‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’: Watch a ‘lost’ making-of-the-movie video

Jan. 20, 2011 | 3:10 p.m.

Jay West drops by the Hero Complex with a guest essay on the legacy of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture

star trek motion picture cast crew Star Trek: The Motion Picture: Watch a lost making of the movie video

Leonard Nimoy, Robert Wise (seated), Gene Roddenberry, DeForest Kelley and William Shatner on the set of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (Los Angeles Times archives)

With a new “Star Trek” film ramping up it’s a good time to reflect on the history of a film franchise that dates back to the Carter administration but has a complicated legacy. Below, you’ll find a rarely seen, 10-minute featurette on the making of the first movie, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” which beamed down into theaters on Dec. 7, 1979. The featurette has never been released in any home-video format, amazingly, but it provides a unique and engaging behind-the-scenes look at the making of this inaugural “Star Trek” movie — showcasing some of the movie’s models (with especially interesting footage regarding the classic dry dock sequence) and sets. There are also glimpses of the main cast preparing for scenes, alien crew members donning their masks and even the on-set birthday celebration for director Robert Wise, the Hollywood veteran whose film credits include “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “The Sound of Music.” The funniest moment may be watching fashion model Persis Khambatta get her full head of hair completely (and reluctantly) shaved off for her role as the Ilia of Delta IV.

Many fans look back on the very first “Trek” film with mixed feelings.  Inspired by the original “Star Trek” television series, which ran from Sept. 8, 1966, through June 3, 1969, on NBC, the feature-film project was actually first conceptualized as a revival series on network television called “Star Trek: Phase II” that would have capitalized on the life-after-death popularity the original series found in syndication. That changed, however, when a little film called “Star Wars” reached theaters in 1977. “Trek” icon Leonard Nimoy reflected on the Jedi impact in a video interview that was included in the Blu-ray collection of the original “Star Trek” movies: “We all owe a big thanks to George Lucas — because we were canceled in 1968 or 9… and were ‘off the air’ except for re-runs, which were very active… but it wasn’t until 1977 when ‘Star Wars’ opened  and did big business and had this incredible success, that the people at Paramount said: ‘Oh… we have something like that, we have something called ‘Star Trek;’ let’s make a movie.”

star trek motion picture Star Trek: The Motion Picture: Watch a lost making of the movie video

"Star Trek: The Motion Picture" crew (Paramount Pictures)

At the time of its release, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” wasn’t a winner with movie reviewers (Richard Schickel of Time magazine had a typical take in his review:  “‘Star Trek’ consists almost entirely of … shot after shot of vehicles sailing through the firmament to the tune of music intended to awe. But the spaceships take an unconscionable amount of time to get anywhere, and nothing of dramatic or human interest happens along the way”) and many young moviegoers were put off by the slow pace. In the years since, though, there’s been some swing-back and a significant number of fans have discovered (or re-discovered) the film and appreciate it for its atmosphere, cosmic moodiness and sometimes striking visuals. The movie also features a rich and stirring score by the esteemed  Jerry Goldsmith — it’s widely considered to be one of his finest.

Wise, who died in 2005,  reflected at one point that he was satisfied with the theatrical version of the film, but he also said that he considered it to basically be a “workprint” because of the film’s tight production schedule. A director’s cut was released on DVD in 2001, and while it does contain some deleted scenes and select enhanced visual effects, it is not markedly different from the 1979 release in an overall analysis. So the question remains: Was “Star Trek’s” maiden voyage as a cinematic enterprise an underappreciated achievement or merely a movie that failed to achieve warp speed?

— Jay West


star trek poster Star Trek: The Motion Picture: Watch a lost making of the movie video

“Trek” writers: We have broken the story for sequel

Nimoy riffs: Shatner, “Star Wars” and … Hendrix?

Shatner: My whole career has been a close call

“Star Trek 365″ is a special stardate

Shatner on the outside: “Strange to say goodbye”

Pegg: “I felt damn sexy” in Starfleet uniform

Nimoy’s farewell: “Live long and prosper, my friends”

Klingon opera makes some noise in Holland

Nimoy: “Trek” fans can be scary

Abrams: “Star Trek” still in shadow of Lucas


26 Responses to ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’: Watch a ‘lost’ making-of-the-movie video

  1. Michael Thomas says:

    A great film, worthy of comparison to 2001!

  2. Chris Johnston says:

    It's the only Trek film I own (or will ever own) on DVD, let me just say that.

  3. Jeauffre says:

    Remarkable article by Jay West. The movie is great, it was my first Star Trek experience as a young French boy. I was fascinated to learn that an entire TV cast was gathered again 15 years after their original portrayals. I loved the film and especially the most controversial sequence: Kirk flying around his old mistress the Enterprise, in the dry dock. A feast for the eyes, the ears and the heart!

    • Spaceflightengineer says:

      It was 9 years after the series ended that the cast reassembled to start STTMP filming.
      And I too am very fond of the Enterprise flyover tour.

      Everyone should get the Director's cut- where Wise was able to fix some pacing and added more to the look through current day CGI, without ruining the majesty of this fine film.

