Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Paramount Pictures, 1979; see also 1979 in film) is the first feature film based on the popular Star Trek science fiction television series and is released on Friday, December 7. It is often referred to as ST:TMP or TMP. It is widely regarded as a disappointing film due to its plodding pace and emphasis on special effects over story and characterization, and is considered by many as one of the lesser films in the series. However, there are also many fans who consider this film to be the best of the series and the one film that most accurately reflected Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future.
Circa stardate 7412.6, a powerful alien force - in the shape of a massive energy cloud - is detected in Klingon space and is believed to be heading for Earth. The cloud destroys starships and other objects it encounters en route. Starfleet decides to dispatch the starship Enterprise to intercept the "thing", requiring that its lengthy refit process be quickly finished and it tested while in transit.
As part of this plan, now-Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) assumes his old command of the ship, angering Commander Will Decker (Stephen Collins), who had been overseeing its refit as its nominal new captain. After gathering many of the former crew members of the ship, the Enterprise embarks on its journey, but testing of its new systems goes poorly, resulting in further stress between Kirk and Decker. Many problems are resolved by the addition of Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who had been on his home world of Vulcan undergoing the kolinahr ritual. His failure to do this led him to conclude that his destiny lay with humanity and Starfleet.
The Enterprise meets with the alien cloud, survives its initial assault, and is brought inside the cloud, which the crew learns is named V'ger. The ship gradually journeys to the center of V'ger, suffering some casualties along the way, as well as experiencing the strange transformation of Lt. Ilia (Persis Khambatta). It all leads to a transcendent finale at the center of V'ger.
V'ger is revealed to be the unmanned scientific probe Voyager 6, which was part of the Voyager program, and (ficticiously) launched in the 1980s or 90s. The damaged Golden Record that it carried was recovered by an alien technology, which was used in the process of rebuilding V'ger to 'fulfill its mission'.
TMP exhibits a pair of themes familiar to viewers of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. First is the notion of "Kirk as destroyer of malevolent machines". Captain Kirk often encountered and destroyed computers which have become too powerful for the humanoids around them. TMP takes a slightly different tack, as V'ger is not actually destroyed.
Second is the notion of a being transcending the material plane to become something greater, usually represented as a being of light. Creatures such as the Organians from the original series episode "Errand of Mercy" have this characteristic, as do several beings from TNG. Star Trek almost always portrays this transformation in a positive light, something to which humanity can aspire, and V'ger's transformation here certainly is in this mold.
The theme of rebirth is a minor one in the film as applied to the characters. Decker and Ilia are removed from the stage through their own rebirth, while Kirk comes to command the Enterprise again as a sort of rebirth.
The film is very short on conflict or excitement; other than Kirk's conflicts with Decker and the obvious threat of V'ger, there is precious little conflict in the film, and both of these elements are dealt with by the deus-ex-machina nature of the ending. The story, in effect, is a relatively straightforward puzzle for the characters to solve, and, having done so, their other problems evaporate.
Origins of Star Trek: The Motion Picture
In the wake of Star Trek's popularity in the early 1970s as a result of newborn Trek fandom and syndication, there were several failed attempts to produce a Trek feature film. Starting in 1974, a number of ideas were seriously pitched for a film to be entitled Star Trek II. These included "The God Thing" by Gene Roddenberry about a vessel visiting Earth claiming to be God, a story by Harlan Ellison about alien reptiles changing Earth's past to make snakes evolutionarily dominant, and "The Planet of the Titans."
"The Planet of the Titans" was nearly produced as the first Star Trek motion picture. Written by Allan Scott and Chris Bryant, the script involved the crew of the Enterprise rescuing the starship Da Vinci from a disaster. During the rescue Kirk suffers a shock to the brain causing him to go mad and disappear. Years later, the Enterprise, now under Captain Gregory Westlake, is dispatched to a planet near where Kirk disappeared. This planet is slowly being sucked into a black hole, and contains a wealth of information that the Klingons (who have also dispatched ships) want as well. Kirk is found, but the planet and the Enterprise are pulled, via the black hole, into Earth's past, where they become the Titans of Greek mythology. It was to be directed by Phillip Kaufman. Ralph McQuarrie did pre-production art (including a very Star-Destroyer-like Enterprise) and Ken Adam storyboarded the script. The movie was abandoned in late 1976 when Paramount finally rejected Scott and Bryant's script.
