Review: Star Trek The Motion Picture

For weeks without TOS-R episodes to review, will instead review a Trek film to see where it went right and where it went wrong, and what Trek XI can learn from it.

The year: 1979. Ten years had passed since NBC cancelled “Star Trek” and in that time it had become a hit in syndicated reruns. A growing fan base began holding conventions and were continually teased with the posibility of a return of their heroes from the 23rd century. After a short lived animated series in the early 70s, Paramount Paramount greenlit a low-budget “Trek” film entitled “Planet of the Titans.”  About two weeks before “Star Wars” exploded onto American movie screens in May 1977, Paramount pulled the plug and then a few months later committed to bringing back “Star Trek” as a TV show. “Star Trek II” (which would have included all the original stars except for Leonard Nimoy) would be the cornerstone of a new ‘Paramount Network’. No sooner did Paramount move on that project then they did a complete about-face, killing the new network, canceling “Phase II,” and transforming its two-hour pilot script “In Thy Image” into a big-budget motion picture. The script was heavily rewritten, Nimoy came back to the fold, and legendary Oscar-winning director Robert Wise took the helm. And the rest, as they say, is history.

A film with BIG promise
“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” has a big, promising opening. Or, rather, its opening promises us something big. The film starts with an overture, something seen in only a handful of movies since the death of the big Hollywood musicals and Cinerama epics. This alone signals that we’re in store for a BIG. FUCKING. EPIC. The pacing of the film’s opening sequence quickly disabuses you of the expectation that "The Motion Picture” will be “Star Wars” starring William Shatner as Luke Skywalker. The deliberate camera movements and the intricately detailed models of the Klingon ship and the Epsilon IX station make it abundantly clear that this movie is channeling Stanley Kubrick, not George Lucas.

While the film as a whole comes across as very stilted, things get off on the right foot with lots of excellent character conflict. Spock is cold and distant, having just finished studying how to purge his emotions. Kirk is restless and obsessive, itching to get out from behind his desk. A new character, Decker, is justifiably edgy toward Kirk, having had his command taken away by the same self-centered egoist who recommended him. The character conflicts are actually more interesting than the plot itself. For the opening third of the film, the characters drive the story along pretty well. Once they reach their destination and allow the plot to kick in, everything grinds to a screeching halt. Toward the end, things pickup again, and the characters are back to their old selves, but by now most of the film’s momentum is irretrievably lost. Even the great mystery of V’Ger doesn’t pan out; our heroes travel to the heart of the ship, only to find that this huge vessel threatening the Earth is really just a lost space probe called Nomad that’s searching for its inventor, Jackson Roy Kirk. Or something like that.

ok…it’s big…we get it

A failure to meet its promises
The big problem with “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” isn’t that it promises and then fails to deliver the moon. No, the big problem is that it didn’t even deliver on the very modest promises of its creators.

While there will be plenty of special effects, they’re related to the characters — they’re part of the dramatic integrity, not an end in themselves. They won’t take over the picture.
– Gene Roddenberry, New York Times: January 1979

After losing 8½ minutes of my life traveling through V’Ger without adding any understanding to the mystery, I really wanted some of what the Great Bird was smoking

I wanted to develop characters more strongly and establish chemistry between them. I thought it needed more emotion and feeling to make the story more believable. ‘Close Encounters’ had an interesting beginning, but fell apart in the middle.
– Robert Wise (on his tweaks to the TMP scrpt), NYT: Jan 1979

Yeah, well, guess what, Bobbo… so did your film.

feel the passion

Playing it safe
For a movie that wants to be epic, “The Motion Picture” betrays its TV roots by playing safe with the characters. Decker and Ilia are our easily disposable guest stars; if they hadn’t changed the costumes you could imagine both sporting red shirts. Both Kirk or Spock would have been a more suitable candidate to merge with V’Ger, but they were needed for potential sequels. Spock still did have a rewarding character arc, but Kirk’s was too easily resolved; with Decker now evolved into a higher state of being, there’s no question over who gets the center seat. This risk aversion is a problem that has continually marred “Trek” over the years, and hindsight makes it disappointing that Roddenberry didn’t have the guts to make a truly radical change, instead of just giving us lovely scenery.

That’s not to say all the problems with “The Motion Picture” were big; many were smaller problems that take you out of the film for one reason or another. The uniforms look like pastel polyester pajamas. I don’t care what Jesco von Puttkamer said about what we’ll be wearing in the future, they look stupid. Cinematographer Richard H. Kline’s decision to use a split-diopter lens in various shots on the bridge makes some scenes look disorienting. And while I like Hal Michelson’s set designs in general, his decision to have all the lighting in the corridors emanate from down near the floor makes the ship interiors look gloomy and dark. The film also got a lot of little things right. TMP established a new and frightening look for the venerable Klingons that became the basis for many a beloved character for the next two decades. And although the shots of it lingered a bit long, the newly ‘refit’ Enterprise was truly an awe inspiring site. And of course the Goldsmith score also became a new standard for Trek, even used as the theme for the Next Generation. 

do not adjust your glasses…it is supposed to look that way

A hit…and a miss

“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was one of the big hits of the 1979 holiday season, yet despite its success, the future of any “Trek”projects remained uncertain. While it made a lot of money, its box office take ($82 million) didn’t reach the heights of “Star Wars” ($307 million) or" Superman” ($138 million). The film had been very expensive ($30 million), a matter that was only compounded when Paramount decided to tack on the cost of the abortive “Planet of the Titans” and “Star Trek II” projects, bringing the costs up to $45 million. Roddenberry’s behind-the-scenes battles with screenwriter Harold Livingston didn’t help the production, either; Livingston quit and came back four times, and the script was being rewritten on an almost daily basis. Despite its deliberate pacing, the film itself was a rush job, as Paramount made the foolish decision to lock it into a specific release date early on. This required many special effects sequences to be left incomplete, and left the film without a proper sound mix, with the result that it seems eerily quiet at times. In 2001 fans did finally get rewarded with a ‘Directors Edition’ of the film, where Wise was allowed to ‘finish’ his epic with new edits and new CGI special effects.

