[i]Star Trek: The Motion Picture[/i] - Movie Memories 30 Years Later

posted by JodarMovieFan on December 15, 2009 at 8:00 am

I can’t believe that its been 30 years since I saw this movie. It was a bitterly cold Saturday night, December 8, 1979. There was a line of 800 or so movie patrons that lined around the block of the KB Langley in Langley Park, MD. It was a midnight show that my older brother and I were attending as the previous shows had sold out prior.

As the previous show’s audience filed out, we could see much chatter, smiles and heavily clothed patrons filing out eager to get to their cars and brave the wintry mix of sleet and freezing rain to get home. As we were about to file in, an individual came out to inform us that the film had broken and we would have to wait before we could get in? Wait before getting in? It’s already in the single digits outside, its freezing raining outside, can’t they still fix the film while we are inside the warmth of the theater? Besides, customers would be spending more money on food and drink waiting for the movie to start.

Years ahead of the instantaneous reach of the internet, video, 24 hours news, all information regarding this much anticipated movie could be obtained only through fanzines such as Starlog, Cinefantastique and the like. Even in elementary school, the ad budget reached the very young with a teaser poster ad in Scholastic Weekly. There was an artist’s rendition of the refurbished Enterprise and at the bottom were glamour photos of the cast with the caption…“the human adventure is just beginning” and “coming this Christmas to a theater near you.”

Having grown up watching the classic series in tv reruns on a 20" Motorola tv console, the series was pretty much known to me and millions of others. Even during that time, the visual effects were pretty decent for its time and credible even up to that point.

The movie is epic. It is huge on the 60 ft widescreen in glorious Metrocolor. The production design is huge, the music and sound track are bombastic, yet intimate when it needs to be in the ambience of a large venue’s Dolby multi-track stereo system. There are no grandstanding acting moments as this is not Lawrence of Arabia or Ben Hur. This is, afterall, Star Trek. It is a journey of man throughout the stars. Yes, the movie can be tedious in parts like in the journey through the interior of Vger but I think those sequences add to its prowess and antagonistic quality. In an instant, the Enterprise could be assimilated by one of those plasma energy flares. Sitting near the front of the theater gave me the true sense of entertainment immersion, as if I was there with the crew and when the new Enterprise makes its first warp jump, the aural and visuals were so powerful and in synch that it literally made me snap back into my theater seat as if I were in a moving vehicle. This was my first sampling of the power of the cinematic experience.

It’s important to make mention of the much unrecognized fact that the character of Spock makes a dramatic transformation in this movie. No, he does not become the opposite of the stoic Vulcan and do a tap dance on the holodeck, but comes to terms with his human side. Remember that he is half human, with feelings from his mother’s terran side and half Vulcan, with its sense of cold unfeeling logic. For the entire run of the series, he has done his best to suppress his human side and to, at times, poke fun at his feeling crewmates for being human. When Spock is in sickbay after mind melding with Vger’s energy probe, he realizes that like himself, it is not enough to be this logical green-blooded intelligent automaton he was in the series. The fact that Vger cannot comprehend warmth of touch is beyond its comprehension. Much like Vger, itself, Spock realizes that the emotional component makes the man. Spock revels in this discovery to the point of laughing at himself. He is now comfortable being what Kirk called him in the tv series a “half-breed.” This scene and Spock’s admission sets up his character’s self-sacrifice actions in Star Trek II whether or not anyone will admit it. Spock has grown along with the rest of us.

With Star Trek: The Motion Picture the Trek movie franchise began and with this year’s success of JJ Abrams reboot, thirty years later, the human adventure truly is just beginning.

Theaters in this post

Comments (26)

markp on December 15, 2009 at 8:18 am

Wow does that bring back memories. Its so hard to believe its been 30 years. And the weather in New Jersey was just as crappy that night. I was working crowd control OUTSIDE at the now demolished Menlo Park Twin Cinema in Edison N.J.

William on December 15, 2009 at 8:41 am

I saw it in the main house at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. It was sold out show and the weather was mild like Southern California winters. It looked nice on that large screen in 35mm and Dolby Stereo.

Eric Friedmann
Eric Friedmann on December 15, 2009 at 10:50 am

Unfortunately, I did not get to see STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE until it premiered on ABC-TV in 1983 with all of the extended footage. I had already experienced the action-filled speed of STAR TREK II on the screen, so by comparison, THE MOTION PICTURE seemed incredibly dull.

Over the years, while I still find the story very dull, the movie has grown on me for its visual effects and it’s more-than-obvious homage to the effects of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I also love Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack. These reasons have been enough for me to have the film in my collection. I watched it just last week to comemorate the 30th anniversary.

