“Star Trek: The Motion Picture provided a unique experience, leaving some audience members, myself included, elated at the prospect, “The Human Adventure Is Just Beginning.” — Robert Meyer Burnett
“I do feel very lucky to have been a kid while this amazing renaissance of fantasy filmmaking was going on.… Star Wars, then Close Encounters, then Superman, then Alien, then Star Trek: The Motion Picture… at least in terms of going to the movies, those are two-and-a-half years I wish I could experience again. It was a truly magical time.” — Mike Matessino [Read more here...]
The Digital Bits is pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 35th anniversary of the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the first big-screen adventure of the crew of the USS Enterprise. This serves as a companion piece to our recent interview with film historian and author Preston Neal Jones about his newly-published book on the making of the film. This time around we feature a Q&A with an esteemed group of Star Trek authorities who began as fans and are now film industry professionals (with credits on Star Trek-related projects) and we discuss the virtues and shortcomings of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and examine whether or not the film has endured. (The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.)
Okay, let’s (alphabetically) meet the participants…
Mark A. Altman co-wrote and co-produced Free Enterprise, the beloved Star Trek-inspired cult classic starring William Shatner, as well as The Specials and DOA: Dead or Alive. In addition, he has been a writer and producer on several television series including Castle, Necessary Roughness and Femme Fatales, which he co-created. He is the founding publisher of Geek magazine and was the editor-in-chief of Sci-Fi Universe magazine. His books include Charting the Undiscovered Country: The Making of Trek VI (Cinemaker, 1992; co-authored with Ron Magid and Edward Gross), Great Birds of the Galaxy: Gene Roddenberry and the Creators of Trek (Boxtree, 1994; co-authored with Edward Gross) and Trek Navigator: The Ultimate Guide to the Entire Trek Saga (Back Bay, 1998; co-authored with Edward Gross). His new book, The Fifty Year Mission, co-written with Edward Gross, is an oral history of the Star Trek franchise and will be published in 2016 by St. Martin’s Press.
Jeff Bond is the author of The Music of Star Trek (Lone Eagle, 1999). He also wrote Danse Macabre: 25 Years of Danny Elfman and Tim Burton (included in The Danny Elfman & Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box, Warner Bros., 2011) and is co-author with Joe Fordham of Planet of the Apes: The Evolution of the Legendary Franchise (Titan, 2014). Jeff is the former editor of Geek magazine, covered film music for The Hollywood Reporter for ten years, and has contributed liner notes to numerous CD soundtrack releases. He also has portrayed Dr. McCoy on the Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II Internet series.
Neil S. Bulk is a music editor and soundtrack producer. He co-produced Star Trek: The Original Series Soundtrack Collection and was involved with over 150 other CD soundtrack/original score releases including the Lethal Weapon Soundtrack Collection, North by Northwest, The Blue Max, and Dennis the Menace. He recently was hired by Bruce Botnick (the executive producer on the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture soundtrack album) to edit The Legacy Collection release of The Little Mermaid. Neil also appeared as a cadet in J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek film.
Robert Meyer Burnett directed, co-wrote and edited Free Enterprise and co-produced and edited the supplemental material for the Blu-ray season sets of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Enterprise. He has worked as a consultant for Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton. He co-produced Agent Cody Banks and The Hills Run Red, as well as directed and edited several episodes of the Cinemax series Femme Fatales. He is the owner of Ludovico Technique, which specializes in the production of Value Added Material for DVD and Blu-ray releases. He has produced VAM for titles such as The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns, X-Men, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
Daren R. Dochterman was the Visual Effects Supervisor on The Director’s Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He has worked in the motion picture industry for nearly thirty years and has over 65 motion picture credits as a concept designer and production illustrator, storyboard artist, visual effects artist, and art director. He’s been a director, editor, sound man, model builder, compositor, and actor. He also is an instructor of 3D modeling and architectural rendering at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.
David C. Fein worked with filmmaker Robert Wise for several years and is the award-winning producer of The Director’s Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He is a pioneer in the field of special edition bonus features and produced the acclaimed documentaries on the making of Alien, The Last Starfighter, The Guns of Navarone, and others. He supervised audio restoration work for the Jay Ward animation catalog and has produced graphic design for numerous soundtracks and video productions. His articles on visual effects and computer technology have appeared in Cinefex and other publications.
Scott Mantz is the Film Segment Producer and resident Film Critic for Access Hollywood and Access Hollywood Live. Prior to Access Hollywood, Mantz worked for nine years as the Controller and Stage Show Manager for Creation Entertainment, where he traveled all over the country hosting Star Trek conventions. In addition to reviewing movies and providing awards season analysis for The Today Show, KNBC and the PBS review series Just Seen It, Mantz also hosts and produces Profiles, the weekly YouTube & iTunes film series that spotlights the greatest filmmakers of all time. He is the winner of the 2014 Press Award from the ICG Publicists Guild.
Mike Matessino was the Restoration Supervisor for The Director’s Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and worked with producer/director Robert Wise from 1993-2005. In 2012 he produced, with Bruce Botnick, for La-La Land Records a 3-CD expanded score release of Jerry Goldsmith’s music for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His other soundtrack credits as producer, mixer, mastering engineer or liner notes writer include Empire of the Sun, 1941, Poltergeist, Alien, Gremlins, The Goonies, Back to the Future, Home Alone, Superman, and the Star Wars Trilogy. He has directed behind-the-scenes documentaries on The Sound of Music, Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and The Last Starfighter.
Denise Okuda was Video and Computer Playback Supervisor for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and four Trek movies. In another universe, she worked on promotion for Buckaroo Banzai. Along with husband Michael, Denise is co-author of The Star Trek Encyclopedia (Pocket, 1997) and Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future (1996). She’s also recorded audio commentaries for numerous Star Trek DVDs and Blu-rays. Denise is an ardent fan of the National Football League and spends way too much time watching the Red Zone Channel.
Michael Okuda’s work on Star Trek has earned him screen credit on more episodes and movies than anyone except Gene Roddenberry. Mike was Lead Graphic Designer for Star Trek: The Next Generation through Enterprise and has been nominated three times for the primetime Emmy for Outstanding Visual Effects. His NASA work includes the crew patch for the STS-125 space shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, and he has been honored with NASA’s Exceptional Public Service medal. As a tech consultant to Star Trek, he “invented” the Heisenberg compensator to answer those who foolishly believe the transporter is impossible.
Denise and Michael are both members of the Art Directors Guild. They recently served as visual effects consultants to CBS for the high-definition remastering of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the original Star Trek series. They live in Los Angeles with their dogs, Amber Joy and Scooter T. Rocketboy.
And now that the participants have been introduced, I suggest cueing up Jerry Goldsmith’s revered Star Trek: The Motion Picture score and enjoy the conversation with these Treksperts.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is Star Trek: The Motion Picture worthy of celebration on its 35th anniversary?
