Star Trek: The Motion Picture Admiral James T. Kirk
Welcoming back The Motion Picture
A couple of weeks ago, we took a look at EXO-6’s “Kolinahr Spock” limited edition figure from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. EXO-6 is producing figures of Admiral Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy as they appear when they first step on board the USS Enterprise in the 1979 movie, the first theatrical film to feature the Star Trek characters. It was a big moment when we first saw these people board the Enterprise in preparation to intercept the mysterious space entity V’ger, and EXO-6 has chosen to memorialize that vibe with these painstakingly detailed, instant purchase additions to their rapidly growing line of 12-inch collectible figures.
Of course, Kirk was the first release in this little line and both Kirk and Spock rapidly sold out, but I just got my Kirk and damn if I’m not gonna review it! If you must have a TMP Admiral Kirk you’re welcome to hunt for one on eBay or elsewhere where it will likely be going for several times its $175 asking price, but you may want to save your money as EXO will definitely be offering other versions of the character (including one from the movie sequel The Wrath of Khan) in the next few years.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture has fallen in and out of favor over the years, but a 2022 update of the 2001 Director’s Edition and a 4K HDR Blu-ray release have done a lot to rehabilitate the movie in the minds of fans. One element of the film that still comes in for criticism: the drab gray Starfleet uniforms designed by Robert Fletcher, which tended to make the characters blend into the woodwork as the bulk of production designer Harold Michelson’s set designs (including the familiar Enterprise bridge where the characters spend 90% of the film) were the same shade of cool gray. That may be one reason EXO chose to highlight the costumes the characters wear as they first board the Enterprise, as Fletcher did a bang-up job on those. In Kirk’s case, Fletcher came up with a slimming, hourglass design that looks a bit like a futuristic tuxedo, with a white panel down the front and back framed by green. Yes, green—not gray, although various prints of the film may make the costume look white and gray. Admiral Kirk wears this outfit as he exits a Starfleet air tram in San Francisco (his actual entrance in the movie), briefly confers with Enterprise science officer Sonak (soon to be killed in a horrific transporter accident), beams into an orbital office complex to meet Scotty and get a tour around the newly refit U.S.S. Enterprise, and finally board the drydocked starship for a tense confrontation with its soon-to-be-ex-captain, Will Decker (Stephen Collins).
The Admiral is on board
If you’re familiar with EXO-6’s online presence you’ll know that a lot of time was spent figuring out exactly what color Admiral Kirk’s uniform is, and I can’t find a fault with the execution of this beautiful design, from the green boots (bootstrapped into the green uniform pants) to the distinctive life-sign-monitoring “belt buckle,” gold rank braid, updated Starfleet badge, and shoulder epaulets. I saw at least one person complaining about some unevenness in the triple line of stitching in Kirk’s white collar, but the stitching on mine is flawlessly parallel.
As with Spock, the figure includes no accessories to keep the cost of this very limited edition down—but of course, Kirk doesn’t handle any props while he’s in the admiral uniform, so there’s really nothing to reproduce. In addition to his open hands, though, the figure does include two fists, just in case he needs to punch Decker. Also included as with Spock is a decorative badge, in this case a gold Starfleet one that can be displayed on the front of the figure’s transporter pad display stand.
William Shatner has long been one of the most difficult Trek actors to get a decent likeness of as far as action figures and other collectibles are concerned. Unlike Leonard Nimoy’s and DeForest Kelley’s craggier, more lined faces that lend themselves to sculpture, young Shatner had a notably smooth baby face (there’s a published fan fiction story where a criminal gets a rise out of Kirk by calling him that) with a small, somewhat blunt nose and a high forehead and temples that give his brow a distinctive “V” shape. He’s a handsome devil, but getting that certain Shatner je ne sais quoi is a challenge for sculptors. But if you think sculpting 1960s Shatner is hard, try 1979 Shatner. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Shatner and Kirk are 10 years older—Shatner’s face is a bit more lined, maybe there’s even been a little work done, so he doesn’t look quite like the old Kirk. In the movie, the actor’s makeup seems to change from scene to scene, sometimes chalky and pasty, sometimes ruddy.