And I also thought the 2009 STAR TREK sucked, sucked, sucked!

Coate on December 15, 2009 at 12:01 pm

I saw “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” during the summer of 1980 at a military theater in Germany. I recall hating it (at the time). I found it boring and thought the costumes looked like pajamas. Of course, at the time, I was (unfairly) comparing it to the more exciting and fun “Star Wars.”

I saw “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” again in 1981 at the Barstow Twin as a double feature with “Dragonslayer.”

I saw “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan” opening day and loved it because it was everything “ST:TMP” wasn’t.

JodarMovieFan on December 15, 2009 at 2:18 pm

You know IMDB reports there were 70mm prints made, but I’ve never seen/heard of them showing anywhere. I’m suspecting if there were 70mm, they were made after the release date. I know they never hit the DC market. I guess if there were any struck, they were on the west coast/LA/Hollywood.

Cobalt on December 15, 2009 at 2:44 pm

The problem with IMDB is that while info may be technically correct the data too often lacks context. Much of the info begs for clarification or elaboration. In the case of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, a better and I imagine more reliable resource would be in70mm.com. Here’s what William Kallay & Michael Coate had to say about it:

Initially released in 35mm on Dec 7. World Premiere in Washington, DC (35mm). A (few) 70mm print(s) appear to have been struck at a later date. Double billed (in 70mm) with “Star Trek II” in San Francisco (and perhaps elsewhere) in Sept 1982.

William on December 15, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Sometimes the facts IMDB reports are not true. There may have been a lone 70MM print stuck or it played in Europe later in that format. But the main Southern California engagements at the Chinese Theatre Hollywood and National Theatre Westwood were 35mm Dolby Stereo presentations.

Cobalt on December 15, 2009 at 2:53 pm

I also found that Coate & Kallay cite a 70mm print of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE screening in San Diego during a 1981 double-bill reissue.

[i]December 4 (1981):
Star Trek: The Motion Picture* / 2001: A Space Odyssey**
(Return Engagement Double Feature)

San Diego: Mann Loma

*Anamorphic Blow-Up / Six-Track Dolby Stereo
**Super Panavision 70 / Six-Track Stereo

Original 1979 release of “Star Trek” in 35mm – first San Diego 70mm engagement (and rare U.S. 70mm screening)[/i]

JodarMovieFan on December 15, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Thanks guys.

The reason why I bring up the 70mm print subject is that I remember how clear, colorful and full of rich sound the movie seemed to have in 35mm. I read how scenes with the spfx were filmed in 65mm and Doug Trumbull was a fan of and utilized 65mm in his earlier fx work.

Now when Star Trek II came out, the MacArthur here in DC did get a 70mm print and, yes, the presentation was equally Trektacular BUT the movie seemed grainy. I later read that 70mm blow ups do present this problem, but the 6-track stereo soundtrack was something else. :)

JSA on December 15, 2009 at 5:54 pm

What really got me interested in “Star Trek” was Robert Wise.

I did not like it that much back then. Entertaining, but slow and boring at times. Did not see it again until last month, and oddly, in retrospect I consider it now one of the best in the series.


Mark_L on December 15, 2009 at 6:14 pm

I think it was in AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER that I read that the editing was completed so close to the release that Robert Wise carried a print of one of the reels with him on the airplane to DC.

I saw the film at the gorgeous DAYTON MALL I. I remember it as being not very good, with the V'Ger sequence going on WAY too long. The film did not do well with Star Trek fans, and I remember distinctly that when STAR TREK II came out, that little quote from the original STAR TREK theme told us that it was going to be all right…we did this one the right way.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on December 15, 2009 at 9:20 pm

I recall a pre-release full-page ad in the New York Times that only said “There Is No Comparison”, and listed the 12/7 opening date.

Back in 1979, my job offered each employee an extra vacation day they called a Christmas Shopping Day. I used my Christmas Shopping Day to go see “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”’s first and second showings at Loew’s State 1 in Times Square, and I was not disappointed. What a great feeling to see the whole gang again after 10 years, and what a score!

CSWalczak on December 16, 2009 at 1:39 am

I remember seeing this at Chicago’s Esquire Theater on its opening weekend in the big single auditorium. I liked it then and still do, and I was a big Star Trek fan of the original series. I especially loved that long, nearly dialogue free sequence where the crew goes up to the “retrofitted” Enterprise for the first time, and when the ship first came into view, how much it was like seeing an old friend.

Eric Friedmann
Eric Friedmann on December 17, 2009 at 6:01 am

I’m rather surprised that STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY would be shown as a double feature considereing they were released by two different studios.

Oh, but man, what a show that must have been!