While the fans were happy to see Trek up on the screen again, the film also left them with mixed reactions. Was this really the "Star Trek” of their earlier years? It didn’t necessarily leave viewers exhilarated and eager for more the way “Star Wars” did. Critics were also mixed; they certainly recognized the film’s technical accomplishments, but also quickly saw the flaws. In his review, New York Times critic Vincent Canby called the dialogue “banal” and Roddenberry’s vision of the future “tacky”, and judged that the film owed more of its success to special effects artists Doug Trumbull and John Dykstra, and production designer Michelson, than it did to Roddenberry, Wise, or Livingston.

In the end TMP was successful at bringing Trek back from the dead, but that’s about all it did. To this day, the film remains the most ambitious of the franchise, at least in its attempt to give some scope to the fictional universe. Yet for all that ambition, it never seems to reach as high in what really matters: the story and characters. Ironically, it would be the second, less ambitious film – one that didn’t directly involve Roddenberry –that finally delivered on those essentials.

all agree…the upgraded Ent is a thing of beauty


Lessons for Trek XI
Looking forward to J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek XI,” the main lesson of “The Motion Picture” is to keep the characters and story central to the film at all times, and to not allow the special effects and sets overwhelm it. A vision of the future is pointless if you don’t have a compelling story to tell, and well-motivated characters to do things in it. If you’re going to introduce a story arc (e.g., Kirk competing with Decker for the center seat), then actually resolve it rather than giving yourself an easy out. Don’t be afraid to put the main characters in jeopardy, either. Obviously Kirk and Spock have to survive so they can return in “Star Trek XII,” but Abrams shouldn’t be afraid to make the audience worry a little (like he did with Ethan Hunt in the last act of “Mission: Impossible III”). Put our heroes in some real peril, not the two-bit cheesy-ass non-peril they found themselves in here. And for the love of Jesus, don’t let Paramount screw you over with the accounting.


Special thanks to Dennis Bailey who provided background information from a fan’s perspective. Other background information was taken from the book “Phase II: The Lost Series” by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. The Roddenberry and Wise quotes came from a January 21, 1979 New York Times article entitled “At Last, All Systems Are ‘Go’ for ‘Star Trek,’” by M.L. Stein. Imagery courtesy of

J.L. Garner dabbles in film criticism from time to time, and is co-moderator of the Trek Movies forum at TrekBBS.

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Simply put the real problem with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it was a very bad story – poorly written.

Despite the fact V’ger had accumulated all thet was knowable,it still needed to seek the creator to find it’s identity.

I remember being very disappointed when the new Star Trek series did not come off and it was announced that it was now going to be Star Trek-The Motion Picture. I really wished that they had done the series, even without Nimoy. That being said, I went to the movie about a dozen or more times when it came out and even though the next few movies were more interesting story-wise, I still have a certain amount of affection for the The Motion Picture. I think I replay it more often than any of the other movies. Even though the uniforms were changed too drastically from the TV series, I still like them better than the burgundy ones that came later.

I love TMP for many reasons as well, i love the klingons, the enterprise, spock\’s arc, mccoy\’s beard, the radiation suits, the giant auditorium, the music, the spacedock, and its just great to see Trek get the epic treatment.

but in the end it is really a film only a Trek fan can love. It just failed to build a mainstream fanbase like Star Wars did, it was a bit too far up its own navel. I admire it for its ambition, but it also failed to be a true intellectual equal to 2001. So in the end it was caught between those two films in this nether region.

I purchased the Directors Cut and found it more suitable and easier to watch… but it was all still very sterile.

The editorial seemed to agree with all I thought of the film… no surprises. However, I do have a problem with a column that is presented as a serious review but the writer cannot find a substitute for the F word.

There’s no need for that.

Actually I agree with #5, there is no need for a legitimate article and to drop the “F Bomb”. TrekMovie isn’t just some random jerk’s blog, we’ve established ourselves as being a great source for Trek news and editorials.

well the average age of a Trekkie is in his mid thirties…i think people should be able to handle it. I debated cutting it, but in the end I chose to leave it in because I thought people would understand it in the context it was meant.

and I dont want to see this whole comments section derailed into obsessing over a single word….if you really dont like it email me and explain how it offended you.

