I will confess that I've never been a fan of any Star Trek TV series, and the movies have ranged from moderately entertaining to infuriatingly awful. I was just a bored-to-death kid when my dad started dragging me to the feature films. Since those snooze-inducing theater-going experiences, I had not viewed the early Star Trek films – until recently. I am a big fan of The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) and The Haunting (1963), both directed by Robert Wise. He directed Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), so I have been desiring to reacquaint myself with this movie – which, in positive and negative ways, functions as a peak in the filmmaker's fascinating career. I'll get back to Mr. Wise in just a minute.
Over the past few weeks, I scraped up time to revisit Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984). They all seemed much lower budget, more clunky, and more goofy than I perceived them to be as a kid, but I definitely appreciated them more as an adult. I was also intrigued by the minor milestones these films represent.
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock was actor Leonard Nimoy's feature film directorial debut. Forever pinned to the character of Spock, Nimoy finally had his chance to show off some of his other talents, even if it was still in the Star Trek universe. Did you remember that Nimoy went on to direct the hit family comedy 3 Men and A Baby (1987)? Neither did I.
One of the few sequences in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan I remembered from seeing it as a kid was the scene in which those ear critters squirm their way into Chekov and Terrell. Seeing the movie again, I found it pretty enjoyable and much better executed than the first film - though the plot of Star Trek: The Motion Picture was superior, in my opinion.
Directed by Nicholas Meyer (Time After Time), Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan represented music score composer James Horner's jump up to the big league, leaving behind low-budget horror pictures like Humanoids From The Deep (1980), Wolfen (1981), and Wes Craven's Deadly Blessing (1981). Horner's excellent score was one of the elements I enjoyed the most about Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. After this big break, Horner would find himself scoring big-budget studio films like Aliens (1986), Braveheart (1995), Apollo 13 (1995), Titanic (1997), Troy (2004), and Avatar (2009).
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan also represents a milestone in CGI visual effects, as the film contains the first entirely computer-generated sequence in film history (created by Pixar, then a division of George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic effects house).
In 1983, the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan VHS release was instrumental in altering the home video industry. Paramount priced the VHS tapes at about half what VHS cassettes were usually sold for. As a result, VHS profits were double what Paramount expected. This drove down movie VHS prices in general and started pushing the industry away from rentals and toward sales of videotapes to those seeking to assemble movie libraries in their homes.
As stated, the first film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was really why I decided to take this little journey. This initial Star Trek outing to hit the big screen has its own wee bit of historical significance. Feature films based on television shows were not hot at that time. Few had been made up to that point - and then in 1979 both Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Muppet Movie were released, creating a trend that would slowly but steadily gain momentum over the next three decades.
The Star Trek TV series had been cancelled in 1969, but the, uh, "enthusiastic" cult following behind the show spawned plans for a new series called Star Trek: Phase II. When Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars (both 1977) made mega-bucks at the box office, the Star Trek: Phase II television series was scrapped and its pilot episode (titled In Thy Image) was re-written as the first Star Trek feature film. With much fanfare, Paramount proudly announced that Academy-Award winning filmmaker Robert Wise would direct Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Shortly after that, everything started to fall apart and the production began its chaotic downward spiral.
I'll see you back here next week when I detail the bedlam of this shoot, and spotlight the exceptional director who – barely – held the movie together.
Thanks for reading.