William on December 17, 2009 at 9:35 am

That was done many times as a filler between other engagements. It did not matter what studio it came from. The three large theatres in Beverly Hills did this type of fillers with musicals from the 60’s and 70’s in 70MM.

raysson on December 17, 2009 at 12:01 pm

In North Carolina…the movie was showed on widescreen in various theatres:
Mission Valley

Imperial Theatres I-II-III-IV

Carolina Blue and White Theatres

Yorktowne Theatres I & II

Town and Country Theatres I & II

raysson on December 17, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Two of the biggest science fiction films were released in 1979:



Coate on December 17, 2009 at 1:24 pm

raysson… The correct U.S. release dates for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and “The Black Hole” were Dec. 7 and 21, respectively.

jimpiscitelli on December 17, 2009 at 11:41 pm

I originally saw “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” on ABC-TV in 1983 with the extended footage that was also in the video release. I later recorded it off of TCM (Turner Classic Movies) back in 1995 on VHS (TCM aired it in widescreen format).

BrianF on December 30, 2009 at 7:51 pm

When “my” theatre (I was GenMgr) the AMC Kingwood 2, Kingwood TX (listed on this site as Kingwood Twin), opened STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, we had the exclusive showing in the area, and we made the FRONT PAGE of the of the Houston Chronicle. We were very excited because we had all been fans of the TV show since our youth.
I had cheerleaders from the local high schools do a kickline as Trekettes before the screening, the walls were covered with Tribbles (made of cotton and yarn), we served Trania punch at the Concession stand, one doorman with a FuManchu moustache paintd himself green and was dressed as a Klingon and Doris the cashier was dressed as an alien proncess with antennae. (She looked like Marilyn Monroe, so she was the kind of alien Capt Kirk always would fall for). [Our Star Trek promotion was so much better than our lame one for Empire Strikes Back, or the Star Wars/Empire DF —when we fixed the lobby bullet trash can to look like R2D2.]

BrianF on December 30, 2009 at 7:57 pm

I couldn’t believe how many customers I had to explain what Voyager was that became VEE-JAH in the movie. Many had never had heard of Voyager because in the years after the heydey of the space program, most of the focus of discussion was on the manned flights with astronauts.

GaryCohen on January 6, 2010 at 5:10 pm

As a Star Trek fan since the night it premiered on NBC, I cannot tell you how much I looked forward to this picture. Between Xmas of 1978 and ‘79,I greatly looked forward to three films: Superman-The Movie in Dec '78, Moonraker in Summer '79 and Star Trek in Dec '79.
When the film opened up, I decided to wait 1 week for the crowds to die down. I dragged my wife and best friend, (neither of whom were Star Trek fans,) to see a Friday 5PM show at the Loews State 1 on Broadway. I told them over and over about how great this film was going to be. I knew something was wrong when the theater wasn’t even close to half full. The first few minutes were excellent with the great Jerry Goldsmith music and that terrifc Klingon scene that starts the film. However that was about as good as the film gets. Its not that its a bad film, its just not Star Trek.
Needless to say, my wife and friend despised it. (Eleven years earlier, I went with this same friend to see 2001 reserved-seat at the Capitol. He loathed that film also. I guess Sci fi. just wasn’t his thing.)

GaryCohen on January 7, 2010 at 2:36 pm

I was thinking about my comment above and thought I should clarify my statement about this film not being Star Trek. Probably the thing most of us love about the original series was the interaction between the three lead characters: Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Probably some of my favorite parts were Spock and McCoy usually arguing it out at the end with Kirk in the middle. This film really did not have that. Nor did it have any bits of the humor that Star Trek was known for. It was a humorless film, not a bad film, but a cold and humorless film. It cannot be compared to the great Star Trek films: II,IV and VI. This is not to say that I did not enjoy it to some extent in the movies, it just could have been much better.
And it certainly should have won the oscar for best special effecs of 1979.

kencmcintyre on January 29, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I saw the film at the old Fox on Market in Philadelphia. I was a freshman in college. The cavernous theater was about three quarters full. The film was a disappointment, however, particularly as the fan magazines had endlessly discussed the different film scenarios in the ten years since the television show was canceled. Unfortunately two of the principal actors have died, which means no more films with the old cast. I think Leonard Nimoy has retired from acting as well.

GaryCohen on February 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Ken, if Nimoy has retired from acting, hes been quite busy. He was terrific in the new Star Trek film last summer and has appeared in a couple of episodes of the tv show “Fringe.”

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on June 15, 2010 at 6:29 pm

IT is a wonder anymore “STAR TREK” movies were made.I have it on DVD,so I am a fan of the TV show cast only.Couldless about all the others.Thank goodness,“Star Terk II” saved the franchise.

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment