Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
CAST & CREW
I remember watching this film in the theaters as a 10 year old boy. I had seen many of the Star Trek television episodes, but I was mostly familiar with the series by playing Star Trek with my schoolmates on the playground during recess and lunch. These characters were second nature to me. I was happy to see my old fiends back on the screen, although I have to admit, I was unsure if I was supposed to be watching a sequel to the series or a prequel.
This film dazzled me as a child. I enjoyed the shots of the new Enterprise, and I was fully immersed in this futuristic world. I was intrigued by the new alien look of the Klingons. I was excited to see Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. The threat of V-ger seemed real and ominous. And the ending where we find out that V-ger is Voyager-6 hit me like an O-Henry ending.
In fact, I remember in 1980 my neighbor getting HBO and inviting me over to his house, just to watch Star Trek The Motion Picture. IN truth, I think it probably contributed to our parents getting HBO in our house.
I probably watched this a dozen more times on HBO.
I don' t really think I realized how bad this was until Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. Since Wrath of Kahn, I became a hard-core Trekkie, and after Star trek II, and Star Trek IV, I went back and tried to watch this movie, as a young adult.
That's when I found it fairly unwatchable. The first problem I remember were the uniforms. The red military uniforms from Star Trek II though VI were just so much better. These pastel jumpsuits looked ridiculous. The red military uniforms looked tough, futuristic, and had an air of dignity. These pastel jumpsuits... looked like they were going to go relax in a spa.
The film's special effects were mind-blowing at the time, drawing heavily on Space Odyssey 2001. With long beautiful shots of the Enterprise. At its best, it is stunning, grand, and awe-inspiring giving the feeling of peaking at an actual moment in the Star Trek future. At its worst, it is incredibly boring.
The film is fairly boring to watch objectively, and I feel sorry for the non-Star trek fan who tries to sit thought this one today. My ability to sit through this one, and even enjoy it a little, is derived from massive fandom and appreciation for its historical relevance. Prior to this, all Star Trek fans had was were the original 79 Technicolor episodes. If it were not for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, there would be no Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. There would be no Star Trek: The Next Generation nor Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
It was odd watching it this time, because I found myself enjoying it a little. Don't get me wrong, I still recognize the short-comings. The plot was simple with an almost deux-ex-machina ending. None of the characters have any interesting story archs that make any logical sense.
After the premature cancellation of the original Star Trek series in 1969, and its rise to prominence through syndication. The Syndicated Star Trek TV series was developing popularity and momentum. In 1976, during Gerald Ford's presidency, NASA was going to launch a Space Shuttle named The Constitution. Over 400,000 fans wrote into the White House to change the name of the Space Shuttle. And you know what... The Ford administration did it. They talked to NASSA, and the 1976 space shuttle was rechristened The Enterprise.
In 1975, Gene Roddenberry pitched a Star Trek screenplay called The God Thing. Later, another screenplay called Planet of the Titans was pitched. Both were abandoned in early 1977. In June 17, 1977 Paramount Television announced that it would be launching Star Trek: Phase II.
Production on Star Trek: Phase II began and thirteen episodes were scripted. Bones McCoy, Scotty, Uhuru, Sulu, and Chekov were returning. William Shatner was expected to return, but studios expected a tough contract negotiation. Producers created a Kirk-like Commander Will Decker, who would be Captain Kirk's chief executive officer, but could easily step in and replace Captain Kirk, if Shatner demanded too much money. Leonard Nimoy refused to return, and so a new Vulcan character Xon was created. A third new character, Lieutenant Ilia rounded the new cast.
The character of Will Decker remained uncast throughout pre-production. For the role of Ilia, Persis Khambatta was cast for the series. Her character was a psychic empath from the planet Delta, who had a pre-existing relationship with Commander Decker. Gene Roddenberry used Decker and Ilia to William Riker and Deanna Troi. Riker is a Kirk-like chief commanding officer, while Troi is a psychic empath from the planet Beta-zed who had a pre-existing relationship with Commander Riker.
Persis Khambatta was a supermodel, and was Miss India in 1965. She had been in a couple of minor roles, but this was supposed to be her big movie break. However, her film career didn't really take off. After this, she starred in a few B-movies, lost the role of Octopussy to Maud Adams, but still managed to keep working in minor TV spots throughout the 80's.
The character of Xon went to David Gautreaux. Xon was to be a full-blooded Vulcan who was fascinated by humans and human emotions, and was in search to become more like them. This character also influenced a ST: TNG character, Data, who was also fascinated by humans and human emotions, and searched to become more like them.
For some reason, when I think of Star Trek Phase II, I always imagine the characters wearing the same outfits that they wear in this movie. Don't you? Well, these uniforms were designed specifically for the movie. The original Phase 2 were going to use the same red, yellow, and blue outfits from the original TV series. That is why there are pictures, and audition reels of David Gautreux and Persis Khambatta wearing the original outfits from the star trek TV series.
After the 1977 success of Star Wars and later that year Close Encounters of the Third Kind convinced Paramount Studios that science fiction was where the money was. After the success of Star Wars, the paramount Executives basically called in their top producers to a bug meeting and demanded that they cash in on the Star Wars phenomenon. They basically ordered their top guys to create their own Star Wars like franchise, and apparently one of the producers raised their hand and reminded the executives that they already owned a Star Wars-like franchise... Star Trek.