      Live Long and Prosper.


  4. Mark says:

    It's like Lawrence of Arabia compared to JJ Abrams' effort. Never understood the vitriol aimed at this film, it has a majesty completely lacking in all the other Trek movies. And Goldsmith's score is stunning.

    • Fantomex12 says:

      It was boring, stupid, and was a foolish attempt to combine Star Trek with 2001: A Space Odyssey and that is why it was doomed. Also, it was a retread of the 1966 episode 'The Changeling' only the 'Nomad' of the movie was larger and was the size of a planet. That does not make it better than the 2009 film at all.

  5. Joe says:

    If only Robert Abel & Associates were allowed to finish the effects they started:

    Douglas Trumbull’s side of the story:
    “I did Brainstorm, which came together really well, I thought. The objective of Brainstorm was to make the first ShowScan film. ShowScan was this mind-boggling new film technology of shooting and projecting at 60 frames per second, 70 mm, on large screen. It was very compatible with the movie industry. The head of Gulf and Western — who owned Paramount — saw a screening of it and said to Barry Diller and Michael Eisner, ‘Guys, if we don’t make a movie in this process we’re fools.’ And so I got the green light to start developing a movie to be made this way, which became Brainstorm. Little did I know that management was going to change at Paramount and they were going to get themselves in a jam about Star Trek: The Motion Picture — which I did not want to work on — but I actually ended up having to negotiate a settlement agreement with Paramount in exchange for doing the special effects for Star Trek in order to spring ShowScan free from them and be a free agent after I got out of my employment contract — which I did. It was a very tough time. We got that movie done against all odds — it was a very troubled movie with all kinds of problems. So we got Star Trek done and I became a free man and was able to turn Brainstorm around and make it at another studio, but nobody would make it in ShowScan, and so I made at MGM and did in 70 mm and 35 mm and changing aspect ratios and everything and lo and behold Natalie Wood died in production, completely out of the blue.”

  6. The Tupper says:

    For what it's worth (not much, admittedly) I've always reckoned that this is one of the best TV-to-movie conversions ever made, for precisely the same reason many other people dislike it.

    The film is so utterly at odds with the aesthetic (and narrative) primary colors of the television series that it creates something new and bold in its own right. The visual effects and music are amongst the finest ever created for a movie and, whether one likes the the film or not, it's surely hard to disagree that the performances are pitch-perfect.

  7. Sturm Brightblade says:

    I could be mistaken, but I'm almost certain that I've seen this "lost" footage already on my Director's Edition DVD of the film.

  8. sander says:

    This is al ready a time on youtube
    but thanks for sharing

  9. Muldfeld says:

    My favorite Trek movie. Kirk and Spock are wonderfully flawed here. Wise's director's cut is substantially better, as his staff (using effects that could only be created in 1979) vastly improved the special effects and also changed the pacing of the scenes; I've literally watched my VHS copy with my DVD for certain scenes and it flows much better. The only gripe I have is that Kirk's angry outbursts were edited out, which, I think, was a mistake. I HATE "The Sound of Music", so it's a real surprise Wise did this. I'm shocked he's dead.

  10. Roger says:

    It sure beats that last movie Abrams and the transformer twits put out. A story that was full of holes and nothing short of a Star Wars wanna be. Nimoy was a complete sell out for doing this movie. Of course he got back $11.5 million to do about 10 mins worth of work. NOT bad! But still a sell out.

    I can't believe the studio allowed its sacred cash cow to be raped that. Now they want this 90210 mess to be more like in the style of twilight? The movie was complete crap. The acting was bad, what was with those stupid lens flairs. The editing was junk. The acting was bad.

    Hey Paramount, how about finding some people who actual watch some trek in their past and might be a fan of it instead of the Transformer twits and Abrams the J.O. The next one will no doubt suck because they are now rushing it because they are behind schedule. The TNG movies were not great because the writing sucked. But going back to TOS was pure desperation and showed they were OUT of ideas.

    Star Trek XII Another P.O.S. Abrams mess by the Transformer twits. No thanks! PASS!

    • bimplebean says:

      Not sure I get the anger, but I agree on the newest Trek movie being full of holes.

      The biggest problem with writing Science Fiction is to not have a device that solves all your problems. With Star Trek, you have many — starships, phasers, teleportation, FTL travel… this means you need a MUCH better writer to actually write the characters into a situation they have to use their wits to get out of .

      Big flaw in Star Trek: Red Matter. Why drill a hole? Just throw it at the planet? A cheap plot device at best…

      • Fantomex9 says:

        Throwing it at the planet wouldn't destroy Vulcan, it had to be ignited, with the material of Vulcan's core serving as the catalyst.

      • Steve says:

        Not really, no. ANYTHING could have ignited it as we saw at the end of the film.

        Also, your point is invalid since they never EXPLAINED HOW RED MATTER WORKS within the movie. That's the movie's job. To tell the audience what things do in a creative and entertaining fashion. They didn't bother.

