Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Inside the Art and Visual Effects
Written by Jeff Bond and Gene Kozicki
Published by Titan Books on September 1, 2020
Available as a 192-page hardcover coffee table book
There Is No Comparison
December 7, 1979. A release date that will live in infamy.
That firm, studio-mandated deadline put extra pressure on a production that began as a revamped TV series and ballooned into what was, at the time, the most expensive movie ever made. And when the original visual effects team got fired ten months before that date, with almost no usable footage shot, well, Star Trek: The Motion Picture needed a miracle worker to help it reach theaters in time.
That’s the received wisdom as it has filtered through the Star Trek community over the years, with legendary effects wizards Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra justly hailed as the primary talents who saved the film. And while in broad strokes all that remains true, a new book by Jeff Bond and Gene Kozicki helps paint a more detailed portrait of the contributions Robert Abel & Associates made to the look of what is (arguably) still the most cinematic Star Trek film – contributions that continue to resonate within the franchise to this day.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Inside the Art & Visual Effects tells the story of the film’s production through the lens of the effects departments. Utilizing new and archival interviews, along with hundreds of photographs, the book takes us through the film’s on-again-off-again development, sometimes frustrating execution, and ultimately even the well-received 2001 Director’s Edition. It’s a fascinating look at the numerous creative artists who helped relaunch the Enterprise.
Primary among those artists were, of course, Trumbull and Dykstra, along with the teams of artists they each brought to the project. And while the book spends plenty of time covering their work, it also zooms in on lesser-known – but just as vital – contributors such as Lee Cole, Andy Probert, and even Production Designer Harold Michelson. Maybe the greatest unsung hero brought to light here, though, is Richard Taylor, a key visual effects art director with Robert Abel & Associates (later known as ASTRA).
Abel’s team first became attached to Paramount’s Star Trek revival on the strength of their television commercial work. A famous Levi’s spot, in particular, offered the kind of hallucinogenic brilliance that impressed the producers.
After determining that the models and sets that had already been constructed for the aborted “Phase II” TV series were not good enough to pass muster on a motion picture screen, ASTRA’s Richard Taylor ultimately oversaw the redesign work on the new USS Enterprise and sets as well as general Starfleet design elements. The rounded corners and art nouveau touches Taylor instituted are only some of the places his work changed the look of Star Trek forever. As the authors note in their foreword, one of the book’s goals was to “rehabilitate the reputation” of ASTRA, and their look at Taylor’s influence alone does a great deal toward accomplishing that.
Of course, that’s only a small part of the book’s focus, but also a good example of the detail that makes it such a joy to read. Bond and Kozicki bring us deep into the weeds of the production process, isolating many of the myriad elements that were discussed, designed, debated, redesigned, and finally executed as the effects teams worked 24 hour days trying to meet that implacable deadline. Chapters covering the redesigned Enterprise and the reconfiguration of the Klingons are particularly interesting, as are the many looks at the evolution of V’ger. I also really enjoyed learning more about the scrapped Memory Wall sequence and how it transformed into the memorable Spock Walk.
As befits an oversize coffee table book, though, the excellent text is only part of the story, and Star Trek—The Motion Picture – Inside the Art & Visual Effects is packed with wonderful photos. Will true TMP aficionados find anything new here, photos they haven’t seen? I don’t know, but it sure felt new and revelatory to me.
Students of visual effects will relish the insights and contributions found here from some of the field’s giants – not just Trumbull and Dykstra, but Syd Mead, Ralph McQuarrie, and Robert McCall. Fans of film history in general and Star Trek: The Motion Picture in particular will be delighted at the rich trove of material offered, going behind the scenes in a way that not even a documentary could. Those who’ve read and enjoyed Preston Neal Jones’ terrific Return to Tomorrow will find only a little bit of overlap while also being gifted the photos that were absent from that earlier book.
But the real beauty of Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Inside the Art & Visual Effects is that it will also reward the more general Star Trek fan. Bond and Kozicki give us a much-needed look into the heart of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, at the real human adventure that brought the movie to life. And even if it’s not your favorite Trek film, it’s the one that made everything that followed possible. For that alone, the movie – and this book – should be treasured.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Inside the Art and Visual Effects by Jeff Bond and Gene Kozicki was published by Titan Books on September 1, 2020. The 192-page hardcover coffee table book retails for $50.00, but you can order it at Amazon for $36.86.
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