In many ways this film singularly represents every conceptual notion Star Trek has ever striven for, yet sadly that is the duel-edged sword of the films inception, as well as reception.
It is Homereseque’ in it’s epic narrative and drive, seeking to expand human consciousness and not blind the senses with useless violence or more mundane abject human responses.
That is the only fundamental flaw with this majestic film- it doesn’t resonate with a watered down low brow audience.
This is very much the “thinking man’s” Trek film that asks the bigger questions and unfortunately, that is also it’s greatest weakness, as the majority of movie goers don’t attend films for personal introspection or to be changed, they attend a film for simple escapism.
Star Trek- The Motion Picture is by far the most visually dynamic and adult of the film entries, easily transporting the viewer to a truly actualized 23rd century. The production design and visual aesthetic alone of this film merits distinction not only among other Trek films but movies in general.
From the alien in appearance Klingons, to the fabulously refitted Starship Enterprise, to the vague and nebulous Vejur asking the same questions humanity aspires towards, this film featured a bold and daring departure from anything Trek had previously attempted, despite the shortsighted comparisons to earlier episodes such as “The Changeling,” which only resembled this film topically and superficially.

I think personally this film gets the bad reputation it does merely because of the comparison to Star Wars it endured when it was first released.
This film has no true nemesis or villain, the circumstances and consequences serve as the primary antagonist.
Roddenberry and Livingston wanted to ask some big questions, as a result, an audience expecting Errol Flynn like derrings do was set up for dissapointment.
I believe anyone that watches this film with no pre-concieved expectations and simply accepts the film on it’s own merit is in for a wonderful surprise among the annals of Trekdom. The film dates very well and has a timeless epic feel that the future films lack severely.
ADD individuals should avoid this film like the plague. It has a deliberate methodical pace and doesn’t bombard you with mindless candy to numb the senses such as a Matrix, or other explosion laden film.
This film is the polar opposite of “The Wrath of Khan”, in that circumstances not people, propell the story forward. This is not a detriment to the film, but rather a different approach to telling a story.
For an excellent companion peice to this film, I highly recommend the official novelization by Roddenberry that provides many invaluable insights into the characterization and more obscure lore of his creation.

I have always been an advocate for this film and it remains probably my favorite Trek film above even “The Wrath of Khan.”

Despite the flaws I still like TMP. Gene even ripped it off and turned it into TNG. Ilia and Decker became Riker and Troi. He even took the theme.

Anyway having seen TMP in the movie theatre in 1979, I liked the 8 minutes of Starship porn. Seeing the Enterprise on a huge screen was just awesome.

There were also great character bits as well. McCoy’s “I know engineers, they love to change things”, to the classic banter between McCoy and Spock. I think what gets lost is that the character arcs, these are not the familiar characters we all knew until the very end.

The film also has the best shot of the Enterprise warping out at the very end of the picture.

If they wanted to be more “Star Wars” then they should have copied “The Doomsday Machine”, and not “The Changling”. At least they had the courage not to turn Trek into Star Wars and went with a more intellectual film however flawed it turned out to be.

It fell short. It was great to see Trek on the big screen. It led to other Trek films and spin off’s. It was great… I loved it. Still do.

Thanks for the review, J.L.

You provide a good, concise context surrounding Star Trek: The Motion Picture. However, I am disappointed that you didn’t discuss the actual story in detail. Yes, we all know what the story is, but from a film critic’s perspective, what does that story matter, if at all? Since we’re allowed to write comments, allow me to pick up that issue.

I think TMP’s plot is vintage Star Trek. Conceptually, Roddenberry kept true to the Original Series tv show by having the characters face a “force” of nature, a tidal wave that required reasoning and logic to combat. Whether that makes for compelling storytelling is the trick, as many feel TMP failed to nail the dramatic tension despite the plot involving the imminent peril of planet Earth. But again, the focus throughout the movie was the riddle of V’Ger. And like I said above, the concept reveals Star Trek’s unique take on science fiction. The problem was that it was too awesome of a riddle. Not in terms of difficulty, but in terms of scale and scope, V’Ger took away the levity and warmth that allowed these characters to charm their ways into our collective consciousness from the tv show. V’Ger was not a cackling villain that would rouse Kirk to kick his ass. V’Ger was a non-belligerent foe. Thus, TMP is a very sober movie.

Personally, I disliked TMP when I first saw it. I didn’t hate what I was watching, I was upset that the characters were so bland when I had seen them full of life elsewhere. I think it was ten years ago when I sat down to watch it again that it started clicking for me. Yes, I’m a Trek fan, I’m not an objective person by any stretch, but then so are we all. But what impressed me when I revisited the movie was what initially put me off to the movie: the scope of the story. This is an incredibly imaginative tale. Its ambition overwhelms because no movie, save for 2001: A Space Odyssey, had tried to take science fiction to the masses with such ardent devotion. TMP was literally the anti-Star Wars. As a piece of popular entertainment, TMP is a dismal failure. As a thoughtful story that is philosophically poignant, I think TMP is on the money. It’s an older person’s Trek. It’s not an adventure on the high seas like Star Trek II: TWOK (which I love as well). A better script could have made this movie more watchable and entertaining. I agree, the tension is not there as we’re accustomed to from genre movies.

That being said, TMP is unapologetic SCIENCE-fiction. We will likely never see a Star Trek movie with the same ambition and scope as Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Whether you enjoy the movie or not, one must agree that TMP reveals the heart of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Star Trek.

Josh T.

I was busy writing my comment and I didn’t read yours until after I was done. It seems like we’re on the same level in terms of appreciation for TMP. I see we used different words to say a lot of the same things. Cheers!

Yes Adam this film is a little jewel amid the sea of filth that is movieland.

