Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979 Movies)
Director:- Robert Wise
Producer:- Gene Roddenberry
Story by:- Alan Dean Foster
Music by:- Jerry Goldsmith
December 7, 1979
Country:- United States
Budget:- $46 million
Box office:- $139 million
In 2273, a Starfleet monitoring station, Epsilon Nine, detects an alien force, hidden in a massive cloud of energy, moving through space towards Earth. The cloud destroys three of the Klingon Empire‘s new K’t’inga-class warships and the monitoring station en route. On Earth, the starship Enterprise is undergoing a major refit; her former commanding officer, James T. Kirk, has been promoted to Admiral and works in San Francisco as Chief of Starfleet Operations. Starfleet dispatches Enterprise to investigate the cloud entity as the ship is the only one in intercept range, requiring her new systems to be tested in transit.
Kirk takes command of the ship citing his experience, angering Captain Willard Decker, who had been overseeing the refit as its new commanding officer. Testing of Enterprise‘s new systems goes poorly; two officers, including the Vulcan Enterprise science officer Sonak, are killed by a malfunctioning transporter, and improperly calibrated engines almost destroy the ship. Kirk’s unfamiliarity with the new systems of the Enterprise increases the tension between him and first officer Decker. Commander Spock arrives as a replacement science officer, explaining that while on his home world undergoing a ritual to purge all emotion, he felt a consciousness that he believes emanates from the cloud.
Enterprise intercepts the energy cloud and is attacked by an alien vessel within. A probe appears on the bridge, attacks Spock and abducts the navigator, Ilia. She is replaced by a robotic replica, another probe sent by “V’Ger” to study the crew. Decker is distraught over the loss of Ilia, with whom he had a romantic history. He becomes troubled as he attempts to extract information from the doppelgänger, which has Ilia’s memories and feelings buried within. Spock takes a spacewalk to the alien vessel’s interior and attempts a telepathic mind meld with it. In doing so, he learns that the vessel is V’Ger itself, a living machine.
At the center of the massive ship, V’Ger is revealed to be Voyager 6, a 20th-century Earth space probe believed lost. The damaged probe was found by an alien race of living machines that interpreted its programming as instructions to learn all that can be learned, and return that information to its creator. The machines upgraded the probe to fulfill its mission, and on its journey the probe gathered so much knowledge that it achieved consciousness. Spock realizes that V’Ger lacks the ability to give itself a focus other than its original mission; having learned what it could on its journey home, it finds its existence empty and without purpose. Before transmitting all its information, V’Ger insists that the Creator come in person to finish the sequence. Realizing that the machine wants to merge with its creator, Decker offers himself to V’Ger; he merges with the Ilia probe and V’Ger, creating a new form of life that disappears into another dimension. With Earth saved, Kirk directs Enterprise out to space for future missions.
- William Shatner as James T. Kirk, the former commanding officer of the USS Enterprise and an Admiral at Starfleet headquarters, who re-assumes command of the Enterprise, and with it, temporary demotion to his previous rank, captain. When asked during a March 1978 press conference about what it would be like to reprise the role, Shatner said, “An actor brings to a role not only the concept of a character but his own basic personality, things that he is, and both Leonard Nimoy and myself have changed over the years, to a degree at any rate, and we will bring that degree of change inadvertently to the role we recreate.”
- Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, the Enterprise‘s half-Vulcan, half-human science officer. Nimoy had been dissatisfied with unpaid royalties from Star Trek and did not intend to reprise the role, so Spock was left out of the screenplay. Director Robert Wise, having been informed by his daughter and son-in-law that the film “would not be Star Trek” without Nimoy, sent Jeffrey Katzenberg to New York City to meet with Nimoy. Katzenberg gave Nimoy a check to make up for his lost royalties, and the actor attended the March 1978 press conference with the rest of the returning cast. Nimoy was dissatisfied with the script, and his meeting with Katzenberg led to an agreement that the final script would need Nimoy’s approval. Despite the financial issues, Nimoy said he was comfortable with being identified as Mr. Spock because it had a positive impact on his fame.
- DeForest Kelley as Leonard McCoy, the chief medical officer aboard the Enterprise. Kelley had reservations with the script, feeling that the characters and relationships from the series were not in place. Along with Shatner and Nimoy, Kelley lobbied for greater characterization, but their opinions were largely ignored.
- James Doohan as Montgomery Scott, the Enterprise‘s chief engineer. Doohan created the distinctive Klingon vocabulary heard in the film. Linguist Marc Okrand later developed a fully realized Klingon language based on the actor’s made-up words.
