‘Star Trek IV’ cinematographer Don Peterman dies at 79 [UPDATED]

Don Peterman, the cinematographer who was nominated for an Oscar for his work on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, has passed away at the age of 79. The two-time Oscar nominee died of complications from leukemia at his home in Palos Verdes Estates on February 5th. See below for more on Peterman and his career. [UPDATE: Leonard Nimoy has made a comment on Peterman’s passing]

UPDATE: Nimoy offers his condolences

On Tuesday Leonard Nimoy, director of Star Trek IV, offered the following via Twitter:

sorry to hear Don Peterman has passed away. Oscar nominee for cinematography Star Trek IV. A gentleman and a talent. My best to family


original article


Don Peterman – New To Trek For The Voyage Home

For Star Trek IV director Leonard Nimoy chose Don Peterman as the film’s Director of Photography (DP) for his distinctive approach and his commitment to delivering the look they wanted for the film, which required more location shooting than previous Star Trek films. Voyage Home was the only Trek production Peterman worked on, but it yielded him the second of two Academy Award nominations. To date, Peterman is the only person to earned an Oscar nomination as cinematographer of a Star Trek production. The film also earned Peterman a nomination from the very first American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Awards in 1987.

Trailer for Star Trek IV – a film which earned Don Peterman an Oscar nomination

Don Peterman – Life and career
Peterman was born in Los Angeles on January 3, 1932, and began his career as a film loader at Hal Roach Studios. In 1966, he became a camera operator under cinematographer Charles F. Wheeler, who, coincidentally, later provided additional photography on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His first feature film as Director of Photography was the 1979 horror-thriller When a Stranger Calls. He earned his first Oscar nomination as DP of the 1983 hit Flashdance, which led to his becoming a member of the ASC in 1984.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Peterman directed photography on many popular feature films, many of which were of the sci-fi or fantasy genres. In the ’80s, director Ron Howard utilized his talents on the romantic-comedy fantasy Splash, the sci-fi film Cocoon, and the crime drama Gung Ho. In the ’90s, he was Barry Snonnefeld’s DP on horror-comedy Addams Family Values, crime comedy Get Shorty, and the sci-fi hit Men in Black. His many other credits as DP include Best Defense, Plains, Trains & Automobiles, and Point Break.

While working on 1998’s Mighty Joe Young, Peterman was injured when a camera crane snapped and the platform carrying the camera and its operator landed on top of him. (Incidentally, the camera operator who fell on him, Ray De La Motte, also worked on the DS9 episode “The Siege of AR-558.”) After rehabilitation, Peterman reteamed with Ron Howard on How the Grinch Stole Christmas, though his prior injuries made the shoot difficult. It was his final film.

More on Peterman
Obituaries: LA Times, Variety
IMDb page
Internet Encyclopedia of Cinematographers entry
Memory Alpha article

Further reading: “The Fourth Trek” articles, American Cinematographer, Vol. 67, December 1986

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RIP Sir.

Loosing more and more tos people RIP

Rest in peace.

Now… why the “I want to frack you” viral video still? Did he work on that too?

the lighting in that movie is really beautiful.

Star Trek IV was a beautiful looking film. It is my favorite of all the Star Trek movies. To me, it best reflected what Gene Roddenberry wanted. A tale that was accessible but of substance. And of course, it was funny. Rest in peace, Don Peterman.

RIP Mr Peterman :(

Weird how TVH gets noms for music and cinematography when it has the lousiest picture and score of the bunch (well, the Abrams thing looks tons worse, but I’m talking about REAL trek movies here.)

Check out the scene when Chekov is jogging around the carrier Enterprise … there is so much smoke on the set that it looks like he runs through a cloud bank! If they had limited the smoke to the BoP I could have bought off on it, but to lay it on all over the place made it so dated that this pic came out after FLASHDANCE and ET.

Rest in peace, Mr. Peterman. I’ll admire your work next month when I see Trek IV shown in 70mm.

Nice job. RIP.

