Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Year: 1979

Production: Paramount

Director: Robert Wise

Starring: the lead players from the Star Trek tv series, along with Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins

Screenwriter: Harold Livingstone

Based on a story by Alan Dean Foster. Novelization (1979) by Gene Roddenberry

132 minutes; Color


After more than a decade of rumor and counterrumor, Star Trek (1966-8) was finally relaunched, and on the big screen at that, with a very big budget. The plot, one of Roddenberry's old favorites about the godlike thing in space, seems to have been based on the original tv episodes The Changeling (1967) by John Meredith Lucas and The Doomsday Machine (1967) by Norman Spinrad, the former about an implacable alien force heading straight for Earth, the latter about an old Earth space probe that develops autonomous life. The response from Star Trek fandom was disappointing - they warmed more to the cosier, more domestic, more small-screenish movies that followed - but there is much to enjoy in Wise's partly successful effort to meld a story of old mates together again with a story of transcendental union between human and machine, the film ending with a daring sexual apotheosis. At time the film becomes almost too contemplative, especially in the drawn-out, quasimystical finale, but most of all (and traditionally) it is the disparity between the soap-opera ordinariness of the crew and the extraordinary events that surround them that keeps the sense of wonder visible in the distance but never quote there where you need it.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

In Britain, the Campaign for Real Ale managed the near impossible when in the late 70s it staunched the spread of gassy beer and brought about the whole sale return to popularity of traditional ales. It was a massive victory against the entrenched interests of the big brewers for such a small consumer group, but was as nothing compared to the fervor of the "Trekkies", as the fans of Star Trek teleseries dubbed themselves, who throughout the 70s kept the teleseries on American and British tv through endless repeats (despite the fact that after only three seasons on NBC it had been cancelled) and had their constant pressures finally rewarded by the translation of the show from the small to large screen.

Sadly, for non-trekkies at least, the translation, though a huge box-office winner, was not entirely a success. Livingstone's screenplay sees the crew of the Enterprise defending Earth in the 23rd century from an alien which takes on the form of new crewmember Khambatta. It transpires that the alien has in the past consumed an old voyager space probe that was collecting information about the solar system and, frustrated in its desire for companionship - Earth hasn't responded to its signals - is threatening Earth with destruction. Wise, wisely sidestepping the weighty issues that so bogged down The Black Hole (1979), concentrates on the impressive-looking hardware and on transforming his alien, called V'ger, into an emotional human being. Certainly it is a more interesting film than the director's earlier The Andromeda Strain (1971). The climax sees the union of Khambatta and her old flame Collins which satisfies the alien's need for companionship.

Ironically, even though the film's plot mirrors the reflective feel of the teleseries which was always at its best when thought rather than action was central, in the simple process of transforming the world of the small screen to that of the large screen, the domestic cosiness of the original is lost.

A sequal followed in 1982, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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