- Walter Koenig as Pavel Chekov, the Enterprise‘s weapons officer. Koenig noted that the expected sense of camaraderie and euphoria at being assembled for screen tests at the start of the picture was nonexistent. “This may be Star Trek,” he wrote, “but it isn’t the old Star Trek.” The actor was hopeful for the film, but admitted he was disappointed by his character’s bit part.
- Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, the communications officer aboard the Enterprise. Nichols noted in her autobiography that she was one of the actors most opposed to the new uniforms added for the film because the drab, unisex look “wasn’t Uhura”.
- George Takei as Hikaru Sulu, the Enterprise‘s helmsman. In his autobiography, Takei described the film’s shooting schedule as “astonishingly luxurious”, but noted that frequent script rewrites during production “usually favored Bill” [Shatner].
- Persis Khambatta as Ilia, the Deltan navigator of the Enterprise. Khambatta was originally cast in the role when The Motion Picture was a television pilot. She took the role even after Roddenberry warned her that she would have to shave her head completely for filming.
- Stephen Collins as Willard Decker, the new captain of the Enterprise at the beginning of the film. He is temporarily demoted from captain to commander and first officer when Kirk takes command of the Enterprise. Collins was completely unfamiliar with the franchise, having never seen an episode of the series. Kelley’s dressing room was next to Collins’, and the older actor became his mentor for the production. Given the preexisting television cast, Collins’ casting was the only one that director Wise participated in; he called Collins’ performance “excellent—in a difficult role.”
Filming (Film Production)
Filming of The Motion Picture‘s first scene began on August 7, 1978. A few ad-libbed ceremonies were performed before the cameras rolled; Roddenberry gave Wise his baseball cap, emblazoned with “Enterprise” in gold lettering (the cap was a gift from the captain of the nuclear carrier Enterprise.) Wise and Roddenberry then cracked a special breakaway bottle of champagne on the bridge set (there was no liquid inside, as flying champagne would have damaged the readied set.) The scene planned was the chaotic mess aboard the Enterprise bridge as the crew readies the ship for space travel; Wise directed 15 takes into the late afternoon before he was content with the scene. The first day’s shots used 1,650 feet (500 m) of film; 420 feet (130 m) were considered “good”, 1,070 feet (330 m) were judged “no good”, and 160 feet (49 m) were wasted; only one and one-eighth pages had been shot.
Alex Weldon was hired to be supervisor of special effects for the film. Weldon was planning on retiring after 42 years of effects work, but his wife urged him to take on Star Trekbecause she thought he did not have enough to do. When Weldon was hired, many of the effects had already been started or completed by Rugg; it was up to Weldon to complete more complex and higher-budgeted effects for the motion picture. The first step of preparation involved analyzing the script in the number, duration, and type of effects. Before costs could be determined and Weldon could shop for necessary items, he and the other members of the special effects team worked out all possibilities for pulling off the effects in a convincing manner.
Richard H. Kline served as the film’s cinematographer. Working from sketch artist Maurice Zuberano’s concepts, Wise would judge if they were on the right track. Kline and Michelson would then discuss the look they wanted (along with Weldon, if effects were involved.) Each sequence was then storyboarded and left to Kline to execute. The cinematographer called his function to “interpret [the] preplanning and make it indelible on film. It’s a way of everybody being on the same wavelength.” Kline would recall that there was not a single “easy” shot to produce for the picture, as each scene required special consideration. The bridge, for example, was lit with a low density of light to make the console monitors display better. It was hard to frame shots so that reflections of the crew in monitors or light spilling through floor grilles were not seen in the final print.
While Kline was concerned with lighting, print quality, and color, Bonnie Prendergast, the script supervisor, took notes that would be written up after the company had finished for the day. Prendergast’s role was to ensure continuity in wardrobe, actor position, and prop placement. Any changes in dialogue or ad-libbed lines were similarly written down. Assistant director Danny McCauley was responsible for collaborating with unit production manager Phil Rawlins to finalize shooting orders and assigning extras. Rawlins, McCauley, production manager Lindsley Parsons Jr., and Katzenberg were all tasked with keeping things moving as fast as possible and keeping the budget under control; every hour on stage cost the production $4000.
