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Star Trek Done Right!
It's amazing how many Trekkies I meet describe Star Trek the Motion Picture as "A good sci-fi film, but an awful Star Trek movie."....And that's when they're feeling generous!
This statement can't be farther from the truth. The story is well written and director Robert Wise makes the characters believable. The movie is not filled with the goofy jokes and ridiculous Shatner back-flip fight scenes that some Trekkies seem to enjoy. Instead, the battle with the mysterious alien entity reveals the dynamics and inner conflicts of the crew. Spock realizes that pure logic alone cannot answer all, but must be coupled with emotion in order to tap into our creative imagination and see the possibilities of our universe. Kirk is portrayed as a daring and brilliant captain, who learns that as a leader he needs to rely on the expertise of those around him. He is a more believable figure who is fallible and struggles to learn from his mistakes.
The Enterprise is not envisioned as an easy to fly wonder ship that requires no more than the main Trek cast to run, but as a complex machine that needs precise tuning of components balanced by a crew of hundreds. The scene where Spock and the engineering crew struggle with balancing the mathematical models needed to program the warp engines convey the real dangers of space flight.
Additionally, both the visual and audio effects add to the impact of this movie. For a film made in '79, before the advent of believable CGI, the special effects are superb. Believe it or not, I've noticed special effects scenes in Independence Day taken directly from Star Trek:TMP footage (scan the shots of the inside of the mother ship (ID4)when Will Smith is making his escape run).
All in all, the ingredients of good character development, believable conflict, and hard science make this movie the true precursor to Star Trek: The Next Generation. Unfortunately, Star Treks III, IV, and V avoid the hard work this movie required and depend on the silly antics of its maturing crew.