Robert Wise is an insanely talented filmmaker (and as worldly as his name suggests) but he's probably the last guy you would have expected to direct a Star Trek film.
Wise began his career in the 1930s and worked in practically every aspect of the film business. He edited Citizen Kane, for example, which earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Editing in 1941.
He would later win Best Picture and Best Director twice with West Side Story and The Sound of Music.
Yeah, we know what you're thinking—how did this musical director end up working on the hardest of all hard sci-fi? Your guess is as good as ours. Paramount tapped several directors, including Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola, before choosing Wise, who had never been a fan of Star Trek.
To get him up to speed, they made him binge-watch a bunch of the best episodes from the original series. That's the kind of preliminary research we can get behind.
Despite this, you couldn't find a more experienced hand to captain such a rickety ship. As noted in the Production Studio section, Star Trek: The Motion Picture went through countless production delays and was nearly shuttered many times over. Things were pretty chaotic, but we bet they would've been a lot worse without Wise in charge.
Star Trek's path from pen to page to screen is more confusing than all of the time paradoxes in J.J. Abrams' reboot. (And don't even get us started on that.)
Our story begins in 1975 when Paramount Pictures officially commissioned the film's script from Gene Roddenberry, creator of the franchise. This first draft, known as The God Thing, follows Enterprise as it battles an alien entity that calls itself "God" and takes the form of Earth's most famous deities. This script was roundly rejected by execs, possibly for religious reasons, and they went back to the drawing board.
The next full script was written by two British screenwriters named Chris Bryant and Allan Scott. This one was called Planet of the Titans and involved giant aliens, time travel, and slightly mystical implications. And guess what—it was approved. Unfortunately, the second draft was rejected by executives in 1977, shuttering production for some time.
In 1978, production would restart. Paramount had been planning to create a new Star Trek television series, but after reading the script for the pilot episode "In Thy Image," they canceled the project in favor of a feature film. The idea for "In Thy Image" came from Roddenberry; the treatment was written by Alan Dean Foster; and both scripts would be written by Harold Livingston.
The original teleplay for "In Thy Image" is fairly similar to film, with the big Voyager VI twist already in place, but several aspects of Roddenberry's The God Thing popped back up—most notably Spock's character arc.
Ugh. Our brains are hurting so much it's like we just played 3D Chess with a Vulcan.
The relationship between Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and Paramount Pictures, the franchise's production company, was far from made in heaven…or even in a massive energy cloud ruthlessly moving toward space.
First: some context. The original Star Trek series was actually a flop when it first aired in 1966, bombing in the ratings and lasting a mere three seasons. We know; how is it possible that the show that became so popular it birthed a hand signal, a language, and the concept of mind-melding started off with a "pfft" and not a bang?
By 1975, however, the show had become a cult hit all over the world. And you know what that means, folks: time to cash in with a movie.
Because Paramount Television produced the TV series, it only made sense that Paramount Pictures took over duties for the film. Founded in 1912, Paramount Picture is (and was) one of the biggest production studios ever, but they didn't have much experience with science fiction at the time.
Still, with the success of films like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind during Star Trek's production process, the studio became excited about the potentially interstellar success of their own sci-fi franchise.
They were less enthused about working one-on-one with Roddenberry, however. There were numerous clashes between the sci-fi savant and studio executives over the direction of the film from moment one, finally culminating in 1977 when production was halted.
At that time, Paramount decided to pivot and work on a new Star Trek television series instead. This show was mere days from production before it too was cancelled—this time because Paramount wanted to adapt its pilot script "In Thy Image" into a full-length film. Indecisive much?
As you can tell, this wasn't the smoothest filmmaking process in the world. Trouble continued well into shooting, with the script changing up until the moment it was shot and production being delayed numerous times. Despite this, the film was a solid success at the box office, making about $11 million on its opening weekend and leaving Paramount Pictures open to more entries in the franchise.
In other words, the future of Star Trek movies was set to live long and prosper.
Although Star Trek takes place in the future, this thing is so seventies it's not even funny.
Scratch that: it's so seventies it's hilarious.
From the amazing outfits, to the classic hand-drawn scene settings, to the Epcot-like depiction of Starfleet HQ, the film paints a very specific picture of mankind's utopian future. You might find it outdated, but we find it downright charming.
In a similar way, the filmmaking style is very much rooted in its era. We're talking mostly practical special effects. We're talking the occasional use of soft focus. We're even talking about the tempo of the film, which would be considered glacial by modern standards. Though these might seem like criticisms, they're actually the reasons we like the movie. It's like a time machine that works in both directions simultaneously.
Talk about epic.
Featuring the first appearance of what would become the Star Trek theme song, Academy-Award winner Jerry Goldsmith's score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture sets the film's tone in a major way.
Having worked in Hollywood for more than twenty years, Goldsmith was the perfect choice to helm such a big project. In fact, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had actually wanted him to produce the music for the original series. Goldsmith must not have disappointed him either, because would go on to score four other Star Trek films and contribute work to several of its series.
Although the score features many pounding, martial songs befitting interstellar conflict, there are plenty of pieces that bring an emotional aspect to the film. The aforementioned main theme is a great example: it went through major revisions before reaching the impressively triumphant state we find it in today.
Likewise, "Ilia's Theme" is a piece of music that develops throughout the film, popping up in unlikely places and enriching the meaning of those scenes. If you missed this subtle development the first time around, then be sure to watch the film again to make sure you don't miss out on any of these tasty sound morsels.
True facts: Star Trek: The Motion Picture would have never existed without fan support.
After all, the original series was an absolute flop, bombing in the ratings and getting the axe after a paltry three seasons. In the years that followed, however, the show exploded in popularity. The first Star Trek-specific convention was held in 1972 (three years after the show's cancellation) and these die-hard fans—now known as "Trekkies"—realized that they were a force to be reckoned with.
And these guys pretty much single-handedly were behind the fact that Star Trek went on to, well, live long and prosper.
The passion of these fans was directly responsible for Paramount's decision to greenlight Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Well before Community fans were shouting for "six seasons and a movie," Trekkies were mounting letter writing campaigns to show Paramount their support for the franchise.
Given that this is the same fan base that regularly invests beaucoup bucks into making high-production-quality tribute films, we're not too surprised.
That being said, Star Trek: The Motion Picture isn't exactly a Trekkie favorite. It's not reviled or anything like that, but it simply doesn't stack up in fan's minds to other films like The Wrath of Khan and First Contact. There's actually a famous rule for Star Trek movies: every odd-numbered movie is bad, while every even-numbered one is good.
We're not sure if we agree (we've seen Nemesis) but we're not going to argue with a gang of Trekkies about that. When it comes to their favorite franchise, these folks do not set their phasers to stun.