Star Trek: The Motion Picture



The five year mission has ended and the crew of the Enterprise has gone their separate ways. Dr. McCoy left Starfleet. Kirk is an Admiral. Uhura, Scotty, Chekov and Sulu are still on the ship, but the Enterprise now has a new captain. Spock has gone home to purge himself of his emotions in a ritual by the name of Kolinahr, only to be told by the masters on his final day as an adept that he has to look elsewhere for his answers. Something out of the far regions of outer space has touched on his consciousness and as a result he goes in search of it. Luckily for him, the Enterprise goes the same way since the unknown entity has a habit of vaporizing anything that is in its path. That it has set a straight course to Earth has Starfleet concerned, to say the least. Only later,when one of their own gets zapped by one of its probes, the crew learns that V'Ger generates digital data content out of the things and people it probes and stores them in it's vast databanks. Knowing this does nothing to alleviate their concerns, however, as the original and all it was is mostly lost during the process. That makes V'ger pretty dangerous for those who find themselves referred to as carbon based life forms - or pests for short, as the machine entity has come to think of the human element on board. Spock, who has his own agenda on this mission, renders a crew person unconscious in the meantime, donns a spacesuit and goes AWOL to connect to the alien entity...


The Adventure Begins

As Leonard Nimoy said himself in I'm Not Spock, this film had its share of problems. One of them was its fascination with special and visual effects that led to really long sequences of the Enterprise crew just staring at the viewscreen, intercut with footage depicting V'Ger. For this and the unforgettable scene that had Kirk and Scotty circling the ship for what felt like 15 minutes (it actually takes them about 6 minutes from leaving the docking station to docking at the Enterprise), the film was awarded the by-name "Star Trek: The Motionless Picture" by fans.  

Don't get me wrong, I appreciated the attempt to portray the vastness and epic grandeur of space, the wonder of it,  the exalted position of our beloved ship and crew within Starfleet, the desire to show us fans something spectacular that had always been beyond reach on a television budget - I just wished they'd hurry it up a bit. It did not help the final product either that some of the character defining scenes were cut from the film in favor of the special effects that Paramount had paid so much for - among them the scene where Spock wept for V'Ger. Except for Scotty and Kirk taking the grand tour of the Enterprise's exterior, those problems were addressed in the director's cut of the movie. Robert Wise even gives a good reason why he left that particular shot unchanged in this version, whether one agrees with him or not. One thing though, V'Ger was more impressive before its overall shape and size were revealed. Some things work better when left to the imagination, after all.

It also did not help that the script was more or less written on the fly and that until the end nobody knew exactly how the film would finish. When it was time to film the live action scenes inside V'Ger, the premise according to Wise was that V'Ger had gathered all the knowledge in the universe,

"but can't do anything with it. The original script climax was that Voyager would download this information. But John Povill came to me and said: 'What will it look like?' I didn't have an answer and John presented this whole idea of V'Ger coming back to capture its creator so that it would evolve."

He goes on to say in the commentary on the DVD:

"It wasn't planned in the script but we found the ending anyway. V'Ger needed humanity. Decker needed to be needed. Spock needed Kirk. Kirk needed the Enterprise. (...) The whole point of Star Trek:The Motion Picture was to get all these people where they needed to be."

And the Enterprise needed all her crew back together. Robert Wise saw the ship as a character in its own right and when it jumped into warp for the second time - this time with Spock on board - he felt that the Enterprise finally seemed a happy trooper.

Rewrites were a daily occurrence and sometimes scenes were even rewritten several times a day and not only by the designated writers. As Robert Wise points out, Leonard Nimoy was instrumental in rewriting one of his own scenes.

"In these scenes, the moment when Kirk finds Spock weeping, he's sympathizing with V'Ger's sense of emptiness. It suggests that being back on the Enterprise, Spock himself is now fulfilled. We had one version in the script and another version that Leonard wrote himself, which was actually much better. This is terribly important because Spock explains what the story is all about."

The production went hopelessly and irrevocably over time and over budget. It is no wonder that Paramount from that point on kept a tight hold on its purse when it came to Star Trek. (And probably why it became a point of pride for Mr. Nimoy that he brought The Search for Spock in on time and budget to prove himself as a director to the studio.)