Mark A. Altman: It’s been said elsewhere and I think it’s no less true today than it was 35 years ago that in many ways Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the only true motion picture in the Trek franchise, and not a glorified TV episode, with the exclusion of the recent Abrams movies. It was the only film that had a real budget (until Nemesis, and you see how that turned out) and that is reflected in the scope of the film. The Enterprise feels like a real starship, well-populated and vast. Fans always point to the drydock scene as infusing the iconic starship with life, but it’s just as true once the shuttle pod docks and Kirk finds himself in a massive cargo bay and proceeds into the corridors of the ship, teaming with extras, going about their business. The film, for all its flaws, was also infused with real heady sci-fi ideas, the concept of artificial intelligence attaining consciousness that was way ahead of its time. In fact, the notion of a machine planet with sentience was so out there for the studio at the time that they tried to strike the concept from the film forcing Roddenberry to turn to his friends like Isaac Asimov to make a case that such evolution of artificial intelligence was actually possible. While ST:TMP may not be the best Star Trek movie, I believe it probably is the best Star Trek film. It’s a strange and subtle distinction, but it’s true. Certainly, Star Trek II is a more entertaining and fun movie, but it doesn’t have the scope and sense of awe and wonder of ST:TMP, nor do any of the films that followed it. True to the unemotional Mr. Spock, it is a film that engages the intellect and not the heart.
Jeff Bond: It was a huge development in the Star Trek franchise that really gave rise to everything that followed—it created the visual look for the entire series of movies, including the two J.J. Abrams films, and laid the groundwork for The Next Generation and all the subsequent TV series. It’s a beautifully designed film, and I think Jerry Goldsmith’s score is still one of the greatest ever written and certainly a high water mark in his career.
Neil S. Bulk: Star Trek: The Motion Picture is worthy of a 35th anniversary celebration because it returned Star Trek to the world. It’s also worth celebrating, because in all of Star Trek there isn’t another movie or TV series like it. This was a big-budget epic feature where no expense was spared. Everything (with the exception of Uhura’s earpiece) was built specifically for this movie. The scale is enormous, both physically and intellectually.
Robert Meyer Burnett: If nothing else, The Motion Picture ensured the future success of the entire Trek franchise. Had the film not worked, had it not been an enormous financial success, Trek would’ve ended right there, probably lying dormant for decades until this current climate of reboots and re-imaginings made the return of Trek possible. The decision to bring back the original cast, creating an expanding “In Universe” continuity between the end of The Original Series and the beginning of the feature, also remains one of the great, mostly-overlooked elements of TMP. Roddenberry carried this idea much further in The Next Generation, setting the series almost 100 years after TOS, allowing viewers and the fan base to enjoy a much richer experience with all the historical backstory.
Daren R. Dochterman: Star Trek: The Motion Picture still towers over the subsequent Trek films in several ways. Its vision and scope have never been matched. The subtlety of performances by all the cast are quite impressive…having to deal with picking up their story ten years after The Original Series is a tough thing… and when we meet our cast, they are in various different parts of their life than when we last saw them. They are all out of their element. Out of synch with their younger selves. “Incomplete”… like the entity “V’Ger”…. The most obvious change in character is Spock, who has tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to purge his human half emotions. When he arrives, he acts like a total, cold, jerk. With none of the recognition of his past experiences with our beloved crew. Spock undergoes the greatest change in the film… but so does Kirk to a lesser degree. He barrels into claiming back command from the young Captain Decker, who is sort of the deer in the oncoming headlights of Kirk’s brash manipulation of Starfleet politics. Kirk recklessly plunges forward into his new mission… but without the sage guidance of the rest of the Trinity of Spock and McCoy to aid him, he nearly destroys the ship. These characters are not as we remember them… and as such, they make us uneasy a bit…until by the end of the film, they have gone on a journey of discovery much like V’Ger’s and come to settle in their well-known personae. Except Spock… who, it seems, finally reconciles his Vulcan and human half to create a balanced being of Logic and Passion who continues in the next films to be the driving force behind the series. These characters are handled in a much more complex way than they have previously, and, though some believe TMP to be more of a visual effects showcase, it is actually these more grown up presentations of the characters that are the most successful outcomes of the film. TMP was the first of the “TV to movie” translations… and for good or bad created a new type of film. A hybrid of what we remember, and of what can be. Something unheard of at its time.
David C. Fein: In 1977 Star Wars ignited audiences’ passion for the science fiction “space opera.” It was Star Trek: The Motion Picture that I feel revived the intelligent thought–provoking science fiction story—different from the action adventure—that further launched, defined, and inspired a franchise of films and television series to follow. These few years at the end of the 70s made an indelible mark on the world that changed and formed the future of entertainment forever.
Scott Mantz: Star Trek: The Motion Picture has always been an unfairly underrated movie, but I always loved it. Loved it when I first saw it in 1979 when I was 11 years old, and love it even more now, thanks to the benefit of perspective…. I totally get why it gets a bad rap. It’s boring. Really, it is, unless you are prepared to embrace it the way it was intended. Back in the day, everyone expected another Star Wars, and what they got was closer to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was a cerebral movie, not an action movie with space battles (though to give credit where credit was due, it did have a few of those)…. But back to your question… Why is ST:TMP worthy of a 35th anniversary celebration? Well, the answer is simple: Because it was the first Star Trek movie, period. Without it, there would have been no Wrath of Khan, no Next Generation, and quite probably no Star Trek 2009 (which, in my opinion, wasn’t just a great Star Trek movie; it was a great movie, period)…. As we all know, TMP wasn’t the Star Trek everyone wanted, since the main characters—particularly Kirk and Spock—were out of character from who they were in The Original Series: There was some doubt as to whether Spock could be trusted, and Kirk basically pulled a dick move to get the Enterprise back. And even after he got it back, he still didn’t know his way around enough to find Turbo Shaft 8 (“Back that way, Sir”)…. But given that everyone had gone their separate ways in the two and a half years since the five-year mission, it made perfect sense from a chronological standpoint that everyone was out of sorts…. But even beyond that, it was great to see the Enterprise on the big screen, and Jerry Goldsmith’s score was and still is magnificent!
Mike Matessino: Star Trek: The Motion Picture was itself a milestone in cinema and there are a lot of obvious reasons why it’s worthy of celebration… it was the first successful leap of a television property to the big screen and it re-launched a franchise that continues to this day, and so forth… but I would take it a step further and say that the movie is more relevant now than it ever was. Visually it really holds up and I think it is appreciated more now for bringing a scope and majesty to the Star Trek universe that, arguably, was never again sustained on this grand a scale.
Michael Okuda: Star Trek: The Motion Picture is more than a motion picture. It is the culmination of the dream of all of us Star Trek fans who loved the original series. Of everyone whose heart sank when the original series was cancelled, and who spent the next decade wishing that somehow, our friends on that fabulous starship could come back and we could go with them on another voyage into the unknown.
Denise Okuda: When we watch ST:TMP, we still feel an echo of that thrill, that moment of triumph when this movie that we wanted so very much, for which we waited for so very long, finally came to the screen. So for us, it is very much worthy of celebration, not only as a cinematic achievement, but for very personal reasons.
Coate: When did you first see Star Trek: The Motion Picture and what was your reaction?