The production was for most of the filming a closed set, with great measures taken to maintain the secrecy of the plot. Scripts were numbered and lists kept of who received each copy. The press was told nothing about the story and only a few production stills were allowed to be published. During construction one young visitor to a soundstage stole a copy of blueprints for the bridge set and sold duplicates of them to any fans who would pay him $75; Paramount reported the matter to the FBI, who turned the case over to the Los Angeles Police Department. The police arrested, convicted, and fined the culprit $750; it was later discovered that the stolen plans were not the final copies. Visitor’s badges were created to keep track of guests, and due to the limited number were constantly checked out; among the visitors included friends of the cast and crew, the press, fan leaders, and actors such as Clint Eastwood, Tony Curtis, Robin Williams, and Mel Brooks. Security swept cars leaving the lots for stolen items; even the principal actors were not spared from this inconvenience.
By August 9, the production was already a full day behind schedule. Despite the delays, Wise refused to shoot more than twelve hours on set, feeling he lost his edge afterwards. The director was patient on set; bets were placed on when he would finally lose his temper, but pool organizers returned the money when Wise never lost his cool. Given his unfamiliarity with the source material Wise relied on the actors, especially Shatner, to help ensure that dialog and characterizations were consistent with the show. While the bridge scenes were shot early, trouble with filming the transporter room scene delayed further work. Crew working on the transporter platform found their footwear melting on the lighted grid while shooting tests. Issues with the wormhole sequences caused further delays. The footage for the scene was filmed two ways; first, at the standard 24 frames per second, and then at the faster 48 frames; the normal footage was a back-up if the slow-motion effect produced by the faster frame speed did not turned out as planned. The shoot dragged on so long that it became a running joke for cast members to try and top each other with wormhole-related puns. The scene was finally completed on August 24, while the transporter scenes were being filmed at the same time on the same soundstage.
The planet Vulcan setting was created using a mixture of on-location photography at Minerva Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park and set recreation. Yellowstone was selected after filming in Turkish ruins proved to be too expensive. Securing permission for filming the scenes was difficult in the middle of the summer tourist season, but the Parks Department acquiesced so long as the crew remained on the boardwalks to prevent damage to geological formations. Zuberano, who had helped select the site for the shoot, traveled to Yellowstone and returned with a number of photos. Minor also made a trip and returned to create a large painting depicting how the scene might look. In consultations with Michelson, the crew decided to use miniatures in the foreground to create the Vulcan temples, combined with the real hot springs in the background. In the film, the bottom third of the frames were composed of miniature stairs, rocks, bits of red glass and a Vulcan statue. The center of the frame contained Nimoy’s shots and the park setting, while the final third of the frame was filled with a matte painting. On August 8, the day after production began at Paramount, an eleven-person second unit left for Yellowstone. The sequence took three days to shoot.
On returning to Paramount, the art department had to recreate parts of Yellowstone in a large “B tank”, 110 by 150 feet (34 by 46 m) long. The tank was designed to be flooded with millions of gallons of water to represent large bodies of water. Minor set up miniatures on the tank’s floor before construction and made sure that the shadows that fell on Spock at Yellowstone could be properly recreated. A plywood base was built on metal platforms to create stone silhouettes, reinforced with chicken wire. Polyurethane foam was sprayed over the framework under the supervision of the Los Angeles Fire Department. The bottom part of the statue miniature was represented by a 16-foot (4.9 m) high fiberglass foot. Weldon matched the effects filmed at Yellowstone using dry ice and steam machines. To recreate the appearance of the swirling eddies of water in the real Yellowstone, a combination of evaporated milk, white poster paint, and water was poured into the set’s pools. The pressure of the steam channeled into the pools through hidden tubing causes enough movement in the whirlpools to duplicate the location footage. Due to the requirement that the sun be in a specific location for filming and that the environment be bright enough, production fell behind schedule when it was unseasonably cloudy for three days straight. Any further scenes to recreate Vulcan would be impossible, as the set was immediately torn down to serve as a parking lot for the remainder of the summer.
The computer console explosion that causes the transporter malfunction was simulated using brillo pads. Weldon hid steel wool inside the console and attached an arc welder to operate by remote control when the actor pulled a wire. The welder was designed to create a spark instead of actually welding, causing the steel wool to burn and make sparks; so effective was the setup that the cast members were continually startled by the flare-ups, resulting in additional takes. Various canisters and cargo containers appear to be suspended by Anti-gravity throughout the film. These effects were executed by several of Weldon’s assistants. The crew built a circular track that had the same shape as the corridor and suspended the antigravity prop on four small wires that connected to the track. The wires were treated with a special acid which oxidized the metal; the reaction tarnished the wires to a dull gray that would not show up in the deep blue corridor lighting. Cargo boxes were made out of light balsa wood so that fine wires could be used as support.
“You have the guts to tell me that?!”
