Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a Forgotten Masterpiece | The Breakdown


– [Narrator] Recently,
a buddy of mine insisted I watch the director’s cut of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” claiming it as– – [SnyderMan] The greatest
science fiction film of all time. – [Narrator] Truth be
told, I’d never seen it. – Will you please… sit down? – [Narrator] So, when I
finally sat down to watch it, I was taken aback. The film takes its time and it explores ideas
I wasn’t prepared for and it’s really good. But is it really one of the best science fiction films of all time? Whether asking existential questions or conveying deeper insight
into the human condition at its best, science
fiction offers a mirror for the human experience, challenging viewers about
the nature of being. “Star Trek: The Motion
Picture” is no different. “2001” evolves the human spark, “Alien” challenges our
sense of self-worth, “Blade Runner” asks what makes us human, and “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” confronts our understanding of freewill. It examines our capacity to live beyond deterministic programming, and asks whether we’re designed to act out exactly as our coding suggests, or if we have the power to
act of our own volition? So let’s examine “Star
Trek: The Motion Picture” because whether or not
you think it’s good, the movie deserves a closer look. This is The Breakdown. – Space, the final frontier. – [Narrator] The first thing people notice when watching “Star
Trek: The Motion Picture” is just how much space there is. The film took inspiration
not from “Star Wars”, but from “2001: A Space Odyssey” in designing its visual aesthetic. It effectively employs a “show don’t tell”
approach to storytelling. A technique that forces viewers to experience emotion and exposition through visual storytelling
instead of lengthy dialogue. The movie centers around
James Tiberius Kirk, former captain of the USS Enterprise, who coerces his way back
into command of the ship when a destructive probe known as V’ger is detected on a
collision path with Earth. The movie reunites us
with the familiar crew of the Enterprise, they must learn to work together again if they are to overcome this threat before it destroys all life on Earth. So, par for the course. Plato’s allegory of the cave would have it that humanity is capable of free will, but likely choose to abandon it in favor of a uniform,
predetermined life of the masses. When we are first introduced
to James Tiberius Kirk, he is a man alone, grounded
as an Admiral in Starfleet but seeks to rejoin the
world he was once a part of and become part of the
Enterprise once more. Director Robert Wise
emphasizes this journey by often having Kirk removed
from his counterparts at odds with his older friends and unfamiliar with the ship
he used to know so well. But the important
distinction here with Kirk, is that he doesn’t just want to captain the Enterprise again, he wants to be the
captain of the Enterprise. To be part of a larger whole once more with purpose and a
mission to work towards. This is made apparent during perhaps the most iconic sequence in the film. A drawn out visual spectacle
reintroducing the Enterprise. The scene serves as a symbolic
“offering of the self” to a larger purpose. In a sense, it’s an abandoning of freewill in favor of the larger mission, or destiny for that
matter, of the Enterprise. Its mission, to engage
with the alien probe. Determinism is usually
understood to preclude freewill, because it entails that humans cannot act otherwise than they do. This, in my opinion, is
the reason a question of determinism is ripe
for science fiction. Meanwhile, when we first meet Spock, he’s on a quest to purge
his soul of emotion purge it of the individual
remnants remaining in favor of pure logic, pure objective truth, devoid of humanity, his individuality, his sense of freewill. Conflict erupts as Kirk attempts to assert his authority
over the new situation, and endeavors to maintain
his individuality between he and the younger, Captain Decker the man Kirk has demoted in
order to return to command. Decker, a by-the-book Starfleet man, is the man Kirk could have been had he not maintained his individuality. A few transporter accidents, a scolding from an old friend, and a near cataclysmic
event with the warp drive and a wormhole, puts Kirk in his place. By the middle of the
film, he takes his place as the head of a larger whole, and is figuratively
going along for the ride. He puts his ego aside, and firmly subsides in
favor of the larger mission. – Steady as she goes. – [Narrator] Director
Robert Wise highlights this with a lengthy sequence
following the Enterprise once showcased as a large