Altman: I first saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture opening day on December 7, 1979. Much as depicted in my film Free Enterprise, I raced from junior high school with two friends, Kevin Costello and Richard Gallo, to the Georgetown Theater in Brooklyn (now a Party City apparently) only to be denied entrance to the G-rated movie by an over-earnest box-office attendant who told me children under 16 were no longer allowed in the theater unaccompanied by an adult after 4pm due to a recent “incident” (whatever the hell that meant). After telling her I was related to Robert Altman (I wasn’t, by the way) and looking at her befuddled reaction, I was forced to explore alternate options of admittance as there was no way I was going to miss seeing ST:TMP on opening day. Realizing my mother would be at the Brooklyn Savings Bank to deposit her paycheck after work, I rushed there at warp speed and convinced her to take my friends and me to the movie, which she did reluctantly under duress. It’s hard for those who grew up on the film in home video to understand what it was like sitting in a theater in 1979 and finally seeing Star Trek return after incessant delays, false starts and dashed hopes and dreams. To look up at a massive theater screen as the overture began and the curtains parted was no less a miracle than the parting of the Red Sea as the words Star Trek appeared writ large on the silver screen and Jerry Goldsmith’s stunning and now indelible theme music began to play. And in a moment that can only be described as sheer ecstasy, the Klingon theme started to play and a Klingon cruiser is revealed in battle against a mysterious entity. More than any other moment in cinema, this may be the ultimate high in nearly five decades of watching Star Trek. That said, one was abundantly aware of the film’s flaws, even at the time, the often lethargic pace, the lack of humor, the disappointing similarity to The Changeling. And yet, it was hard to see the film as a disappointment. The familiar trappings were all there, the ship never looked better, Kirk was in command with Spock and McCoy, ultimately, at his side. The biggest worry fans seemed to have was what if this is it? What if the inflated costs and savage reviews were the death knell for Star Trek? Is there nothing more? Is this all that I am? The answer, of course, was not by a longshot.
Bond: To be perfectly honest, it was possibly the most disappointing movie experience of my life, and that’s due to the end result of what the film was and the level of anticipation it created. Star Wars, for example, probably had more impact for people of my generation than any movie, and part of that was because it came as a complete surprise—it seemed to come out of nowhere and completely change the way we looked at movies. Star Trek, on the other hand, was arguably the most highly-anticipated movie since Gone With the Wind, and there was probably no way it could meet the expectations people had for it. It was made at the height of original Trek fandom, and people followed its development, from something that was going to be directed by Philip Kaufman to a new Star Trek TV series and finally to what became Star Trek: The Motion Picture—we were devouring monthly updates in Starlog magazine, reading teaser pieces in Time magazine, and I think people really expected it to be the greatest science fiction movie ever made. I remember I had to drive out of state to see it with friends, and during the first 15 minutes I was just in heaven, blown away by the scope of the visual effects and Jerry Goldsmith’s magnificent score, and then the whole thing settled down into one long scene on this gray, colorless bridge peopled by crewmen in gray uniforms. It seemed a rehash of plots from the TV episodes, the visual effects, after the well-publicized meltdown from Robert Abel’s visual effects department, seemed, as Gene Siskel pointed out, just like very simple copies of effects done better in Star Wars and Close Encounters. And it just seemed to miss the dramatic fire, the action and fun that a lot of us remembered from the TV series. Now I can admire its ambition and a lot of elements of its production, but it just lacked the excitement of Star Trek for me, and it was a precursor of what Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Star Trek was about to become in Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was a far more reserved and bland utopia than you saw on the original series.
Bulk: The first time I saw it I was three years old. It was during the original release at the Cherry Hill Mall in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. I didn’t have much of a reaction as I was much too young to appreciate it, but I remember seeing it there. It was only years later (when I was helping you with some research, Mike) that I confirmed that it did play in that theater and my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me.
Burnett: I saw the very first show of TMP in the John Danz Theater in Bellevue, Washington. I was 12 years old and I’d counted down the days to the opening for the better part of a year. The film blew me away. I loved everything about it... but most of all, the film felt important. I loved the film’s scope, showing us 23rd Century Earth for the first time and providing glimpses into the Trek universe outside the perspective of our main characters, with the Klingon attack opening, the scenes on the Epsilon 9 station and Spock’s time on Vulcan away from the Enterprise. These were simply revelatory. It was a serious film... and as I moved into my teenage years, I was pretty serious about my own life, so I very much appreciated the film’s tone. Unlike many of the film’s detractors, I had absolutely no problem with the pacing or the lack of the franchise’s more... entertaining elements, such as Tribbles or Gorns. Sure, the plot may have resembled The Changeling, but V’Ger’s sheer size suggested The Universe itself... and the Klingons finally seemed a formidable force. When they were vanquished so easily, the audience knew there was a real danger. All bets were off. To me, TMP’s seriousness evoked some of my favorite episodes of the series, such as The Immunity Syndrome, The Doomsday Machine, Balance of Terror or The Tholian Web.
Dochterman: I was there on opening weekend. On Sunday, December 9th at around 3 in the afternoon. I was 12 years old, and had already been primed by several articles in Starlog magazine and Scholastic magazines at school. I was very excited. I had been a Star Trek fan since 1973 and my first exposure to The Animated Series got me interested in the live-action re-runs. Channel 11, WPIX in New York, ran the original series every night and I had audiotapes of several of my favorite episodes that I had committed to memory. I saw the film and loved it… as it was. Warts and all. I had no conception that it had been rushed to completion, with a minimal sound mix, and no fine cut. No inkling that the visual effects had been rushed into a kamikaze eight-month schedule. And no clue that it was a truly troubled production. Instead it showed me my heroes again. In a setting that I could only describe as “real”… It convinced me totally. And in my eyes, it was never to be that grand again in a movie.
Fein: I first saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture when I was a kid growing up in Staten Island, New York. My father took me to see the film at the Lane Theater and the experience was absolutely breathtaking and awe-inspiring. I was captivated by seeing my childhood television heroes on the big screen… especially Kirk and his heroine… The Enterprise. I was in heaven when Scotty took us… err… Kirk around her to marvel at the refit lines and curves. It wasn’t until the original Enterprise model arrived at Foundation Imaging for The Director’s Edition that I remembered how thrilling that childhood moment captured my imagination. Once again, I travelled over every inch of the model studying every detail. It was magical.
Mantz: I saw TMP on its opening weekend, but on a Saturday, so that would have been December 8th, at the Leo Mall in Northeast Philadelphia. I had already been a diehard Trekker (or Trekkie, as we were still called in those days), and I watched Star Trek every night at 7pm on Channel 17. Of course I was blown away by Star Wars, and I loved Battlestar Galactica, but the original Star Trek was and still is my favorite TV show of all time…. I answered a lot of this in [the first question], but the thing that struck me the most was the music. Goldsmith could have gone the John Williams/Star Wars route, but he went in another direction, which is why it still holds up. The opening credits theme and the love theme are among the most beautiful scores ever composed for the big screen.
Matessino: I cut school and saw TMP at the first show on opening day. I loved it from the outset because it was just so amazing to see the Star Trek characters and the Enterprise on the big screen. There was, of course, a sense that it wasn’t a rip-roaring action picture like Star Wars, but nevertheless I was completely mesmerized by the whole idea of a sophisticated spaceship heading out to attempt contact with a potentially deadly alien intelligence. I’ll even admit that two-and-a-half years later, I came out of seeing Star Trek II feeling, as I still do, that it’s a terrific movie but that I still liked TMP better.
D. Okuda: We both saw it on opening day, although we didn’t know each other at the time, and we saw it in different cities. My overwhelming reaction, and Mike’s too, was joy that the film had been made.
M. Okuda: I think we each saw it as almost a personal vindication that something we loved so much had come back in such a spectacular fashion. Still, there’s no denying that the film doesn’t quite capture the drama, the excitement, or the sense of family that we loved so much about the original series.
