Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Gene Roddenberry
Screenplay by Harold Livingston
Based on STAR TREK by Gene Roddenberry
First of all, let me say five things before I begin this review:
#1: I come by my status as a Trekkie honestly. I remember begging my parents to let me stay up Friday nights to watch Star Trek (to be referred from now on as TOS=The Original Series) during its original run. And yes, I am that old. And like most folks during the 70’s and 80’s I stayed up late weeknights here in New York, as Channel 11 faithfully reran TOS Monday to Friday back to back with Honeymooners reruns.
#2: I have seen every episode of TOS as well as STAR TREK: The Next Generation, STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, STAR TREK: VOYAGER and STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE multiple times. Do not even seek to dispute me on this.
#3: My favorite Star Trek is STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE. It’s my favorite because like Sean Connery’s James Bond, TOS is so iconic it should be put on a shelf by itself and not compared with the various series that followed.
#4: At a conservative estimate I would say I’ve read in the neighborhood of 100 Star Trek novels.
#5: STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE is the last movie I would give to somebody who knows nothing about Star Trek and wants to understand what it is that their Trekkie friends find so fantastic about Star Trek that they just don’t understand.
I know it’s hard for those of you Star Trek fans today to understand now that you have five Star Trek series, eleven movies and Sarek only knows how many comic book series and mini-series and novelizations and original novels and fan fiction, some of which I myself have written. But for us back in 1979 this is all we had. Word. I wouldn’t lie to you. Is STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE the best Star Trek movie? Absolutely not. That title has to go to “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” which even after 30 years is still the best Star Trek movie made to date. But for those of us who had gone without any new Star Trek on television for 10 years, a feature film version of our beloved TV show was akin to an affirmation that a God did indeed exist. And maybe you don’t think we got the Star Trek movie we deserved back in 1979 but we thought we did and for a lot of us that’s all that matters, even today.
An incredibly powerful alien entity is heading directly toward Earth. It’s already encountered the Klingons and kicked their asses back to Qo’nos without breaking a sweat. The entity calls itself V’ger and says it has one mission: “To learn all that is learnable and transmit that information to The Creator.” V’ger insists that The Creator is on Earth. But nobody on Earth has the intelligence or knowledge to have created something like V’ger. It’s a frighteningly huge bio-organic machine that has actually digitized whole star systems to contain within its cosmic data base to enhance its already universal knowledge. Nobody knows what it’s intentions are once it reaches Earth.
The only starship that can intercept V’ger before it reaches Earth is The Enterprise. Now, right here I could go into a whole 10K word dissertation about how Starfleet must be really low on starships since just about every plot of a Star Trek movie hinges on the Enterprise being the only starship within range of whatever threat is going to destroy Earth but I won’t. Just go with it.
Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) does some back door maneuvering to screw his protégé Captain William Deckard (Stephen Collins) out of command of The Enterprise. Kirk claims his expertise in handling alien intelligences during the five-year mission of The Enterprise qualifies him to deal with V’ger. It also helps that most of his former crew such as Chief of Engineering/ Commander Scott (James Doohan) Commander Uhura ( Nichelle Nichols) Chief of Security/Operations Chevok (Walter Konig) Nurse and now Dr. Chapel (Majel Barrett) as well as Helmsman Sulu (George Takei) are still assigned to The Enterprise. But still Kirk can’t undertake this mission without his conscience Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and his spare brain Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) Along the way they all grapple with Existential Issues such as what is the Nature of Existence? and Is This All That I Am, Is There Nothing More? And yeah, they have to figure out how this all relates to V’ger before it destroys Earth.
The whole movie boils down to a battle not between laser blasts and planet-destroying Death Stars but between Ideas. Ideas such as what it means to transcend the concepts of what we are what we can be. On the other hand, it’s a lot of what we watch the folks on the screen we’re watching telling us what the stuff they’re watching means.
To be bluntly honest, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE is the two-hour series finale to TOS that we never got on TV. But I like it a lot. In fact, I love it. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody except long-term Star Trek fans. It is a ponderous movie that needs to have a knowledge of Star Trek history and a reverence for the time honored characters in order to enjoy it. And you’re not going to be able to do that unless you know the characters as well or as better as you know your beloved relatives. If you have any.
When I talk about STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE I tend to talk about moments like when Kirk has to tell Starfleet Command he’s lost two crewmen in a transporter malfunction. Or when Kirk and Scotty share a laugh during the infamous fly-by scene. Or when a crewman slips between a pair of closing doors on his way to do whatever. Or when Dr. McCoy refuses to beam up. Or when after The Enterprise has successfully achieved warp drive Kirk give Chekov a secret wink. Or how amazing Nichelle Nichols looks even that terrible costume. When Dr. McCoy in a crucial moment refers to an Enterprise security officer by name and not his rank.
Bottom line: I like STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. It’s in my Home Movie Library and I watch it regularly. It gave me exactly what I wanted at the time I saw it. Which is to see all these characters I love back again in a brand new adventure in the medium in which I first saw them.
That’s not to say the movie has its flaws. Oh, yeah…it’s slow. It’s slow even by the standards of Star Trek fans. It’s become renowned by its nickname of “Star Trek: The Motionless Picture”
Know what? I don’t care. It’s STAR TREK and that’s good enough for me.
