Thursday, February 23, 2006

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 31: Star Trek: The Motion Picture Toys

December 7th, 1979 is a day that I will never forget. This was the day that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released to theaters nationwide. I was in fourth grade and I guess I had just turned ten on the 3rd of December. On that opening weekend - Saturday - my parents took my sister and me to see the Star Trek movie at Essex Green Cinemas, and I fell in love with it. I brought along my Mego Captain Kirk figure (from the TV series...) I remember flying him around Marshalls...

When the lights went down in the theater, the movie opened with a sequence that - back in the day - was a special effects show stopper. Three Klingon warships attacked the V'Ger cloud in deep space and were promptly obliterated. Even as a kid, I noted the incredible, bravura shot in which the camera seemed to swoop around the turtle-head command port of the Klingon ship. And the Klingons - now Bumpy headed instead of vaguely Asianl - were neat.

This was the beginning period of "my" Star Trek. I say that because the original series (which I live and breathe and adore) was made before I was born, and the Next Generation and all its spin offs came after I was a teenager. But the movies came right at the time when my young, pliable brain could use them the most; as a kid developing a love of science fiction. I remember reading all the negative reviews of the film. But I loved it anyway. Still do. And, if you get me in an argumentative mood, I will make my case why I still feel it's the most cinematic of all Star Trek films.

Anyway, there was a merchandising blitz back in 1979 to celebrate the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. As you can guess from reading all of these retro flashbacks, I was lucky to have indulgent parents, and they were more than generous about buying me toys.

The items I was most interested to play with were the fascinating spaceships featured in the film. The new Enterprise was jaw-droppingly beautiful, and AMT released a fantastic, highly-detailed kit (replete with rainbow "warp drive" stickers for the nacelles). The only problem was that it cost $20.00

To me, that was a lot of money, but my parents bought it without commenting on the exorbitant price, and my Dad built it beautifully. The ship was gorgeous. Even more generously, I was allowed to pick a second Star Trek model to go with it: either the Klingon battlecruiser or the Vulcan shuttle. At the time, I picked the Vulcan shuttle, because I was fascinated by the way the cruiser separated into two parts (passenger section and warp sled). I had to wait only for Christmas a few weeks later before I also had the Klingon cruiser. These kits were later re-issued, save, I think, for the Vulcan shuttle.

Mego, of course, owned the license to produce Star Trek figures. I collected these little guys eagerly (Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Decker and Ilia), but was disappointed that none came with phasers, wrist communicators or tricorders. How lame was that!? Mego also released a line of larger figures that were - also - sans equipment. I never did get my hands on the rarer-than-rare Klingons and other aliens.

Talk about a weird collectible, Knickerbocker Toys released two Star Trek "plush figures." This means they were essentially like little teddy bears, but these "soft poseable figures" were molded to resemble Kirk (in his two-tone Admiral's uniform) and Spock. I guess a lot of folks over the years have wanted to cuddle into bed with Kirk and Spock, but I wasn't necessarily one of 'em. They do look nice displayed on a shelf, however.

The blitz continued with a wide array of other Star Trek items. There was a silver metal Star Trek portable dinner tray! I found this at a flea market in North Carolina sometime in the mid-1990s. It's rusted in spots, but it was too good to pass up.

Also, Marvel released in at least three editions (a three-part comic series, a super-special and a hardbound book...) its adaptation of The Motion Picture. The adaptation featured the deleted V'Ger crystal attack during a spacewalk by Kirk and Spock. Other collectibles I've featured here before: calendars, phasers, record albums and the like.

One of my favorite collectibles is a probably-unofficial button promoting the release of Star Trek: the Motion Picture in New York City. The button features the Enterprise (the TV version...) over Manhattan and provides a date, as you can see.

I also have a Star Trek belt-buckle, and then this Coleco Electronic U.S.S. Enterprise. This toy whoops and holler - like most toy spaceships - with sounds of phasers, engines and the like, but the cool thing about this toy (pictured at top of post) is that you can unhook the nacelles and re-hook them all over the ship (hull and saucer section) to make different class Starfleet vessels. Since I imagined myself the captain of my own ship, with my own crew, it was fun to have an "alternate" ship too.

The later original cast Star Trek movies never seemed to generate as much merchandise as The Motion Picture, and that always disappointed me. But Motion Picture merchandise is also one of a kind because the crew appears so different here than in their other big screen excursions. The crew only wore these wrist communicators once. They only adorned these costumes (which I liked!) once. They were only this skinny once...


  1. Anonymous12:08 PM

    I know what you mean about the movie era! I consider the Star Trek movies to be "my" Star Trek too. I was watching the original series since I was old enough to remember watching television. I also have watched all of the other series and enjoyed them. Some, of course, more than others. But, the Trek that I have a nostalgia factor for is the movie era. I love The Motion Picture. I am lucky enough to have a complete set of the 12 inch figures from Mego. They are all boxed even though the boxes aren't in perfect condition. The best is the Klingon and the worst is the Aucturian! Do you remember getting Motion Picture Happy Meals from McDonalds? I was so excited to go to Micky D's and see James T Kirk on my Happy Meal box! What I wouldn't give for Star Trek to be that prominent again! Do you remember the ads that were on the backs of comics for TMP that were like 70's disaster movie posters? It had the Enterprise with all of the cast in little boxes at the bottom. Writing about this stuff makes me happy. There are a lot of things out there that I like and enjoy, but nothing compares to Star Trek.


  2. Chris -

    I agree completely with everything you wrote there! I am deeply envious about your set of big Star Trek The Motion Picture action figures. I will need to see photographs or something of them, next time we meet. I've never even seen them in the flesh. I bet the Klingon is cool!

    I remember the McDonalds Happy Meals and begging my parents for them. I wished I had saved the boxes so I could have them on display today! I remember the commercial, with the Klingon hawking the happy meals, and speaking in Klingonese...

    I also remember the "disaster movie" style posters in comics. Have you ever noticed that the version of the Enterprise pictured in that ad is neither the TV version nor the movie version, but some gorgeous hybrid? It has a sensor dish like the original series design, but nacelles like the movie, and a different photon torpedo port.

  3. Anonymous2:04 PM

    Wow. I am going to have to look at that poster ad and check out the Enterprise. I have never noticed that before! I am getting some acrylic cases made for my big TMP figures when I get some spare cash. I's love to show them to you next time I see you! The only little TMP figures I have are a loose Scotty and Ilia from when I was a kid. For some reason I used to carry Ilia around with me everywhere back then. Haha


  4. I still have all my 3 inch TMP crew members intact. They're getting a bit faded, but they're on the rare Mego TMP bridge (which is in terrible shape...) on one of my shelves.

    I don't blame you for keeping Ilia close by. Even bald, she was hot. I also think that in some fashion her character was the template or prototype for Troi. Somehow I find Ilia less irritating...

  5. Anonymous6:39 PM

    I think I still have the Happy Meal Boxes at the house!