Coate: How is Star Trek: The Motion Picture significant within the science-fiction/fantasy genre?
Altman: Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the last gasp of more cerebral sci-fi storytelling. Although it was released two years after Star Wars, ST:TMP owed far more to 2001: A Space Odyssey than it ever did to Star Wars. It was not space opera, it was science fiction. Star Trek influenced Star Wars in a way that Star Wars never influenced Trek. (Other than the dreadful bar scene in Star Trek III.) George Lucas has admitted to being a fan, and you can see Trekkian conceits (deflector shields, cloaking devices, etc.) amongst the trappings of the serials, Westerns and Kurosawa. If anything, we can blame Star Wars for killing Star Trek: Phase II, Paramount’s plan to revive the television series as a 13-episode sequel for its aborted fourth network, which had itself killed Philip Kaufman’s previous attempt to do a heady Trek motion picture, Planet of Titans, a Spock-centric mind-fuck in which the Enterprise crew would eventually be revealed as the Titans of ancient myth. Other than John Dykstra, there’s nothing of Star Wars in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which is probably why it proved to be such a disappointment to so many people who were expecting space dogfights and witty banter. Both of which they would get in the sequel. Ultimately, Trek would have been better served by the TV series because Star Trek is a television show, it’s steeped in character or as Nicholas Meyer once said, it’s a radio show, not ideally suited to cinema. When you try to make it a movie, you end up with what J.J. Abrams did: delicious eye candy which are empty calories. Missing the message and metaphor at the heart of great Star Trek, but enjoyably entertaining romps nonetheless.
Bond: I think primarily in re-establishing this franchise and giving it a visual look that could be accepted by audiences into the 1980s, 1990s and beyond.
Bulk: It is a big epic-scale production that doesn’t devolve into fist fights or laser battles. I enjoy those things, but TMP came out as a response to Star Wars and it could have easily gone the “shoot ‘em up” route. The fact that it doesn’t is something to appreciate.
Burnett: TMP, like Forbidden Planet, 2001, Close Encounters and Alien before it, celebrates the wonders and mysteries of the Universe itself. However you feel about the film, TMP evokes the same kind of genuine awe we felt seeing the Krell Labs for the first time. The scope and size of V’Ger, the ultimately prescient storyline of the coming Singularity and Spock’s realization of the value of emotion are huge ideas, the very core of classical science fiction. How refreshing after the swashbuckling reductive nature of Star Wars fantasy, with planets nothing more than foreign lands. TMP brought audiences to a point where big questions about the nature of humanity and its place in the cosmos were being asked, questions bigger than even those in The Original Series itself. Thirty-five years later, TMP still remains probably the best illustration of Ray Kurzweil’s ideas about Singularity ever committed to film. Spock relating V’Ger’s central question, “Is this all that I am? Is there nothing more?” gives me chills every time.
Dochterman: The number of popular culture events that can be classified as “true science-fiction” can be counted on one hand. With all the cultural explosions that Star Wars ignited, Star Trek was both a progenitor and a descendant of it. Never again would Star Trek adventures have the emphasis on science fiction… they would later be transformed into more of an action adventure space fantasy mode. For “purists,” of which I count myself as one, TMP was the great experiment. It’s debatable whether or not the later installments are as high targeted as the intent for TMP. Though it is constantly reported as a “big lumbering failure” by some revisionists, TMP was a very successful film. So much so, that it was able to carry the burden of ten years of development and holding costs that were incurred by the studio for several movie attempts, and an almost gestated Phase II television series. All of those costs were folded into the budget of TMP, perhaps unfairly. Still, it was a blockbuster in its day. Though Trek II: The Wrath of Khan sold slightly more tickets quicker than its predecessor, it created a take on the world that was subtly smaller, and less wondrous. The second film and the sequels do give a bigger “bang” at the end to let the audience know when to clap… but it doesn’t merit a place in the pantheon of great science fiction with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Forbidden Planet… both influences on TMP.
Fein: The creative and financial success of the film made it the anchor point from which everything Star Trek evolved. I’m clearly not discounting the original series—I appreciate the way The Motion Picture elevated the property and opened the many new doors for the franchise. It was the first true theatrical “revival” of a television series, and would forever inspire the future of the science fiction genre.
Mantz: Last summer, it was reported that Voyager 1 finally left the outer reaches of our solar system for interstellar space. That made me think of ST:TMP—that someday, maybe tens of thousands of years from now, an alien intelligence could find our little Voyager and evolve it enough to be a sentient being. I know a lot of Trekkers who had that same reaction. It is pure sci-fi, but who knows, maybe it’ll happen.
Matessino: I feel that Star Trek: The Motion Picture remains extremely important as a piece of science-fiction cinema for the simple reason that we really have not had too many true science-fiction films. Star Wars was a fantasy that utilized common science-fiction tools like spacecraft and lasers, but it was so popular that this became the template for most of what was to come, and we can even see the impact of that on the Star Trek feature films that followed. What TMP did was demonstrate that the characters and the basic premise of Star Trek could hold their own in a 2001: A Space Odyssey-like story. It completely broke the bonds of what had been considered a campy ‘60s TV show by some and showed that the basic idea was capable of much more than that. In and of itself I feel that TMP addresses a lot of very important issues about our relationship with technology and what it will take for humanity to be truly worthy of going out into space and confronting the unknown. Along with The Day the Earth Stood Still, 2001 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I feel it’s a “must-see” movie for the true science-fiction aficionado.
Coate: In what way did Star Trek: The Motion Picture influence your desire to work in the film industry?
Altman: While it was really seeing North by Northwest in a revival house in the 70s that originally sparked my passion for movies and moviemaking, there’s no question that Star Trek: The Motion Picture dramatically fanned the flames of my love for Star Trek. I’m not sure the white hot embers of my affection for Roddenberry’s singular creation could have remained lit for another 35 years had the movie series not existed after the sacred 79 to keep it alive and vibrant. But aside from the obvious ten ton gorilla of Star Wars, which I will always love and adore, there are the many misfires of the 70s that I am still equally passionate about that would have never survived the vitriol of the Internet at the time had it existed; films like The Boys From Brazil, Logan’s Run and even The Black Hole, which all helped inspire me to make my mashed potato mountains and drive me obsessively to the Devil’s Tower that is Hollywood. And, of course, Colossus and Westworld and even Futureworld. While ST:TMP may not be my favorite Star Trek film, it probably remains the one I watch the most on DVD and Blu-ray. Part of that is nostalgia, but part is also because there’s so many great moments in the film, even if they don’t all come together cohesively. For instance, we’ve seen the scene ad nauseum where McCoy berates Kirk in private, but there’s probably not a better version of this scene than when McCoy lays into Kirk after Kirk confronts Decker. And when McCoy exits, leaving Shatner fuming as a transparent door slides closed in front of him, it’s a wonderfully quiet moment that captures everything I love about Star Trek. That said, I spent many years writing about Star Trek as a journalist and much like Michael Corleone, I am again now getting dragged back in and certainly ST:TMP very much was at the root of inspiring me to write about Trek. And without this being a shameless plug for my upcoming book, The Fifty Year Mission, I can tell you the ST:TMP chapter is perhaps one of the most interesting chapters in the book along with the one on Enterprise.
