Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a 1979 American science fiction film directed by Robert Wise and based on the television series Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry, who also served as its producer.
It is the first instalment in the Star Trek film series, and stars the cast of the original television series.
In the film, set in the 2270’s, a mysterious and immensely powerful alien cloud known as V’Ger approaches Earth, destroying everything in its path.
Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) assumes command of the recently refitted Starship USS Enterprise, to lead it on a mission to save the planet and determine V’Ger’s origins.
The plot contains similarities to the earlier TOS series 02 third episode.
In the 23rd century, a Starfleet monitoring station, Epsilon Nine, detects an alien entity, hidden in a massive cloud of energy, moving through space toward Earth. The cloud easily destroys three of the Klingon Empire’s new K’t’inga-class warships when they fire on it and disintegrates Epsilon Nine when it tries to investigate. On Earth, the starship Enterprise is undergoing a major refit; its former commanding officer, James T. Kirk, has been promoted to Admiral and works in San Francisco as Chief of Starfleet Operations. Starfleet Command assigns Enterprise to intercept the cloud entity as the ship is the only one within range, requiring its new systems to be tested in transit.
Citing his experience, Kirk uses his authority to take command of the ship, 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 ship’s Vulcan science officer Sonak, are killed by a malfunctioning transporter, and improperly calibrated engines nearly destroy the ship before the crew is able to intervene. Kirk’s unfamiliarity with the ship’s new systems increases the tension between him and Decker, who has been temporarily demoted to first officer. Commander Spock arrives as a replacement science officer, explaining that while on his home world undergoing a ritual to purge himself of emotion, he felt a consciousness that he believes emanates from the cloud, and was unable to complete the ritual because his human half felt an emotional connection to it.
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, sent by the entity, which calls itself “V’Ger”, to study the “carbon lifeforms” on the ship. 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 inside. Spock takes a unauthorised spacewalk to the 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 centre of the massive ship, V’Ger is revealed to be Voyager 6, a 20th-century Earth space probe believed lost in a black hole. 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 fulfil its mission, and on its journey, the probe gathered so much knowledge that it achieved sentience.
Spock realises that V’Ger lacks the ability to give itself a purpose other than its original mission; having learned what it could on its journey home, it finds its existence meaningless. Before transmitting all its information, V’Ger insists that the “Creator” come in person to finish the sequence. Everyone realises humans are the Creator.
Decker offers himself to V’Ger; he merges with the Ilia probe and V’Ger, creating a new life form that disappears into another dimension. With Earth saved, Kirk directs Enterprise out to space for future missions.
Star Trek Films
You can find a full index of Star Trek films here.
Star Trek TV Series, Films, and Documentaries
You can find a full index of Star Trek TV series, films, documentaries here.
- When the original television series was cancelled in 1969, Roddenberry lobbied Paramount Pictures to continue the franchise through a feature film.
- The success of the series in syndication convinced the studio to begin work on the film in 1975.
- A series of writers attempted to craft a “suitably epic” script, but the attempts did not satisfy Paramount, who scrapped the project in 1977.
- Paramount instead planned on returning the franchise to its roots, with a new television series titled Star Trek: Phase II.
- The box office success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, however, convinced Paramount that science fiction films other than Star Wars could do well, so the studio cancelled production of Phase II and resumed its attempts at making a Star Trek film.
- In 1978, Paramount assembled the largest press conference held at the studio since the 1950’s to announce that Wise would direct a $15 million film adaptation of the original television series.
- With the cancellation of Phase II, writers rushed to adapt its planned pilot episode, “In Thy Image”, into a film script.
- Constant revisions to the story and the shooting script continued to the extent of hourly script updates on shooting dates.
- The Enterprise was modified inside and out, costume designer Robert Fletcher provided new uniforms, and production designer Harold Michelson fabricated new sets.
- Jerry Goldsmith composed the film’s score, beginning an association with Star Trek that would continue until 2002.
- When the original contractors for the optical effects proved unable to complete their tasks in time, effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull was given carte blanche to meet the film’s December 1979 release date.
- The film came together only days before the premiere; Wise took the just-completed film to its Washington, D.C., opening, but always felt that the final theatrical version was a rough cut of the film he wanted to make.
- Released in North America on 07 December 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture received mixed reviews, many of which faulted it for a lack of action scenes and over-reliance on special effects.
- Its final production cost ballooned to approximately $46 million, and it earned $139 million worldwide, short of studio expectations but enough for Paramount to propose a less expensive sequel.
- Roddenberry was forced out of creative control for the sequel, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).
- In 2001, Wise oversaw a director’s cut for a special DVD release of the film, with remastered audio, tightened and added scenes, and new computer-generated effects.
You can read interesting trivia and background details about the Star Trek franchise here.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Robert Wise.
- Producer(s): Gene Roddenberry.
- Writer(s): Harold Livingston (screenplay) and Alan Dean Foster (story).
- Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
- Cinematography: Richard H. Kline.
- Editor(s): Todd C. Ramsay.
- Distributor(s): Paramount Pictures.
- Release Date: 07 December 1979.
- Running Time: 132 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.