The year 1979 saw the return of the original Star Trek characters to film, ten years after the series ended. Many at the time criticized "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" for a lack of action scenes and for reliance upon special effects. In my opinion, while the movie definitely had its faults, those were not among them.
In the first place, I am not a huge fan of "action." This is not to say that I don't enjoy a great deal of activity, provided it furthers the story. Most superhero films have plenty of action, and enjoyable flicks like "Aliens" and "Predator" are almost nonstop fun. But the idea of "action" as a tangible good, like education or the energy grid, just doesn't work for me.
As for special effects, they may have seemed a bit too Tron-like for some, but the fact of the matter is that the massive energy field that surrounded the alien ship was a tricky thing to portray. An ideal version of the film would probably have handled it differently, but the criticism is, in my mind, an exaggeration.
That said, the films real flaws are manifold. The cast, despite their very colorful and convincing performances in future films in the franchise, starting with "The Wrath of Kahn," seemed subdued. William Shatner seemed to think that he needed to play Kirk straight, and as a consequence the character had none of his entertainingly smug charm to offset his ego. The Kirk of this film came across almost as a cold, egomaniacal bastard, at least where Willard Decker was concerned. One can argue that it was in the script, and cite the fact that Bones was there to act as his conscience and tell him that he was being too insensitive to the crew. But in the end, Shatner just took the cold demeanor bit a little too far.
There were moments where the more human side of Kirk shone through, but I would have felt better with a little more consistency. James Doohan was another character who seemed to hold back, thought not as much. There was a golden opportunity for his classic "The ship can't take much more of this Captain" performance, but that opportunity was subdued in apparent deference to the drama occurring between Decker and Kirk. Most of the other original cast had relatively little screen time, and when they were there, they did little to remind you of their characters' idiosyncrasies. Overall, there seemed to very little "Trek" in this movie.
Spock was a somewhat different story. His quest for Kolinahr (the purging of all remaining emotion) on Vulcan was interrupted by his sudden awareness of a massive intellect that seemed to promise the answers he sought. His unannounced arrival on the ship seemed too much of a plot contrivance, but more jarring still was his utter coldness toward his old friends of the original crew. Story-wise, this seemed to be due to the fact that he was well-advanced on a quest to purge himself of emotion, but despite its appropriateness to his mystical quest, it seemed to suck the life right out of the reunion.
Only toward the end did a hint of Spock's superior attitude toward Dr. McCoy shine through, and while welcomed, it was too little, too late. And while Spock's quest to understand himself should have come across more as a parallel to V'Ger's quest to understand itself, the enormity of V'Ger's plot line all but swallowed it up. Despite a few strategically placed lines, the rest of the cast hardly seemed to notice his character development. In the end, the subplot didn't seem to mesh very well with the movie, and it's probably due to the fact that the cast didn't do a very convincing job reprising their roles and that the main plot cast a shadow over all.
This movie, as executed, would probably have worked better with an original franchise and never-before-seen characters. Much could have been done to put the Trek back in it, and more could and should have been done to entwine the character's fates with that of the main story.
On a final note, it seems that more could have been said about the ascension of the Decker-V'Ger fusion. The "other dimension" thing was cool, but they could have taken it farther. And what was up with that asteroid in the wormhole anyway?
Watch an interview with Leonard Nimoy.