But the big difference between ‘60s Kirk and Admiral Kirk is the character’s hair. Now I might be shocking some of you, but in the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, William Shatner’s hair is not quite his own. Shatner’s natural hair began thinning at a young age and the actor found himself needing a little assistance from Hollywood hairdressers to give him that classic, high-hair-lined “hero hair” every ‘60s TV star needed. If you watch the original Star Trek in high definition, you can see the telltale signs of this hairstyling magic—check out the edge of Kirk’s hairline and the “widow’s peak” at the center of his forehead and you’ll be able to see the faint hint of a hairpiece “net” that holds a toupee down on the forehead and is then covered and hidden by makeup. Also note that the hair on the top of Shatner’s head is a lighter, almost blonde color while the hair on the sides and back of his head is closer to black. Now you don’t have to take my word for this, and don’t be too awestruck by my encyclopedic knowledge of William Shatner’s coiffure—there’s an entire, exhaustively-researched and very entertaining blog about this. Rumor has it that one or two of Shatner’s original Kirk hairpieces still exist in a box somewhere, hidden in the recesses of some enterprising fan’s collection.
So what does this have to do with the EXO-6 Kirk figure? Well, fast forward from 1968 or so to 1979, and a lot of thought was put into just what Admiral James T. Kirk’s hair should look like 10 years after he captained the original Enterprise. Test photos even exist of Shatner modeling his original hairpiece from 1960s Trek, but ultimately the decision was made to boldly go with a brand-new, giant black rug that would stick with Shatner for much of the early 1980s, through several Star Trek movie sequels and his cop show T.J. Hooker. This new hairpiece is huge, and in some shots seems piled high enough atop Kirk’s forehead to make him look like Elvis Presley. I say “some” shots because this hairpiece, much like Shatner’s makeup, does not look consistent from shot to shot, so in duplicating one specific look from the film, this Kirk figure may disappoint some whose favorite sequence is one of the later moments where Kirk’s hair seems a bit more flattened down.
So far, all of EXO-6’s figures have featured plastic, molded hair that’s part of the overall head sculpt, and Admiral Kirk is no different—it would be impossible to reproduce Kirk’s hair in this scale with rooted “Barbie doll”-like hair, although EXO seems to be looking into some characters with longer hair having rooted hair down the line. Molded hair generally works just fine with characters that have short, masculine hair, and EXO sculptor Sean Dabbs has done a heroic job of capturing all the waves and curlicues of Shatner’s 1979 hairpiece. Dry brushed paint details lighten up the dark black/brown look to something a little closer to Kirk’s ‘60s hair color in a nice compromise that even looks a little more convincing than what we see in the film.
But reproducing this look is a tough, tough job, as is recreating Shatner’s face. EXO-6’s exquisitely subtle paint details give Kirk a distinctive five o’clock shadow and a ruddy look, along with a wistful half-smile designed to reproduce Kirk’s expression as he sees the Enterprise head-on for the first time while touring around the ship in the travel pod with Scotty. You really have to get the proper lighting on the character to get the full effect of the likeness and as others have noted, this is tough to do in photos—I tried a lot of approaches, and then once I got the figure in a kind of dark alcove, the soft lighting really made it look right to me. (EXO-6’s professionally shot photos on their website do a much better job of capturing the Shatner likeness than I could.)
I will wager this will be one of the most challenging Trek figures EXO will ever tackle. That said, take a look at the side-by-side comparison with my old Frankenstein combination of the original 1979 Mego Admiral Kirk 12” costume and a Playmates Wrath of Khan figure from the early 2000s. The ill-fitting admiral uniform is a straight gray and white, doesn’t include boots and gets the rank braids totally wrong among other problems, and Playmates’ Shatner sculpt and hair looks like something carved out of a bar of soap.
Admiral Kirk features the same rainbow-style, gold-inlaid packaging as Spock, and with a similar piece of showmanship on the inside—when you open the display lid (which is smartly armed with magnets to make it snap closed), you’ll see what Kirk saw as he and Scotty prepared to board the Enterprise: the starship’s docking port lighting up in greeting.
For anyone who’s been eager for a high-end reproduction of the Enterprise crew from the 1979 movie, these figures are well worth the wait. “Disco McCoy”—DeForest Kelley’s unforgettable, one-scene bearded look as he appears on the Enterprise transporter pad early in the movie—is due out in March, so close monitoring of EXO-6’s website is in order.