Star Trek: Phase II was cancelled, and within 2 weeks, an official high-budget movie project was started.
For director, they hired Robert Wise. This was an interesting choice. Robert Wise was NOT a Star Trek fan, and was completely unfamiliar with the TV show, and he had to constantly ask the actors for input on their characters.
Robert Wise was a legend in Hollywood. Among the films he has directed are: the West Side Story, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Director. He also directed The Sound of Music. He was editor on Citizen Kane. He had directed over 35 big budget Hollywood films before Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He was much respected in Hollywood as an artist and a professional.
Star Trek would prove to be a very difficult film for Robert Wise to shoot, due to the multiple production problems, which we will talk about later. So much so, that Robert Wise would quit directing for 10 years. In the end, Robert Wise had to rush production, and his final vision was not even put on the screen. Fortunately, Robert Wise was able to make a Director's Cut which was released in 2001, and it is supposed to be much closer to the vision he had. And everyone agrees that it is much MUCH better than the version that came out in 1979.
The character of Will Decker remained uncast. Robert Rise auditioned many actors but thought Stephen Collins nailed the audition. He became Will Decker.
Roddenberry wanted to redesign the costumes. He felt that the mini-skirts, which may have been exciting in the 1960's were too sexist. Director Robert Wise was also concerned that the bright red, yellow, and blue Technicolor costumes which worked well on the small screen may appear to garish and distracting on the large screen., therefore, he muted the colors so we get the more pastel earth tone grey, beige, and sky blue.
One of the coolest addition to the Star Trek canon was the look of the Klingons. I remember really liking this. This is perhaps the only thing that Star Trek Motion Picture added to the Star Trek canon that ended up lasting the longest.
Gene Roddenberry had always wanted the Klingons to look more alien but was limited by the low budget of the TV series. With a higher budget, he added ridges to the Klingon's forehead, giving them the current more alien look. Incidentally, that is Marc Lenard playing the Klingon in the opening scene. Marc Lenard is famous for having played Spock's father Sarek in Journey to Babel, and previously The Romulan Commander in the Star Trek episode Balance of terror. He is probably the only actor to have played a Klingon, A Vulcan, and a Romulan.
While everyone LOVED the new look, this also created a discrepancy between the TV Klingons and the movie Klingons. For years it was sort of the elephant in the room that the writer's skirted around. Some of the non-canon expanded universe suggested ideas such as there being two races in the Klingon Empire and the idea of a genetic virus. In the Deep Space Nine episode More Trouble with Tribbles, they finally acknowledge the difference when O’Brien can't find any Klingons on board. Worf points them out, and O’Brien says, "Those are Klingons. What happened?” And Worf says, "We did not talk about it with outsiders."
A final canon explanation was revealed in Enterprise. According to that episode “Affliction" and Divergence, Klingons began to experiment with a genetic virus to resemble other races including humans.
Roddenberry also wanted a new Klingon language. The actor that plays Scotty. James Doohan, created the Klingon dialogue that was used for the movie. He's a man of many talents. Later, a professional Linguist named Marc Okrand, who also taught linguistics at the University of California Santa Barbara, would officially be hired by Paramount for Star Trek III to help develop an official grammatically consistent Klingon language, and coach the actors on how to speak it. He would take elements from THIS movie, as a springboard for the language. Marc Okrand was also hired for Star Trek V, Star Trek VI.
Now, Klingon is considered a fully realized language. There are multiple books and courses on how to speak it. There is even a Klingon Language Institute in Pennsylvania, founded in 1992 that helps monitor and propagate the correct usage of the language, and they have actually published a Klingon version of Hamlet, Gilgamesh, Much Ado About Nothing, and the Tao Te Ching. (This idea probably came from the line in Star Trek VI Undiscovered country where General Change says, "You haven’t experienced Shakespeare until you read him in the original Klingon.") IN fact, from 2003 to 2010, the Wikipedia logo with letters from various languages also contained a Klingon character. In 2011, Eurotalk, the London language course, released a Learn Klingon course in their series. The Institute recognizes Marc Okran and James Doohan as the official creators of the language.
How big is V-ger? In the movie, they mention that He's 82 Astronomic units. This is ridiculous. How big is an A.U? Well, the distance between The Sun and Earth is 1 A.U. so V-Ger was supposed to be 82 times larger than the distance between Earth and the Sun. The distance between the Sun to Pluto is supposed to be about 40 A.U., so Roddenberry wanted V-Ger to be twice the size of our solar system. That's an intriguing idea, but it's also kind of stupid. Although that does explain some of what I initially thought was an inconsistency in the movie. This does explain how the Enterprise goes from warping to get to V-Ger; then within a few hours to all of a sudden V-Ger being an imminent threat to Earth. It's because he's twice the size of our solar system. (Incidentally, this was ret-conned in the 2001 Director's cut. V-Ger is now only 2 A.U., which, while still being huge, for some reason, sits better with me.)