But, what is usually left out in the discussion of the first movie's inflated budget, as Robert Wise rightfully reminds everybody, is that all expenses for all the abandoned attempts to bring back Star Trek over the years were heaped on top of the money that was actually spent on The Motion Picture. Also, filming sometimes turned out to be a very painstaking process, one which Stephen Collins likened to having a root canal. The wormhole sequence alone took three weeks, because each scene was filmed four different ways.  


Letting Off Steam

Anyway, the situation put a lot of pressure on everybody and it is a law of nature that pressure will find a way to relieve itself. Brace yourself for humor now as chronicled by Walter Koenig:

2:25 p.m.: UHURA: "Captain, the alien has released a large object." We have taken up where we left off before the noon meal, and so has the laughter. I'm sure it's because of the special juxtaposition of the Earth to the stars and planets at this particular moment that we are responding so boisterously. There is no other way to explain this nuttiness.
Robert Wise attempts to bring order, but he can't hold the company together while he is busy holding his sides. "Next line, next line," he implores through his tears.
SULU: "They've released another one . . . two . . . three more!"
Unbelievably, the laughter swells. The camera crew, the grips, the prop masters; no one is immune. Irrationally, we try to push forward.
McCoy speaks next and for a brief moment De Forest is able to rally the solemn tone the line demands: "They're the same things that hit us."
No one is standing now; no one is able to. Those of us not in chairs are literally rolling on the floor. The tide of laughter rises again. We are definitely in danger of being pulled under. Only Leonard, clinging desperately to his character of Spock, maintains the barest shred of sanity. Alas, even as he fights for control, his generally reliable eyebrow threatens to twitch past his forehead into his hairline.
"Your speech, your speech," gurgles Bill, red-faced and barely coherent through his cachinnation.
"Not on your life," replies Leonard. "I wouldn't touch that line. . . "
"Please, please!" beg cast and crew alike.
The better self of Leonard loses out to the lesser half of Spock. With a definite human flavor, the Vulcan science officer says, "It's a hundred times more powerful than what hit us."
I should say he starts to say. He never quite finishes it. Almost immediately he is helpless like the rest of us. It is as if the little Dutch boy had withdrawn his finger and with it any last hope we might escape the deluge. It is not possible that forty-four responsible, skilled, and respected professionals could react with such unmitigated glee to such obvious and puerile toilet humor, but here we are, every last one of us, about to be flushed away.

3:32 p.m.: When Uhura's line is finally recorded, it is changed to: "A large object has been released by the intruder." It must be okay; we've finally stopped laughing. (3)


Getting to Know Your Neighborly Vulcan

Among the many ideas discussed at Paramount for the potential revival of Star Trek was a spin-off series that would focus on the Vulcan homeworld. While Roddenberry was not very fond of this, this potential viewer would have loved it, especially having seen the disservice the fourth Star Trek series, Enterprise, did to the fictional society of that planet:

With Star Trek's syndicated popularity a very definite reality, new "Trek" ideas began to pour in. One of the earliest, just after cancellation, came from Paramount Television, which asked Gene Roddenberry if he was interested in producing a spin-off series centered around the half-human, half-Vulcan Mr. Spock character. But Gene argued that a continuation of the original Star Trek would work even better. He believed that the tendency was to give the Spock characterization total credit for being interesting in itself, whereas it was the surrounding human contrast that made Spock most interesting. He believed that proper balance of surrounding human contrast was either the Star Trek format or something weighted and balanced much like it. A series of episodes about Spock on Vulcan with Vulcans gives the audience little point of human identification. His reasoning was that if they took Spock away from Vulcan so you could have that human contrast, why invent a wholly new thing when you already had him among humans in Star Trek, which still had an untapped story potential? (4)


Back Into the Ears

Once Leonard Nimoy and Paramount had settled their differences the way was paved for Spock's return to the Enterprise.