Nimoy and Shatner ad lib their lines in response to constant corrections; Koenig noted that “we’re falling further behind in our shooting schedule, but we’re having fun doing it.”
As August ended, production continued to slip farther behind schedule. Koenig learned that rather than being released in 14 days after his scenes were completed, his last day would be on October 26—eight weeks later than expected. The next bridge scenes to be filmed after the wormhole sequence, Enterprise‘s approach to V’Ger and the machine’s resulting attack, were postponed for two weeks so that the special effects for the scene could be planned and implemented, and the engine room scenes could be shot. Chekov’s burns sustained in V’Ger’s attack were difficult to film; though the incident took only minutes on film, Weldon spent hours preparing the effect. A piece of aluminum foil was placed around Koenig’s arm, covered by a protective pad and then hidden by the uniform sleeve. Weldon prepared an ammonia and acetic acid solution that was touched to Koenig’s sleeve, causing it to smoke. Difficulties resulted in the scene being shot ten times; it was especially uncomfortable for the actor, whose arm was slightly burned when some of the solution leaked through to his arm.
Khambatta also faced difficulties during filming. Due to the actress’ personal objections, she would not appear nude as called for in the script during the Ilia probe’s appearance. The producers got her to agree to wear a thin skin-colored body stocking, but she caught a cold as a result of the shower mist, created by dropping dry ice into warm water and funneling the vapors into the shower by a hidden tube. Khambatta had to leave the location repeatedly to avoid hypercapnia. One scene required the Ilia probe to slice through a steel door in the sickbay; doors made out of paper, corrugated cardboard covered in aluminum foil, and cork were tested before the proper effect was reached. The illuminated button in the hollow of the probe’s throat was a 12–volt light bulb that Khambatta could turn on and off via hidden wires; the bulb’s heat eventually caused a slight burn.
The last week of production was fraught with issues. Red gel lights appeared orange upon reviewing the daily footage; the lights were faulty, and three people were nearly electrocuted. On January 26, 1979, the film finally wrapped after 125 days. The three leads (Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley) delivered their final lines at 4:50 pm. Before the crew could go home, a final shot had to be filmed — the climactic fusing of Decker and V’Ger. The script prescribed a heavy emphasis on lighting, with spiraling and blinding white lights. Collins was covered in tiny dabs of cotton glued to his jacket; these highlights were designed to create a body halo. Helicopter lights, 4000–watt lamps and wind machines were used to create the effect of Decker’s fusion with the living machine. The first attempts at filming the scene became a nightmare for the crew. The extreme lighting caused normally invisible dust particles in the air to be illuminated, creating the appearance that the actors were caught in a blizzard. During the retakes throughout the week the crew mopped and dusted the set constantly, and it required later technical work to completely eliminate the dust in the final print.
Two weeks later, the entire cast and crew joined with studio executives for a traditional wrap party. Four hundred people attended the gathering, which spilled over into two restaurants in Beverly Hills. While much of the crew readied for post-production, Wise and Roddenberry were grateful for the opportunity to take a short vacation from the motion picture before returning to work.
The score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture was predominantly written by Jerry Goldsmith, who later composed the scores for The Final Frontier, First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis, as well as the themes to the television series The Next Generation (a simplified arrangement of the theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and fronted with Alexander Courage’s “Star Trek Fanfare” intro from The Original Series) and Voyager. Gene Roddenberry had originally wanted Goldsmith to score Star Trek‘s pilot episode, “The Cage“, but the composer was unavailable. When Wise signed on to direct, Paramount asked the director if he had any objection to using Goldsmith. Wise, who had worked with the composer for The Sand Pebbles, replied “Hell, no. He’s great!” Wise later considered his work with Goldsmith one of the best relationships he ever had with a composer.
Goldsmith was influenced by the style of the romantic, sweeping music of Star Wars. “When you stop and think about it, space is a very romantic thought. It is, to me, like the Old West, we’re up in the universe. It’s about discovery and new life […] it’s really the basic premise of Star Trek“, he said. Goldsmith’s initial bombastic main theme reminded Ramsay and Wise of sailing ships. Unable to articulate what he felt was wrong with the piece, Wise recommended writing an entirely different piece. Although irked by the rejection, Goldsmith consented to re-work his initial ideas. The rewriting of the theme required changes to several sequences Goldsmith had scored without writing a main title piece. The approach of Kirk and Scott to the drydocked Enterprise by shuttle lasted a ponderous five minutes due to the effect shots coming in late and unedited, requiring Goldsmith to maintain interest with a revised and developed cue. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the only Star Trek film to have a true overture, using “Ilia’s Theme” (later re-recorded, as a lyrical version, by Shaun Cassidy as “A Star Beyond Time” with lyrics by Larry Kusik) in this role, most noticeably in the “Director’s Edition” DVD release. Star Trek and The Black Hole were the only feature films to use an overture from the end of 1979 until 2000 (with Lars von Trier‘s Dancer in the Dark).