Bond: Well in my case it just reinforced my growing obsession with Jerry Goldsmith’s work—I was buying my first LPs of his music back then and TMP was certainly the cornerstone of that, and I would eventually write about film music and be lucky enough to work on many soundtrack albums and almost all the later releases of Star Trek music including a tremendous 3-disc set of all the music from TMP among other things.
Bulk: Star Trek: The Motion Picture was my first exposure to Jerry Goldsmith. My father bought the soundtrack album for me on January 1, 1980. It wasn’t the first record I owned, but it was probably the first soundtrack I owned. At the time, Klingon Battle scared me as it played on my Fisher-Price record player. And although it frightened me (even the aliens on the record sleeve were scary) I played that record to death! This was also the era of the return of the symphonic score (usually attributed to John Williams). I grew up with the genre films and their music during this period, but it was TMP that ignited my love of music for film. This is what got me interested in pursuing sound editing, which led to my work on restoring classic scores for the specialty labels (Film Score Monthly, La-La Land Records, Intrada, Kritzerland and Varese Sarabande, for instance). Now I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work in an area I grew up loving. One of my first projects was the release of the expanded Star Trek II album. This opened the gates and led to a variety of Star Trek album releases. I’ve been fortunate to work on many of them, including La-La Land’s release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And to bring things full circle, I sat in on the multi-track stereo remix for Klingon Battle while that album was in production. It doesn’t scare me as much anymore.
Burnett: My desire to make films began when I was five and saw George Pal’s production of War of the Worlds. Soon after came a chance viewing of Planet of the Apes. Then, every Sunday afternoon, I’d watch Sci-Fi Theater and see Japanese Sci-Fi like Rodan, The Mysterians and The Green Slime or fantasy epics like Jason and the Argonauts, other George Pal classics like When Worlds Collide or maybe a British film, such as a Quatermass and the Pit. The Outer Limits, UFO, Space: 1999 and especially The Twilight Zone were on television, along with endless TOS reruns. Jaws and Logan’s Run blew me away in the movie theater. Star Wars and Close Encounters were my speed of light, changing my universe and showing me new, limitless possibilities of the power of motion pictures. In the wake of those two films, I joined the Science Fiction Book Club and began to read the classics, like Foundation, Dune and Stranger in a Strange Land, opening my mind further still. Starlog, Cinemagic, Fangoria and Cinefantastique magazines fueled my thirst for knowledge about upcoming films, and then the first issue of Cinefex, with a TMP cover story and Alien follow up made me realize all I wanted to do was make movies. In 1980, the home video revolution turned me into a film scholar, and a flood of genre films in the early eighties, with all of their own wonders, filled me with hope and dreams of the industry. Believe me... it was a perfect time to be a kid, because everything you saw had never been seen before.
Dochterman: TMP was the last straw on the camel’s back… the final nail in the coffin of my aspirations… the last lemon of the jackpot. Seriously, the onslaught of Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Superman: The Movie did their best to determine my obsession with movies… and Star Trek: The Motion Picture finished the job. I was enthralled not only with the story and the effects of the movie… but also with the processes and people who made it happen. I learned all I could about it at the time… and remembered and had the opportunity to meet and work with many of the creative artists that were responsible… and twenty years later, to get the chance to work with Robert Wise himself on the realization of his 2001 Director’s Edition of the film.
Fein: As a kid I was enchanted by science fiction stories. Every night I would rush home by 6pm to sit in front of my 19” color television to watch Star Trek reruns. Very often the networks would also show a classic movie in the afternoon before the show. Countless movie marathons would be scheduled each week… Science Fiction-week, Planet of the Apes-week, Abbott and Costello-week, Sinbad-week, etc. There would also be the late-night airings of Space: 1999, The Twilight Zone, and Lost in Space. I was captivated by the adventures and innovation of science fiction. It wasn’t until 1977 that Star Wars ignited my desire to become a filmmaker. I was completely drawn into that fantasy and I felt such great joy when the rebels destroyed the Death Star. So, of course, I was more than excited when I heard that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was coming. The combination of the two movie masterpieces launched my insatiable need to learn everything I possibly could about the art of filmmaking, the production process, and especially special effects. (Not unlike V’Ger’s own insatiable need to learn?) Uniquely, it was Cinefex magazine that became my bible. I wanted and read every book and magazine about the magic behind-the-scenes, and studied every movie and filmmaking documentary I could get my hands on. Filmmaking became my passion; it was in my blood. So I’d say that classic Star Trek was the spark that ignited my passion for science fiction, and The Motion Picture (and Star Wars) inspired me to make production my goal in life.
Mantz: Star Trek changed my life. I know, a lot of people say that, but for me, it really did…. If it wasn’t for Star Trek, I never would have gone to the conventions. I went to my first Trek convention on November 21, 1980 (my 12th birthday), and Walter Koenig was the guest of honor. I went to conventions pretty regularly, until I graduated from high school in 1986, went away to college and “got a life.” (In other words, I discovered girls!)…. But a year after I graduated from Penn State in 1990 with a degree in accounting, I was miserable, working a job I hated in Philly. That’s when I reached out to Creation Entertainment (the company that ran the Trek conventions), and they hired me as their controller. They moved me to Los Angeles in 1991, and I worked there for 9 years. I left there in 2000 to become a producer and film critic for Access Hollywood, and I’ve been there ever since…. So Trek gave me some direction, steering me towards an area of the business that’s been very good to me. So without Star Trek, I never would have moved to LA, where I’ve been very successful and met my wife. You can’t change your life any more than that.
Matessino: My desire to work in the film industry was motivated by films of all genres. It’s all about telling a good story and using all the tools that cinema offers to create a memorable experience for an audience. To me it feels like more of a coincidence that I happened to be a kid when Star Wars sparked a resurgence of fantasy, effects-laden movies and television. What that did was demonstrate that there was no limit to what you could put up on the screen. If you could think it up, then it was simply a matter of figuring out how (and finding the right people) to do it. As a result we started to have more access to information about how movies were made, and that in turn helped young people believe that they could do it too. Honestly, I think my own interest in cinema would have been there regardless, but I do feel very lucky to have been a kid while this amazing renaissance of fantasy filmmaking was going on…. Star Wars, then Close Encounters, then Superman, then Alien, then Star Trek: The Motion Picture… at least in terms of going to the movies, those are two-and-a-half years I wish I could experience again. It was a truly magical time.
D. Okuda: I had heard from a friend that there was an open casting call for extras in the Rec Deck scene. Naturally, I tried out and was thrilled to be picked, not just as an Enterprise crew member, but I got to be a Vulcan! I’m just a few pixels on the screen, but it really was the thrill of a lifetime. Even now, I look back and smile. I still have my Vulcan ears, somewhere!
M. Okuda: I was lucky enough to tour the set when Star Trek: TMP was in production. I’d done a bit of work in local television and theater, so I was in awe of the scale and the quality of what was being done at Paramount. But the other thing was that while I was blown away by the amazing work on those sets, seeing the stages in person helped me realize that all of this was being done by real people, doing understandable things. I think that helped inspire me, a few years later, to send in my resume and portfolio to Paramount for Star Trek.
Coate: What are the attributes of Star Trek: The Motion Picture? What are some of its flaws or disappointing elements?
