In the most recent installment of my series on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I referenced the series Space: 1999. I thought it appropriate to say a small bit about it before going on with the series on STTMP.
Gerry Anderson was a British television producer and director best known for his Supermarionation process of using puppets in dramatic television series, although he did work with live actors, as well. His works were primarily oriented towards science fiction. His best known works using puppets are Stingray (about a futuristic sub and its crew; this series was more children-oriented), Thuderbirds (about a futuristic family involved with an international rescue organization), and the slightly more adult Captain Scarlet (about war between Earth and evil invisible Martians, the Mysterons). Later, in the early 70’s, Anderson produced the live-action alien invasion series UFO. Perhaps his best-known non-puppet work, at least among Americans of a certain generation, is Space: 1999.
In 1975, the original Star Trek (henceforward TOS) had been off the air for six years and had gradually developed into a cult series. Its creator (purportedly, anyway–for more on that, see here and here), Gene Roddenberry, had been trying unsuccessfully to resuscitate the series (finally succeeding with STTMP in 1979) ever since. Meanwhile, the appetite of the public for more science fiction had been whetted. Gerry Anderson decided to feed that appetite with a new sf series. Enter Space: 1999.
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.
The posts on Star Trek: The Motion Picture have gone beyond the number I’d originally expected. At this point, I’d thought I had no more than a couple posts left. As I’ve continued, however, and as more themes and ideas have come to mind, it seems as if I’ll need at least four posts, and perhaps more than that, to finish what I have to say about it. Thus, while leaving the essays on STTMP at the general Star Trek index, and putting the future ones there, as well, I’ve decided to give it an index of its own right here. Enjoy!
Continuing in my long-on-hiatus series of essays about Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I’d like to discuss the cast very briefly before I go on to interpretation.
As I pointed out last time, there are major problems with the script. To their credit, the cast make the best of what they’re given. I can’t really single out one bad performance. The returning supporting members of the original TV cast–Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, James Doohan as Scotty, Walter Koenig as Chekov, George Takei as Sulu, and Majel Barrett Roddenberry as Nurse (now Doctor) Chapel–are all good, turning in professional performances in character, as if it had been only the previous season and not a decade previously that they’d last played their roles. It is most unfortunate that they were given so little to do. Doohan gets the most screen time, given the long sequence where he ferries Kirk to the refurbished Enterprise, and he makes the most of every second. Star Trek lore has it that Doohan was particularly resentful of William Shatner for his supposed jockeying for screen time at the expense of everyone else. Indeed, Doohan is said to have nursed a grudge against Shatner until shortly before Doohan’s death. I can’t help but think that Doohan was getting a kick out of upstaging Shatner in this sequence! None of the other supporting cast is given more than a line or two, but they do what they can with them. At least Uhura doesn’t have to say, “Captain, I’m frightened!”
In which, among other things, he explains the origin of the Vulcan salute, and does Shatner.
Practically every name science fiction writer was suggested to write the script: Ray Bradbury, Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon, and Harlan Ellison, to name a few (the latter two had written scripts for TOS, in fact). Finally, the decision was made to go with a script that was originally to have been the pilot episode of Star Trek: Phase II. The script was “In Thy Image”, about a damaged and repaired space probe returning to Earth (personal quibble–it ought to be “In Thine Image”–the form with the euphonic “n” comes before vowels). One could be charitable and say that if waste were recycled as much as this script, we’d live in a garbage-free utopia….
“In Thy Image” is essentially a remake of TOS epidose “The Changeling“. Insofar as it features an Inexplicable Looming Menace From Space, the script is similar to the episodes of TOS “The Doomsday Machine” and “The Immunity Syndrome” (this theme would be reused yet again in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home). In the theme of Kirk having to reason with or outfox an implacable computer, the script resembles “The Ultimate Computer“, “Return of the Archons“, and “The Changeling” once more. At least re-writing its own episodes is a venerable Trek tradition!
In any case, fans immediately caught the derivative nature of the plot, and this has been much discussed and derided. It is also a long-standing custom to beat up on the extremely long FX shots with the actors doing nothing more than giving silent reactions, while the movie drags ponderously along. These are valid criticisms, but they have long been made and are a part of fan lore. Moreover, even a derivative re-write could have been done well, and excessive length is as much a matter of editing as script. What I want to do is look at other problems with the script that in my view have not been adequately discussed.
The theme of the original series (TOS)–the familiar dah dah DAH dah dah dah dah DAAAAHH–was composed by Alexander Courage. Gene Roddenberry wrote lyrics for the theme. They were never sung or performed in any of the series or movies of the Star Trek franchise, nor were they intended to be. Roddenberry, chronically short of cash (until much later, after the franchise was re-started with this movie), did so merely to claim 50% of royalties on the theme. He did so without consulting Courage, who long held a grudge against The Great Bird of the Galaxy (Rodenberry’s nickname among the cast) for this reason.
Veteran film composer Jerry Goldsmith was hired to do the score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (STTMP). Goldsmith was talented and well-respected in Hollywood. Goldsmith was also known as an innovator, always on the lookout for new sounds and methods. A good example is his use of unique instrumentation in this movie, particularly the peculiar sounds used as a theme for V’Ger. Goldsmith made two audacious moves for STTMP.
I’m working on a multi-part review of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I’ve put up two installments thus far, and will post at least two further (perhaps more). I’ll be putting them under the “Reviews” section. However, as a long-time fan of Star Trek in all its various iterations, particularly the original series (TOS), I may do more posts of a Trek-related nature now and then. Thus, I’m putting up this index page for the continuing voyages of Trek writing, in which I’m also putting my earlier reviews of J. J. Abrams’s 2009 movie. Live long and prosper!
The first installment of my review of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is here.
Three Klingon battle cruisers, while on a mission in deep space, encounter a large, mysterious cloud-like structure. Deciding it is a threat, they fire photon torpedoes at it, to no effect. The cloud retaliates with huge balls of light which dissolve and absorb the Klingon ships. Meanwhile, a deep space Federation monitoring station receives images of this from an automated probe. Plotting the cloud’s course, they realize it is headed directly towards Earth.
Meanwhile, on Vulcan, Spock has completed rigorous training in the Vulcan discipline of Kolinahr, by which all emotion is finally expunged. About to receive a token of this from a priestess, he stops. The Vulcans assembled there have all telepathically felt a strong, alien mind. Spock is affected by it, and the priestess, telling him that the consciousness has stirred his human side, drops the token to the ground and says he has not, in fact, attained Kolinahr. She leaves him, saying, “His answer lies elsewhere.” Read the rest of this entry