  11. Guest says:

    A good reminder on how great this movie was… think I'll toss the bluray disc of TMP into the player this weekend and curl up on the couch and watch it for all its splendor again! =)

  12. Andre says:

    An ambitious but flawed film. It lacks the warmth and character interplay that made the '60s TV show fun, and as a science fiction story it's downright silly. Let's see, a "machine planet" constructs an Earth-sized spaceship for an old space probe but despite its amazing technology it can't clean the probe's nameplate, so it mispronounces its own name. Pacing is turgid with endless shots of the cast staring at the screen. The goal was to give the audience a never before seen experience. They couldn't find a story that could do that, but at points it both has a sense of future reality and vision that almost pulls it off. They certainly tried harder than most of the films, which have more of a TV movie feel blown up to the big screen. This film has gravitas, even if that ultimately sinks it too. A great film to watch on fast forward. Shatner's pretty good in most of his scenes. He doesn't camp it up at all. He just doesn't have much to do until the end. Some of the special effects still have not been topped.

  13. Dr. Theopolis says:

    The costumes and color scheme from this film are things of beauty. So sad that after all that costume design, the grey/white/beige scheme was dumped for the awful red & black for the second film and beyond.

  14. Kobi Ashi Maru says:

    Ok- be prepared to make fun: When I saw the '79 Movie I cried. It was that bad. Gray, dull, lifeless,
    that 20 minute fly by with Shatner and Doohan trying to look awed. All those letters we wrote to NBC, all that effort for nothing. I was (am) a huge Star Trek fan. To see such a lack of vision, literally one color. A REMAKE OF "THE CHANGELING" folks. Roddenberry seemed to be able to create one thing. "The God Thing" (to those who are real fans). Star Trek only soared when Nicholas Meyer was brought in. I visited the set one day when they were filming- I know how movies are made- they made no progress. The film was not being guided by a firm steady hand……(yes, I'm aware of all HIS credits)…Just callin' it as I see it.

  15. ghostwriter says:

    Strongly disagree with the many negative comments about JJ Abrams' Star Trek. I loved it, and think it was easily the best Start Trek film ever made. It had the "Wagon Train to the Stars" feel of Roddenberry's original vision, and above all else, it was fun! I believe it's the movie the late great Gene Roddenberry would have made himself were he alive and inventing Star Trek today. And for what it's worth, my Star Trek bona fides: I was born September 5th, 1966, three days before "The Man Trap" debuted on TV. My mom swears she watched the show in the hospital (possible; in those days they didn't rush women out of the hospital immediately after giving birth). I grew up on the original series, and have watched every episode of every series (except the awful "Enterprise"), as well as all of the films multiple times. The franchise was on its last legs, and there simply would have been no more Star Trek were it not for Abrams' efforts. It's funny how some people claim that any new films must be helmed by ST fanatics, as if the original series wasn't directed by a revolving door of studio directors with little-to-no knowledge of the show's canon. Frankly, Abrams' Trek was brilliant, and I can't wait for the sequel. Star Trek is dead; long live Star Trek!

    • ghostbuster says:

      Abrams' Trek is the best Star Wars movie since Jedi.
      I'll give it that.

    • Steve says:

      You're entitled to your opinion, but it is completely wrong. JJ's Trek is an entertaining film, yes, but the best Trek ever? No. It's missing some key and fundamental ingredients. It's an action shoot em up.

      The editing really does it in. Where Trek of 79 is too slow, JJ's Trek was in too much of a hurry. If it had not been edited so hastily, Kirk's childhood would have been better fleshed out, Nero would have been a more vivid villain, and Kirk would have at least had lip service paid to a few years of off world experience before taking command of The Enterprise.

  16. The Flaming Nose says:

    I don't think the Persis Khambatta segment is funny…it's touching and sweet, especially since this lovely actress is no longer with us. She looked stunning with or without hair, but the trauma of getting it shaved off was clearly real and those tears weren't fake. I think men wouldn't "get" how she felt, since bald heads aren't uncommon for them, so maybe it seems funny, but it's not.

  17. Spaceflightengineer says:

    "… A director’s cut was released on DVD in 2001, and while it does contain some deleted scenes and select enhanced visual effects, it is not markedly different from the 1979 release in an overall analysis…." West apparently hasn't seen it. Wise and his CGI crew FIXED the movie!! It was re-paced, edited, terrains expanded on, many static sets complemented by new FX. It deserves to be shown on the big screen more than ever. The film was more cerebral than any Trek since and was, to those who ingest more than flashing light FX, just what the doctor ordered. …gotta love inept reportage.


    • Steve says:

      How exactly was it more "Cerebral" than it's sucessor?

      It asks questions, but does very little with them outside of Spock. Decker and Kirks' relationship is basically dumped at the end. Most of everything ties up completely in the end with no real analysis of the events.

      Wrath of Khan on the other hand is rich in literary references that are actually within the story, layer upon layer. Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, Journey to the Center of the Earth. Just because it has action does not mean it is for the brain dead masses, sir.

      I suggest watching http://sfdebris.com/videos/startrek/film2.asp for an in depth analysis on exactly why I feel you are wrong.

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