Sometimes when watching a movie, one scene can bring that entire film to life, or give you a sense of ownership of that film (or of being owned by it) even when all your critical senses might be fighting against you. This article will be the first in an occasional series where I look at the scenes which do that for me. And today, in honour of the 60th anniversary of Star Trek, I’m going for a doozy!
Released in 1979 and directed by filmmaking great, Robert Wise, Star Trek: The Motion Picture carried a lot of baggage and continues struggling with much of that baggage today.
In the wake of the astonishing box office and cultural success of Star Wars, Paramount Pictures finally gave the greenlight to a long gestating relaunch of their own science-fiction franchise, one which would bring to the big screen the much-loved cast of the CBS TV series, cancelled a decade before.
With a (for its time) astronomically huge budget of around $46 million, mixed reviews from the critics (who found the film ponderous and lacking in the sheer verve of George Lucas’ blockbuster) and less than expected earnings from cinema audiences, the film was considered a failure by some.
Regardless of what might be seen as its failings, there is a scene early in the film so audacious that I can’t help but fall in love with this lopsided puppy every single time.
The story is set some unspecified period of time after the TV show’s five year mission. As a result of a huge, galactic something making its way grumpily towards Earth, wiping out everything and some unfortunate Klingons in its path, a now desk-bound, pen pushing Admiral Kirk (William Shatner, of course) fights his way back into the command seat of Starfleet’s greatest spaceship, the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Transporting up to a station orbiting above the Earth, Kirk is greeted by his old Engineer, Commander Scott, or Scotty with the suspect accent as we know him better (still portrayed by James Doohan). As a plot point, this is done because the still-being-refurbished Enterprise is having some technical issues and its own transporters are out of order (leading to the icky death of some clumsily rematerialized crew members later), however it’s also done to give Star Trek: The Motion Picture its single greatest scene.
Scotty takes Kirk across to the Enterprise in a small shuttlecraft and both Kirk and the viewer are given tantalising views of the refurbished ship, ablaze in a sea of lights, in a drydock floating in space. The filmmakers referred to their look for the Enterprise as “an ocean liner in space”, and they really hit a home run with it.
As the shuttle draws nearer to the Enterprise, we become Kirk, viewing his beloved spaceship for the first time in years. Jerry Goldsmith’s quite beautiful, rousing and romantic music score underlines both the majesty of the starship and the huge emotions welling up inside Kirk.
At first they move outside the drydock’s frame, flirtatiously teasing us with the beauty inside, the Enterprise’s porcelain curves hidden behind steel and metal. Then Scotty swings the shuttle out wide, letting the drydock’s lacy underwear fall away, revealing the spaceship in all its naked glory.
Scotty cruises the shuttle all around the docked Enterprise allowing Kirk (and us) an intimate view of the ship’s beautiful body, he glides between the wide nacelles like he’s parting the legs of a woman prior to making love, then in an absolute crescendo of visuals and music, he eases the shuttlecraft closer… closer… to the docking port on the Enterprise. The film reaches an almost literal sexual climax as the shuttlecraft enters the Enterprise, joining as one.
Kirk looks at his friend and with a satisfied post-coital tone says, “Thank you, Mr Scott.”
Make no mistake about it, this scene is pornography, plain and simple. It’s hardcore porn that satisfies several fetishes – it’s spaceship porn, special effects porn and out and out Star Trek porn. It shows off the Enterprise lovingly, lustily, it luxuriates in the expertise and skills of the artists and technicians who bring the scene brilliantly to life and it wallows in the characters of Scotty, Kirk and his spaceship amour, the Enterprise. It’s filmed exactly like a love scene, long, sensual shots, music rising and falling with Kirk’s (and our) growing arousal.
The whole scene (from Kirk’s arrival on the space station to the final vehicular penetration) is almost seven minutes long, it serves next to nothing in terms of plot function (the points it does cover could easily be carried elsewhere, and with greater brevity) and in fact, it could be argued that the sequence stops the whole film dead in its tracks. I’d certainly struggle to argue with that.
And yet… the whole thing is played with such breathless devotion to its various fetishes, and with such candour at its intended aims, that what should leave me impatiently drumming my fingers instead has me grinning from ear to ear like a lovesick fool.
It’s pure folly to leave this scene intact, but it’s such a thing of confident and giddy fearlessness to subject a cinema audience to this lust in space that all you can do is surrender to its spunky charm and go with the flow.
After this scene, the film can happily take me wherever it wishes to go. Maybe to even boldly go…