American International Pictures
Produced by Fred Weintraub
Directed by Jonathan Kaplan
Written by Michael Allin, Leigh Chapman, Jerry Wilkes and Oscar Williams
Isaac Hayes will probably always be remembered as the composer of the score for “Shaft” and with good reason. The “Shaft” theme song is as recognizable and as ingrained into pop culture as The James Bond Theme, The Buckaroo Banzai Strut or The Indiana Jones March and Isaac Hayes deserved the Oscar he received for the score. As an example of the power and utter coolness of the “Shaft” theme, John Singleton used it for his version in 2000 totally unchanged and even thirty years later, the “Shaft” theme was still utterly cool shit and I remember the audience in the theatre I saw the Sam Jackson version of “Shaft” totally losing it when the theme song was played.
So maybe when Isaac Hayes saw how much fun Richard Roundtree, Jim Brown, Jim Kelly and Ron O’Neal were having playing badass black heroes he wanted to join in the fun and I guess that’s the main reason he not only did the score but also starred in TRUCK TURNER, a minor but entertaining entry in the blaxplotation genre of films that dominated much of the theatres in the 70’s and 80’s alongside of the kung fu craze.
Truck Turner (Isaac Hayes) is a bounty hunter who with his partner Jerry (Alan Weeks) works the L.A. ghettos. Truck is a former pro football star that got hurt playing and now has to chase bail jumpers to earn his bread. He’s got a reputation as being one bad mutha indeed and his tag line after he beats the piss outta anybody dumb enough to get in his way is to bellow: “Anybody ask you what happened, tell ‘em you got hit by a TRUCK!” Truck and Jerry are hired by a bail bondsman (Dick Miller) to go after a particularly dangerous bail jumper: a pimp named Gator who is exceptionally violent. Truck and Jerry balk at taking the job but after they’re promised a thousand bucks apiece (hey, back in 1974 that was a lotta money), they change their minds.
Gator proves to be even harder to find and impossible to catch. They’re forced to kill him and that’s when the real problem starts: turns out that Gator has a stable of the hottest, most money-making ho’s in L.A. and they’re under the thumb of his partner, Dorinda (Nichelle Nichols) who puts a proposition to L.A.’s pimps: the pimp that brings her the head of Truck Turner gets Gator’s million dollar stable of ho’s. Truck Turner is soon confused as he finds himself the target of every pimp in L.A. who tries to whack him while wearing some of the most outlandish outfits you’ll ever see in a 70’s movie.
One of the pimps is a little more dangerous than the others, though. Harvard Blue (Yaphet Kotto) has his eye set on Dorinda’s stable and he calls in a crew of shotgun wielding hitmen who call themselves The Insurance Company. They call themselves that because once they take your policy they insure that you’re gonna die…
The fun in watching TRUCK TURNER comes from the performances and the really bizarre crew of pimps who try to kill Truck during the movie. One of them is dressed in a checkerboard leather jacket with fur sleeves and a Jiffy-Pop hat who actually looks surprised when Truck spots him on a fire escape. And Yaphet Kotto sports this plaid fur coat through much of the movie that absolutely has to be seen to be believed. It’s also a hoot watching Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura) really have fun cutting loose and playing a hooker/madam. And Scatman Crothers shows up for a few minutes as a retired pimp and any movie that has The Scatman in it can’t be all bad, now can it?
I liked how Isaac Hayes played Truck as pretty much of a slob and not really all that bright. Truck isn’t much of a thinker, as he prefers to shoot, stab or slug his way out of the situations he finds himself him and let’s face it, not all heroes have to be geniuses or strategic experts. But there’s something charming about Truck’s loyalty to his friends and I really liked the scene where he sets his girlfriend up to be arrested as a shoplifter since jail is the only place he can think of to keep her safe while he goes after the bad guys.
TRUCK TURNER is obviously dated in its clothing and slang. And Isaac Hayes really isn’t all that great of an actor. This movie and “Escape From New York” are probably the two movie roles he’s best remembered for but I like him better in TRUCK TURNER because he worked with what he’s got: his voice and his eyes. There’s a scene where Truck is walking down a hospital corridor and the camera is focused on his eyes and they look absolutely chilling and communicate quite well that Truck isn’t playing around anymore. But there are a whole lot of other things to recommend such as the performances of Yaphet Kotto and Nichelle Nichols who have so much fun with their roles you wish they had more screen time. And there’s a white one-eyed pimp named Desmond (John Kramer) whose rhinestone eye patches match his cowboy shirts, which is one the movie’s best and funniest running gags. In fact, there’s a lot in TRUCK TURNER that might make you think this is a spoof of the blaxplotation genre, especially with the fantastically overstated outfits of the pimps, the cars, the scene where Nichelle Nichols trots out her girls while she rattles off how much they made turning tricks in the previous year and the wildass shootouts where Truck wields a .357 Magnum with as much psychic ability as Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry since the both of them apparently share the ability to know when somebody on the roof of a building across the street is aiming at them.
So should you see TRUCK TURNER? If you’re a fan of blaxplotation like me or just a fan of really good 70s action movies, yeah. TRUCK TURNER is by no means a classic of the blaxplotation genre but it’s a nice little time waster if you want to see Isaac Hayes try his hand at being an action hero or just want to dive into the blaxplotation genre. Recommended for Netflixing if you’re in a blaxplotation mood on a Friday or Saturday night.