Monday, September 14, 2015

STAR TREK The Motion Picture - A Re-View

A month or two ago, I re-watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture on DVD.  Specifically, Star Trek The Motion Picture: The Director’s Edition.  And this time, I decided to make a few notes of silly little things and mistakes.

Some of these things I noticed the first time, on December 7, 1979, at Oklahoma City’s South Park Cinema Four.

For this article, we’re going to ignore the momentousness of the film, the storyline, and everything else, except for a few continuity goofs and (perhaps) intentional stick-it-ins.

[Timings are from Disc One of the two-disc The Director’s Edition.]

At 46:43, Spock enters the Officer’s Lounge after arriving onto the Enterprise and cleaning up a bit.

 Look behind Mr Spock.  To me, that looks like a wall full of hair care products!

*          *          *          *          *

Here is a shot of the Bridge, from just to the right of the forward viewscreen.

See that big bubble thing in the ceiling?  As you can see, it’s in a teardrop shape, with the rounded edge facing towards the viewscreen.  It was supposedly an astrogation device.  The thing to remember is that, looking at it from the viewscreen, it looks circular.

Now in the film, at just past the hour mark, Vejur’s probe visits the Enterprise Bridge.  Believe it or not, the main lighting effect of the probe was simply some prop guy holding a super-bright, vertical light bar off to one side, walking around the Bridge set. (They animated the energy flash-beams separately.)  The trick came when they removed the lighting guy in post-production.  They did this by physically slicing each frame of film vertically and gluing it back together from a second take, after the guy had walked past the camera.

The fun-n-fascinating Return to Tomorrow by Preston Lee Jones is a super-spiffy oral history of the making of ST:TMP -- an assemblage of interviews made at the film’s release.  On pages 216, 217, and 222, are small amounts of text that confirm that Robert Abel’s group -- the SFX group that got kicked off the movie and almost caused the film to NOT OPEN ON TIME -- was in charge of the FX in this Probe sequence.  A further discussion of the bridge probe sequence is found in pages 447-451.

…The probe invaded Stage 9’s bridge set in the form of an eight-foot-high, 60-pound light bulb, cylindrical in shape, held aloft by an employee of Astra Image.  The connecting cable sent 90,000 volts into the cylinder, causing the xenon gas to fire up and flare out stroboscopic light at 24 flashes a second. [page 217]

This technique could have worked out pretty well, except that the execution of this effect is just terrible -- things aren’t in the same place onscreen after the probe passes because they edited together nonmatching footage!  A person or thing suddenly jumps several feet left or right after the probe levitates past it.

I assume the crappy quality of the finished product reflects the studio’s rush-to-release impetus.  Here’s a screen shot at 1:04:41.

Look at the ceiling!  As you can see, half of the astrogation device appears to have been eaten by the Vejur probe.  Don’t worry, though.  As soon as this sad EFX shot is over, the bubble returns!

An FX guy named Michael Rivero gives a brief reminiscence about his work on the FX crew for this scene.  Cue banana oil!

A minute later, this Vejur probe goes to Spock’s Science station and starts sucking the memory banks dry.  As Kirk yells, “It’s running our records -- Earth defenses -- Starfleet strength!”  Then Decker and Spock try to shut down the station, ending with Spock simply breaking the thing.

A nice little visual treat for fans appears on Spock’s screens as the probe starts to chow down on the info, as seen at 1:05:48.

There are several various flashes of ship schematics, all from the TV Star Trek Blueprints. 

Here is part of Page 5 from the original blueprint sheets, the source for the image in the screen grab.

Given that this film was finished in a hurry, I suspect that these TV blueprints were thrown in because the studio didn’t have the time to actually come up with anything more appropriate.  These blueprints were semi-accurate for the TV Enterprise, but if Vejur used them as a guide to this vessel, it wouldn’t be pretty!