I just watched Star Trek IV last night and Don Peterman will be missed by the film community. Thanks for one of the best Star Trek films of all time.

#2 – More and more are losing the ability to spell lose or losing.

ST:IV was the first of the films since TMP shot by the theatrical division at Paramount (II & III were actually done by the TV dept) and it looked the most cinematic of the Genesis Trilogy. Great Panavision photography by Mr. Peterman. His work will live on.

Untrue. a TV dp shot TWOK, but SFS used the guy who shot SILENT RUNNING. Mostly cheapo guys on SFS, but still feature film folk.

In fact, the TV division story stuff was mostly smoke … do some serious reading about TWOK and you see that was designed to get people’s prices down. You certainly don’t hire ILM — then or now — to do a tv movie unless you’re GL wanting to show off his Ewoks yet again.

I think SFS looks tons better than TVH, and more in a TOS vein colorwise than any other trekfilm. I really wish TWOK looked better than it did, but at least the camera angles were interesting and dynamic and they shot plenty of cutaways and inserts, something SFS really failed at (blame Nimoy!)

As much as I like the ambitous cinematography on TFF, I do think a little more of the colorsplash of SFS would have improved things.

My condolences to the Peterman family. RIP Mr. Peterman…

R.I.P. Mr. Peterman. I’ll always appreciate your work on “Star Trek IV.”
And, “Gung Ho” was not a crime drama. It was a culture clash comedy starring Michael Keaton, Gedde Watanabe and George Wendt. The plot is that a Japanese car company takes over an abandoned Pennsylvania auto assembly plant. It’s amusing, if a bit predictable.


When I saw TVH and hear the music…I went… Hmm Lord of the Rings.
ans sure enough..it was the same composer.

But I liked the film.

#15 – you should clarify Lord of the Rings (1978). Not the Peter Jackson trilogy – that was Howard Shore.

Thanks for a great film. My wife loves this ST film the best of all.


RIP Mr Peterson – so many cinematographers/directors today just do NOT have a clue what to do with that panoramic film frame, and consequently they either take the (modern, not the 1970s version of the same director!) George Lucas route and just FILL it to the brim with eye candy which is very tiring, or it ends up looking like a made for TV movie that just happens to be in widescreen!

Mr Peterman did a fantastic job on Trek IV – lots of depth to his compositions and he bought a truly unique look to this movie.

I hope New Trek II takes a more cinematic approach to it’s visuals…


“I hope New Trek II takes a more cinematic approach to it’s visuals…”

What, you didn’t think J.J Abrams made his movie cinematic enough visually?

I think the new movie is the most visually cinematic OF ALL the Trek films.
Maybe at the time of release each of the previous films had a cinematic feel to them, but in retrospect, and certainly in comparison to “Star Trek” 09, they feel a bit dated and small. Improved technology and a bigger budget allowed J.J Abrams to break Star Trek out of its somewhat claustrobic box.

that should be “claustrophobic”


#12 – The original intent was to use footage from TMP as much as possible. Paramount ONLY hired ILM when the suits realized they actually had a great film on their hands. As it was, TWOK was done on a very low budget and the production (along with TSFS) officially fell under Paramount’s TV division. BTW: using TV as the production division doesn’t preclude a theatrical release. TWOK was always intended as a feature film. Using the TV facilites saved a LOT of money.

TSFS was shot entirely on sets and looks that way. It may look more “TOS” to you but it looks cheap. TVH looks like a *MOVIE*. Even the Council and Starfleet Command scenes used bigger sets and had scope the previous 2 features lacked in their sets. A lot of credit goes to Peterman here, maikng the sets look even bigger than they actually were.

Voyage Home has always been one of my favourites films (and not just Trek). I remember it was only one of a handful of non-Disney VHS’ that we owned when I was a kid, and for some reason it always connected, more than any other bit of Trek-dom, but a big part of that (I’ve later discovered) is a lot of the styling in both production design and noteably the cinematography. Mr. Peterman’s work had a lot of warmth to it, making the Bird of Prey seem less hostile and more hospitable and the locations look like places you want to go to on your next trip to San Fransisco. Mr. Peterman, you sure did know how to shoot a film and you will be missed.


