise to an orgasm. You know, the scene where Mr Scott takes Kirk for a shuttle ride around a dry-docked Enterprise being refitted for its first deep-space mission in almost two years.

The irony of that fly-by scene was that James Doohan, the actor who played Montgomery Scott, had no love for William Shatner, although Mr Doohan would admit that he did like Captain Kirk.  I guess Mr Doohan was able to channel that love for that scene because he was able to present Scotty as a crew member that cradled much love and admiration for his captain.

Yes, the movie did lumber on and I admit I was subjected to ennui during a few scenes, but watching that movie god knows how many times over the last 39 years has led me to appreciate its art… and its message.

For its art, for 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a good looking movie. It won the Academy Award for special effects.  I also liked the costumes; they were fitting for the end of the era.  The actors were still young enough and fit enough to look good in the costumes. (Just don’t let William Shatner’s impersonation of Diana Ross distract you. I could allow him his seemingly frequent uniform changes.)

More important was the message.  Unlike the militaristic, Star Wars-lite shoot ’em ups that followed, Star Trek: The Motion Picture attempted to delve into consciousness using Kirk, Spock, and a mysterious space cloud as the prime vehicles.  All three were faced with the choice of evolution.

Kirk had to face his ego and eliminate it by taking himself out of the equation.  He had to learn that it has never been about him. He also had to begin the journey of getting rid of obsession, particularly the obsession he had with space and his ship.

Spock, who experienced first contact with the consciousness encompassed in the cloud had to reconcile his Vulcan logic with his human traits.  All attempts to purge his human side had failed and it was on this voyage that he learned that running away from his humanity was the wrong course. He journey to reconciliation could not occur until he embraced that side.

As for the seeming protagonist, the space cloud, it was a machine seeking to evolve to a higher level, having gathered all the knowledge that it could attain in its current form.  It needed the human element, that portion that could provide drive and passion to the cold logic of the machine.

It is the joining of man and machine in an attempt to create a higher consciousness that is most applicable to where we stand on the dawn of artificial intelligence.  An increasing number of today’s thinkers are accepting the probability of human and machine merging, where man’s creativity is joined with the machines capacity to collect and process large amounts of information.  This is why, ironically, one of the least popular of the Star Trek installments provides the most relevant contribution to today’s science.  Man will have to evolve into something higher before venturing into deep space.

And the prior sentence sums up my disaffection with the Star Trek genre.  The depiction of the 20th or 21st century in deep space is looking increasingly comical.  Just from a physical perspective, man will have to alter his body in order to survive in space and colonize any planets.  The movie, The Titan, provides an example of the metamorphosis humans will have to endure to live on another planet.  People that look like Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov will not be colonizing planets.

Americans have a problem with evolution.  Star Trek fans in 1979 should have been the first to appreciate evolution.  Instead, they wanted the same old same old, which resulted in 1982’s Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.  Although well made and a great story (so good that it was rebooted in the Kelvin Timeline, Star Trek: Into Darkness), it fell back on a tried and true formula of good guy (Khan) versus bad guy (Kirk).  This failure to evolve, to prefer the comfortable, to look at one’s self without any accountability, seeps through our politics today (I managed to get the word “politics” in there.)

Star Trek does not accurately project the type of human that will be going into deep space.  It has left its mark as entertainment and has abandoned true science fiction’s role as a view into another world, whether a joyous or scary one.  It is time to put Star Trek to rest ….