vessel at the beginning of the movie as a tiny spec against V’ger the entire crew finally
becoming one unit moving with a singular purpose deeper
and deeper into the abyss. Once inside, the probe
nonchalantly attacks and kills helmsman Ilia. Decker and Kirk both receive
this as the ultimate proof of the cost of individual
attitude in human lives. – This is how I define unwarranted. – [Narrator] But surprisingly, Ilia returns as the physical manifestation of the alien probe. – V’ger. – V’ger is that which programmed me. – [Narrator] In order
to complete the mission, our unified heroes determine
the only way to understand what this mysterious probes motivation is, is to tap into the
individual humanity of Ilia, which must still exist somewhere inside the surveillance
drone V’ger created. – Decker. – [Narrator] Decker and Spock start fighting for individuality but Kirk remains distant. Within Spock’s vision quest
into the center of V’ger, he witnesses the accumulated data records of the individuals consumed by V’ger. It is within these moments that the film spells out its theme, planets, space station, single person. – Ilia. – [Narrator] Honing in ever more on the importance of the individual, on the importance of free will, the probe is operating purely
based on its programming. Spock is horrified and enlightened by the realization that
his quest for pure logic the abandonment of selfish
desires and identity was wrong. He sees how V’ger, in her
cold pure-logic state, wants to know, is this all I am? And it’s this flaw in V’ger, the very thing that has
made her so successful, preventing her from understanding the simple feeling of emotion, that finally allows Spock to
learn the value of the self. – This… simple feeling… is beyond V’ger’s comprehension. – [Narrator] V’ger is
revealed to be Voyager 7, a fictional 20th century space probe based on NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 probes. The crew deduces that
V’ger has been wandering the galaxy alone for almost 300 years, has become sentient in the process, and has managed to build a colossal and heavily-armored data-gathering
structure around itself. This final revelation inspires Spock to proclaim that V’ger must evolve. To cast away the notion of a deterministic based
mission, and embrace free will. Here is these final moments of decision, Decker opts to sacrifice his own free will and join with the V’ger probe. Kirk begs Decker to stop, to
maintain his individuality in contrast Kirk’s earlier attitude when he wanted nothing more than to push away his individuality in favor of a larger ideal. He now fights to throw that mission
away in favor of one man. – Decker, don’t! – Jim, I want this. As much as you wanted the
Enterprise, I want this. – [Narrator] While the
film seeks to explore free will versus determinism,
it also characterizes the natural evolution
every human must go through to obtain that free will. As is the case for those
trapped in Plato’s cave, we must break free of our chains in order to see beyond our
ingrained points of view. The limitless possibilities that exist within each of us, the
hope, the potential. As expansive as the inner
workings of V’ger are, they all boil down to the ever expanding possibilities
within each of us. The film premiered on December 9th, 1979 to a rather mixed response. Fans, used to the high adventure
of the original series, were stumped at this
slow-burn think piece. The rushed production and tepid response on part of critics and fans to this atypical Star Trek film nearly derailed the franchise. Though a sequel was commissioned, entitled “The Wrath of Khan”, it was made with a whole new creative team on a television movie of
the week production budget. – Khan! – [Narrator] Early promotional
posters and merchandise tried to distance itself
from the previous film, by emphasizing the action, and the looming threat of an old enemy. The 2001 director’s cut of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” as well as the recent 40th
anniversary re-release in theaters ushered in a reexamination of the film with many claiming
it to be a flawed masterpiece of science fiction history. And I suppose I agree. If you’ve never seen the film, whether you’re a fan of Star Trek or not, the movie is worth your
time if for nothing else than presenting you with questions about existence you may
not have considered. And isn’t that fundamentally
what science fiction should do? All right everyone, thanks for watching. Just curious was it predetermined or a result of your individual choice that caused you to watch
all the way to the end? I don’t know. But I do know, this is The Breakdown. (upbeat music) (firework noises) (air whooshing)

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