Home > My Fiction, Star Trek > STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE: Happy 30th Anniversary!

STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE: Happy 30th Anniversary!

It was 30 years ago today that Star Trek: The Motion Picture debuted in theaters.  For all its faults, all the criticisms fair and unfair, the film was revolutionary in its effects on the Trek franchise, and its importance to Trek history deserves to be acknowledged.  I talk about this some in my upcoming Star Trek Magazine article, and Mark A. Altman has an excellent essay on the film over on TrekMovie.com:


Here’s a quote:

Now, in the cold light of day, it’s easy to see why people don’t love Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it’s a virtual remake of the episode “The Changeling” with the NOMAD probe that confuses Kirk as its creator, and has a glacial pace that today’s movie viewers are not accustomed to, especially watching it on television, and in the aftermath of The Wrath of Khan. But the fact is, in many ways, ST:TMP is a magnificent film. Spock faces his own humanity in a much more organic and real way than in a more recent Star Trek movie, Kirk has to come to terms with losing his ship and doing anything to reclaim his first best destiny and McCoy is just a hoot throughout. The redesign of all the ships, not just the Enterprise, have never been topped and the visual effects are quite simply awe-inspiring (take that, CGI). Although greenlit in the aftermath of Star Wars, ST: TMP owes far more of a thematic debt to 2001: A Space Odyssey and its sense of awe of the cosmos than Star Wars.

You know, everyone makes the “Changeling” analogy, but I’ve always found TMP to be more derivative of the animated episode “One of Our Planets is Missing.”  The story structure is virtually identical: A vast, destructive cloud entity is on course for an inhabited planet; the Enterprise is sent to intercept it; the ship travels through the cloud to its brain core; Spock makes telepathic contact with its consciousness, a mind that has no conception that the little organic things swarming around on the planet are sentient beings; the cloud is “persuaded” to leave at the last second before it destroys the planet.  And Alan Dean Foster novelized “One of Our Planets” years before he wrote “In Thy Image,” the story premise that became TMP.

However, it turns out this is a coincidence.  When I read Foster’s original outline for “In Thy Image” (reprinted in the book Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series), I discovered it didn’t even include a cloud; the huge alien object was just a gigantic ship.  And of course Spock wasn’t part of the original story, since Nimoy wasn’t involved with the project at that point.  So if “One of Our Planets” did have an influence, it probably wasn’t through Foster.

I didn’t get to see TMP right away.  As with many movies at the time, I read the novelization first — and memorized the soundtrack album.  However, that was still the time when movies stayed in theaters for months or longer, so I did eventually get to see the movie in a theater.  I wish I could describe the revelatory impact it had on me or some such thing, but the fact is I have virtually no specific memory of the first time I saw the film.  I think it was when my family was visiting relatives in Detroit, my aunt and uncle, who were less stingy about buying movie tickets than my father was.  I have a memory snippet of a conversation we had in the car, but I’m blanking on the film experience itself.  That’s weird.  Maybe I’ve just seen the movie so many times that it’s overwritten the specific contextual memories of my first viewing.  Or maybe it’s just that my real introduction to TMP came through the book and soundtrack, so that the film itself was just a part of the process.  So I really don’t have any anecdotes to offer in commemoration of the event.

I guess most of my experience of TMP comes in the 30 years since — reading and rereading the novel; listening to the soundtrack countless times; seeing the extended version on TV, laser disc, and VHS; reading the Marvel adaptation and eventually collecting the comics that followed; buying the refit-Enterprise model kit which I never actually got around to building; finally seeing the film completed properly in the Director’s Edition; reading the occasional novels set in the post-TMP era and being disappointed that they never really dealt directly with the consequences of the film’s events, even when I enjoyed them otherwise; and of course engaging in my own speculations about those consequences, eventually leading to Ex Machina and Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again; and all the gratifying praise and encouragement I’ve gotten from fans of ExM, people who share my love for TMP, up to and including a couple of digital artists who played key roles in creating the Director’s Edition itself.

So TMP has had an undeniable impact on my life, even if I don’t have vivid memories of how it started.

I just regret that I didn’t get the chance to commemorate this anniversary with a new novel set in the post-TMP era.  At least I have my ST Magazine article coming up.

  1. Byron Bailey
    December 8, 2009 at 10:46 am

    I clearly remember seeing ST:TMP late in Dec ’79. There were many things I liked about the movie, as well as many things I didn’t like. What I can say now, 30 years later and being 30 years older is that I enjoy watching the movie now more than I did then when I was 19. I have learned how to appreciate things differently, and with the passage of time I have come to reconcile most of the things that I didn’t like with everything that has come since, both the movies and the books.

  2. December 9, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Hoping you get that chance in the years to come.

  3. Eli Berg-Maas
    March 26, 2012 at 1:52 am

    I was born after TMP was released, and was not fond of it on seeing the various films. In the last few months I have come to regard it as one of the best, and it was because of your book. In fairness, this still would have happened if I’d only heard of the book, since it was looking up information about it that got me thinking, but I’m sure reading it helped too. Thanks.

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