In 1979, audiences got to see live-action “Star Trek” for the first time since 1968 and for the first time ever. At the time, it was a moneymaker for Paramount, but as reviewer Roger Ebert said, “The Motion Picture” was viewed as ”blasé” by most.
“The extreme familiarity of the ‘Star Trek’ characters somehow tends to break the illusion in the big scenes involving the alien ship,” Ebert wrote in December of 1979. Since then, people have called it “The Motionless Picture,” and it is remembered as one of “The Odds.” That is, “The Motion Picture” is lumped in with “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” as inferior when compared to the even-numbered releases.
When it was time for a sequel to “The Motion Picture,” Paramount brought in a new creative team led by Robert Sallin, Harve Bennett, Nicholas Meyer. “The Wrath of Khan” is now considered by many to be the greatest Trek film of all.
’Star Trek II’
“This film also has the gamesmanship that the first one lacked, a quality that helped win the ‘Star Trek’ television series its amazingly devoted following,” wrote The New York Times’ Janet Maslin in her review from 1982.
“Maybe it’s just that there are more and brighter blinking lights on the control panels of the Starship Enterprise this time, or that the costumes are so much cleverer, or that the special effects are so good they don’t call undue attention to themselves,” Maslin wrote.
In a way, it’s not hard to understand why the second Trek film was so much better. “The Motion Picture” had a job to do, and that was to reintroduce the crew to audiences. Captain — now Admiral Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) were older and had not been seen together in over a decade. At the time, Trek creator Gene Roddenberry did not consider “The Animated Series” official canon, and that show featured voices only.
The effects wizard who created the scene which delighted Trek fans in 1979, and is now derided for being too slow and plodding, did it on purpose. Douglas Trumbull created the scene where Kirk and Scotty (James Doohan) flew past the Enterprise in spacedock to give fans of the series a look at what their ship looked like on the silver screen. Before that, the Enterprise was seen on the television series, which was an achievement, but the special effects for 1960s TV did not age well.
Spacedock & the Enterprise
Comparing “The Motion Picture” to the first season of “Star Trek: Picard” makes sense, as both of these stories were transitions. TMP, as discussed, was taking fans from the era of underwhelming TV special effects and low budget sets to a photorealistic view of the Starship Enterprise and incredible attention to nearly everything.
“Picard,” similarly, transitioned fans from “The Next Generation” into a world where their hero, Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), was 30 years older and unable to belt out the same Shakespearian-style monologues. As if that was not enough, Michael Chabon and Avika Goldsman used the ten-episode series to clean up the mess left behind in the wake of “Star Trek: Nemesis.”
“Nemesis” was the last time fans saw Picard, Geordi (LeVar Burton), Data (Brent Spiner), and many of the other TNG stars in action. And for as good as “Khan” was, “Nemesis” was the opposite. “Nemesis” ranks among the lowest of Trek films thus far and helped end the streak of new Trek on TV or in the movies since 1987.
Some complained that Chabon’s vision for Picard was “boring as hell,” but he established many essential things which Season 2 does not. For example, Chabon and Goldsman gave Picard a new crew, and the old man got a new body. While Picard’s android body is controversial, this eliminates the need to try to solve all of those ailments that have been racking up through the years — like that artificial heart he earned on the TNG episode “Tapestry.”
Season One established the state of the Federation after the events of “Nemesis.” Unlike other science fiction franchises, “Star Trek” has not disavowed films or series based on the whims of a new director. The Terminator series, for example, has rebooted or ignored 3 or 4 films since 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”
Chabon and Goldsman did the yeoman’s work of fixing Picard’s universe, so the adventure could really begin, starting in Season 2.
As actor Santiago Cabrera (Rios) remarked, things are different because the fans know the characters.
“A lot of things land differently,” said Cabrera in a press conference with media before the release of the show. “There’s more of a feeling of ‘I know these people’ — between ourselves as well. So it’s great. The good thing is that you’ve just got more stories, and you can dig in deeper and more places to go, and you want to find new colors, a new layer, a new storyline. We found, definitely, some fun stuff in Season 2.”
The presence of new co-showrunner Terry Matalas has also obviously changed things. “The Star Gazer” was fun and exciting, and put Picard and his crew in a world of new peril. Q (John de Lancie) returned to meddle, and tell Picard that the “trial” had actually never ended. The Borg are back — and they are more terrifying than ever.
The episode featured updated situations for Elnor (who was in Starfleet Academy), Seven (back with the Fenress Rangers), and for Raffi and Rios (both in Starfleet). Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) is there throughout, but mostly for comic relief. Isa Broines (Soji) only appeared for a brief moment.
Since the first episode of “Picard: Season 2” streamed on March 3, 2022, the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. IGN said that the episode was good because it “course-corrects many of the debut season’s mistakes.” The Spokesman-Review included “Picard” on its “worth watching” list. At the same time, Den of Geek’s Lacy Baugher rated the episode 4.5 out of 5 stars. She also said she “can’t wait to find out some of the answers” to some of the show’s new mysteries.
Perhaps it was IndieWire’s Christian Blauvelt who summarized the episode the best.
“The thing about those bad first seasons of ‘Trek’ shows? They’re always the precursor to a startling turnaround. Sometimes that uptick happens in Season 2, sometimes later. ‘Picard’ has already made it so.”