I don’t think its fair to say they are dated, I still think a lot of the past stuff is better but I get where you are coming from.

JJ Abrams did add a new fresh take, but I guess the shakey cam approach is one style I am not the biggest fan of as a film lover.

I think the shakey cam does work to create an uneasy feel when someone is being watched or something twisted is happening within someones mind.

I liked it in BSG but I do feel that it over used these days.

Sad to hear of Don Peterman’s passing, Star Trek IV was one of my favs.

Just because they used the TV department for the films does not mean they are bad films, some of the best Star Trek films are the ones with smaller budgets.

21, Simon, LISTEN …
If Par had waited to hire ILM till after they thought they had a hit, the movie wouldn’t have come out till xmas 1982 at the earliest. If you know ANYthing about the history of the film, you must know that ILM was aboard before Meyer, though they were waiting on a finished script, because if they didn’t have something they could budget around by Septermber 1981, they couldn’t guarantee the June 1982 release date. This means Paramount was committed to spending at least 2.8 mil (and possibly more) with ILM before Meyer was even signed, or had f’ixed’ the disasters that were the four existing versions at that point. So when exactly did Par decide they had a winner, when they had four stories and no director?

As fpr SFS looking like TOS, I should have specificed the lighting and use of color — I agree it is a cheapo production, and so much of it does indeed look like crap.

@ 15 Vic

Leonard Rosenman wrote the score for Star Trek IV and yes, according to wikipedia, he did write the score for Lord of the Rings (1978) THE ANIMATED VERSION. The more famous Lord of the Rings, the live action films from 2001 to 2003 were scored by Howard Shore. (Links below.)

Howard Shore wrote the score for Peter Jackson’s live action Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Leonard Roesnman ‘s wiki page

@ 7 kmart

I liked Leonard Rosenman’s score for “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” The main theme was modern and heroic. Good use of the Alex Courage fanfare and his main theme at the end when the Enterprise A is revealed. A strong theme for the whales that was a fugue. And of course his score got humorous when the scenes required it. And again as for the film, it was Star Trek. It had heart, adventure this time with comedy, and intelligence.

The whale fugue WAS a good piece of music (just about the only one) , and that piece is probably what should have become a new TREK theme, since the crew get the same second chance the whales do.

But Rosenman trots this stuff out over and over again … I never saw the Bakshi animated LOTR, but I recognized the action cue from the old MARCUS WELBY TV series theme song. And a few years later, Rosenmann trots it all out again for ROBOCOP 2, which has got a serious POS score, especially compared with Basil’s glories on the first one.

But Rosenman is one of these guys like Dave Grusin (who I think of as Dave Gruesome), a darling of the industry who just kept getting work and acclaim, regardless of work quality. Grusin has ruined an awful lot of good movies with what passes for music (THERE’s your musical wallpaper!), and enhanced marginal movies to the point that I get up and leave. He has one good TV theme in IT TAKES A THIEF and the rest is all schmaltzy stuff that makes Mike Post seem sophisticated.

#25 – I very well know the history of the film. You apparently don’t, or at least not the VFX.
ILM was brought on board as I said. They were originally going to use MUCH more stock footage. This isn’t the age of CG where things take months to render: ILM’s work on the film was done in the Spring of 1982 with Ken Ralston supervising. After they completed the work they were folded into the other units working on RETURN OF THE JEDI (then called REVENGE OF THE JEDI). There were 3 units working at ILM in early ’82: WOK, POLTERGEIST supervised by Richard Edlund, and E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL supervised by Dennis Muren.

Simon, you can’t reuse stock that doesn’t exist — they milked the TMP stuff for every possible frame they could.

I guess you didn’t know, but the main reason CG is used is SPEED — it used to take weeks to do a traditional optical comp that was sophisticated.

