Monday, December 07, 2009

30 Years Ago Today The Human Adventure Was Just Beginning

It was thirty years ago today -- December 7, 1979 -- that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in theaters across the United States. I was in the fourth grade at the time, and I've got to say, the movie made a huge impact on me.

Anyway, here's an excerpt from my recent review of the film:

As the Star Trek franchise prepares to re-invent itself with the premiere of J.J. Abrams' big budget Kirk and Spock "origin story" in just a few short weeks, it seems an appropriate time to remember the first big-budget re-invention of the durable science-fiction mythos. That expensive and highly-profitable film arrived in American movie theaters nearly thirty years ago, on December 7, 1979, and was titled Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Directed by Robert Wise (The Day The Earth Stood Still [1951]), Run Silent, Run Deep [1958], The Haunting [1963], Audrey Rose [1977]) and produced by TV series creator and "Great Bird of the Galaxy" Gene Roddenberry, this forty-five million dollar voyage of the starship Enterprise launched a film series that has endured a whopping three decades.

Despite proving a box-office bonanza and the father to ten cinematic successors of varying quality, Star Trek: The Motion Picture remains today one of the most polarizing of the film series entries.

The received wisdom on the Robert Wise film is that it is dull, over-long, and entirely lacking in the sparkling character relationships and dimensions that made the 1960s series such a beloved success with fans worldwide.

It is likely you've heard all the derogatory titles for the film too, from The Motionless Picture, to Spockalypse Now, to Where Nomad Has Gone Before (a reference to the episode "The Changeling.")

Conventional wisdom, however, isn't always right. Among its many fine and enduring qualities, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is undeniably the most cinematic of the Trek movie series in scope and visualization.

And, on closer examination, the films features two very important elements that many critics insist it lacks: a deliberate, symbolic character arc (particularly in the case of Mr. Spock) and a valuable commentary on the co-existence/symbiosis of man with his technology.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture also re-invents the visual texture of the franchise, fully and authoritatively, transforming what Roddenberry himself once derided as "the Des Moines Holiday Inn" look of the sixties TV series for a post-Space:1999, post-Star Wars world.


  1. It was 30 years ago today
    James T. Kirk showed his crew the way
    Though they'd never gone out of style
    And Spock, he just refused to smile
    So may I introduce to you
    The team you've known all these years
    The Enterprise's Awesome Sci-Fi Crew

  2. We just celebrated the 30th anniversary of "Star Trek-The Motion Picture" on last Friday's episode of "Destinies-The Voice of Science Fiction" with a Soundtrack Spotlight on Jerry Goldsmith's score, featuring tracks from the 20th anniversary collector's edition album, plus a very abridged adaptation on the Destinies Radio Theater. The show is currently available for free at

    By the way, December 7th, in science fiction terms, is also the 25th anniversary of the release of "2010-The Year We Make Contact."

  3. As someone who was there, in line, and attended a screening (in Westwood Village in L.A.) the day it premiered, I recall the experience fondly. And you're right in saying it was one of the most polarizing in the series. But, as someone who watched every episode as a kid, first run and repeats, it was still enjoyable.

    Yes, it was longer than it needed to be. But, Robert Wise (another favorite director of mine) turned in a more sci-fi like experience than the previous conventional Star Trek episodic stints (remember the '73-4 STAR TREK cartoon series, voiced by the original crew?). So, it wasn't what fans and others expected. It was still, as you say John, the more cinematic in that movie line.

    And if you've seen Wise's director's cut DVD, and heard about what happened with Paramount, well... the re-cut should've been the theatrical cut. Many of initial complaints (you cover them well) are fixed. Perhaps, overdue, but welcome nonetheless. However, I can still watch that theatrical cut (also in my library of discs) and still spot what Wise did right.

    Another great post, and reminder, John. Thanks for this.

  4. Hey Howard:

    Thanks for the information on the Destinies ST:TMP anniversary show. I encourage all readers to listen in!


    Thank you for your wonderful comment and remembrance of the special movie that started it all!


  5. Nate -- I love your 30th anniversary poem! Very nice!


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