As you know, the month after the movie opened, Ballantine Books released Star Trek: The Motion Picture Blueprints -- but their appearance in January 1980 was a little late to show up in the movie! 

*          *          *          *          *

After the Vejur probe gets a naked-Ilia makeover, Kirk throws a robe over it and takes it to Sickbay, where they run some tests on it.  The following photo is from 1:18:05.

Check out the glass doors on the wall behind our intrepid heroes, and compare this view with the same wall on Star Trek II:

As you can see, for the second movie they decided to label the glass doors.  Either way …

 Don’t those windows remind you of an Automat?

*          *          *          *          *

A bit latter, Mr Spock decides to sneak out of his room after dark to go to the pool parlor. investigate Vejur by himself, using Vulcan ninja magic.

If you look carefully, you will see some “ve-r-r-ry interesting” images during the Spock Walk.

At 1:30:06, you see Spock as he flies past “the machine planet.”

 Look over to the middle left of this shot.  Doesn’t that look like a face?

 Look again!

A second later, there’s a close-up of Spock as he looks out to see what’s next.  Note the reflection of the scene we just saw, in the faceplate of his space suit.

 Now, notice that they forgot to flip this image left-to-right, when reflected in Spock’s faceplate a second later!  See the circled area showing the “Vader face” STILL on the left side, not flipped to the right side, as it should be.

As Spock progresses, at 1:30:52 he encounters the infamous “Space Lips.”

That’s not my term for this shot, it came from the Group Commentary track on the DVD!  One of either John Dykstra or Doug Trumbull uses this term.

 To me, the Space Lips look like Ubi Iwerks’s character Flip the Frog.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!  For my money, the most fun and silly discovery in Star Trek: The Motion Picture was … Miss Piggy.

This screen shot is from 1:31:15.  Do you see her?

 How about now?  Believe me, once you see her, you can’t un-see her.  And I saw her on the film’s first showing, in the theatre!

The “official” position is that this is a non-issue and strictly an artifact of human perception.  But if you will watch this brief few seconds of film in motion yourself, you like me won’t believe that it’s a coincidence.

*          *          *          *          *
Our final silly and very obsessively nit-picky observations concern Nurse Chapel’s fingers, and Spock’s hairline.  As you know, the Spock Walk ends with his mind being blown.  Kirk suits up and rescues his friend, and next we see Mr Smarty-Ears stretched out in Sickbay.  When he wakes up, Kirk comes over for a talk, and Dr Chapel stands next to Spock’s pillow on his right side.

 This shot is from overhead at 1:35:13.  Please note that Dr Chapel’s fingers are all perfectly straight.  The medical instrument in her hand sticks out an inch or more past the edge of the pillow, towards Spock’s shoulder.  But, look again from another angle, three seconds later!

All of a sudden, her fingers are curled tightly around the medical thingie, which now is set way back from the bottom edge of Spock’s pillow.

These two angles are repeated several times during this scene, and in each shot the hand stays in the same relative place.

But even more obsessively, join me in a second look at the side view of Spock.

Look at Mr Spock’s sideburns.  They’re squared off.  This only matters because all Starfleet personnel are supposed to have pointy sideburns.  As I remember it, Roddenberry had the idea for this distinctive touch so that male actors could have various parts or hair lengths, but the sideburns’ pointyness would signify a Starfleet member.

After a quick shot of “Dalaphaline, five ccs” from Dr Chapel, Spock is back on his feet and joins the party on the Bridge.  We can understand that he changed back into his uniform, but did he have time for a shave?

In this screen grab from 1:49:06, taken as a weepy Spock turns toward Kirk, we can tell that Spock’s sideburns are once again regulation.  They may even be a tad longer!


Well, friends, that’s all for this instalment of the Super Blog.  We won’t go into some other fishy aspects of STTMP, such as the mismatching space suits at the end of the Spock Walk, or the accurate spelling of Vejur/V’Ger/V’ger.

See you next time!

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