Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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Dr Leonard Bones McCoy: ...And they probably redesigned the whole Sickbay, too! I know Engineers, they love to change things!


Ten years after the Cancellation of the original Star Trek series, it had been Vindicated By Reruns and so Paramount decided to make The Movie with none other than Robert Wise (director of The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story and The Sound of Music) at the helm. As a side note, the general story is nearly identical to the Original Series episode "The Changeling", with elements from "Obsession" and the Animated Series episode "One Of Our Planets Is Missing" -- and in fact the movie's story was intended to be the pilot of the abandoned Star Trek: Phase II.

The plot sounds simple enough. An unstoppable entity calling itself V'Ger is heading towards Earth, destroying all in its path, and the Enterprise is sent out to investigate. The story was originally written to be 45 minutes, stretched to 2½ hours, most of which involved the bridge crew staring at special effects in awe. Wise's declared intent at the time was to create a 2001: A Space Odyssey for that era.

The novelization of the film is noteworthy for two reasons: it is the only prose Star Trek fiction ever written by series creator Gene Roddenberry, and it contains a footnote explicitly addressing rumors that Kirk and Spock were lovers (it may or may not have cleared that up).

In (funnily enough) 2001, a Director's Cut was released. It is faster paced and actually includes a shot that shows the entirety of V'Ger. It also revealed that the original film was more of a workprint and Wise was not allowed to trim it to a more reasonable length because the suits feared such information would ruin the reputation ahead of time.

Adjusting for inflation, this film has the second-highest budget of any Trek movie (behind only J.J. Abrams' reboot) and the special effects to prove it. A slightly remixed version of the Fanfare Jerry Goldsmith wrote for this film later became the theme music of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Also, the characters of Decker and Ilia, guest characters in the film originally intended as regulars for Phase II, are arguably early versions of Riker and Troi. Willard Decker and William Riker even have similar first names, with "Will" as their nickname.

Tropes used in Star Trek: The Motion Picture include:
  • All There in the Manual: The production diary has elaborate backstories for many of the bizarre aliens shown at the Federation headquarters. As an interesting subject of what constitutes Canon, almost none of this backstory has featured in later Star Trek productions. One species was even stated as being expert cloners and that the Federation relies on them for cloning soldiers in times of war.
    • Most of these aliens get fleshed out in the novel Ex Machina, which is set immediately after the movie, incorporating bits of their original descriptions from the production diary. The Saurians, meanwhile, at least get mentioned every time someone pulls out a bottle of "Saurian brandy, which was around in the Original Series.
  • And the Adventure Continues...: It ends with "The Human Adventure is Just Beginning".
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: The 2001 special edition.
  • Big No: Decker during the wormhole scene, though this is partially due to the wormhole slowing down time for the ship.
  • Body Horror: Not clearly seen, but the transporter malfunction apparently results in this.

Transporter Operator: What we got back didn't live long... fortunately.