NO film captured my imagination more than this film as a child, and that is a claim I do not make lightly.

Not to toot my own horn but if anyone would be interested in seeing my painted canvas reproduction of Bob Peaks wonderful poster art, simply E-mail me.
Such is the degree this film inspired me.

Josh T., count me in as interested in seeing that art.

I’m a HUGE Bob Peak fan. Are you familiar with his unused concepts for Star Trek VI? Some of them look awesome. How do I email you?

Yes Adam I recently discovered them, as well as the unused poster art of Trek II and III. I have seriously been considering one of those as my next project.

re: #10

Thanks for the kind words, Adam. You should have seen what I originally turned in… Anthony did a fantastic job of whittling my verbose essay down to what you now see.

I think you nailed TMP’s problem, and I tried to touch on it (albeit a bit flippantly) with that GR quote from the NYT interview. The best TOS episodes had the characters facing these “forces of nature” as you describe them, but those episodes also kept the characters in the foreground. Furthermore, we relate to the questions the story is raising about this week’s issue or philosophical question by how we the audience connect with Kirk, Spock & McCoy as they face it themselves. If the characters are taking a back seat to the special effects (which they did, despite what GR said), most of the audience members — even the lowest common denominator ones who are suffering from unmedicated ADD — will start to feel disconnected from what they’re watching.

TMP suffers from a bit of “kid in the candy store” — GR has a budget as big as an entire season of TOS at his command, he’s got two of the industry’s hottest special effects artists working for him (Doug Trumbull, who worked on “2001,” the film he wants to emulate, and John Dykstra, who worked on “Star Wars,” the film Paramount wants him to emulate)… so he goes for the whole schmeer and we get 8-1/2 minutes of pretty lights and colors and George Takei staring slack-jawed at the screen.

But how does this help solve the riddle of V’Ger? What is it in aid of? When it’s over, all we know is that V’Ger is really, really big. But we knew that before they did the flyover, so we’ve just wasted 8-1/2 minutes.

I’ll be honest… my prose is very rusty, and I haven’t ever really written a review like this before, where it needs to serve so many masters all at once — “historical” context, plot synopsis, actual criticism, examination of how it affected the franchise, plus a “lesson for J.J.” — so this is a formula that I’m exploring as I work on these reviews. By the time I get to NEM, I should have it down pat.

The Decker/Ilia link to the larger version of the image doesn’t work.

I STRONGLY encourage anyone in college or otherwise studying to have Goldsmith’s score playing in the background whilst doing so, a study indicated orchestral classical music enhances learning, and I can personally attest to that.

cardinal biggles (J.L.),

Yes, you’re right, Gene Roddenberry’s production was “excessive” to say the least. Nick Meyer has often said that he thinks art thrives on thrift, and he may have a point in some respects. But that naive “kid in the candy store” feel to TMP has grown on me as I’ve aged. And you’re right to mention that the refit-Enterprise was one of the best things to come out of TMP. It is the F-14 of starships– they’ll never make one that’s both modern and classic like that beauty.

I look forward to more reviews from you. However, I am sorry you have to review Nemesis. I mean, just save time and use the Jay Sherman line from “The Critic”: “IT STINKS!”

I can also attest to that. Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams got me through many a late-night cram session or term paper.

Adam (re: #18),

I think the happy medium — which we never really achieved on any Trek film — is probably half of GR’s naive wonderment, and half of Meyer’s thrift and pressure. I have no idea how you achieve such a thing in practice, but on paper it should work.

As for Nemesis, that’s not a bad idea. Alternately, I might photograph a dog relieving itself on a fire hydrant and just submit that.

I was a senior in college when the 20th Anniversary TMP soundtrack came out. I owned the prior release, but when I got that disc, I pretty much lived in that sound for weeks. I can listen to that score wall-to-wall without skipping a single track. In fact, I repeat tracks if I’m really feelin’ it that day! Goldsmith’s TMP score surpasses all other Trek music. As for study music, I’ll take your word for it, I was busy playing GoldenEye and StarFox while listening to that music. What? I was a SENIOR in college! It was a busy day if I was wearing pants.

cardinal biggles!!!!

Bwahahaha! That’s friggin hilarious. Phew, good one…

Oh, as a suggestion for a “lesson for JJ Abrams” maybe cite other movies that might translate well into a new Trek outside of the series. For the past couple of years, I’ve been telling people that MASTER AND COMMANDER has the makings of an awesome Star Trek movie, despite the obvious differences in setting. It is both sweeping in scope and has characters worthy of the adventure. And Russell Crowe as the new Kirk would simply rock (I know it ain’t happening, but don’t sue me for having an opinion, people).

Star Trek X-The Wrath of Shinzon ,

failed utterly for a variety of reasons that Sherry Lansing and Ricky boy Berman completely overlooked including but not limited to:

1. If you borrow from your own well of creativity, you are already doomed.
Nemesis was a carbon copy of Khan, and not even a good one.
2. When you kill off a major character, and NO ONE cares, that’s typically a bad harbinger your film failed and you probably shouldn’t have done it.
When Spock died in ’82, I heard people SOBBING in the theater. Not that sniff sniff passive whimpering, I mean outright SOBBING. Like “Passion of the Christ” sobbing. Spock died = Our old friend died.
3. To feature villains everyone wants to see a villians, as relegate them to background characters in favor of their mongoloid trisby 21 cousins, is assisine.
4. Dune Buggys are cool. Dune Buggys in the era of star travel SUCK.
5. Picard isn’t THAT important to hatch a 20 year in the making plan to sample his DNA then later on use the Clone to infiltrate the Federation.
Horrible backstory plotting.
6. Does the Enterprise in the Next Generation era EVER come out on top of a fight?? I mean really. The D is annihilated by a peice of shit Bird of Prey. The E by Borg, and plastic surgery guys, and Remans, and…..
7. Stuard Baird is an excellent film Editor.
Stuard Baird is a shitty film director.

