STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE, 1979
When a destructive space entity is spotted approaching Earth, Admiral Kirk resumes command of the Starship Enterprise in order to intercept, examine, and hopefully stop it.
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By this time thirty years ago, Star Trek fans were eagerly awaiting the return of their beloved series in a lavish new feature-length film, ten years after the cancellation of the television series. The entire original cast were reprising their iconic characters: William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy, James Doohan as Scotty, Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura, Walter Koenig as Chekov and George Takei as Sulu.
Unfortunately, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, though visually stunning and somewhat of a commercial success, would leave fans disappointed and begin the odd numbered curse that would plague the film series for many years, where the odd numbered movies are poor to terrible, and the even numbered ones are good to great.
Despite a loyal following, Star Trek was always at the bottom of the television ratings and on the verge of cancellation. Finally, the NBC television network pulled the plug on the show in 1969 after three seasons and 79 episodes. Creator Gene
As a result of this newfound success, a hardcore fan base had sprung up worldwide known as “Trekkies” and “Trekkers”. Large scale fan conventions, featuring original cast members, began occurring as well. Both the fan base and conventions continued to grow in scale as the seventies progressed. While Star Trek came into a second wind that was a complete surprise to both Roddenberry and the cast, what the fans had so desperately wanted was for the series to be resurrected.
Phase II was in preproduction, with costumes and sets being designed and made, and a two-hour pilot script being written, when Paramount decided to forgo the series and instead produce a major motion picture. The back-to-back monster successes of the science fiction films Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind was what lead Paramount to add Star Trek to that cannon and cash in.
The story that was being developed as the pilot for the new series would be used as the story for the film. Titled In Thy Image, it told the story of a late twentieth century Earth satellite, which was sent into space to record as much data about the universe as possible, that disappeared and was discovered by a planet whose inhabitants were machines. The machine creatures repaired and enhanced the satellite, making it very powerful and, unknowingly, dangerous. Through its collection of all it has recorded, the satellite has now become a large mass of energy and begins to make the journey back to Earth to transmit its data. En route, the satellite wreaks havoc and the starship Enterprise crew is reassembled and sent to investigate.
Paramount enlisted A-list talent to realize The Motion Picture: legendary Oscar winning director Robert Wise and composer Jerry Goldsmith, special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull and cinematographer Richard H. Kline, to name a few. Then Paramount production executive Jeffrey Katzenberg oversaw the entire project for the studio and was instrumental in persuading Leonard Nimoy to once again wear the pointed ears. Katzenberg himself stated that “Star Trek without Spock is like buying a car without wheels.”
With all of this talent behind Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it had the makings of being a great film. But, that was not to be, due to several issues and delays during production and in postproduction. In order to make the December 1979 release, principal photography had begun before the script was completed, with only two thirds and no third act or ending. This, combined with Gene Rodenberry, who was never satisfied with the screenplay, constantly demanding rewrites caused the shooting schedule to extend beyond its original timeline, beginning in August of 1978 and not wrapping until January 1979.
Postproduction would take even longer, going right up to the day before TMP’s premiere, due to constant politics and technical difficulties with the special effects, some of which remained unfinished. Prints of the completed film were shipped wet from the processing lab to theatres across North America and the premiere in Washington D.C. The overall production budget had swelled up to $46 million, making The Motion Picture one of the most expensive movies ever made up to that point.
The finished film has been dubbed by fans as a good science fiction film, but a bad Star Trek movie. An interesting idea and story is undermined by wooden and stodgy staging and dialogue, tedious pacing, interminably long scenes, and just an overall lack of heart and soul. The heart, soul and magic of the original series are seriously lacking here. The special effects, superb for the period, almost entirely trump character and story, which are the pillars of Star Trek. Many critics of the time echoed this sentiment, with Harold Livingston of Time magazine proclaiming the movie “take(s) an unconscionable amount of time to get anywhere, and nothing of dramatic or human interest happens along the way”.
In addition to Star Trek fans disappointment of TMP, everyone involved with it wasn’t entirely happy with the film either. Robert Wise has said that he considered the version released as a rough cut. Fortunately, in 2001, Paramount allowed Wise to make a director’s cut for DVD that was tighter and featured refurbished special effects. While a much needed improvement, the flaws that hindered the original version are still present.
Despite not living up to its potential and expectations, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was rather successful earning $139 million worldwide, less than what Paramount was hoping for. The film would spawn a whole new chapter in the Star Trek franchise, with countless sequels and television spinoffs continuing to this day. The first sequel would creatively and commercially accomplish what this movie failed to do and would rank amongst most fans as the best in the series.