In which the Boys are Back In Town, if it ain’t broke fixing it could endanger the mission, and the plot is creatively bankrupt but everything you love about the visual design was born here.
Oh god, guys, here it goes. A hundred and thirty minutes of Star Trek. Tell my liver I’m sorry.
The music sting is the TNG music, which bodes well. It’s competing with Star Wars for big-budget flicks, so it makes sense. The Klingon Main D-7 battle-cruisers slowly approach some big nebulous thing. Oh wait, who’s that wrinkly-forehead alien piloting the ship, and why is it speaking Klingon? These are also the first actually advanced computers we see, with Heads up displays and swivel seats. They fire at this enormous ship/nebula, but it doesn’t appear to do anything. I bet that goes well for them.
Meanwhile, we get a look at a Federation listening post on the Klingon border. Apparently, everyone at the listening post gets to wear leisure suits while they watch Klingons get vaporized in a cloud of electricity by the machine. The cloud is, apparently, on a precise heading for Earth.
Spock, badly in need of a haircut, prays on the surface of a magma-pocked surface of I assume Vulcan. I’ll point out again that Vulcans are steeped in ritual and dogma, where Spock is receiving his phylacteries of Logic. Well, he’s refusing with a dramatic synth-sting, but the idea is there. With a mind meld, probably-T’Pau notes that Spock has been ‘touched by an alien consciousness and doesn’t deserve it.
That guy hates Kirk. HATES him. We’re establishing a lot of new information about Star Trek right now. Like what Klingon ships look like. And that Starfleet is in San Francisco. At Sandals. The shuttleport is apparently a Toga Party. Admiral Kirk is really strongly established as hating that his place is not supposed to be on the Enterprise, and that his new Vulcan science officer questions him. And his electric future ab-zapping girdle. But so far that’s about all the character development that’s happened, ten minutes in.
The Enterprise is now a refit and redesign, having spent a year and a half being updated and repaired from Kirk’s riding her into the ground. Kirk himself has been out of the game for two and a half years, and with a brand new crew handling brand new bright shiny happy spaceship. There are awkward looks between Kirk and Scotty, Kirk and the Enterprise, and between Scotty and the Enterprise. They both want to be inside her. They can high-five over the top. This is the infamous four-minute establishing shot, with enormous light-bulbs. We also get a real feel for the dimensions of the ship, and the fact that the shuttle-bay takes up about a third of the volume of the secondary hull.
The turbolifts are, at least, no longer requiring manual controls. And there are still work crews fixing the bridge and Captain Decker doesn’t know. Captain Decker, possibly-son of the guy who blew up inside the Doomsday Machine. I wonder if life is going to work out any better for him than it did his father? It’s hard to get worse than being eaten by an immense doomsday monster. But we do have an immense doomsday monster. Is it sacrilegious to say “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”?
We’ve also seen more establishing shots of technology that’s iconic to Star Trek in the first 20 minutes of this movie than in all of TOS. They show us Klingon interior design, the vertical warp core, the computer interfaces that look like computers instead of small red candy bars. For an almost universally-hated movie this is doing wonders for the actual world-building aspect that invents modern Star Trek, and it’s almost entirely due to the influence of Star Wars. Detailed models, huge sweeping shots, alien languages, that weird distended octagonal corridor, and weird jumpsuits with belts inside and beltless buckles outside of them.
It’s also worth noting that the Enterpise, docked at Earth, is the only star-ship within range of the big disastercloud heading for Earth, and it’s so fucked up that the infamous horrific transporter accident happens. That scream implies a continuation of consciousnesses throughout transport. Shouldn’t someone know about that? Shouldn’t everyone know that consciousness continues during transit. Instead in TNG, Barclay is going to see something and everyone is going to tell him he’s crazy. The fact that they didn’t know that implies that this whole thing has been kept hushed up. Like Time Travel, Starfleet only does that when the risks of something are immense., In this case, though Transporters are still in use. There’s a continuity of consciousness, at least during malfunctions, where you can feel your body disassembling itself molecule by molecule. I wonder what it feels like to be conscious as your brain evaporates and floats away on the aether.
What’s really sinister is that McCoy is nervous about transporters. We can play this off as him being the Id in the Freudian trio, and simply being viscerally repulsed by the possibilities, but in truth, when you take into consideration that he’s not quite what you’d call cut from the Starfleet Mold, it’s entirely plausible that he’s not fully indoctrinated into the party line, that even if the transporter malfunctions, you’ll never know it. He knows, and he’s not sanguine about it. Anyway, looks like we’re minus one Vulcan Science Officer.
The murdercloud is now just over 55 hours away form Earth, and Kirk is taking the time to speechify to his crew. The cloud is 8o AUs in diameter, which makes it just a bit larger than Neptune’s orbit. Kirk watches with the crew as the cloud annihilates their listening post in full review of the entire crew.
They get a Deltan, and everyone puts on a creepy smile when we find out she’s Deltan. Chekov gets the kind of face you put on when you’re in a college movie drilling a hole in the girl’s locker room. Kirk is also making something of a big deal about going to warp within the solar system. This is the first time the Enterprise has gone to warp 7 of her own volition. This retrofit is the Warp 7 engine, and it’s a damn shame that they happen across a wormhole which is going to take them somewhere and dilate time for them a bit. I actually don’t have a problem with this bullshit effect, because we’re never going to see another ship going through a wormhole at warp.
The wormhole, however, was created by an engine imbalance, which means, presumably, that once that engine imbalance was analyzed they could create wormholes whenever they wanted. Would’ve been nice if Janeway had known about this shit, huh? Assuming it has any relevance on the plot in terms of travel time, which it doesn’t. This is a sequence with no point.
Spock shows up on a Vulcan Warp Sled and kicks Decker off of his temporary science officer command. And Spock will now be the one who solved the engine problems because he’s better at most of what Scotty does that Scotty is. Everyone is pleased to see him, even though he’s not pleased to see anyone. By the end of TOS, he’d developed and lost a good working relationship with McCoy, but since then he’d been doing the Kolinar discipline of ‘purging all emotion.’ This is again an example of the Vulcan dedication to logic being more dogmatic than strictly rational. Spock’s training was interrupted by the doomcloud so he’s here to make the universe conform to his will. That’s not logical.
The gang is now back together, ready to saddle up and take out the Monster of the Week. Many thanks to my host and whisky sommalier, Jeremy, who points out that for all the amazing worldbuilding that goes on in this movie, Gene can’t do character. It’s a great tragedy that it’s simply not where his genius lay. One establishing shot of a spacedock showed us so much about the state of the art, but half an hour of dialogue tells us only that Kirk loves his ship.