The ’79 movie was boring plain and simple.
The refit Enterprise rocked however and never looked as good since.

ST:TMP is still my most favorite of all the Trek Films. The music, the PURE science fiction story, and the way it was made, 100% EPIC. I love seeing our heroes in that larger than life setting.

One thing I would really like to see is this movie given the same “Re-master” that the Star Wars Trilogy recieved. If they could go back and remove the black matte lines and all of the scratches and pieces of dirt on this Film I would be thrilled. The Star Wars movies look like they were realeased yesterday, absolutely pristine. ST:TMP deserves this same attention.

While the 2001 Director’s Edition looks good it could be a BILLION times better.

I really like TMP. I think it has a big-screen presence and majesty, and feels like an “event” in a way that a lot of the later Treks don’t. I really like the character moments between Kirk and Spock, and I think the story is a great one about expanding consciousness and what makes humans special.

All in all, this is my second favorite of all the Trek movies, after Wrath of Khan. It’s vastly underrated.

The story was poorly developed, maybe a bit recycled. Still, it was that BOOST that created the franchise of today.


If ST:TMP and been SPEXTACULAR, as if ST: TWOK had been the first TREK movie, what would Star Trek of today have looked like?

Food for thought…eh?

Like many others here, ST:TMP holds a special place in my heart. Despite its sometimes vast flaws and its ponderous pacing, TMP tried and succeeded in showing us the 23rd century as a real place. The details were so subtle and so complete that I really felt like I had been taken into the future. I still feel that way when I watch the movie today, and the Director’s Edition only made that aspect of the film better.

I fell completely in love with the Enterprise refit and it remains my favorite design. The pains the filmmakers went through to make the Enterprise real, the sheer hugeness of the vessel and its elegant beauty have never been equaled, not in any Trek film nor in any other genre project since.

In my opinion, the problems with TMP started with Roddenberry himself. He was determined to make Star Trek his way, the way he had originally envisioned it back in the 60’s, as a vehicle for social and philosophical expression. The trouble is, Roddenberry’s Star Trek, while intellectually stimulating, is boring as hell to watch. Remember, it was NBC that insisted that more action be injected into the TV show, and by the time TMP was released in theaters, that’s what people expected to see. That isn’t what they got, however. Look at the first two seasons of ST:TNG and you’ll see the pattern again. There are many stimulating ideas in those episodes, but they are dull, dull, dull. This is why ST:TWOK gets more critical kudos; it has ideas that are ripe for discussion AND it’s got some ripping good action to boot. TWOK may not have the epic feel of TMP, but the story moves at a much better clip and there’s a real sense of jeopardy involved.

So, TMP may not be a Star Trek film for the masses, and it may be too slowly paced to keep many people interested, but it is a gloriously rich film in many other respects, and that’s where it redeems itself. It may not be the best Star Trek film, but it is a great film, just the same.

ST TMP was CINEMA! Remember, up until 1979, all we had to watch were poor quality re-runs on TV or the occasional 16 mm print at a convention. What Wise understood was that this was a cinematic event, and he took that to the nth degree with spectacular visuals that stayed on the screens for not just seconds, but minutes.

On TV today, these visuals lose their impact, but on a widescreen projected from a 70 mm print – That was amazing! I can vividly recall the details of the Klingon battle cruisers, the spinning tracking shot of the ships as they encouter VGer – that booming Goldsmith score drawing to intensity as the Klingons meet their fate.

ST TMP was made as a real MOVIE in every sense visually. And yes it was flawed but it did the trick for me way back when and millions others as well.

I have never seen af Trekmovie as big, as exciting, as true to the original series as ST TMP. Never ever since ST TMP have the Trek Cast been as wonderful as in ST TMP

Has anyone else noticed Klingons since that film don’t quite have the same presence and awe, and sheer alien feel?

I think Fred Philips makeup applications were far more intimidating than the later incarnations. The white contact lenses especially.

I also liked how there was a very uniform appearance to all Klingon ridges, as opposed to the more individualistic foreheads that came later.

Additionally, whose idea was it to dumb down Klingons and make them barbaric and aggressive?

In TOS and this first feature, Klingons though the heavies, were portrayed as intellectual equals to any Federation member, never snarling or grimacing to show pointed teeth-

Consider if you will the transmission made by the Imperial Klingon Commander from the ill-fated cruiser Amar:

“Intruder unidentified – believe luminescent cloud to be enormous powerfield surrounding alien vessel, our sensor scans unable to penetrate….Imperial Klingon Cruiser Amar continuing to attack.”

Spock could have very well made this statement.

The wholesale dumbing down of Klingons in later versions dramatically undermined the spirit of their villiany.