Principal photography for The Motion Picture took 125 days and finished in January 1979. (Leonard Nimoy had 49 days to film The Search for Spock) Getting up so early over this extended period of time took its toll on the makeup department one day:

Leonard Nimoy's first visit to Freddy's makeup chair, after ten years, found it a happy reunion for both, although there were a couple of minor problems in transforming him into Mr. Spock. Fred had become a bit rusty from lack of practice in applying pointed ears, and together he and Leonard struggled through that first session. For example, Fred had forgotten that the first step was to glue Leonard's own ears back, which Leonard suddenly remembered about halfway through the session, when he began looking like the Vulcan version of a hobgoblin. Leonard agreed he felt a little strange having the ears put on him again after all those years. He had never expected this would happen again when he became Mr. Spock for what he assumed was the last time on the day the final television episode was filmed in 1968.

Leonard Nimoy was usually the first to arrive and settle into the makeup chair. He has always been Fred's special responsibility, and the two men have built up quite a good rapport during all these years. One morning, after the movie had been in production for about five months, DeForest Kelley arrived earlier than usual and settled into the chair, ready to be made up as Dr. McCoy. Fred, conditioned to put ears on the person who was always in the chair at that hour, didn't bother looking up from his powders, creams, and spirit gums, assumed it was Leonard who has just seated himself, and began putting ears on DeForest! The actor was startled, but didn't say anything, wondering what Fred was up to. Finally, the makeup artist downed some of his morning coffee, opened his eyes a bit wider, and realized what had happened. He had turned Dr. McCoy into a Vulcan! Much to De-Forest's relief (and no doubt the good doctor's, as well), the ears were quickly removed.

Freddy was also responsible for the final look of the upswept eyebrows which further characterize Mr. Spock and other Vulcans. For the movie, the eyebrows had to be applied hair by hair each day, and often Leonard was kept in the chair for nearly two hours, more than twice the amount of time needed for the television series makeup.

A milestone was passed during the production of the Star Trek movie when Fred produced his 2000th Spock ear. This proliferation of pointed ears was necessitated by the fact that although in the television series the ears could be used again and again (up to four times, since slight nicks or tears didn't show up on the small screen), in the film version, Leonard Nimoy went through an average of nearly three sets per day!  

Several days before Leonard's first scene, the actor reported to makeup in order to have molds made of his ears, enabling Fred to produce the perfectly fitted latex appliances. Although the makeup artist had saved the molds from the television series, Leonard's ears had grown in a few places during the interim years, and the old molds were useless. From these new molds (two of each ear) Fred Phillips whipped up his latex mixture each day. Six ingredients were carefully measured and weighed to the exact gram requirement, then blended together, according to a special recipe, in an ordinary kitchen mix-master. Fred insisted that the temperature of stage 10 be kept no hotter than 70 degrees or these ingredients and other makeup would be ruined. Two sets of ears were poured and baked each day in Freddy's special oven for six hours, and any excess ears were stockpiled for emergencies. And sure enough, an emergency occurred. Over the 1979 New Year's holidays, the cast and crew were off from Friday until Tuesday, and before leaving for the long weekend, Freddy mixed up a batch of Spock ears and put them in the oven to bake. He was assured by a studio nightwatchman that the oven would be turned off in five and a half hours, when the ears would be thoroughly cooked and ready. But the guard apparently had too much holiday cheer, and forgot all about the oven. Four days later, Freddy returned to find the oven was still on, and the molds had blown up! New impressions of Leonard's ears had to be cast, and Freddy had to work around the clock to produce new molds in time for Spock's next scenes.

Fred did quite a brisk trade in pointed ears during the motion picture. Not only did Mr. Spock keep him occupied, but the Vulcan Masters also had to be properly fitted with the pointy appliances. It is a biological fact that human's (and presumably humanoid's) ears and noses grow throughout their lifetime. Since the Vulcan Masters are very old, even by Vulcan standards, which consider two hundred fifty years an average lifespan, these wisened leaders would naturally have much larger than average ears, and you will notice that Fred allowed for this growth when you look carefully at the actors in the scene on Vulcan. (4)


Welcome to Vulcan; Please Don't Feed the Bears...

