Filed under: Star Trek.
In 1979, before I’d yet seen Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a friend of mine came up to me and said, “So, what did you think when V’Ger turned out to be Voyager 6?” I’ve never had any idea what my reaction to that revelation would have been; I was robbed of that moment. But this week, I finally got to experience ST:TMP as it was meant to be seen …
I think most of the world was robbed of the power of the V’Ger revelation, anyway, because almost all of us who saw ST:TMP had already seen the classic Trek episode “The Changeling,” which involves the very similar revelation that a marauding super-advanced AI is actually an old Earth probe; we immediately dubbed ST:TMP “Where Nomad Has Gone Before.”
But on Sunday I watched the Director’s Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture with my friend Sherry Peters, who is new to classic Trek (but has now seen about half the episodes), and who hadn’t yet seen “The Changeling.” I got to vicariously share her experience as the big reveal was made in ST:TMP — seeing it as the fresh work that Harold Livingston and Robert Wise and Gene Roddenberry and Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner (the writer, director, producer, and studio executives behind the film) had seen it. Sherry liked the film (as do I) and she was surprised and pleased by the revelation. Her eyes went wide and she actually let out a little startled gasp.
The next day, I showed her “The Changeling” on Blu-ray. It took just eleven minutes into the episode (before we even got to the “Jackson Roykirk” bit) for her to say, “Wait a minute — this is the same thing as Star Trek: The Motion Picture!”
And seeing the two of them back-to-back, in that order, really does drive that home: both begin with super-high-powered energy bolts being fired, both have the crew shocked at old-style binary radio messages being sent, both have the Enterprise‘s computer banks being scanned at super-high speed (shorting them out in “The Changeling,” Spock actually smashing the console with interlaced fists to stop the uploading in ST:TMP), both have an AI wandering the Enterprise to learn about its people (Nomad itself; the Ilia probe); both have the visiting AI refer to the crew as “units” (or sometimes, in ST:TMP, as “carbon units”); both have the AI heading back to Earth to meet a “Creator” that it has misconceptions about, both have Spock mind-melding with the AI and from that learning the history of how an encounter with alien AIs led to the modification/enhancement of the original probe.
Of course, the endings of the two versions are very different. In “The Changeling,” Kirk does what he did to M5 and Landru and Mudd’s androids — arguing them to death. In ST:TMP, we get a transhumanist/singulatarian vision that’s quite lovely and much more upbeat.
And, to me, anyway, the real strength of TMP isn’t the V’Ger story: it’s Spock’s response to V’Ger, his character arc going from wanting to purge all his remaining emotions via the Kohlinar ritual, to his crying on the bridge when he realizes via the example of V’Ger how barren such an existence is, to his telling Scotty in the final scene that “My business on Vulcan is concluded.”
I do admire the movie, and enjoy seeing it again every few years (and one of my favorite scenes in my novel WWW: Watch has a character watching the film for the first time). But I got a particular kick out of finally seeing it, albeit vicariously, as its creators had intended it to be seen — thank you, Sherry!