Instead, in 1977, attention was turned away from a film and towards a second television series, to be entitled Star Trek: Phase Two, as part of a fourth television network to be created by Paramount. Despite already-extant casting, costuming and set production, Michael Eisner, then-head of Paramount, called a landmark studio meeting. Eisner has been known to declare "we've been looking for a Star Trek motion picture...and this is it!", thus the new Paramount network would be postponed (it would eventually become the UPN network), and the Phase Two pilot episode In Thy Image would be rewritten as Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
All this couldn't have come at a more opportune moment. By the end of 1977, Star Wars had become a box-office success, and Paramount put The Motion Picture into pre-production. Rather than follow the space opera feel of Star Wars, TMP instead emulated the mood and format of 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which Douglas Trumbull also supervised special effects.
The film follows the story of "In Thy Image" only generally, as disputes between screenwriter Harold Livingston and producer Gene Roddenberry (as well as numerous requests from Paramount Executives) led to extensive daily rewrites of the movie right up to the last day of filming.
Major changes from the Phase Two pilot episode include: Scenes of Kirk trying to recruit McCoy in a park in San Francisco, a conference of Admirals discussing the intruder, Lieutenant Xon's entire role, the destruction of the cruiser Aswan, an invasion of the Enterprise by mechanical probes, scenes of the Ilia-probe attempting to seduce Kirk and Sulu, and scenes of Kirk and Ilia beaming down to San Francisco to show her footage of NASA's Voyager project at Starfleet Command. The director of the pilot episode, Bob Collins, was briefly set as the director of the motion picture.
The film was directed by Robert Wise, supposedly after the studio decided they wanted a better-known film director than Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry at the film's helm. It displays state-of-the-art (for the time) special effects, set design and use of models. Despite this, the film is widely regarded as ponderous and even boring, especially in the second half, which often consists of little more than scenes of the Enterprise flying through the interior of the cloud, with the awed reactions of the crew. The story is clearly little more than an hour-long TV episode fleshed out to two hours. Despite this, the first hour of the film contains some witty and interesting moments.
An extended cut of the film on videotape and network television consisted of little more than an additional 11 minutes of special effects and reaction shots. This was one of the first occasions in which an extended version of a film was created for television and the then-new home video market. The additional footage included one glaring error in that a scene showing Kirk supposedly floating in space was added, however the scene had not had special effects added, so therefore viewers were clearly able to see the scaffolding and ceiling of the movie set in which the sequence was filmed.
In 2002, a new version of the film was released, known as the Director's Edition. Robert Wise was given the opportunity to re-edit the film, and also to add newly made CGI special effects to better match his original vision of the film, which had been curtailed due to short deadlines, budgetary restrictions, and technological limitations in the 1970s. Several continuity errors were also corrected. This "Special Edition" of the film also has a proper sound mix, which was lacking in the theatrical presentation. This version of the film is generally considered a vast improvement over the original film.
The entire segment of Spock entering V'Ger alone was refilmed at the last minute by Douglas Trumbull, who wrote and directed the sequence. The original sequence, showing Spock and Kirk entering V'Ger's memory core was mostly filmed but abandoned when the scripted rigging effects proved too complex.
Another sequence scripted and abandoned at the last minute involved the Enterprise being attacked by the Klingon ships from the beginning of the movie, who had rematerialized as V'ger moved to its new plane of existence.
The film was scored by Jerry Goldsmith. His theme to the film was later reworked as the theme for the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Other elements of the film were also preserved in TNG, such as the dashing young executive officer, who once had a personal relationship with the empathic alien woman, and the pyjama-like Starfleet uniforms.
It has been theorized that Will Decker is the son of Commodore Matt Decker from the original series episode "The Doomsday Machine" : that was indeed the plan for Star Trek: Phase Two.
The film's storyline is strongly reminiscent of the Original Series episode "The Changeling", which features an Earth-born probe enhanced by alien technology and seeking to return to its "point of origin". The probe, in this case Nomad, mistakenly believes Kirk to be its creator, and possesses a strong drive to sterilize all "imperfect" life forms.
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079945/) at the Internet Movie Database
- "Star Trek: The Motion Picture (http://www.memory-alpha.org/en/index.php/Star_Trek:_The_Motion_Picture)" article at Memory Alpha, a Star Trek wiki