Tuesday, June 29, 2004

News from the Novelization

Gene Roddenberry wrote the novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Although he talked often of writing novels, this is the only one he published and probably the only one he finished writing. Like other Star Trek novelizations, it uses dialogue and story from the film's script at the time the book is written, and it fills in moments between those we see on screen, peeks into the characters' thoughts, and adds nuances and explanations to the story. For instance, Kirk's having accepted an admiral's desk instead of returning to space is explained as a rather cynical political ploy by some of Starfleet's top leaders. The joining of Decker and Illia is set up with more overtly sexual references, V'ger's thoughts are described in fascinating and chilling detail, and there are a few peeks into earth's future as Roddenberry envisioned it.

Roddenberry gets to add more texture to Spock's thoughts and experiences. He describes the Vulcan as having seven senses: the usual human five, plus the ability to sense differences in magnetic fields which, he writes, many animals possess, and a kind of spiritual sense of the unity of the universe: "It helped to look out at the stars. It was satisfying to feel the vastness out there and to know that he was not only a small part of that, but the All of it, too. His seventh sense had long ago assured him of this, just as it was doing again now, that this relationship of consciousness and universe was the only reality that actually existed."

This relationship of consciousness and universe is an idea that would reappear and be expanded in Roddenberry's next series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. But it was also implied in the original Star Trek, and expressing it now provides an extra color to the subsequent Star Trek movies.

Fate of the Franchise

In the end, even with the DVD version, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is more of an event than a tight, well-made movie. The poetry of motion in space, which was so mesmerizing in "2001," doesn't have quite the same power in a movie that depends on talk, though it did work to expand the sense of the Star Trek universe visually. Sometimes the necessities of getting the major characters their screen time makes for clutter, as in McCoy's repeated and sometimes aimless-looking trips to the bridge and back to sick bay. But in most important ways, this movie---especially in this version--- delivers the Star Trek experience.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture was burdened with huge costs, that today are ascribed to the demands of the set-in-stone release date. It's also said that Paramount included the costs of the aborted TV series in this film's budget. For whatever reasons, the high costs made it more difficult for the movie to make a profit, and they helped to ensure that Roddenberry would not be hired to produce another Star Trek feature.

The movie's problems also contributed to a slower-than-Star Wars box office, but eventually the movie did make money. Now Paramount had a baseline of what a Star Trek movie could bring in. If they could make a feature more cheaply, they could probably go to the well once more, and make one more Star Trek feature film, before saying goodbye to it forever. Squeezing one more movie out of it just might be possible...

Or was the adventure just beginning?

To: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

1 comment:

DerekBowman said...

Hello William! I've followed your recommendation and revisited ST:TMP, albeit the director's cut.
Having watched TOS in the late 1960s I was one of those who, in 1979, eagerly watched ST:TMP but was vaguely disappointed with the cinema release. I thought the director's cut improved the film immensely, particularly Spock's previously deleted scene. With hindsight, you wonder why this pivotal moment which linked several themes was cut? However, alongside ST3 and ST10 ST:TMP still ranks among my least favourite ST films. I wonder too, given audience reaction to 1979's cinema release, whether we were fortunate that the ST franchise continued? Perhaps it did, is a tribute to serendipity?