    • The novelization suggests that Sonak and the other crewmember (Vice Admiral Lori Ciana) were rematerialized with their internal organs outside their bodies. Good God, that's enough to make anyone resign from Starfleet.
    • Bizarrely enough, McCoy's famous distaste for transporters is played for laughs shortly afterward.
  • Celebrity Paradox: A rare nonhuman example is Played With in that the real life Space Shuttle Enterprise was named after the starship Enterprise as a work of fiction, but is shown in-universe as a precursor and namesake to the starship.
  • Commander Contrarian: Decker.
    • Justified, in that Decker did know the refit Enterprise better than Kirk at that point. Overriding an order from Kirk even saved the ship from being destroyed by an asteroid.
  • Dull Surprise: Two crew members suffer a hideous death at the hands of a malfunctioning transporter. Kirk's response is a flat, affectless 'Oh my God.' without a change of expression. Particularly startling when it comes from William Shatner.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Actual deaths in this movie consist of a Klingon getting vaporized for shooting torpedoes at the approaching V'Ger; Commander Sonak, who dies horribly on his commute in to work; and Ilia, who is vaporized by a scan. Earth is nearly destroyed by a probe they themselves had sent out centuries ago that was looking for its mommy.
  • Foreshadowing: Spock describes V'Ger's homeworld as "a planet populated by living machines with unbelievable technology." 10 years later, came the Borg... (see also Leitmotif below for a possible connection between V'Ger and that race).
  • Four-Star Badass: Kirk. To quote Uhura: "[Their chances] of coming home from this mission in one piece may have just doubled."
  • Future Spandex: The movie has this in spades. The main cast threatened to quit if they didn't get rid of them seeing how not everyone looked good in them. Plus, the spandex costumes were hard to get into and out of, requiring the help of assistants every time the actors needed to use the bathroom, hence the uniform change in the rest of the Star Trek movies.
  • Guide Dang It: It's never mentioned in the film that Decker is the son of the crazed Commodore Decker who piloted a shuttle into a Doomsday Machine, and the Enterprise was his big chance to prove he wasn't crazy like his Dad. That explains why he's none too pleased with Kirk casually commandeering the Enterprise (or some of his crew grousing about it).
  • In Space Everyone Can See Your Face: Spock has an (untethered!) spacewalk scene using thrusters, and Kirk has a much shorter spacewalk to catch Spock when he comes flying back. You can see both their faces, though slightly obscured.
  • Instant AI, Just Add Water: Kirk surmised that V'ger "amassed so much data it achieved... consciousness itself!"
  • Jet Pack: Sort of. To get a closer look at V'Ger's nerve center, Spock steals a "thruster suit" -- a space suit with a rather impressive thruster pack attached.
  • The Juggernaut: V'Ger.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Admiral Kirk is back on the Enterprise, but he occasionally finds himself at odds with the ship's commander, Captain Decker. At one point, Decker countermands one of Kirk's orders during a crisis, and ends up saving the ship from destruction as a result.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Captain Admiral Kirk, before the movie begins. Ironically, Gene Roddenberry infamously got kicked upstairs as well because of the film's disappointing critical reception.
  • Leave the Camera Running / Padding: Its Fan Nickname isn't The Motionless Picture for nothing.
  • Leitmotif: The Klingon theme that would echo in later movies and TV shows, and a love theme that plays during Decker/Ilia and Kirk/Enterprise scenes.
    • In Star Trek: First Contact, also scored by Jerry Goldsmith, the Borg's leitmotif is very similar to V'Ger's leitmotif from this movie, perhaps lending credence to the popular fan theory that the "planet of machines" was the Borg homeworld (this is also supported by Spock, after melding with V'Ger, saying that "Any show of resistance would be futile, Captain.").
  • Machine Monotone: Probe!Ilia.
  • Magical Security Cam (sort of): When the Klingon ships are discombobulated by V'Ger whilst being observed by Starfleet personnel, the live feed continues even after the last ship has vanished. How and by whom was this footage broadcast?
  • Mandatory Unretirement: McCoy.

Kirk: Well, for a man who swore he'd never return to Starfleet-
Bones: Just a moment, Captain, sir. I'll explain what happened. Your revered Admiral Nogura invoked a little-known, seldom-used reserve activation clause. In simpler language, Captain, they drafted me!

