Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1977)

star trek the motion picture

“Bones, there’s a… thing… out there.

The Scoop: 1977 PG, directed by Robert Wise and starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly, and Stephen Collins.

Tagline: The human adventure is just beginning.

Summary Capsule: The most famous starship crew reassembles for an incredibly bland mission to the center of… a THING!

Justin’s rating: I’m naming my first kid “Bones” in honor of the most crotchety space doctor ever!

Justin’s review: In the annals of film history, Star Trek: The Motion Picture will be far more remembered for what it accomplished as a movie than how the movie actually was. It’s easily the most boring of the Trek films, with a look and a pacing that is set strictly in the ’70s (“Battlestar Galactica” trotted in and out of my mind while rewatching this film — just check out the outfits and the set designs!). Yet without this film, you could’ve kissed goodbye to the resurrection of what would become one of the biggest science fiction enterprises of the past century.

A brief bout of history, if you would, Professor Justin. Why certainly!

For all its legendary status now, the original Star Trek series was actually a failure. At first. It lasted barely three years before the networks yanked it due to dismal ratings in 1969. Yet a fairly new thing called “syndication” brought Star Trek into the crosshairs of sci-fi fans everywhere during the next decade, prompting Paramount to re-consider its decision. For a while, it looked like Star Trek was going to get a second series run (titled “Star Trek: Phase Two“), but that was suddenly changed to develop a feature film, thus reuniting the cast and testing the waters of a series revival. Essentially, The Motion Picture became one of the most expensive TV pilots of the era.

Like the short-lived series it came from, The Motion Picture was far from successful. Sure, it made a bit of change, but critics and fans alike who were being thrilled to the new Star Wars and other late-70’s scifi ventures found this film long and tedious. The promised second “classic” Star Trek series never emerged — instead, Star Trek: The Next Generation would debut in 1987 — and a follow-up film was initially doubtful.

Still, for every major malfunction on the part of Paramount, The Sound Of Music’s director Robert Wise, and William Shatner’s stilted acting, a positive outcome emerged. The enormous fan turnout for an admittedly middle-of-the-road Star Trek feature teased the studio with the idea of what a really good Star Trek would bring in. By using the first Star Trek film as a template of what not to do, Paramount reversed course with Star Trek II to make it vibrant, action-packed and memorable.

And if nothing else, The Motion Picture graced us with the classic Jerry Goldsmith score, which far outdid the ’60s theme music and would become the standard of every Trek show and film score to be measured by afterward. You can’t listen to this film’s score without getting swept away by musical goosebumps each and every time.

As for the movie itself, reviewing it is a tad bit of tricky business. There’s actually three official versions of the film — the 1979 theater print, the 1983 television cut (which I grew up on), and the 2001 director’s edition — but we’re going to go with the 2001 version. Seizing a rare opportunity to at least correct some of the wrongs of a rushed production of a grand picture, the studio and Wise re-edited the film, tightened it up, and brought the 70’s special effects and visuals up to date. As a result, the 2001 version is more enjoyable and an incredible leap over the older cuts, if you’re as familiar with them as I am. Plus, nobody decided to throw a stupid Jabba Palace musical number into the middle of things for the merry hell of it, and for that, I am grateful.

The Motion Picture takes place about three years after the Enterprise has redocked from its original five year mission. In that time, the ship received an overhaul and the crew was scattered to the wind. But all it takes is for one giant Space Cloud on a “direct course to Earth” (in Star Trek, Earth is a powerful magnet for everything bad in the universe, a black hole for anomalies and ravenous Interstellar Crabs, which explains the low property values), and Starfleet’s only vessel is out to save the day. Starfleet never, ever has any other starships around when the Crabs come a-calling. Starfleet’s budget covers, to the dime, one starship and a rental office somewhere in San Francisco.

To distract you from the earth toned-themed interiors of the Enterprise is a mysteriously returned Spock and a new Bald Alien Uber Driver. While I do love a good Spock in my coffee, this time around I must go with Bald Alien Driver. I’ve always held a strange attraction to girls and movie characters who go the cueball distance, and baldy cutie here is probably why. Sure, she doesn’t do more than wax her dome and look pretty in a miniskirt, but she’s still pretty memorable for such a nothing role.