I had no idea how many problems this film had during production. IN fact, this film had the potential to go the way of Cleopatra or Heaven's Gate and be a huge Hollywood production horror story... instead of just a minor one.
The production of this film was wrought with problems.
One of the problems was a series of continuous small delays that continued to compound, and the film slowly went from one day behind schedule, to two days, then three, and within a few months, the production was over 8 weeks behind schedule. Some of them were technical, lights coming out the wrong color on film, crew being accidentally electrocuted, some of them were the actors just having fun on set. Regardless, the delays sort of spiraled out of control.
Further delays occurred when the actress playing Ilia contracted a severe cold that resulted in respiratory distress, and she had to constantly be removed from the set to a warmer location to avoid hypercapnea.
A scheduled 4 month of shooting was stretched to over 6 months due to excessive delays.
The final filming was done on January 22, 1979. Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley delivered their last lines. Paramount expected to have the movie out in a few months. However, certain problems would delay release for another YEAR.
Some of the post-production changes were simple. Roddenberry thought it would be cool if the Vulcans had their own language. James Doohan, Scotty, created the Vulcan language, and the previously filmed scenes were redubbed. I think they did a pretty seamless job.
Paramount wanted to have special effects that could rival Star Wars. They first went to Douglas Trumball, who had a great reputation in Hollywood, and had just done the special effects for 2001: Space Odyssey. In 1976 he was offered the job for special effects for George Lucas' Star Wars, but declined due to other commitments. He would go on to work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977. In 1978 Paramount offered him the job for Star Trek Motion Picture, but he also declined.
Paramount needed to hire a company to complete the special effects. A production company named Abel and Associates won the bid with their offer of $4 million a year earlier. They were mostly famous for doing television special effects, and had pretty much only worked on one motion picture, which was the special effects sequence of the 1971 film Andromeda Strain.
According to reports, Abel and Associates were having problems regarding special effects. It has been almost 10 months, millions of dollars spent, and no useable footage were created. Abel and Associates were not experienced at such a big budget production and had been spending much of the time and money LEARNING how to do the job.
After almost a year, and $5 million spent, in Feb 1979 Paramount and Abel and Associated decided to part ways, and Paramount had to start completely over from scratch. Abel and Associates did not even have 1 second worth of usable film. $5 million was wasted, but Paramount HAD to cut their losses. This would inflate the budget by over 12% and delay the release of the film. Interestingly, Abel and Associates would go on and make the 1982 film Torn.
Paramount then went to Douglas Trumball, who needed Paramount in order to make his own solo project. Trumball was given the task of completing the film in only six months starting from scratch. To accomplish this, Trumball and paramount went into crisis mode. Trumball assembled his original team, and they worked 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, for six straight months.
Trumball finished the project, and you can agree, he did a great job, but he did it at great physical and mental cost. He had ulcers, insomnia, and ended up in the hospital after completion of the film.
In 1983, Trumball finally got his chance to direct his own film, and he made... Brainstorm, starring Natalie Wood and Christopher Walken.
In the end, Star Trek the motion Picture was completed with only minimal delays, only because it was incredibly rushed.
A pleasant surprise was the music. I never knew that the music from Star Trek: the Motion Picture was used for Star Trek: The Next Generation, but there it was! The theme was composed by Jeff Goldsmith (who also composed the music for Planet of the Apes, Chinatown, Alien, The Omen, and others). Gene Roddenberry liked the theme so much that he used it for the main theme of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
When the movie finally came out, it was a hit. Made on a record high budget of $46 million ($147), it set a record high for highest weekend gross making $11.8 million. And overall the film went on to take in $139 million. (That's $446 million in 2013 dollars) It also went on to be nominated for 3 academy awards, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, and Best Original Score. It still remained the highest Box Office Star Trek film when adjusted for inflation until.... can you guess... it remained the highest box office film until 2009, when J J Abram's Star Trek finally beat it. So it was a huge success.
The film was mixed critically. While many thought the film was a much "cleverer" than the other science fiction films such as Star Wars, 2001, and Aliens; other critics thought it was too boring.
Most critics thought the special effects were stunning, but overshadowed the story and the characters. Many Star Trek fans complained that the plot of the movie too closely resembled an episode of Star Trek called The Changeling. You know, I think they have a point. As of now, it holds an unimpressive 46% on Rotten tomatoes.
The financial success of the film guaranteed a sequel, but a much CHEAPER sequel.
On a final note: In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, an Earth vessel named Voyager 6 travels outside the solar system, is caught in a black hole, gets sent to a far location across the galaxy and tries to get back home to Earth. In an homage, in Star Trek: Voyager, an Earth starship named Voyager travels outside the solar system, is caught in a black hole, gets sent to a far location across the galaxy, and tries to get back home to Earth.
I reality, there were only two Voyagers, Voyager 1 and 2 that were sent into space. As of now, these two Voyagers hold the record for the furthest distance any man-made object has traveled away from our planet.
Also, the Voyager probe is said to have met a technology based alien species that helped him build the massive hull. This, as well as V-ger's propensity to "assimilate" life that it encounters has lead fans, and some writers to speculate that this alien species may have been... The Borg.