The third science fiction film directed by multiple Academy Award-winning director Robert Wise, Star Trek: The Motion Picture revitalized the Star Trek franchise, spawning nine motion picture sequels, with a prequel currently in development as of 2008.
As part of the mission, Admiral Kirk command of the ship, angering Captain Willard Decker, who had been overseeing the refit as its new commanding officer. With many of the former crew members of the ship aboard, the Enterprise embarks on its journey. Testing of its new systems goes poorly, including a malfunctioning transporter that kills the science officer. An imbalance in the calibration of the ship's warp engines resulting in the formation of an artificial wormhole causes further tension between Kirk and Decker, mainly due to Kirk's unfamiliarity with the Enterprise's redesigned phasers. Many of the problems are resolved by the arrival of a replacement science officer, the Vulcan Commander Spock, who had been on his homeworld undergoing the kolinahr ritual. His failure to complete kolinahr and purge his emotions in the ritual has led him to seek his answers on the Enterprise, explaining, that he felt a consciousness on Vulcan which he believes holds the answers to their mission.
The Enterprise intercepts the alien cloud and journeys inside, finding a vast alien vessel that draws the Enterprise inside. An alien probe appears on the bridge and attacks Spock after he tries to prevent it from gathering sensitive Starfleet information, as well as abducting the navigator, Ilia. Ilia is later replaced by a robotic probe that has been sent to study the crew by something called V'ger. Decker is distraught over the loss of Ilia, with whom he had a romantic history, and is troubled to be assigned to get information from the mechanical doppelgänger, which he discovers has Ilia's memories and feelings buried within. Meanwhile, Spock takes a spacewalk into the alien vessel, and attempts to telepathically mind meld with it. In doing so, he learns that the vessel is V'ger itself; a living machine.
At the heart of the machine, V'ger is revealed to be the unmanned scientific probe named Voyager 6, which was a twentieth century space probe launched from Earth. The damaged probe was found by an alien race of living machines that interpreted its programming as instructions to learn all that is learnable, and return that information to its creator. These machines made V'ger into something capable of fulfilling that mission, and on its journey back the probe gathered so much knowledge that it achieved consciousness. Spock realizes that V'ger lacks the ability to give itself a purpose other than its original mission. Having learned all that is learnable on its journey home, which took V'ger across the universe, V'ger finds itself empty and without a purpose. Only through its creator can V’ger begin to explore illogical things, such as other dimensions. Offering himself to the machine as the creator, Commander Decker merges with V'ger, creating a new form of life. With Earth saved and their mission completed, Kirk commands the Enterprise out to space for future missions.
"The Planet of the Titans" was nearly produced as the first Star Trek motion picture. Written by Allan Scott and Chris Bryant, the script involved the crew of the Enterprise rescuing the starship Da Vinci from a disaster. During the rescue, Kirk suffers a shock to the brain causing him to go mad and disappear. Years later, the Enterprise, now under Captain Gregory Westlake, is dispatched to a planet near where Kirk disappeared. This planet is slowly being sucked into a black hole, and contains a wealth of information that the Klingons (who have also dispatched ships) want as well. Kirk is found, but the planet and the Enterprise are pulled, via the black hole, into Earth's past, where they become the Titans of Greek mythology (a plot reminiscent of "Who Mourns for Adonais?," a Star Trek television episode that had aired in the '60s). It was to be directed by Philip Kaufman. Ralph McQuarrie did pre-production art and Ken Adam storyboarded the script. The second issue of Starlog magazine trumpeted the production of the film on a front cover headline. The movie was abandoned in late 1976 when Paramount finally rejected Scott and Bryant's script.