Even at the height of my Trekkie years, I probably only watched this movie once a year. It’s one of those movies where elements and small morsels of technology are worth picking through for, just not very often (the transporter accident is incredibly horrific — something you‘d think we would have seen more often in the show). Everyone in this film is subdued, and it just doesn’t feel like the Star Trek that came before or after. Plus, the main threat of Mr. Cloud is as asinine of a conflict as you can get (to rub a little salt in that wound, the “surprise” twist ends up being remarkably similar to an old Trek episode, just twice as long and half as interesting). For all of creator Gene Roddenberry’s distaste of militarism and being in touch with how the world really spins, this film proves that Trek works best when they had a more concrete villain (Khan, Klingons) instead of the oft-used space anomalies.

So if you’ve ever seen this first Star Trek movie, I’ll wager even this shiny, slightly slicker Director’s Edition isn’t enough to get you back for another viewing. But if you’re even slightly curious, go with this cut and satisfy your inner cat.

“Spock… this is… no time… for arm wrestling!”

Intermission!

  • In the scene where Kirk addresses the crew prior to launching, much of the crew were extras who were noted Star Trek fans, including Bjo Trimble, co-organizer of the letter-writing campaign that kept the original “Star Trek” alive for a third season.
  • Uhura’s communications earpieces are the only original props from the original TV series. They were dug out of storage when it was realized someone had forgotten to make new ones for the movie.
  • This film marked the first appearance of the “ridged-forehead” Klingons.
  • The character of Decker was created so that if Kirk had to be written out of the possible TV show, Decker could become the series’ new lead role.
  • The V’ger prop was so large and involved so much work that one end of it was being used in scenes while the other end was still being built.
  • It was understood in the script, but not in the movie, that Commander Will Decker was the son of Commodore Matthew Decker, the half-crazed starship captain who committed suicide in the Star Trek television episode “The Doomsday Machine.”
  • Persis Khambatta became very emotional about having her head shaved for her role. She kept her shorn hair in a box for a time and asked Roddenberry to take out insurance in case her hair didn’t grow back. It did.
  • James Doohan (Scotty) made up the Klingon and Vulcan words used in this film.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation used this movie’s score as its title theme when the show launched in 1987.
  • Jerry Goldsmith’s Academy Award-nominated score featured a special musical instrument called “The Blaster Beam,” an instrument 15 feet long, incorporating artillery shell casings and motorized magnets. It was used as part of any scene featuring V’ger.

Groovy Quotes

Kirk: Evaluation, Mr. Spock.
Spock: Fascinating.

Spock: It’s life, Captain, but not life as we know it.

Kirk: I’m sorry, Will.
Decker: No, Admiral. I don’t think you’re sorry. Not one damned bit. I remember when you recommended me for this command. You told me how envious you were and how much you hoped you’d find a way to get a starship command again. Well, sir, it looks like you found a way.

Transporter chief: Enterprise, what we got back didn’t live long… fortunately.

Kirk: Well, for a man who swore he’d never return to the Starfleet…
McCoy: Just a moment, Captain, sir. I’ll explain what happened. Your revered Admiral Nogura invoked a little-known, seldom-used “reserve activation clause.” In simpler language, Captain, they DRAFTED me!
Kirk: [In mock horror] They didn’t.
McCoy: This was your idea. This was your idea, wasn’t it?
Kirk: Bones, there’s a… thing… out there.
McCoy: Why is any object we don’t understand always called “a thing”?

McCoy: They probably redesigned the whole sickbay, too! I know engineers, they LOVE to change things.

Kirk: Well, Bones. Do the new medical facilities meet with your approval?
McCoy: They do not. It’s like working in a damn computer center.

McCoy: Spock, this “child” is about to wipe out every living thing on Earth. Now, what do you suggest we do? Spank it?

Ilia: I would never take advantage of a sexually immature species.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Free Enterprise
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

5 comments

  1. A fabulous review. I wonder have you read up on the connections V’Ger has to the Borg? It is a widely held belief that V’Ger was developed by the Borg. When the characters reference a race of super machines they mean the Borg. Isn’t connections like this not mind blowing? Or is that just me.

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