STTMP, Part 6–A Few Words about Costumes (ugh!)
Not that costumes are the most important aspect of the movie, but I have discussed the music, special effects, and art direction; and the costumes, for better or worse, are a huge departure from those of TOS, to say nothing of being a big part of the look of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Thus, I decided to discuss them a bit. Also, as a matter of minor housekeeping, I’ve decided to abbreviate the title of the movie and to remove the “Movie Review” for the remaining posts in this series. It has, after all, gone far beyond a standard review. I may emend the titles of past installments, too, but we’ll see.
As discussed in the very first installment of this series, originally STTMP was to have been a television series, Star Trek: Phase II. While the redesign of the ship was much like what made it to the screen in the movie, there were originally no plans to change the costumes substantially. Observe the screen test photos below of Persis Khambatta as Ilia (left) and David Gautreaux as full Vulcan Xon (the character was dropped, but Gautreaux was given a cameo as commander of the station that first detects the attack of V’Ger on the Klingon ships in STTMP).
The material of Xon’s shirt seems slightly different from that used in the costumes on the old series, and his hair is inexplicably long and seventies-ish. It is also clear that Khambatta wasn’t fully committed to the show yet, as it’s clear that she has bald makeup on, rather than shaving her head, as she did for the movie. The main point, though, is that both the design and color scheme of the uniforms is unchanged from TOS, right down to the plunging neckline and miniskirt for the women’s version. All that would change, though.
Roddenberry later said that when it was decided to do the new Star Trek as a movie instead of as a series, there was concern that the original outfits would look ridiculous on the big screen. I think the two Trek reboots have proved otherwise, whatever else one might think of them, but that was then, this is now. At the time, that was probably not an unreasonable concern. I think it’s also germane to point out that the British science fiction series Space: 1999 had completed its run a mere two years before STTMP was released. Practically forgotten now, it was the subject of much fanfare at the time, and pitched as the Star Trek for the 70’s generation. It didn’t work out that way, but it did manage to become a bit of a cult favorite. Given this, I can’t think its art design had no influence at all on STTMP:
I would argue that while neither would win prizes on the runway, the costumes of Space: 1999 were actually much better. On that note, let’s look in detail at the costumes of STTMP.
The main considerations seem to have been that the old gold, red, and blue outfits would not transfer well to the big screen, and that the costumes seem more realistically utilitarian–more spacey, if you will. As mentioned, while the former consideration has, in my view, been disproved, it was reasonable at the time. The second is actually not a bad idea–as much as I love the outfits of TOS, they don’t really look like space gear of any sort. The problem, as Dr. McCoy might have pointed out, is that while logic is fine and dandy in its place, and serves its purpose, it can’t crowd out emotion, feeling–and good taste. In short, it is possible to design clothing that is utilitarian and which doesn’t look awful. After all, this was not an actual space expedition, but a movie; and in a movie you do want the actors to look reasonably good, even if it requires a bit of artistic license!
Actually, even the utilitarianism of such outfits is debatable–notice that neither the outfits of STTMP, Space: 1999, nor the jumpsuit, quasi-NASA outfits of the later Star Trek franchise series Enterprise, look as you may, seem to have any pockets at all! I guess in the future people don’t need to carry things around, unless it’s communicators or sidearms strapped to belts! There are some new features that seem useful. The belt-buckle-like objects visible on the fronts of the STTMP uniforms were supposed to be small computers that monitored the vital signs of the crew member and (in an unintentionally Orewellian fashion) relayed their exact location on the ship to the central computer at all times. The old, flip-phone communicators have been replaced by a wrist-watch-like unit (barely visible on Uhura’s left wrist in the picture at the top). Both of these seem more or less reasonable changes. Less explicably, the costume designers decided that the boots and pants should be integrated into one continuous piece (compare the STTMP boots with those of the Space: 1999 crew, who, while their pants look more like disco wear than spacesuits, actually have real shoes). This required enormous work and many, many redesigns and refits by the costume department.
