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  • Post last modified:07/09/2022

Star Trek: Boldly Going to the Big Screen


Stephen Collins, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Photo: Paramount

Ever since the original TV series went into syndication, the Star Trek mania kept building throughout the 1970s. The time was ripe for the first movie adaptation and the studio managed to tie a big-name director to the project. Unfortunately, Robert Wise wasn’t exactly the right person for it. The original team that created the visual effects delivered unsatisfactory work and had to be replaced by legendary special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull. Even so, in the end, the film was a disappointment but spawned so many superior sequels that its failures have been dwarfed.

A threatening, massive energy cloud
As the story begins, a massive energy cloud is headed for Earth; its powers destroy three Klingon starships. No one knows what is behind the cloud and the Enterprise is dispatched to neutralize the threat. James Kirk (William Shatner), now an Admiral, assumes command of the ship even though Captain Willard Decker (Stephen Collins) is the current commander. The old crew is gathered again, among them Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) who senses something forceful in that cloud. When the Enterprise moves closer to it, the crew finds a huge alien vessel inside of it and is visited by a probe that tries to gather information from the computers. Lieutenant Ilia (Persis Khambatta) is kidnapped by it and an exact replica replaces her. The new Ilia informs the crew that her mission is to study them and that someone or something on the vessel called V’ger sent her. 

As the crew deals with the replica, Decker is trying to accept the fact that Ilia, whom he once had a romance with, is no longer the real thing… and Spock takes a space walk to learn the identity of V’ger.

Needs a more satisfying bang
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Star Trek movies, even though I’ve never watched any of the shows. Most people seem to prefer the sheer thrill of the Star Wars movies, and all-in-all they are superior, but I admire the ambition of this concept – the philosophical references, the mature willingness to create something deeper than mere space battles. As always the story of this film is interesting and offers a few surprises, but Wise and his collaborators never create much tension; we don’t ever get the feeling that we’re off on an adventure. There’s lots of flashes and lights but not much awe and wonder. When we find out the truth behind the ominous cloud we’re certainly surprised (and it’s a nifty idea), but the movie needs to go out with a more satisfying bang. 

Fans were happy to have the crew back; they’re the primary reason why the film is still reasonably entertaining.

The visual effects were impressive for their time, but there are sequences that look a little too silly – and I was glad to see those pajama-like uniforms disappear in the sequels. Fans were happy to have the crew back; they’re the primary reason why the film is still reasonably entertaining. They are also accompanied by one of composer Jerry Goldsmith’s most exhilarating scores; his main theme has become the ultimate cue for the series.

After the spectacles of Star Wars and Superman it was easy to expect something grand from the first Star Trek movie in 1979. That didn’t happen… but boy did this mediocrity usher in a record-breaking franchise.

Star Trek – The Motion Picture 1979-U.S. 132 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Robert Wise. Music: Jerry Goldsmith. Visual Effects: Douglas Trumbull, John Dykstra, and others. Cast: William Shatner (James Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), DeForest Kelley (Leonard “Bones” McCoy), Stephen Collins, Persis Khambatta, James Doohan… George Takei. 

Trivia: The alternative version runs 10 minutes longer and fans generally prefer it over the original. The original intention of this project was not to make a feature film, but introduce a new TV series called Star Trek: Phase II. Philip Kaufman was originally hired to direct. Followed by ten sequels, starting with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), as well as several new TV shows, including Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999), Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001), Enterprise (2001-2005) and Star Trek: Discovery (2017- ).

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