Gone were the shrewd, plotting, fiendish, machiavellien Klingons only to be replaced by snarling, Conan-like Barbarians fueled only by battle and


The Klingons never valued honor, Klingons routinely practised DIS-honorable acts, to serve their greater purposes. Klingons were never stringently observant of the concept of honor.

In an effort to give Klingons more dimension and depth in later incarnations, they were robbed of their unique and singular dispositions as those with no scruples or integrity.

Kruge and his merry band began this watered down approach to Klingons, to be followed by a return to form as brilliantly portrayed by John Shuck, the elegant, eloquent, Klingon Ambassador in Trek IV.

Trek V gives us morons again, pretending to be Klingons, again followed by a more elegant, refined villian in the form of Chang in Trek VI.

With the advent of “The Next Generation” Klingons are all over the place, you have Worf with his preoccupation for self discovery and personal enlightenment, Gowron with his flair for dramatics and crude expressionism, etc etc.

John Colicos served as the archetypical model for Klingons utilizing Coon’s magnificent writing. This pattern should have remained consistent throughout all of Trek’s incarnations.
Kor, Kang, and Koloth with all dignified, articulate, shewd, cunning, calculating villians that NEVER defiled themselves by resorting to grunts and growls.
Lur’sa and B’etor, I’m sorry were the absolute LOW in Klingons. If Kang of old had seen one of these skanks he probably would have disrupted her and asked “What the hell was THAT Kirk?”

But back to my original point, the Klingons of “The Motion Picture” had a brief appearance, but maintained the cold, calculating disposition first established for the characters, while Phillip’s enhanced their alien presence dramatically with the new makeup.

That first slow pan and zoom on the Commander demonstrated immediately these guys had been in space WAY too long patrolling that damn border and as intended, you felt like you are suddenly in an enemy submarine.

Mark Lenard is AWESOME.

Sarek, Romulan, and Klingon Commanders.

The best thing about TMP is that it stands alone as a piece of sci-fi, and doesn’t feel like it has to belong to Trek.

Josh, Adam Cohen, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I think we all can make the same analysis of Star Trek: TMP, however what will differ between afficionados and haters is the conclusion. Yes, this movie is not about characters first and foremost. Yes, this movie is very visual. Yes, the plot is not as intricate as some movie plots are. However, I do not agree that this means TMP is a boring special effects galore (something many people say about 2001, too, btw). I think people saying that are either not seeing and/or not appreciating the missing piece of the puzzle here: this movie is about something bigger than characters, special effects or plot: it is about the human nature, it is about philosophical issues, about the questions of Why and How and To what effect. It goes so big in scope that for a (low brow) mainstream audience it is just intangible – they only see the surface, its beautiful core lost in translation for them. It chooses a visual approach to deliver its musings, messages and ultimately, sense of wonder, like 2001 (though in a less figurative way), and if we say Star Trek was based on Forbidden Planet, this movie is dead-on, presenting the most “literary science fiction” translation to the big screen of any Trek movies. TMP is intellectual, serious, aloof, and NOT very concerned about marketing its points in the easiest way – it wants the viewer to discover the truths hidden within, and thus, is most intellectually challenging (I prefer for the original over the DE for that reason, which gives a lot of unnecessary explanations). Of course, this is opposed to mainstream cinema where people go in to get entertained. Meaning, that you don’t get this movie doesn’t mean this movie is dumb or a creative failure. It maybe just isn’t a movie for you. It’d probably better fit an art film festival, where you can find many movies like this with an even more enigmatic and elusive nature (Tarkovsky, anyone?)

So what’s the bottom line? This movie is not for everyone. It requires your attention and dedication, and inspires your imagination in return. And guess what, that’s why it’s my favorite Trek movie.

The human adventure is just beginning!

This review could have been written without the profanity. There are kids reading these reviews, too. Let’s set an example, shall we?

Interesting review, that’s made me think about these films again.

I remember ST:TMP was one the videos my parents rented when they put one of these fancy-pants VHS video recorders on our TV rental bill way back in 1984. My brother and I were told not to talk about our video machine, because other kids might think we were showing off.

My memories of it include that we didn’t know about the tracking control and the pitcure was all over the place and we took the tape back for a replacement.

As an eight-year-old child who loved Trek for its colour and adventures, TMP was a shock. The opening overture went on and on. Then came the titles, white on black with this loud oh-so-pompous music. Then came an intriguing sequence with these animal-like aliens who were nothing like Klingons. But the scene is scary – it’s up there with TWOK for space being a big terrifying place full of unknowns. Sadly, TMP’s ‘true’ sequel-cum-remake, Star Trek: The Next Generation was never as sinister.

I agree with the earlier post that the Klingons were clearly more intelligent in this film. Watching the opening of TWOK, without knowledge of subsequent Klingon portrayals makes the Kobayashi Maru scene far more scary.

Then we get all these people wearing pastel Starfleet uniforms that just seem wrong. And, jeez! what’s with the sound? Everyone’s voices are really muffled, yet harsh!!

Then Kirk turns up on Earth, looking much the same as ever, but in a weird uniform and talks to a Vulcan who isn’t Spock (Spock’s on a very alien looking planet Vulcan, not being very Spock-like.)

Then we get a long sequence where Kirk beams (using a completely different sound and visual effec)t to meet this geezer with a moustache who my Dad says is Scotty (‘No way!’ I think. ‘He’s too old!’) and they spend ages travelling around a ship that is obviously the Enterprise, so why don’t they get on with it? And where are the orange dots on the birs that stick out the back?

