|(Photo source: They Boldly Went)|
Too bad the film it originated from is more Green Lantern than The Iron Giant (or Iron Giant director Brad Bird's other great superhero movie, the completely earthbound Incredibles). Like the live-action Green Lantern, it's overly solemn, the main adversary is a ginormous yet somehow unintimidating (and amorphous) cloud from outer space and the hero comes off as an unlikable and arrogant jerk.
Having Admiral Kirk aggressively swipe the command of the refurbished Enterprise from a younger officer he actually recommended for the job wasn't exactly a great way to introduce the Kirk character to moviegoers who had never seen Star Trek on TV before. "He's supplanting someone else (someone who may actually be better equipped for the job), and he's bizarrely pissy about it too, like he lost his sense of humor between now and the end of the third season," wrote Zack Handlen about Kirk in his piece on ST:TMP for The A.V. Club. "We're supposed to like Kirk, not vaguely tolerate him."
The tension between Kirk and his ill-defined protégé Will Decker (future 7th Heaven dad Stephen Collins) is supposed to feel dramatic, like we're watching All About Eve in space (and with dudes in ugly pastel space pajamas and unitards instead of divas in evening gowns from the 20th Century Fox wardrobe department), but their conflict is dealt with in such an un-dramatic fashion. It's quickly brushed aside to focus on the money shots of the Enterprise's encounter with The Cloud, a.k.a. V'Ger or the lesser-used Vejur, an alternate spelling that makes it look like the Enterprise is battling an Indian tennis player (speaking of which, Vijay Amritraj has a cameo in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as an exhausted Starfleet officer who reports back to the fleet about his downed ship). Kirk's motivation for getting the captain's chair back (other than, of course, the V'Ger crisis, is it due to a midlife crisis or resentment from being a Starfleet paper-pusher for so long or both?) is so underdeveloped in TMP that Nicholas Meyer took notice of its underwritten-ness, expanded upon this older Kirk's insecurity about being an out-of-touch and irrelevant relic and made it such an effective element in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (and again in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).
|I always dug how the Starfleet traffic cop does a backflip, like he's some Pinoy traffic cop entertaining motorists with Michael Jackson dance moves. (Photo source: TrekCore)|
We want to see Kirk, Spock and McCoy wittily snipe at each other and debate over ethics and fight their way out of trouble like they often did on the old show, not gawk silently for 10 minutes at visual effects (which vary from stunning and on a par with TMP effects whiz Douglas Trumbull's 2001 and Close Encounters work to "passable for their time but haven't aged well") as the Enterprise penetrates V'Ger's V'Jayjay. That character interplay is why I prefer J.J. Abrams' first Star Trek installment, a film that irritates hardcore Treksters, over TMP (I wish Right Stuff director Philip Kaufman made TMP instead of Wise because he would have gotten Toshiro Mifune to play the Enterprise's Klingon nemesis, and that would have ruled).
However, DeForest Kelley delivers a few good quips that keep TMP, which is paced less like the nimble and youthful-feeling original series and more like some square and annoyingly conservative Biblical epic from the '50s or '60s, from being a complete slog (too bad Kelley's the only cast member in TMP who's behaving more like his old self from the show than like a pod person). Goldsmith's score, which restates the main title march a few times in the film's first act and then takes a turn from mostly upbeat to eerie and atonal, also keeps TMP from being a total slog, and it helps elevate the one sequence where shit gets exciting and gripping--the thruster-suited Spock's spacewalk inside V'Ger.
Going back to that march, I feel like it's too good for TMP. It's a theme for the movie Roddenberry and Wise thought they were making, not the underwhelming one that ended up on screen (the DVD-only Director's Edition that Paramount released 12 years ago doesn't quite rectify the screenplay's weaknesses--no updated effects footage ever could--but fortunately, it's faster-paced and snappier than previous cuts of the movie). But without that march, TMP would have been more of a chore to watch than it already is.
An extra on the Director's Edition DVD shows what TMP would have been like without the march. It contains a snippet of a rejected Blue Max-esque take on "The Enterprise," the cue from the lengthy travel pod sequence, or as I like to call that sequence, the "Shatner wants to hug the Enterprise... envelop that Enterprise... make love to the Enterprise" sequence. Wise asked Goldsmith to rework "The Enterprise" and give it more oomph. "There's no theme!," said Wise.
The final result led to this beloved--if kind of overplayed--march that would go on to reappear in a subsequent TV spinoff (although Star Trek: The Next Generation composer Dennis McCarthy came up with a nice arrangement that combined Alexander Courage's '60s Star Trek fanfare with Goldsmith's TMP march, the march sounded much less impressive coming from an orchestra that was smaller than TMP's 90-piece orchestra) and four more feature films. Intergalactic superhero music right here, baby.