This Simple Feeling – A Love Letter to Star Trek: The Motion Picture
I will never forget the way I felt when I saw The Motion Picture for the very first time. I was absolutely swept up in the world of the starship Enterprise, and I never wanted to come back to Earth and ordinary life.
I was eleven years old. I have shared that I grew up without television or VCRs in the home, and I had consequently seen very few movies or television shows. Perhaps I was impressionable, but my first time watching The Motion Picture was unforgettable.
As was the case for every movie or show I ever saw during my childhood, I watched it in my grandmother’s living room. Now, keep in mind, renting a movie back in the 80s was an event. In the case of the small village where my grandmother lived, the video rentals were in the same old country store with creaking wooden floors where you could get a handmade pizza made behind the counter, purchase a soft drink from the cooler, and side-eye the jar of pickled eggs on the counter. This was long before streaming services or even DVDs. You rented your tape in its scratched plastic case and hoped that whoever had the tape before you had rewound it.
The Motion Picture was my very first introduction to the Enterprise. Settling in to watch, wide-eyed, I met Kirk and Spock for the very first time. Cold, remote, mysterious Spock and arrogant, rude, and starstruck Admiral Kirk left me cold; it was the gruff-voiced, tender-hearted, wildly bearded Doctor McCoy, who didn’t want his molecules scrambled, who won my heart. From his irritated growl “They drafted me!” to his retort that “There are casualties: my wits! As in, frightened out of!” to his characteristic grumble “You know engineers. They love to change things,” every one of McCoy’s lines had me laughing out loud with delight.
And speaking of engineers, warm-hearted, bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked Scotty had my heart from the moment he escorted Kirk to the ship. His laments about his engines and his devotion to his ship made him a much more approachable and lovable character than Kirk and Spock were.
But Uhura was my favorite. The way she plied her communications board like a concert pianist. The way she touched her earpiece when delivering messages. The husky music of her voice. It was evident to me that she had one of the most important jobs on the ship. She was unflappable, and I wanted to be Uhura when I grew up. I remember turning a coffee table into a “console” so I could play starship.
I didn’t know I was supposed to find The Motion Picture “boring” or “motionless” or the special effects “cheesy.” I was enthralled by the excitement, from the wormhole ride to the mysterious Ilia probe to the discovery of the old Earth NASA satellite that had become the mysterious V’Ger. But even as a child, my favorite moments were the tender moments. And the tender moment in TMP brought tears to my eleven-year-old eyes.
That moment. Spock, lying on the diagnostic bed in his space suit, Kirk bending over him. Spock, who has been so distant and so removed, has had the experience of a lifetime, and he is processing his epiphany. Just as anyone would do, he reaches out to touch the arm of his closest friend. Kirk takes that hand in both of his. That most basic of human connection, the expression of affection and concern, that purely platonic intimacy, made a tremendous impression on my young heart. Having been raised in a culture that did not sexualize open displays of affection and friendship between men, I thought nothing of it except that it was my favorite moment of the whole movie. It still is.
I didn’t really understand what was happening when Decker and Ilia transcended, but I knew I loved Admiral Kirk giving the order to go out “thataway.”
Fast forward twenty-five years, by which time I’m a grown woman who has seen her share of films and television. I drifted away from Star Trek when I graduated from high school and have only recently come back to Star Trek fandom. What I have learned is that I can articulate now what it is that I love so much about TMP.
Watching it again as an adult, I realized I don’t respond well to non-stop action, lens flares, and camera moves that make me seasick. I love the slow and stately pace of the film. There is time to stare in awe and wonder. There is time for reflection on the wonders of the universe, the beauty of a starship, and the simple feeling of friendship. There is time for introspection. There is time to joke, even in a crisis.
Like Kirk, Spock and McCoy and all the rest of the reunited crew, I have grown and changed from that wide-eyed girl. But The Motion Picture reminds us that the best parts of Star Trek and the best parts of ourselves have not changed, and that the human adventure is only beginning.
Ruth Anne Amsden has been a Trekkie since she was a ten-year-old reader voraciously devouring Star Trek novels (her family did not allow television in the home). She is working toward her first BA and aspiring to professionally write Star Trek novels as love letters to the novels she loved growing up.
2 thoughts on “This Simple Feeling – A Love Letter to Star Trek: The Motion Picture”
Touching (pun intended) — thank you.
This was the film that set me on my Trek journey for life, and perhaps that scene cemented it to me at a subconscious level (I was 13 at the time, probably looking for more action scenes then!). It was a master stroke of writing and directing that scene which could have been easily and callously removed — especially in today’s motion-ride movies as Ruth Ann points out. It’s beautifully framed, shot and acted, and I suspect Leonard Nimoy was proud of his work there whether he’s ever said it or not, for it’s the scene that bridges the life journey’s gap for a character’s arc thirteen years in the making to that point in Star Trek.
I’ll close by saying proudly that I’m essentially as old as Star Trek (born on 9/5/66) and have probably learned many of life’s formative lessons from it rather than from a Jedi Master named Yoda — but that’s another story.
Though I was a fan of the original series well before TMP, I share your sentiment. TMP was “a serious episode”, possessed of import for all the reasons you deftly mentioned in your writ. Thank you for sharing… and looking forward to the upcoming true Directors Cut bluray that many of the original film crew are weaselling away at as we speak.