Learning to Appreciate “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”

Last week I rewatched 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, easily the most unfairly maligned film in the franchise. Although the demand for more Trek had been quietly gaining steam through a grassroots campaign ever since the original series left the airwaves, things really, um, jumped to warp speed after Star Wars came along and brought science fiction back into vogue during the late 1970s. However, the whiz bang thrills of George Lucas’ space saga actually had a negative impact, albeit an unintentional one, upon Kirk, Spock and company’s big screen debut. You see, audiences wanted the type of inventive action that Star Wars created the blueprint for. Instead, they got a contemplative picture that owed more to Hollywood’s past than the cinematic future that was being carved out by George Lucas and his movie-making band of rebels.

When Star Trek: The Motion Picture hit theaters on December 9, 1979, it came complete with direction from West Side Storyhelmer Robert Wise and a musical overture. It was an old Hollywood take on a then state-of-the-art sci-fi motion picture, a vision that truly let Star Trek live and breathe on the big screen. But the action sequences were few and far between, and lacking any kind of memorable villain a la Darth Vader, audiences who didn’t know exactly what they wanted from a Trek movie but realized that what they just experienced wasn’t it were left disappointed. And the movie’s unearned bad reputation exploded from there. The same word of mouth that helped bring Trek back was now actively working against it. But check out the above trailer and rewatch the film. Go into it with no other expectations that you’ll get to revisit some old friends in their first motion picture adventure and I think you’ll come to realize that this film is a grand exploration of human potential, and there’s nothing more Star Trek than that.

This article originally ran in March of 2018, we are reprinting it as part of our Summer of Blockbusters series. Join us later this week as we reflect on the life and legacy of Nichelle Nichols.