Warp Factor Trek

The Star Trek Fan Website

What were the precise conditions, the cinematic environment, that led to the release of the first Star Trek feature film, 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture? That’s the question I aim to consider in this article.

Star Trek had been around for thirteen years at the time of the film’s release. So, by then, a lot of people already had some pre-conceived notions about what a Star Trek movie should be like.

In 1976, a group, including members of the cast from Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, stand in front of the space shuttle Enterprise (CBS-Paramount)

In 1979, we were on the brink of the space shuttle era. It was to be the first (of many, we hoped) reusable space vehicles, and the first such vehicle, named Enterprise, had been successfully test flown on free flight within the atmosphere that tested her guidance and landing systems. I truly believe that these flights and their promise for the future, as much as anything else, led to an escalation of America’s appetite for science fiction.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out around the same time as Star WarsClose Encounters, Superman: The Movie, and Alien. Also on the small screen, we were being treated to things like Battlestar GalacticaWonder WomanThe Incredible HulkBuck RogersThe Six Million Dollar Man, and The Bionic Woman. No doubt about it, it was a great time to be a science-fiction fan.

Watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture on the big screen (Dan Leckie)

When one considers these conditions, it was actually a quite logical (no pun intended) and perfectly reasonable choice for Star Trek: The Motion Picture to have a relatively slow pace and a cerebral plot. Clearly, producer Gene Roddenberry felt that audiences were ready for a more cerebral type of Star Trek adventure that would engage the audience’s minds and get them thinking rather than go with a shoot-‘em-up type of scenario. The success of Close Encounters no doubt convinced both him and Paramount that a science-fiction adventure need not involve space battles to be successful. They also had every reason to believe that the Star Trek name and characters, and their popularity, would carry any adventure to success, both critically and commercially.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture was eventually released on 7 December 1979. This was roughly ten years after the cancellation of Star Trek: The Original Series. Owing not only to this but also because the film had a big movie budget versus television of the 1960s, it was ultimately pretty easy for the film (and the TOS movies which followed) to out-spectacle the show that spawned it.

The film’s theatrical poster, by illustrator Bob Peak (CBS-Paramount)

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