Altman: For me, the biggest problem with Star Trek: The Motion Picture is they made a release date and not a movie. Had Robert Wise had six more months to edit the film and refine it, there could have been a mini-masterpiece there. After all, this is the guy who cut Citizen Kane. To have a film that was literally finished a few days before it was screened at its Washington, DC premiere with Wise literally hand carrying the prints to the theater is not the best way to make a film, and this is in the days where effects and color timing were done on film, not in computers and prints had to be made at great cost and time. Although you can probably trace the root of the film’s failings to a much earlier time and date. When the studio decided to abandon Phase II and capitalize on the success of Star Wars by expediting production on a Star Trek film, something they had tried and failed to develop for years prior, they chose to expand the pilot script for Phase II into a movie rather than start from scratch. And, in fact, that script was nothing more than a proposed script for an episode of Genesis II, another Roddenberry pilot that never went to series. After all, Gene Roddenberry was the greenest writer that ever existed, he never missed an opportunity to recycle a script idea he came up with that had gone unused. So the film began with an idea that was a warmed-over television episode, which was already fairly redolent of a pretty decent Star Trek episode. Not the stuff of which dreams are made of. In order to get the film to the stage as quick as possible, Paramount kept the TV series producer, Harold Livingston, onboard as the writer, a man who admittedly knew next to nothing about Star Trek and was constantly being re-written by Roddenberry who knew next to nothing about movies as he had proved by a succession of ill-conceived pitches for Star Trek films that Paramount had wisely passed on previously. Clearly, no one had ever seen Pretty Maids All in a Row when they decided that Roddenberry was the right man to write and produce a Star Trek film. Fortunately, both Robert Wise and Douglas Trumbull both had a vision for the film, which helped elevate the material beyond its humble origins. (And, by the way, if you haven’t seen Pretty Maids All in a Row, you owe it to yourself to watch it. It stars Rock Hudson as a high school football coach who is seducing all the female students and cheerleaders and may very well be a murderer. When students start turning up dead, Trelane and Scotty are sent to investigate, I mean, William Campbell and Jimmy Doohan. Priceless.) I would also say for a film that’s been deemed humorless, there are some very funny moments in the movie including McCoy’s arrival as well as the scene in the observation lounge in which Kirk entreats Spock to sit down and McCoy says, “lucky for you, we just happened to be going your way” as well as Kirk’s sparring with Decker, in an underwritten role. The film is joyful and full of life through the arrival of Spock as it gets the proverbial band back together. But once the Enterprise arrives at V’Ger, the film starts to become more of a slog. That said, dismissing the familiar refrains, take another look at the brilliant production design of the V’Ger set and even Robert Fletcher’s underrated costumes, not to mention Spock’s spacewalk, which is 2001-esque in its visual poetry.
Bond: It probably boasts the most beautiful-looking starship put on film in the “refit” Enterprise, and one of the most original “alien” vessels/entities in V’Ger as visualized by Syd Mead, Doug Trumbull and the other great artists and technicians that worked on the movie. It has one of the all-time great film scores. To me the flaws outweigh the attributes in terms of a total viewing experience—it is tough for me, a rabid fan, to get through the film and I would imagine it would be torture for a novice viewer due to its pacing and the way the characters from the show are, I think, hamstrung in terms of their involvement in the story. It is certainly an important and arguably moving story for Spock; one of the most important in the series, but I don’t think they found a way to get that across to the audience as effectively as a story like Amok Time for example, which I still find incredibly involving and moving after dozens of viewings. Robert Wise directed two of my all-time favorite sci-fi films, two films I think are legitimately great: The Day the Earth Stood Still, which really laid some groundwork for Star Trek in the way it uses an alien being to comment on humanity, and The Andromeda Strain, which is one of the most absorbing movies ever made about such technical subject matter. You can see Wise using the same kind of technique in TMP, and I have no doubt he could have made a great movie of that if he’d just had a better script to work with.
Bulk: Star Trek: The Motion Picture is probably the purest form of Star Trek, as Gene Roddenberry envisioned it. It’s not difficult to see the parallels between this and The Cage (Star Trek’s first pilot) and the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. These are all projects where his views of the future were relatively unchallenged…. Perhaps people don’t like the story, but as mentioned before, it is pure Star Trek writ large and best appreciated on the biggest screen with the loudest sound system. Robert Wise and all of the filmmakers took The Motion Picture title seriously, so this is a movie designed to be enjoyed in a large environment. Viewing the six-minute “Enterprise” sequence on a television with an inadequate sound system will diminish the impact and perhaps seem “dull” (to quote Mad Magazine’s parody)…. Many of the complaints about the movie deal with the pace or the story. I don’t agree with these views, but to give you an idea, some alternate titles are Where Nomad Had Gone Before (a reference to the original series episode, The Changeling, dealing with a robot searching for its creator), The Motion-less Picture and The Motion Sickness. As has been well documented (most recently by Preston Neal Jones in the new book Return to Tomorrow), TMP was an ambitious film locked into a specific release date and there was never time to preview it. That’s more of a disappointment with the filmmaking process than the actual film. That we’re talking about the movie 35 years later shows that it turned out okay.
Burnett: That TMP didn’t “feel” like an original series episode is both the film’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. On one hand, the production team really did create a vision which felt absolutely cinematic and quite unlike anything audiences had seen before, especially as far as Trek was concerned. There’s a sweeping scope to both the production and the story seldom seen in cinematic science fiction either before or since. But the serious tone, the deliberate pacing and the very intellectual conceits of the storyline were not satisfying for much of the audience, who expected Gorns, English-speaking Klingons, Tribbles, and even talking computers with more scintillating personalities. Entirely bereft of the perceived breezy, pulpy fun and humor of certain episodes of Trek, the mass audience and much of the fan base were expecting something more along the lines of Star Wars or Superman: The Movie. Additionally, Kirk, Spock and McCoy, in an absolutely audacious choice, were deeply unhappy people when the film began. All were varying degrees of morose, angry and actually depressed states in which we’d certainly never seen these characters before, further detracting from a positive experience for the audiences. But for discerning audiences with open minds, TMP provided a unique experience, leaving some audience members, myself included, elated at the prospect, “The Human Adventure Is Just Beginning.”
Dochterman: Through the years as I realized the trials and troubles that went into getting the film into theaters the first time, I began to see the flaws in it… very distinct ones. The slight clunky feel to some of the cuts… and especially on certain sections of visual effects, that I learned later were just delivered from the FX house and spliced in… sight unseen. The entire third act does seem to be a little disjointed at times, with dialog repeating over and over again in different ways what we as an audience are supposed to know to convey the plot progression. Some heavy handed-ness in explaining things by the characters… which, thankfully, have been rectified in The Director’s Edition cut years later. I know a lot of audience members bemoan the supposed “slowness” of the film… but frankly, I never saw it that way… It meant to me that the actions in the film seemed more “real”… and that space seemed more vast, and the difficulties of mankind existing in space became more of a threat. I always considered the pacing to be more “deliberate” and gave more weight to the events that were happening.
Fein: Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a remarkable accomplishment given the challenges it faced. The film is epic yet intimate. Unlike any of the films that followed, the film has a prestigious class in its presentation. From the overture to the grand scale shots of V’Ger, the film was designed as an event. The film—not unlike Jerry Goldsmith’s score—is a symphony of eye candy, but the script and flow of the film was unbalanced. There were production difficulties that caused problems during the production, from story conflicts between Gene Roddenberry and Harold Livingston, to technical and creative problems with the visual effects. The film was flawed but nonetheless breathtaking visually and a celebration of the series reborn. It wasn’t until The Director’s Edition that the film received a much needed fine cut and additional visual effects to smooth out and complete the film. The original version worked; it just was not nearly the polished film it was intended to be.
