35 Years Ago, The Human Adventure Continued on the Big Screen with Star Trek: The Motion Picture
It was 35 years ago today on a chilly night not unlike tonight (well, perhaps not as cold) when Star Trek: The Motion Picture opened in the theaters in the U.S. I remember vividly going to see it for the first time. After watching Star Trek all my life on television, we were finally seeing it on the big screen. Big it was, as it captured the scale and majesty of the refitted Enterprise and more like television never could at that time.
It was still only a couple of years since Star Wars (A New Hope) had opened, setting the bar for all other science fiction films. Other notable movies in the genre that saw their release that same year was Alien, The Black Hole, the James Bond film, Moonraker to name a few. Outside of Alien, no others had as much impact and longevity as Star Trek did.
For many, including myself, it was like a family reunion. Characters and actors that we had been enjoying in the privacy of our own homes were reuniting for us on the big screen. Ten years since last episode of the (original) Star Trek television series was broadcast, they were all back for us in this new film. Although it had only been ten years, at that time, it felt much longer. In reality, again at that time, ten years was the majority of my lifetime as I was only week and half shy of turning 14 myself.
It’s funny now in hindsight looking back at the 1979 film, the press back then were poking fun of how old the cast was when Star Trek made the leap to feature films. I remember then, seeing it for the first time how much older and different everyone looked from the familiar television series. Yet today when I watch that movie, it is incredible how young everyone looks now.
With the leap to the big screen, Star Trek now had the ability to do things it wasn’t able to do in the television series due to its format, and/or budget, and/or schedule. It meant Klingons looked more alien now with ridges running across their foreheads. Their ships were more detailed and their bridge fully realized. They were complete with their own language and alphabet seen on their monitors. This is how the movie opened, with three Klingon battlecruisers attacking V’GER and getting nowhere in that attempt. Be that as it may, it did succeed in letting the audience know immediately at the very start that this movie that it is not what you were used to seeing in the television series of the 1960s. Everything was more grand with theatrical lighting, makeup, atmosphere, costumes, etc.
Star Trek was already preparing for a come-back after being hugely successful in television syndication with a new TV series that was to be tilted, Star Trek: Phase II. It was going to be the flagship show of a new Paramount television network. Though after the wild success of Star Wars in the theaters in 1977, the suits at Paramount started to look around to see what they could offer to jump on that bandwagon (cash cow)… The answer was obvious. The new television network never was launched at that time and Star Trek: Phase II had been changed to a feature film project. So many of the new designs introduced in Star Trek: The Motion Picture were actually originally developed for the Phase II series that never was (not to be confused with the fan made continuing Star Trek adventures on the internet today using the same name).
The interior and exterior of the familiar starship Enterprise looked very different from what we were used to in the television series. The brightly colored uniforms (and ship’s interiors) had been toned down, after all we weren’t trying to sell color televisions anymore. Many fans complained about the new uniforms. I liked them except I would had made a couple of changes. First get rid of the “onesies” which I and many other fans feel look too much like pajamas. I also would had the trousers black or dark gray in color with matching collars to add some continuity with television series. Otherwise they offered a new modern look. In some ways go back to the designs of the original pilots made for the series (the “away” jackets worn when going to meet V’GER at the climax of the movie are similar to those worn by the crew in the original 1964 pilot for the series, ‘The Cage’).
Overall, I like Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This is not a review of the film. I do enjoy the extended Director’s Cut (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Director’s Cut (Special Collector’s Edition) DVD on Amazon) more than the theatrical version because it offers some scenes that contained more “human” moments and elements that many critics felt the film was lacking. For me, it was a launching pad of the imagination of what may come next and future adventures of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, both realized and imagined. Director Robert Wise well understood the medium and treated it as a film, not a television episode which can be seen through choices of shots and compositions. Jerry Goldsmith did an outstanding score which was both beautiful and gave a sense of wonder and awe. The year before, Superman made audiences believe a man could fly and with this film, we believed the Enterprise was real… or at least that perhaps it could be one day. It reignited our dreams and hopes for the future of mankind. Something I find sadly lacking in many of the movies I see today.
It’s hard to believe it was 35 years ago now. In some ways it doesn’t feel that long. I can tell you who I saw it with and at what theater. In that span of time, we have lost so many associated with the television series and bringing it to the big screen, but their spirit and vision lives on in the movie and carried over what would come after it. The human adventure was just beginning.