My main feeling, then, as now, was one of alienation, watching TMP. It’s a flawed, grandiose science fiction film, rather than a Star trek film! The characters aren’t the same, all being more like Soviet characters from Cold War thrillers. There’s no colour in this interpretation of Trek. The film’s intellect is as ice-cold as Spock seems to have become.

I just couldn’t understand how my Kirk, Spock and McCoy, who I loved watching on TV, had become these cold, distant people, whose friendship seemed to have faded along with the shades of their uniforms. The Enterprise, also, was big, grey and alienating.

Looking at TMP now, especially the vastly-improved Director’s Editon, I do rather like the film. While it includes many classic Trek elements, it sits awkwardly in the series as a whole. It’s so different from anything before or after and does kind of fall apart at the end.

At the same time, the actors are still trying to act, rather than play themselves. As the TOS films went on, the performances broadened and coarsened to the point of parody – a bit like the Klingons, really. Scotty, is a believeable engineer in this film, Spock is a believeable half-human struggling with his inner turmoil. Admiral Kirk is a tough, career-minded opportunist. McCoy and Chapel are convincing MDs. I can believe that all these characters do these jobs.On that level, looking at TMP and TWOK without reference to the rest of the films, TWOK could convincingly be set in the same universe as TMP.

With Trek XI on its way, I wonder how the film can be taken. I want it to be as cinematic as TMP, with characters who are convincing Starfleet officers. But I wan’t the warmth of the character interplay seen in ST:TOS and in STII and STIII.

TMP and I will always have a strange relationship. Standing alone, it’s very impressive, in the same way a uniformed Soviet general is impressive and rather intimidating. I believe that, had this film been made as Star Trek Phase II: In Thy Image, with Phase II’s 60s-ish sets, the series would have tanked and damaged Star Trek’s reputation.

The film does merit considerable rewatching and, in the event of a new TOS film being made, I consider this film to represent a vital peice of research.

ST:TMP is a great example who just how visually and intellectually ambitious Trek can be, genuinely moving beyond the television screen and being genuine cinema, which probably only TWOK, in spite of its TV references, can also claim to be.

All in all, a glorious, flawed interpretation of Star Trek.

TMP has grown on me over the years, particularlly since the 2001 release of the Director’s Edition of the film. I think that the DE makes the film far more watchable to a broader audience…

However, I genuinely agree that the story is far too much a rehash of “The Changeling” with touches of “The Doomsday Machine” and other TOS episodes that it feels totally forgettable.

If the threat had been something different… then the movie would have been far better… and I mean FAR better.


Despite its obvious flaws, still one of my favorites. I remember attending opening night that Friday back in November 1979 at my theater. It certainly felt like a big event and it was very exciting. It was the first time I saw people actually dressed like Star Trek characters and that was a little scary,but that’s another story… The Directors cut by Robert Wise was welcomed and his reworking of the special effects via CG helped the picture. But, for me, the biggest problem with this film was that sleep inducing voyage through V’Ger. I swear I heard snoring in the theater. I remember thinking “when is the going to end?”. Between that, and those wide-eyed, bridge reaction shots I don’t know what was more painful. I still have a problem with it. You could lop 10 minutes off of that and I don’t think you’ll lose a thing. As much as an improvement as the directors cut is, I’m surprise Robert Wise didn’t think that sequence needed work as well (as in shortened). Regardless, it was the first , it was fun. and I still enjoy watching it – before bedtime.

Everyone has some interesting takes on TMP. I fall in the camp of finding this movie so dramatically improved with the directors cut, that it ranks among my favorites now.

Robert Wise said in an interview, that it wasn’t only the effects that had gone unfinished when TMP was released, it was also the editing, and the sound editing, which speaks to tinny sound of the film, and the sterile long silences between dialogue.

Despite some moments of really bad acting in the wormhole sequence, (where bad acting is provided to you in slow motion for 10 minutes) and some embarrasingly dated clothes and sets (Kirk’s quarters and the game room look like a 70’s Hilton lobby), TMP comes back together as a much tighter and richer film experience in the Directors Cut.

I’m assuming most of you have seen this version of the film. Many of the awkward pauses have been cut out. I believe the endless trip through the V’Ger cloud may have even but cut back some, but not sure about that.

I appreciate that the sterility of this movie might have been both deliberate and unintentional all at once. The larger message of the movie of course being that the “core trio” have lost touch with eachother and are lost. Spock is lost in his logic, Kirk is lost in his command, McCoy is lost to a lesser degree, and serves a bit more as the glue bonding Kirk & Spock. Vger of course is lost and searching too, creating the parallel between plot and character.

The unintentional side of this is that these actors are brought back together in a very different circumstance and time and have to recreate the chemistry they had with a lot of pressure riding on their success.

In the end, the directors cut serves to alleviate the sterility and pacing of the film. It doesn’t solve all of its problems, but I can sit back and watch this movie now, and feel like it’s actually connected.

People were ranking their faves in a previous thread. I have to consider 2, 3 & 4 as one long movie really, but for sake of ranking here goes:

Voyage home
Search for Spock
First Contact

Honestly, the rest of em (undiscovered country included) leave me flat.


The motion picture (in it’s original form) is one of my favourite movies. A true scifi space opera wich Hollywood gives us too rarely (2010 / Solaris) ever since.
TMP has well drawn characters, a cold and uncanny atmosphere and a well defined technical side.
The story is really amazing and exciting, and V’Ger was one of the best ideas Trek ever had (including Nomad ;-) )
Last but not least the symbiosis between Goldsmiths musical score and the motion picture was perfect.

In short… a perfect movie!

But what they did for the director’s edition I can’t forgive. The Vulcan scenes were wonderful. Same to the newly integrated space f/x. But the sound was an insolence. For example… replacing the harsh alert sound with that of the old series was more than silly. Same is true for adding the vintage bridge sound effects. Oh my… it destroyed the whole feeling of the movie.

I hope for a new dvd containing the original movie version some time. I’ll buy it for sure ! ! !

It’s Star Trek Phase 2 in movie form: a frightening glimpse of what Roddenberry had in store for taking the guts out of his own creation in Next Generation.

re 40:

Wow, I am really shocked.

The ambient sound from the original series was one of my favorite inclusions into the directors cut. I’m truly surprised that a fan of Trek in any incarnation could find their addition objectionable. I was always thrilled when a classic sound effect made it’s way into a later series or film.

Again going back to the director’s comments, these sounds were always meant to be included, but they lacked the time to finish the sound editing.

I think these sounds are an integral and original part of Trek. They are unmistakable.


I see there may be a bit of a divide here, between those who saw it in the movie theater and those who didn’t. (In my case, I couldn’t, because i was still a fetus when this movie hit the theaters.)

I do appreciate TMP for what it is: a deeply flawed but well-intentioned attempt by Roddenberry to finally show us all what Trek would have been like without “interference” from those meddlesome NBC execs. It does raise interesting philosophical questions, but it does so in a cold, self-important way that fails to engage the audience.

My journey to appreciating TMP is similar to Doug and others… when I watched it on VHS, I was bored out of my mind and ended up playing MST3K with my brother. The Director’s Edition was a dramatic improvement, and suddenly the film shot up my list from the bottom of the pack to near the top. The improvements to the DE are nothing short of astounding. They don’t fix all the flaws, but they do bring the film a long way towards being more like the Star Trek we know and love, and less like a boring, pretentious art film.

“Again going back to the director’s comments, these sounds were always meant to be included, but they lacked the time to finish the sound editing.” (Doug, #42)

They were actually going to use the old TOS effects on the bridge? I would have preferred that they came up with something different, because the TOS effects do take you out of it just a bit during some of the non-dialogue scenes.

And I also have to confess a sentimental attachment to the harsh, mechanical annunciator and the Red Alert that sounded like a radiation alarm that they used in the theatrical version.

re 45.

Ha, that’s funny regarding the red alert sound. I’ve taken the day off from work today to finish up some christmas stuff, and now I want to watch TMP!!

I read an interview w/ R. Wise shortly before the release of the directors cut, and talked primarily about being thoroughly dissatisfied with his experience on TMP. The three things I remember most were about the sound effects, the horrible cut of the film (in his estimation) and the lack of completed effects.

He said the bridge sounds and claxon as originally appeared were not meant to be in the final cut. They were filler sounds, i guess like a temp track or something.

I’m going to see if I can find the interview. Doug

Btw… I saw TMP in the theater opening night when I was like 11. :)

Here’s one interview that speaks a bit about the dissatisfaction with the sound mix. I think I may be piecing together information in my head from different interviews.


Here’s another link.

i can’t find the quote about the original (or a recreation of the original) sound effects being used. It may have been someone else who said that, or it’s somewhere I can’t find it.

Maybe Daren Docterman knows if he’s reading these threads…?


I saw this movie in the theatre – yes I was very young.

What seems “bland” to some (especially today) I found enthralling and enjoyable then – as well as the many times I’ve seen it since. TMP is the foundation for all modern Trek and otherwise mostly agree with Adam Cohen’s comment above. The graphics in TMP (and 2001 for the matter) seem ponderous today, but in the age of Typewriters and mainframes my father tells me they were ‘wonderous’.

TWOK was a bigger hit and more memorable. There’s nothing wrong with TWOK as a movie either (it’s my favorite). Business realities be as they may, but frankly, I couldn’t care less how big a financial success a movie is or how many tickets were sold — so long as I personally enjoy it.

I personally believe it is possible for a Trek movie to be made with a small budget and be excellent (ala Solaris).

I’m mixing my genres here a bit…but ST:TMP suffered from the same expectation problems as The Hulk. In 1979, the audiences had to have been expecting Star Trek: The Klingons Strike Back. They got a thought provoking character study instead…which is what the original was really all about. You can count on one hand (and maybe a couple of fingers) the number of episodes that featured “epic” space battles and swashbuckling.

The audience for The Hulk must have been expecting Marvel Team-Up or Spiderman 1.5. They got Ang Lee’s character study on inner demons and repressed memories.

Throw out expectations and watch both movies again and try to apprieciate them on their own merits. They hold up pretty well.

#3 I agree!! And I felt the same way when Paramount was jerking everybody around — series, mini-series, feature film?

If Star Trek Phase II had been made, we would have had a TON more original crew than what we ended up with…and who knows? Who is to say Nimoy wouldn’t have eventually joined the cast — had it been successful?

I have the Star Trek Phase II book and it has synopsis of the episodes that were written for it…”Kitumba” would have been our first look at the Klingon Empire and it would have been an interesting episode.