The first of this series (ignoring the introduction) focused on Star Trek: The Next Generation, a series that featured a new cast and even a new USS Enterprise. However, this wasn't the first attempt at a reboot for Star Trek. As mentioned in the first entry, the series made the jump from the boob tube to the silver screen in 1979 with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This movie became the first of nine feature films, including a reboot movie in 2009. Each Star Trek movie had its strengths and weaknesses in varying amounts. Yet, it is Star Trek: The Motion Picture that had the highest gross at $$139,000,000 until the 2009 reboot. How?
As mentioned before, a new Star Trek series was being developed in the late Seventies. As the work continued, airing commitments fell through, though the door opened to turn the project into a movie. The original pilot script for Star Trek – Phase II got reworked for the big screen. The plot centred on an alien cloud making a beeline towards Earth. As Star Fleet worked to get a ship ready to intercept, a communication from the commander of a Klingon task force showed the danger of the cloud – three Klingon battlecruisers were obliterated one at a time despite their fearsome weaponry. Naturally, the job fell to Star Fleet's top vessel, an upgraded USS Enterprise.
However, the ship wasn't helmed by James T. Kirk. Kirk had accepted a promotion to Admiral after successfully completing the Enterprise's five year mission to find new worlds, seek out new life and new civilization, to boldly go where no man had gone before. In his stead was Captain Decker, a young man following Kirk's footsteps. Alas, for Decker, he got bumped from command when an admiral decided to get back into action.
After the crew, including fan favourites Bones, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov and new crew member, the Deltan Ilia, arrived (via shuttle, not transporter due to messy technical issues), the Enterprise left Earth's orbit to intercept the dangerous cloud. Along the way, a problem with the warp drive caused the Enterprise to enter a wormhole. The crew manages to escape it, but the imbalance in the nacelles makes even Warp Factor 1 a hazard. Fortunately, one man heard about the problem and arrived in a warpshuttle to assist. Mr. Spock, now retired from service to pursue the Vulcan state of Kohlinahr, docked with the Enterprise and provided his skills to get the ship warp-capable.
The Enterprise reached the alien cloud, who sent a probe to inspect the ship. During this, Chekov is injured trying to prevent the probe from downloading information on the defense of Earth and Ilya is killed, vapourized by a blast. Shortly, after a number of probes were launched from the Enterprise and lost, an intruder was detected in Ilya's quarters. Kirk, Decker, and a security team responded, only to discover a new probe taking the Deltan's form. The probe!Ilya explained that she was there to facilitate communications between the crew and the the alien cloud, now known as V'Ger. V'Ger's mission was to find the Creator and deliver all the information it had gathered.
After an unauthorized spacewalk by Spock, who used his trip to try to mind meld with V'Ger and got far more than he expected, a landing party consisting of half the ranking officers (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Decker, probe!Ilya included) made their way to V'Ger's core. There, they discover that V'Ger was really one of the Voyager probes launched from Earth in the Seventies. V'Ger's plan was to become one with the Creator, and did everything possible to force the Creator to go to it. In an act of heroic sacrifice, Decker took the place of the Creator and received all the information V'Ger collected, combining with the probe and Ilya to ascend.
Ultimately, the movie consisted of an extended Star Trek episode, with starship porn to help stretch the time to over two hours. Kirk's shuttle ride from Spacedock to the Enterprise included a long fly-by past, under, and over the starship before docking. Interstitial footage between scenes included loving passes over the Enterprise, to the point where the starship should have gotten billing in the credits. Later Star Trek movies would have a more intricate plot, more action, more humour, even better scripts. So how did an extended television pilot with extensive filler become the most financially successful (before 2009) Trek movie?
The key to the movie's success may be just in the timing. In 1977, Star Wars tore up box office records with an action-packed plot. Star Trek, though, was always a more cerebral series, even when there was action or humour. ("The Trouble With Tribbles" was obviously a warning about removing a species from its indiginous environment.) Also, in 1979, the original series had been in syndication for ten years, far longer than anyone would have expected. (And still is in syndication even now. Not bad for a show that lasted just three seasons.) The fanbase grew as a result. Conventions, fanzines, fanclubs (official and unofficial), comics – the demand for more Trek was there. Thanks to Star Wars, people had a taste of science fiction and wanted more, and Star Trek provided. The idea of watching a movie multiple times in the theatre helped; video cassette recorders were rare at the time so the option of purchasing a copy of a film after its theatre run was non-existant. Thus, possibly the weakest entry in the Star Trek movies has the best theatrical returns, proving that, if the demand is there and effort is made, the fans will come.
Next time, take me out to the adaptation!