Get ready to feel really old, longtime Star Trek fans. The latest example is that Star Trek: The Motion Picture debuted in movie theaters on December 7, 1979… or a nearly inconceivable 38 years ago today. Fans remain forever divided about the film: it’s slow, even boring, and impenetrable in the minds of some, but, in the eyes of others, it's truly majestic and quite in keeping with the high-minded sci-fi of Star Trek: The Original Series. And, yes, let’s acknowledge Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Director’s Edition, which markedly improved on the original release. Still, whatever one’s feelings about TMP, this much is true: it set the stage for all that’s come since, as it proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that fans loved their Trek and craved more of it. So, to mark TMP’s latest anniversary, StarTrek.com has assembled a sampling of facts, figures, tidbits and anecdotes about Trek’s first theatrical voyage…
Rising from the Ashes
TMP fell into place following the demise of Star Trek: Phase II, the proposed television series that would have brought the Enterprise and most of the TOS cast back to the small screen. And Phase II rose out of the ashes of a proposed TOS feature that was to have been directed by Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff).
A Wise Choice?
Robert Wise was both a sensible and unlikely choice to direct TMP. The two-time Oscar winner's previous credits included The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Andromeda Strain, West Side Story, Run Silent, Run Deep, The Haunting and The Sound of Music, so he’d had at least some exposure to sci-fi filmmaking. And he began his career as a film editor, working on Citizen Kane, widely regarded as one of the best movies ever made. Orson Welles directed that film, of course, and Welles later provided the voice for TMP trailers.
Was Wise… Wise?
Wise, speaking to the Philadelphia Daily News in 1994, stated, “I wasn't a Trekkie, though I'd seen a few episodes. The reason I did it was I'd done The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and The Andromeda Strain (1971), which were earthbound, and I thought it was time I got into the heavens. By far, and for various reasons, it wasn't one of my favorite experiences. The day-to-day on the set, directing the actors and working with Gene (Roddenberry), was fine, but we were rewriting the script every day, to the very last day of shooting.”
Did They Dance at the Disco?
Production began on August 7, 1979 and concluded on January 26, 1979. The wrap party was held on February 10, 1979, at Liu's Chinese Restaurant and Chez Moi Disco.
Klingon was spoken for the first time in TMP.
About that Blaster Beam…
Does the name Craig Huxley ring a bell? Here’s why we ask: The V'ger sound effects were performed using a blaster beam… a musical instrument invented by Huxley, who was known as Craig Hundley when, on The Original Series, he played Peter Kirk in “Operation: Annihilate!” and Tommy Starnes in “And the Children Shall Lead.” He also created the music for the Project Genesis simulation in The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock.
The price tag for TMP was approximately $46 million. That was an astronomical sum for its day, but also an unfair number, as it took into account the costs associated with the Phase II television project and also the oft-chronicled TMP special effects debacle saga.
Blink and You Miss ‘Em
A few notable Trek folks made uncredited cameos in TMP, among them Bjo Trimble, Christopher Doohan, David Gerrold and Gene Roddenberry's secretary, Susan Sackett.
One of the film's publicity shots famously has a long two-by-four clearly visible at the top right of the frame (see above, no pun intended.)
A Most Logical Comment
In the 1983 special, Leonard Nimoy: Star Trek Memories, the Trek icon said the following of TMP: “It was a very finely crafted film, and it did well. But from the actor's point of view frankly, it was frustrating. We didn't feel that we were getting to play the characters that we enjoyed playing in the way that we knew how to play them. And it was frustrating for Gene Roddenberry too. It wasn't the story or script he had wanted, and the gaps seemed filled with too much emphasis on special effects.”
The TMP world premiere was held at the K-B MacArthur Theater in Washington, D.C. The screening took place on December 6, 1979, and was part of a fundraiser for the National Space Club.
Most Poignant Line
There were plenty of memorable lines in TMP, but we’re going to go with “List them as missing,” spoken by Kirk, referring to Decker and Ilia.
Trek at the Oscars
TMP earned a trio of Academy Award nominations, specifically in the Music, Art Direction and Visual Effects categories.
Persis Khambatta, the Indian actress who played Lt. Ilia, died on August 18, 1998, when she was just 49 years old. Robert Wise passed away on September 14, 2005, at age 91, after suffering a heart attack.