Instead, in 1977, attention was turned away from a film and toward a second television series, to be entitled Star Trek: Phase II, as part of a fourth television network to be created by Paramount. Work began on scripts for the series, including a 2-hour pilot titled "In Thy Image" (based on a pitch script for Roddenberry's Genesis II called "Robot's Return"). In the midst of preparation for shooting, Michael Eisner, then-head of Paramount, called a landmark studio meeting. Eisner was said to declare regarding the pilot, "we've been looking for a Star Trek motion picture for five years and this is it!" Despite already-existent casting, costuming, set production, and 12 written scripts, the new series, along with the new Paramount network, were both abandoned. Paramount's idea to launch a new broadcast network with a new Star Trek series would eventually be revitalized in 1995 with the 2 hour pilot episode "Caretaker" of Star Trek: Voyager, which ran for 7 seasons and 172 episodes.
Work commenced on rewriting the Phase II pilot episode In Thy Image as Star Trek: The Motion Picture. At this point, Alan Dean Foster (one of the authors) was shut out of any work on the screenplay, and, despite ongoing problems with the developing script, his input was never solicited. In fact, an attempt was made to keep his name off the final screen credits, and it was only the threat of arbitration with the Writer's Guild that restored him as author of the screen story.
All this couldn't have come at a more opportune moment. By the end of 1977, Star Wars had become a huge box-office success, and Paramount put The Motion Picture into pre-production. Rather than follow the space opera feel of Star Wars, TMP instead emulated the mood and format of the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which Douglas Trumbull also supervised special effects. The film follows the story of "In Thy Image" only generally, as multiple disputes between screenwriter Harold Livingston and producer Gene Roddenberry (as well as numerous changes requested by Paramount Executives and the actors) led to extensive and even daily rewrites of the movie right up to the end of filming.
Major cuts from the Phase II pilot episode include: Scenes of Kirk trying to recruit McCoy in a park in San Francisco, a conference of admirals discussing the intruder, Lieutenant Xon's entire role, the destruction of the cruiser Aswan, an invasion of the Enterprise by mechanical probes, scenes of the Ilia-probe attempting to seduce Kirk and Sulu, and scenes of Kirk and Ilia beaming down to San Francisco to show her footage of NASA's Voyager program at Starfleet Command. The director of the pilot episode, Bob Collins, was briefly set to be the director of the motion picture.
The special effects for the movie became one of the biggest production problems. Half way through production it was decided that original effects company working on the project, Robert Abel and Associates, were not up to the task of producing the large number of scenes. In March 1979. Paramount offered Douglas Trumbull's effect company, Entertainment Effects Group, a virtual blank check if they could get all the effects work done by the Christmas release date. Most of the work done by Robert Abel up to that point was scrapped (the wormhole sequence seems to be the only "Abel" effects scene that made it into the final film). Trumbull went ahead with the job to re-visualize and rework most of the effects scenes, using the same crew and equipment from the just finished Close Encounters of the Third Kind and even subcontracted work out to John Dykstra (Star Wars).
The entire segment of Spock entering V'Ger alone was filmed at the last minute (in June 1979) by Douglas Trumbull, who wrote and directed the sequence. The original sequence, showing Spock and Kirk entering V'Ger's memory core, had been in production but abandoned when it was determined that the sequence brought the movie to a halt and that the costs of the wire-removal and other effects would consume much of the entire effects budget for the film.
This is the first time in Star Trek when Klingons are seen with their trademark 'bumpy forehead' look rather than the hooked eyebrows and twirled moustaches seen in the original television series. This change of appearance sparked debate (some even stated the Klingons' behavior in the film was unlike the previous behavior seen in the original series), and a quarter century of fan speculation (and a joking reference in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations"), until a canonical rationale for the change was finally provided in a 2005 episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.
For Star Trek, Goldsmith was charged with depicting a universe with his music, and so it is extremely expansive. Goldsmith's initial main theme was not well-received by the filmmakers (director Robert Wise felt "It sounds like sailing ships"). Although somewhat irked by its rejection, Goldsmith consented to re-work his initial ideas.
Alexander Courage, who composed the theme for the original Star Trek television series, was a friend of Goldsmith's, and served as his orchestrator on several scores. Courage also provided a new arrangement of his theme from the original series for use in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Another of the original series' composers, Fred Steiner, provided a few minor cues based on Goldsmith's original material (as deadlines prevented Goldsmith from completing every last scene). A considerable portion of the score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture was conducted by an uncredited Lionel Newman (as Goldsmith, owing to the unusual instrumental blends, preferred to monitor the balance in the recording booth).
Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the only Star Trek film to have a true overture, using Ilia's love theme for this music. Star Trek and The Black Hole would be the only feature films to use an overture from the end of 1979 until the year 2000 (with the movie Dancer in the Dark).
After the overture the film launches immediately into the title music, which was later adapted as the theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation. As the credits end, "Klingon Battle" theme is introduced, a clarion call introduced by woodwinds, accompanied by angklungs (bamboo rattles from Indonesia). Both the opening theme and the Klingon theme would make frequent appearances in Goldsmith's other Trek scores, appearing in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (throughout the film), Star Trek: First Contact (in "Red Alert" and the end credits music), Star Trek: Insurrection (in the opening and closing music), and Star Trek Nemesis (in "Repairs" and the end credits music), with the Klingon theme being used briefly in the Next Generation episode Heart of Glory, as Capt. Picard awaited the arrival of an allied Klingon battlecruiser.
Much of the recording equipment used to create the movie's intricately complicated sound effects was, at the time, extremely cutting edge. Among these pieces of equipment was the ADS (Advanced Digital Synthesizer) 11, manufactured by Pasadena, California custom synthesizer manufacturer Con Brio, Inc. The movie provided major publicity at the time and was used to advertise the synthesizer, although no price was given at the time.
The film's soundtrack also provided a debut for the Blaster Beam, an electronic instrument about 10 feet long, stringed, and played with an artillery shell. Jerry Goldsmith used it to create the eerie signature V'Ger sound. The Blaster Beam was developed by musician Craig Huxley, who, as a child actor, had appeared on two episodes of the original Star Trek TV series. Goldsmith also utilized a large pipe organ, which required the score be recorded at 20th Century Fox (which had the only scoring stage in Los Angeles equipped with such an organ).
Jerry Goldsmith's score was nominated for an Academy Award for Original Music Score, although the award went to Georges Delerue for A Little Romance instead. This was the only Star Trek score to be nominated for an Academy Award other than Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home's score by Leonard Rosenman.
When the film was originally made, the rush to get it into theaters on time left much of the sound design unfinished. When the DVD Director's Edition was released, Robert Wise and Foundation Imaging took the time to complete the sound mix, adding in many of the previously unfinished elements, as well as create a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix.
Time magazine gave the film an unfavorable review, criticizing the slowness of the film and its reliance on special effects. A 2001 BBC review claims the film was a critical failure. James Berardinell, reviewing the film in 1996, mirrored these criticisms, also finding that it bore too close a resemblance to the original series episode "The Changeling", but considered the start and end of the film to be strong.
In 2001, a Director's Edition of the film was released on VHS and DVD. Robert Wise was given the opportunity to re-edit the film to better match his original vision, and also to use computer-generated imagery to complete sequences which had been curtailed due to shooting deadlines. The new effects were based on storyboards from the original production and produced to appear as if done using the effects technology of the time. Several continuity errors were also corrected, but some were also added. Edits to improve the film's pacing were made, especially effective in the film's second half, where segments were trimmed to curtail prolonged reaction shots of the actors to the interior of V'Ger. This Director's Edition of the film also has a proper sound mix, which was lacking in the theatrical presentation. This version of the film is generally considered a significant improvement over the original film.
Roddenberry's novel adds elements to the film story and social mores to the Star Trek universe that are not referenced on screen. According to Gene Roddenberry's novelization of the film, Willard Decker is the son of Commodore Matt Decker from the original series episode "The Doomsday Machine", which was also the plan for the Phase II television series. Despite not being mentioned onscreen in the movie, this relationship has assumed at least semi-canonical status, considering its Roddenberry origins, and the fact that it has never been officially contradicted in the years since. He also introduces the Klingon ships as "the new K't'inga-class" and says that some Starfleet technicians feared that they might be more powerful than Starfleet's "First Line Constitution-Class ships."