Please do some homework; I wrote the CINEFEX coverage for 4 trek films and know a little of waht i peak.

Sorry for the typo, my blood sugar just dropped. If you do even the slightest research with Asherman’s making of st2 or the CFQ double issue on same, you’ll get a better idea of things, and the few accurate slivers in Shat’s movie memories are also relevant.

#30 – Dude, don’t BS me. You wrote the articles in Cinefex???

ST:III CINEFEX: article by Brad Munson

ST:IV CINEFEX: article by Jody Duncan Shay


So don’t lie to me and try to pretend you know more. Admit you’re wrong and try not to embarrass yourself, capice? I’ve been in this industry since 1985 and when it comes to ILM, I welcome an honest challenge.

#30/31 – Reread your post. I missed it where it was 4 TREK films…I thought you meant the first 4 TREK films (TMP-TVH).

Which means you did GEN-NEM and kmart is a play on your initials.

I apologize for thinking you were trying to pull a fast one, but I stick by my WOK comments.

PS: I did enjoy what Grusin did for THE GOONIES, the music fits. Rosenman’s TVH score for me personally is the weakest of the series. Compared to Goldsmith, Horner, Eidelman, and even McCarthy it sticks out like a sore thumb when listened to independently of the film.

I’ve talked to pretty much all the key players on the VFX end of things for TWOK, and a lot on TMP as well, just as a hobby apart from the pro writing, just because I was interested in them as subjects (TMP as WTF and TWOK just because as good as it is, how it could have been better.)

Cinefex DID commission a TWOK article, but it wasn’t good enough to publish.
I worked AT the mag for two-and-a-half years in addition to freelancing for them for several, and even so, they still wouldn’t let me see it, so I still don’t know who miswrote it.

If you can point out shots from TMP that could have been reused for TWOK besides the ones they did use, I’d welcome it. Just by virtue of the environmental differences, none of the vger cloud stuff could have been reused for Mutara, and TMP has no ship action outside of the wormhole, so there’s nothing to plug RELIANT into either.

The idea that they could have used more stock from TMP (and TWOK and SFS) is something I’ve heard about TFF, and I could well believe it, given how desperate they were, but TFF really COULD have reused the vger cloud stuff … if you just skip framed it and messed with the color a little, you could have turned the cloud passage into a speedy sequence like Ed Harris getting hauled into the underwater cityship at end of ABYSS and used it for the WTF center of galaxy passage in TFF.

And the chronology of ILM involvement for TWOK dates from the somewhat reliable Meyer account presented in Shat’s movie memories. Which is that Paramount needed to give ILM a script by Sept/Oct 81 so that they’d have time to get the fx done in time (fx had to be done two months ahead of release, because the 70mm prints mandated in some areas would take two months to generate, so fx had to be locked early … something that makes me think they printed the last reel separately and attached it by hand, since the ‘golden gate park torpedo on genesis’ shot was done around the first of May 82.)
At that point, there was not a locked script, so Meyer did his magic to get the actors happy and the story to stick together. And then ILM went to work, probably mostly concurrent with shooting, since Ken Ralston, whom you mention, was on the set for a lot of shooting, as was co-supervisor Veillaux, when plate shots were needed.

So again, I still have to maintain the idea that Paramount only decided it could afford to use ILM AFTER they decided they had a hit just doesn’t hold water … I’m much more inclined to go with Trumbull’s assessment, which is that Paramount had done RAIDERS and DRAGONSLAYER with ILM and wanted to sew up a long-term arrangement with them, and hired them IN SPITE OF THE FACT THEY WERE CHARGING MORE THAN OTHER COMPETENT BIDDERS ON THE SHOW (which included Trumbull’s own outfit and the Skotak Bros, who I think would have worked their asses off and done a helluva job.

Paying more than necessary doesn’t sound like a TV production mentality at work to me.

I haven’t seen GOONIES (heresy, I know, because I’ve spent the last decade living in Oregon), but I’ll take your word that it sounds okay.