Speaking of the Vulcan Masters - or would that rather be the Vulcan Masters not speaking - the production encountered a strange little problem:

Then there were difficulties with the cast involved, those who played the stoic Vulcan Masters. What could account for their un-Vulcanlike nervousness? Leonard Nimoy, puzzled by this reaction from his fellow performers, brought the question to Gene Roddenberry. Gene did a bit of investigating and discovered that the actors were in awe of Leonard - he had become that much of a legend as the Vulcan Spock. (4)

The title above is from a chapter from The Making of Star Trek The Motion Picture (more) where the location of Vulcan is revealed to be at Minerva Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. As is so often the case with Star Trek, the choice of location was dictated by monetary concerns even though for a while it looked as though Leonard Nimoy and the second unit might have gotten a free trip to Turkey out of it. Other locations that would have provided the required background of temples and ruins were even further away in Afghanistan or Tibet. The Vulcan language spoken in the film turned out to be an afterthought, according to Robert Wise. They realized that it wouldn't have been right to have the Klingons speak their own language while the Vulcans spoke English. So they hired an expert to come up with Vulcan words that matched the dialogue already recorded. However, the problem then was that the Vulcan resembled the English too closely. Gene Roddenberry suggested that they changed the subtitles a bit so that the sentences didn't match word for word, which satisfied everybody.


... And Be Home Before Sunset

While Spock/Nimoy left a few newcomers to Star Trek bereft of speech, more seasoned colleagues, namely Walter Koenig, had a much different reaction to their first meeting with Spock after 10 years of being away from their characters:

9:37 a.m.: Aside from a few long establishing shots of Vulcan (done in Wyoming), Leonard has not yet worked in the movie. He now comes by in a black Vulcan costume replete with short cape for a film test of the wardrobe. I am suddenly struck by what a sensational Dracula he would make. The perfect vampire! I wonder how he would take such a lefthanded compliment.

12:12 p.m.: I run into Leonard again on the way to lunch. I begin to tell him that Paramount owns the rights to the novel Interview with a Vampire, but he anticipates me. He's been talking to them for over a year and a half about the project with nothing resolved as yet. I guess an actor is an actor is an actor, and a good role, even if it's the living dead with pale skin, red eyes, and long teeth, is an attractive prospect. (3)


It's All Connected

While vampirism might not have been the average fan's first thought at the moment of Spock's arrival on the Enterprise, it goes without saying that Spock's presence has never before and never since been so thoroughly stunning and alien in appearance than in this movie. There are other visual cues in the movie, which both connect and separate, that reinforce The Motion Picture's overall plot. Spock, for one, keeps wearing his lilac Vulcan shirt beneath his Starfleet uniform; this visually sets him apart throughout the movie, despite the fact that he has ostensibly slipped into his old spot behind the science console. Then there is the brain scan during the scene in sickbay that has an image of Spock's disconnected brain hanging on the screen, while on the left side there is displayed a journey through a geometrical structure probably symbolizing a neural pathway; a scenario not much unlike his own journey through V'Ger itself only moments before. Spock is strongly connected to V'Ger's intellect and separated from the humans on the ship. However, Spock is not the only one visually tied to V'Ger. The humans are so, too, though with them it is more with the gritty man made machinery that is the Voyager probe than the slick superbrain it has become during its long way home. Since it is safe to assume that V'Ger would replicate the atmosphere it has encountered inside the Enterprise for the landing party, one wonders whether there is any immediate need for jackets to supplement the crew's uniform. Especially since their design does not seem to organically fit the uniforms. That is something that had me puzzled until I noticed a general similarity in color scheme between the jackets and Voyager's ground plate and patina. The fact that in the end Spock still wears his lilac shirt is befitting to the theme, since the reason he gives for staying on the Enterprise is that he has nothing to go back to on Vulcan.