  • Manly Tears: Spock weeps for V'Ger.
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: This film is about as "hard" as Star Trek has ever gotten (Isaac Asimov was credited as a "special science consultant"! There were plenty of other consultants, too). This doesn't really say too much, but this is certainly the Star Trek production which made the most effort to be realistic.
    • At least, it tries until the scenes where all the "V'Ger must merge with the Creator" business takes a turn into ultra-mystical wackiness.
    • Par for the course for Robert E. Wise.
  • The Movie
  • No Seat Belts: Averted--the fact that seat belts were a subject of public discussion in the late 1970's and that the bridge crew kept thrashing around falling out of their seats in TOS probably helped. This bridge has chairs with armrests that fold down over the legs. They do look kind of awkward, though.
  • Notable Commercial Campaigns: No less than Orson Welles narrated the original trailers and ads for the film.
  • The Only One: The Enterprise is the only starship available to confront V'ger.
"This seems to happen a lot. One almost wonders if other starships stay away when the Enterprise is in town, knowing that danger must be near."
—Michael Okuda's text commentary for the Director's Edition, when Kirk tells Scotty that "the only starship in interception range is the Enterprise."
    • One might correlate though that EVERY Starfleet-ship enjoys similar adventures. Because why is the Enterprise always the only ship in reach? All the others are out fighting Klingons, stopping some disasters, or getting lost in time and space somewhere...
  • Our Wormholes Are Different
  • Permission to Speak Freely?
  • Pilot Episode: As mentioned above, the script was written as the pilot episode to a new television series, and was hastily being rewritten after filming had already started (hence the addition of Spectacle). In fact, if you watch it with this in mind, you might spot that the finished product still hits many of the beats required of most television pilots, such as introducing the characters, and relaunching the ship, elements which weren't strictly necessary for the story that's being told here, but which make perfect sense in context of setting up the format for a new television show.
  • Planet of the Apes Ending: kind of - V'Ger turns out to be the (fictional) NASA probe Voyager 6.
  • The Power of Love: It causes Decker, Probe!Ilia and V'Ger to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence.
  • Putting the Band Back Together
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The usual Kirk/Spock dynamic is handily pointed out by the film's poster.
  • Red Shirt: Completely averted. No one's even wearing one!
    • Originally, they planned to kill Chekov. Thankfully for the sake of the sequels they didn't know they would be making, it was decided that it would be more dramatic if Kirk listed Decker and Ilia as the only casualties at the end.
      • Actually, it was a security man who gets zapped and "absorbed" by the probe just before Ilia does. They cut his death to give Ilia's more dramatic weight.
    • Not wearing red shirts didn't seem help the two crew members horribly mangled by the transporters, or the crew of Epsilon IX.
  • Robot Girl: Probe!Ilia. And intentionally or not, she strongly resembles the machine-man from Metropolis.
  • Scenery Porn: The effects budget was huge, and they waste no time in showing it. Sometimes, even too much (as Linkara said: "Yes, I understand you spent a lot of money in this!").
    • Although the five minute trip around the Enterprise could be seen as a Fandom Nod thank you to those original Trekkies in 1979 who had to put up with the plastic model Enterprise effects of the series for 10 years before finally seeing her on the big screen.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: V'Ger is either 82 or 2 AUs.
    • One AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun, for clarification. Therefore, V'Ger must be comically large if seen in its entirety.
      • Which is why the DVD version reduces 82 (which is the entire Solar System) to 2.
    • Many people did not catch that it was the V'Ger cloud they were describing. Granted, it still seems far more than what would be needed to hide a ship even if it was the size of Earth...
    • This story takes place a few hundred years after the voyager probes were launched. Voyager 6 fell into a black hole to emerge at the planet of the machine intelligences. At the speeds that the voyager probes left the solar system, it would take thousands of years to reach the nearest celestial body (Alpha Centauri), so presumably much longer to rendezvous with a black hole somewhere in space. Also, V'ger traveled through normal space in the film, so how did it get from the Klingon imperial space to human space so quickly?
  • Sex Goddess: Ilia, although she'd never take advantage of a sexually immature race, as Commander Decker can tell you.
    • Hilariously, one of the first thing Ilia tells Kirk after reporting for duty is that her oath of celibacy is on record. Apparently she'd heard about Kirk's reputation, and felt she needed to cut him off at the pass.
  • Space Clothes
  • Space Opera: Heavily influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey, the first movie is very different in tone from the rest.
  • Special Effects Failure: Literally averted. The first special effects company couldn't get the job done, so Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra had to be hired late in the production.
  • Spiritual Successor: To 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • Switch to English: Klingons speak Klingon with subtitles to set the mood and then speak English for convenience.
  • Take That: A number of early promotion materials released to the press during production contained the tag line "There is no Comparison", an answer to those who speculated Paramount was just going to make a Star Wars rip-off.
  • Technology Porn
  • Teleporter Accident
  • We Want Our Kirk Back: No one at the end seems terribly upset at the departure of Captain Decker.

Tropes seen in the novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture include:

  • All There in the Manual: It's stated in the novelization that Commander Willard Decker is the son of Commodore Matt Decker from the TOS episode "The Doomsday Machine".
    • The Novelization also reveals the identity of the female transporter accident victim, as well as why Chekov and Sulu suddenly get goofy around the bald chick (females of her species can emit pheromones that make males want to mate with them).
  • Amicably Divorced: Kirk and Lori Ciana, which makes Kirk's reaction to her death in the movie all the more weird.
    • Given Shatner's usual tendency to over-emote, dull surprise might actually be a sign that he's profoundly affected by the deaths.
  • Bi the Way: Part of the footnote of Kirk's denial that he and Spock are lovers can be read this way.
  • Mindlink Mates: Spock hears Kirk's thoughts from light years away, and later on it's mentioned that, "It was common knowledge that telepathic rapport between Vulcan and human was possible only in cases of extraordinarily close friendship."
  • Ship Tease: The word "t'hy'la", as mentioned above, along with the famous footnote in response that seems, on the surface, to debunk Kirk/Spock but could just as easily be used as evidence for it.