Mantz: Pretty sure I answered this elsewhere!
Matessino: Star Trek: The Motion Picture is truly a motion picture, despite the perversion of that title that naysayers like to bandy about. It is a movie that is designed for the big screen and a lot of people who find it boring have probably only seen it on a television… and you find the same comments about 2001. Thanks to the extraordinary production design and visual effects you really feel like you are seeing Earth’s future and the Enterprise feels like a real, very complex piece of technology. Robert Wise sensed this and directed the movie to take advantage of all that. It has a tremendous scope, yet there is still a very personal story there about how we interact with technology and with each other. Within the Star Trek continuity, this is actually the most important Spock story of all. It’s in this movie that Spock comes to realize that his human half is something that is an indispensable part of him and that on the Enterprise he finds a true sense of belonging. The journey of this character over the course of the movies that follow has far more resonance when they are viewed in the context of TMP. The only flaws and disappointments to me are that there needed to be more time spent on the script and in post-production. Despite the fact that the original story began life as a pilot for an aborted second TV series, I think that it was a great concept for a Star Trek feature that, unfortunately, suffered from the realities of the business in which it was being attempted.
M. Okuda: Star Trek: The Motion Picture demonstrates that the tight budget, schedule, and technical constraints within which the original series was made were, in fact, an important part of the quality of the show. The brilliance of Gene Roddenberry and the original filmmakers in adapting to and overcoming those limitations resulted in a show that, for the most part, still holds up surprisingly well today. But Roddenberry, like all filmmakers, longed for the day in which he could finally get a “real” budget so that he could cut loose and put his “true vision,” or at least something closer to it, onto the screen. And to Roddenberry, the budget of a big movie must have seemed nearly unlimited. And while the visual achievements of Robert Wise, DP Richard Kline, production designer Harold Michelson, VFX supervisors Trumbull and Dykstra, and the entire team were stellar, the result was ultimately disappointing.
D. Okuda: To be fair, I think you have to remember that it had been ten years since Star Trek had gone off the air. Ten long years. Star Trek was not just a wonderful TV show, but to a lot of us, it had become something more. And during those ten years, our hopes and our expectations grew to the point where frankly, it was probably impossible to satisfy our wishes. I wanted them to recapture the sense of family, of this group of friends. I wanted it to look and sound and feel like the TV show I loved so much. But I also wanted them to push the boundaries, to show me a grand adventure, to give me Gene Roddenberry’s version of 2001. They really tried, but in the end, I wonder if anything could have satisfied completely.
Coate: Which cut of Star Trek: The Motion Picture do you like best?
Altman: I remember at conventions in the early 80s, there was a petition going around in a desperate attempt to get Paramount to re-release a new version of the film in a 70mm version. That never happened, but what did miraculously occur was the later VHS release and the ABC television airing both restored footage that was cut from the film which helped the story enormously. Certainly, The Director’s Edition is a terrific addition to the canon as well and was a true labor of love from those involved with some remarkable visual effects that honor the original intentions of the filmmakers. My favorite version of ST:TMP probably only exists in my mind, however. It’s a synthesis of all these versions and, of course, scenes never filmed; the confrontation in Admiral Nogura’s office, the revelation that the girl killed in the transporter was Antoinette, the love of Kirk’s life and Nogura’s aide. There’s also the nutty 70s New Age humanism of Gene Roddenberry that he layered into the novelization like New Humans and a sexual freedom in the 23rd Century that made free love in the 60s look like the Puritans. You gotta love Roddenberry. Plus the communicator that was hard-wired into your brain. Good thing, Steve Jobs didn’t get a crack at that one.
Bond: I really do like the director’s cut, which fixes a number of problems in special effects and other areas. It was a real labor of love and an amazing opportunity, because the original film was truly an unfinished work because of the way it was forced to meet that December 7th release date. I still feel like it could have been cut down even further for pacing, but the problem with doing that is you would almost have to have an entirely new score written. The one great thing that came out of the original pacing of the film, and the fact that entire visual effects shots were placed into that film almost unedited, is that you gave Jerry Goldsmith this incredible canvas to write what is truly a fully developed piece of music worthy of the concert hall. TMP is always compared to Kubrick’s 2001 in terms of that very deliberate pacing that is associated with something more intellectual, but in Kubrick’s case he really made an art film that is often an abstract experience that sort of forces you out of yourself as a viewer, whereas with Star Trek, there are some big ideas there, but you’re still interpreting that through these familiar TV characters that could not really transcend themselves because they had to be around next week, or for the next film. That’s why everything that happens in the movie happens to Ilia and Decker, who are characters we’re not invested in or interested in. Kirk and McCoy are really bystanders and Spock does go through something, but Nimoy deliberately plays him as impenetrable because he’s supposed to be trying to divorce himself from emotions once and for all, and that makes him very remote in a way he wasn’t on the TV series. It works for that specific story but it also makes Spock kind of unpleasant to watch and be around, and Kirk is also very stiffly interpreted by Shatner, who was always so relaxed and confident on the TV show. So you don’t really feel like you’re with the same people, but at the same time their familiarity prevents them from really being part of this story which is about humanity evolving into something else. Kirk, Spock and McCoy can’t truly evolve—at least not to the point this story requires them to.
Bulk: I prefer The Director’s Edition. When put up against the theatrical cut and the “Special Longer Version” there is no comparison. In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll mention that I’m friends with Mike Matessino (Restoration Supervisor), David C. Fein (Producer) and Daren R. Dochterman (Visual Effects Supervisor). Regardless of these relationships, The Director’s Edition finally feels like a completed project, with a tighter edit, a polished sound mix, and finished effects. These are things the theatrical version was denied because of the locked in December 7 release date. That was the goal of the project and it succeeded. It’s the version I go to when I watch the movie. I’m hopeful that at some point it will be released in HD.
Burnett: Absolutely The Director’s Edition. No question...although the removal of Kirk’s second “Viewer off” during the V’Ger briefing on the rec deck remains an annoying misstep by the restoration team.
Dochterman: I am totally biased. I definitely prefer The Director’s Edition which I was a contributor to. I got to be part of the discussion with Robert Wise about what changes he wanted made, what trims he wanted, and what additions he intended. Some of the changes in the cut are extremely subtle… and some you don’t really notice at all, save for a change in your reactions to previously cold scenes. The theatrical cut is still enjoyable to me, and I’m glad it is still out there and available. The slightly dodgy “Special Longer Edition” that was first introduced on the television premiere, and then released on home video, and custom cut into the “Sit Long and Prosper” screenings in 1991, is an interesting thought experiment of how much footage can actually be packed into a film. But the inclusion of the unfinished “Kirk Spacesuit in Airlock” footage that were intended to be a completely different sequence just come off as a big mistake.
Fein: There is no question for me… The Director’s Edition of the film is the closest to the original goals for the film and is the way it should be experienced. Historically I see the value of the other versions, but as a film… this is the most compelling and entertaining version. It wasn’t until the final edit of The Director’s Edition that I felt that the character of Kirk was truly in character. The other versions—the theatrical release and the televised “Special Longer Version”—will forever exist for me as memories of the experience I had watching them, but the film that audiences for generations will enjoy most is clearly The Director’s Edition.