Had Leonard Nimoy's version made it into the film, Spock would have stayed because of a genuine wish to stay aboard. In Nimoy’s version he was needed as a friend and stayed as a friend as evidenced in the bait directed at McCoy to continue their habitual banter - Walter Koenig again:


7:45 a.m.: I run into Leonard again in the makeup room. He is feeling a bit dragged out this morning. He had spent the early part of the previous evening working on a rewrite of his lines in the tag and then went to Harold Livingston's house to consult with him on the proposed changes. Mix the long hours of the day with the long hours of the evening and stir with a couple of gin and tonics and you have on a Wednesday morning at 7:45 a somewhat droopy-eared Vulcan. Actually, I am rather impressed by Leonard's tenacity. Here we are after four months - four months, incidentally, not without turmoil, confusion, conflict, frustration, and fatigue - finally approaching the last pages of the story and breathing a deserved sigh of relief for our successful effort, and there is Leonard still trying to improve upon the product, still trying to make it better. It is an admirable trait, one that speaks of character and integrity and leads me to believe that even without Spock in his life, Mr. Nimoy would have found a way to become an exceptional success in our business.

9:30 a.m.: We start rehearsing this ultimate version of the tag:
SCOTT: We can have you back on Vulcan in four days, Mr. Spock.
SPOCK: Unnecessary, Mr. Scott, I have no business on Vulcan.
Those are Spock's written words, anyway. What Leonard dryly says instead is: "If Dr. McCoy is to remain aboard, my presence here is essential." It's a funny line. We all break up. Leonard doesn't crack a smile. This is the speech he was working on the night before in an effort to bring a lightness to the ending.
We rehearse the scene again and this time he says the speech as written. A third time, and he again incorporates his own words. Gene is present throughout but says nothing. I am waiting to see if there will be a confrontation between them. We shoot the master and the line spoken is the original one. If there was a discussion between actor and producer concerning the choice, I have missed it.

5:23 p.m.: The rest of the afternoon is spent shooting covering angles of the master: three-shots, two-shots, closeups. Routine stuff. Business as usual. It could be any day. And yet Nichelle, Majel, Jimmy, George, and I are working for the last time. The earth hasn't opened up. The sky hasn't fallen in. God is obviously busy washing out His socks.

Oh, yes, when they finally come to Mr. Spock's closeup, two versions are shot: one with the original line and one with Leonard's invention. Tune in Christmas 1979 to find out which one they keep.


9:51 a.m.: While we're waiting I congratulate Leonard on getting his version of Spock's tag speech on film. His rejoinder is, "I guess it was a bit devilish of me trying it out in front of Gene so that he could hear the laugh it would get." "Devilish"? Despite the pointy ears, that is not a word I would have thought in Leonard's lexicon. I find his use of it delightful but totally incongruous with my image of him. Next he'll tell me about something "impish" he has done. Ye, gads! Give me another sixteen weeks on this picture and maybe I'll begin to know who these people really are I'm working with. (3)

Many a fanfiction writer has picked up on this nuance and elaborated on the possible premise that not all might have been back to the good old days after the roll of the credits. Now, that's what fans do when they have time on their hands. What do actors do when they have (too much) time on their hands while waiting to be called to action? In the case of, for one last time Walter Koenig, they write witty books in the course of which they uncover important facts like these:


While I am confessing my neurotic bent, I should admit, too, that whenever I see Leonard and Bill in sotto voce conversation, I suspect that if they're not actually discussing their most recent top-secret conversation with the President of the United States, then at least they are exchanging views on their most recent top-secret conversation with the president of Paramount.

5:12 p.m.: I finally get to overhear one of those tight-lipped top-secret conversations between Leonard and Bill:
BILL: Does your makeup itch?
LEONARD: Under my chin.
BILL: Mine, too.
LEONARD: Yeah. (3)





(1) Enterprise Incidents, New Media, Tampa, June 1984.

(2) Horsting, Jessie, "An Interview with Leonard Nimoy - Star Trek III The Search for Spock" in Fantastic Films, Michael Stein (ed.), # 40, Fantastic Films Magazine Inc., Chicago, July 1984, p. 24.

(3) Koenig, Walter, Chekov's Enterprise, Pocket Books, New York, 1980, p. 116, 128, 184-185, 214-219.

(4) Sackett, Susan & Gene Roddenberry, The Making of Star Trek The Motion Picture;, Pocket Books, New York, 1980, p.18, 139, 177.