Much of the recording equipment used to create the movie’s intricately complicated sound effects was, at the time, extremely cutting edge. Among these pieces of equipment was the ADS (Advanced Digital Synthesizer) 11, manufactured by Pasadena, California custom synthesizer manufacturer Con Brio, Inc. The movie provided major publicity and was used to advertise the synthesizer, though no price was given. The film’s soundtrack also provided a debut for the Blaster Beam, an electronic instrument 12 to 15 feet (3.7 to 4.6 m) long. It was created by musician Craig Huxley, who played a small role in an episode of the original television series. The Blaster had steel wires connected to amplifiers fitted to the main piece of aluminum; the device was played with an artillery shell. Goldsmith heard it and immediately decided to use it for V’Ger’s cues. Several state-of-the-art synthesizers were used as musical instruments, notably the Yamaha CS-80, ARP 2600, Oberheim OB-X, and Serge synthesizer. An enormous pipe organ first plays the V’Ger theme on the Enterprise‘s approach, a literal indication of the machine’s power.
Goldsmith scored The Motion Picture over a period of three to four months, a relatively relaxed schedule compared to typical production, but time pressures resulted in Goldsmith bringing on colleagues to assist in the work. Alexander Courage, composer of the original Star Trek theme, provided arrangements to accompany Kirk’s log entries, while Fred Steiner wrote eleven cues of additional music, notably the music to accompany the Enterprise achieving warp speed and first meeting V’Ger. The rush to finish the rest of the film impacted the score. The final recording session finished at 2:00 am on December 1, only five days before the film’s release.
A soundtrack featuring the film’s music was released by Columbia Records in 1979 together with the film debut, and was one of Goldsmith’s best-selling scores. Sony’s Legacy Recordings released an expanded two-disc edition of the soundtrack on November 10, 1998. The album added an additional 21 minutes of music to supplement the original track list, and was resequenced to reflect the story line of the film. The first disc features as much of the score as can fit onto a 78-minute disc, while the second disc contains “Inside Star Trek”, a spoken word documentary from the 1970s. In 2012, the score was released yet again via La-La Land Records in association with Sony Music. This 3-CD set contains the complete score for the first time, plus unreleased alternate and unused cues, in addition to the remastered original 1979 album.
The score to Star Trek: The Motion Picture went on to garner Goldsmith nominations for the Oscars, Golden Globe and Saturn awards. It is often regarded as one of the composer’s greatest scores and was also one of the American Film Institute‘s 250 nominated scores for their top 25 American film scores.
The Motion Picture opened in North America on December 7, 1979, in 859 theaters and set a box office record for highest weekend gross, making $11,815,203 in its first weekend (generally considered to be a slow time for the movie business). The film beat the record set by Superman (1978), which had opened in a similar number of theaters but had been released in late December—a busier time. The Motion Picture earned $17 million within a week. At its widest domestic distribution, the film was shown in 1,002 theaters; it grossed $82,258,456 in the United States, making it the fifth-highest-grossing film of 1979 in that country. Overall, the film grossed $139 million worldwide. The Motion Picturewas nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Art Direction (Harold Michelson, Joseph R. Jennings, Leon Harris, John Vallone and Linda DeScenna), Best Visual Effects, and Best Original Score.
In the United States, the film sold the most tickets of any film in the franchise until 2009’s Star Trek, and it remains the highest-grossing film of the franchise worldwide adjusted for inflation, but Paramount considered its gross disappointing compared to expectations and marketing. The Motion Picture‘s budget of $46 million, including costs incurred during Phase II production, was the largest for any film made within the United States up to that time. David Gerrold estimated before its release that the film would have to gross two to three times its budget to be profitable for Paramount. The studio faulted Roddenberry’s script rewrites and creative direction for the plodding pace and disappointing gross. While the performance of The Motion Picture convinced the studio to back a (cheaper) sequel, Roddenberry was forced out of its creative control. Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer would produce and direct The Wrath of Khan, which received better reviews (becoming a fan favorite) and continued the franchise. With the successful revival of the Star Trek brand on the big screen setting an example, Hollywood increasingly turned to 1960s television series for material.