All of this might have been tolerable if the outfits had actually looked good on the actors. They most emphatically did not. The Space: 1999 uniforms look silly, but at least the actors look better in them than the Star Trek cast do in theirs. Neither design is flattering, but for some reason the latter uniforms don’t even seem to have been well-tailored to the individual actors. They are horribly ill-suited for the women. It is a bit of progress that the women are no longer clad in skimpy, low-necked minisirts in a supposedly egalitarian future. However, perhaps in line with the 70’s notion that you couldn’t be a career woman and dress stylishly, the women’s outfits seem to range from frumpy to appalling. Majel Barrett Roddenberry is the only actress who looks more or less OK, as she had probably maintained her figure more effectively, and the uniforms of the medical personnel are cut differently.
Both Grace Whitney and Nichelle Nichols had gained some weight since TOS. In Whitney’s case, a long period of alcoholism and drug abuse had caused her to age poorly. Nichols, on the other hand, still was a strikingly attractive woman (even at 80 she is not unattractive, with an almost regal bearing). For both women, though, the outfits enormously overemphasized their weight (which while greater was not excessive). The short-sleeved outfit that Nichols wears in some scenes is far worse, especially from sideviews (in this photo it looks better than in most other scenes):
Persis Khambatta is hardly better served. Her uniform seems to have been given all the form-fitting of a burlap sack, and in scenes in which she wears it (as opposed to the rather skimpy and tarty number they put her in as the V’Ger probe, seen in the image at the top), she looks rather waifish, a sort of Twiggy in space:
I wish I could say the men fared better, but not really. The rather square cut of the uniform worked all right on James Doohan as Scotty, but on the rest of the men it looked like pajamas, or in the case of Stephen Collins as Decker, somewhat like a kid’s half-size-too-big spaceman Halloween costume. For no logical reason given in the movie, DeForrest Kelley as McCoy is given what can only be described as 23rd Century disco leisure suits, both in his civvies (left) and official uniform (right):
Actually, both as written and as portrayed by Kelley, Dr. Leonard McCoy always seemed to have a whiff of decadence about him. One could imagine him on shore leave, decked out in 23rd Century leisure wear, barhopping and picking up one (or more) lovely young things. Moreover, Kelley, almost alone of the cast, had remained slender and pot-belly free. This, plus the seemingly more fitted and tapered outfits he was given, actually work to his advantage. He comes as close as to rocking the ensemble as any of his fellow cast mates.
Leonard Nimoy had also managed to put on little if any weight. Partly because of his longer limbs and the shape of his face, this made him seem frailer than Kelley. Also, and for no good reason, they gave him a long collar that gave the effect of a double-layered uniform. To me, this projected an image of someone who seems to be perpetually cold (see the image at the top). Of course, as a Vulcan, Spock would have felt cold on the Enterprise, presumably with temperature set to an Earth norm of twenty degrees Celsius (seventy Fahrenheit), rather than the forty-eight Celsius (one hundred twenty Fahrenheit) typical of Vulcan. However, he seemed to manage without layering in the series!
In my opinion, the only male cast members that managed to look good in their uniforms without giving off a disco vibe were William Shatner as Kirk and George Takei as Sulu. Both had managed to maintain a fairly athletic and trim physique into the late 70’s–in Shatner’s case I’m sure he was taking no chances on reviving his career. Both men often are seen onscreen in the short-sleeved uniform tops, and these nicely set off their biceps. These tops were also white, setting off the insanely monotonous gray. For whatever reason, their uniforms seem to be well-fitted to them to a degree they’re not for the rest of the cast. Shatner and Takei actually make the outfits look almost good.
Looks aside, the costumes were apparently hell to wear. The attachment of the shoes to the pants made them hard to take on and off and necessitated constant re-fitting. Though he looked good, Takei didn’t feel good–he later said that the uniforms were fitted in such a peculiar way that the actors needed assistance in putting them on and taking them off, even for such things as going to the bathroom! The cast are said to have refused to wear the costumes from the first movie again; and this is a large part of the reason that they were completely redesigned for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I have always thought that the redesigned uniforms looked too heavy, as if the Enterprise‘s climate control were set for “arctic”. Nevertheless, they were far superior to those of STTMP and were to be used in all the remaining movies based on TOS and using the original cast.
Next up: direction.