Mantz: I like the director’s cut, in which some slight cuts were made to make Kirk a little more likeable. I also loved hearing the bridge sounds that we’re used in The Original Series (it still sounds cool!).
Matessino: Obviously I’m partial to The Director’s Edition because I worked with Bob Wise on creating it. But I acknowledge the historical importance of the original theatrical version as well as the “Special Longer Version.” I think it says something about the movie that when the added scenes aired on the ABC network, viewer response was so strong that Paramount put the extended version out on home video. But especially seen in light of the movies and series that followed, I can’t help seeing the theatrical version the same way that Bob Wise did… as a first rough assembly with an unfinished sound mix, missing effects and lacking a finessed pace and focus. It was the experience of a lifetime to watch the picture with him and hear him explain how just making a small and seemingly unimportant editorial adjustment can bring a scene into focus. He knew that the script for TMP could have been better but by revisiting the film and without changing too much he figured out a way to implement small tweaks to give it more impact. The combination of completing effects as originally intended and giving the movie a proper tempo and sound mix made it into a truly finished picture, in my view. I feel that only in The Director’s Edition do we really get the focus on Decker and Ilia that we need as well as the sense of Kirk and Spock gradually realizing that they are best when they are at each other’s side on board the Enterprise. The Director’s Edition points the story toward these resolutions in a more focused and assured way.
M. Okuda: The Director’s Edition. It’s a better film in so many ways, and it better reflects the vision of the director.
D. Okuda: Still, we both have a certain fondness for the original theatrical release. When we see it, it throws us back to 1979, when that dream came true. And it makes us smile.
Coate: What is the legacy of Star Trek: The Motion Picture?
Altman: Star Trek’s legacy loomed large. They made a movie that most people consider horrible; overbaked, slow, wooden and silly. And it went wildly over budget. And it was still a huge hit. So as much as Star Wars paved a way for a succession of cheapie knock-offs from Message From Space to Battlestar Galactica (albeit not cheap), in a way Star Trek was perhaps even more influential in that it validated the franchise formula that only the James Bond films had really perfected. In the past TV shows turned movies were usually edited together versions of episodes or produced when the show was still on the air, like Adam West’s Batman. For Star Trek, it was ten years since the show was cancelled and yet a vociferous, but not particularly vast group of fans kept it alive and spawned a big budget feature. That feature grossed over a $100 million worldwide in 1980 and proved that Star Trek was a viable franchise. Without Star Trek: The Motion Picture, there would have been no Star Trek II, III, IV, V or bloody VI. No whales. And No God. And it is unlikely there would have ever had been a Next Generation or Deep Space Nine. We can also blame it for Voyager and Enterprise. And the idea of resurrecting a cancelled TV series as a movie or reboot probably would have never been born without Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s success. We can blame it for that too.
Bond: Mike, I think I probably answered this several times!
Bulk: Everything that has happened to Star Trek after this movie is a direct result of this movie. I remember a small item in Video Review magazine in the 80s announcing The Next Generation. It used a publicity still from TMP and had the headline, “Finally, a TV Show, Inspired by the Movie, Inspired by a TV Show.” That sums it up, doesn’t it? TMP confirmed with Paramount that there was an active interest in this franchise and that led to the sequels, which led to multiple television series. And last month Paramount announced a director and a release date for the next Star Trek motion picture. The human adventure is just beginning!
Burnett: The legacy of TMP is the continued and ongoing success of the Star Trek franchise, thirty-five years later and well into the 21st Century. Eleven additional feature films with another on the way, countless novels and comic books, endless toys, and, most importantly, four additional television series, with hundreds of hours of new Trek adventures, additional history and many, many new characters.
Dochterman: Over the years, and with the introduction of The Director’s Edition thirteen years ago, the legacy of TMP has been, wonderfully, resuscitated. I remember back then that the reactions to TMP were generally negative from the younger crowd… one used to the more fast paced and basic good vs. evil stories of the later installments. Now, either due to their exposure to the more textural Director’s Edition, or to their own tastes changing and evolving, the reaction to TMP is much more positive. More and more people seem to be coming to respect the scope and beauty of the first Star Trek film. I hope this continues, as TMP remains an important part of my fandom and my professional life.
Fein: Star Trek: The Motion Picture was one of the last films of Director Robert Wise. His career was remarkable (The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story, The Sound of Music), and he was a director whom Gene Roddenberry respected and trusted enough to translate Star Trek to the big screen. Star Trek: The Motion Picture didn’t have an easy birth, but the results of its creation had a ripple effect that defined the direction and future of the Star Trek franchise. I know that Bob believed, and took great pride in the knowledge that his films live on for generations of new audiences to appreciate. As for Star Trek? The film surely benefitted from the success of Star Wars, but was different, and in many ways humbling. And it had an empowering message about the human experience, a message that Gene Roddenberry always inspired in his work. I’ve always felt that tag line for the film truly defined it and its legacy well… there is no comparison.
Matessino: I’ve already mentioned the movie’s place within the Star Trek franchise and the cinematic scope of the picture, so now I’ll elaborate on what I alluded to earlier when I said that the movie has more relevance now than ever. This became shockingly apparent when I viewed the film with an audience a few years ago at an event marking the release of a 3-CD release of Jerry Goldsmith’s amazing music score for the movie. The movie is all about how technology gets in the way of people truly interacting with each other, and I feel that this is a real issue in today’s society that wouldn’t have occurred to us in 1979. The Enterprise is a technological marvel that goes out into space to confront a machine intelligence that has amassed “all that is learnable” about the universe… yet it is still wondering about the meaning of its own existence. This is reflected in the crew of the Enterprise… they are so focused on getting their technology to work that they have forgotten how to interact with each other. If we think about that in terms of our culture today, we can all relate, can’t we? It’s almost like we’re being conditioned to think that we have a fulfilling life if we have all the latest gadgets, have enough Facebook friends, enough Twitter followers, post enough photos to Instagram, and all with the fastest connection money can buy. V’Ger did the same thing… digitized everything it encountered, amassing so much information that it needed a vessel hundreds of times larger than the Enterprise to store it all… only to discover that the only idea in the universe that seems truly fulfilling is to physically connect with someone. Somehow Gene Roddenberry saw this coming. Now, even thirty-five years after the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, we need to listen all over again. That’s one hell of a legacy.
M. Okuda: Star Trek: The Motion Picture marked the graduation of Gene Roddenberry’s little TV show into the big time. It wasn’t just a quick rip-off of a popular TV show. It showed that you can do real science fiction in a popular film, that it can be thoughtful and character-based and that it didn’t have to be sterile special effects and explosions.
D. Okuda: Just as the original Star Trek inspired many of us, Star Trek: The Motion Picture showed that Gene Roddenberry’s vision can continue to delight, entertain, and inspire.
Coate: Thank you, everyone, for participating and for sharing your thoughts about Star Trek: The Motion Picture on the occasion of its 35th anniversary.
Special Thanks: Mark A. Altman, Jeff Bond, Neil S. Bulk, Robert Meyer Burnett, Daren R. Dochterman, David C. Fein, Bill Gabel, John Hazelton, Mark Lensenmayer, Scott Mantz, Mike Matessino, Denise Okuda, Michael Okuda.
- Michael Coate