Greenlit off the success of Star Wars, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was anything but. This somber, ponderous, meditation on the future of human kind had more in common with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey than it did George Lucas’ Episode IV: A New Hope. And while numerous fans tend to prefer the franchises more action oriented second installment, The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek: The Motion Picture perhaps better illustrates concept creator Gene Roddenberry’s lofty intentions toward this household IP. But of course what better way to “Illustrate” Star Trek’s cinematic intentions than a book featuring the very illustrators and concept artists that made Star Trek: The Motion Picture a reality. Titan Books’ Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Inside the Art and Visual Effects by authors Gene Kozicki and Jeff Bond (Danse Macabre: 25 years of Danny Elfman and Tim Burton) does just that.
The original series had its abbreviated run back in the late ‘60s yet it wasn’t until the ‘70s counterculture latched onto the show in syndication that Trek fandom truly soared “where no man’s gone before.” Spock, Kirk and crew became international icons yet the notion of adapting something made for television to the big screen was indeed a new frontier. After all, why would audiences spend money for something they see in their living rooms for free? “The story I was hearing was that they were terrified to be the first people to turn a television series into a feature film. That was just the weirdest idea at the time” recalled renowned special effects artist Douglas Trumbull (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner). Between the years of 1975 and 1979, the notion of Star Trek’s first feature film went through several iterations (not to mention the planned Star Trek: Phase II TV show) and amassed an assortment of conceptual artists that’d make the crew of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ultimately undeveloped Dune feel inadequate.
Among the first scripts developed was Roddenberry brainchild The God Thing. In The God Thing, the Enterprise crew come face to face with a powerful entity that identifies itself as, who else, but God himself. Kirk and co. ultimately uncover the self-proclaimed deity for the malevolent fraud he really is (in some drafts, the entity even turns out to be the Devil himself). Many of the savvier Trekkers out there may noticed more than a passing similarity between this story and fifth film installment, The Final Frontier. One of the few surviving elements from Roddenberry’s script that made it into the finished first film was a humanoid probe sent abroad the USS Enterprise akin to Lt. Ilia (portrayed in the film by Persis Khambatta).
The studio, looking for a story that was more future focused and less rooted in theosophy, rejected Roddenberry’s The God Thing and brought aboard a host of acclaimed science-fiction authors, including original series alum Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451). Midway through 1976, a treatment entitled Planet of the Titans was zeroed in on to be the first Trek film, with Philip Kaufman (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) eyeballed to direct. The story featured a number of ideas that drastically differed from the finished film such as the Enterprise crew gaining mental abilities after traversing a black hole, traveling back in time to the Paleolithic era, teaching early man how to make fire and confronting a giant arachnid that was said to be “part electrical, part animal, part plant.”
Despite these differences, a number of the notions conceived for Titans ended up in the finished film. “A bombardment of light and sound” effects as the crew enters an anomaly in outer space, Spock attempting to shed his human half on his homeworld of Vulcan, the Enterprise ship in drydock as well as two of the crew becoming one with a cosmic entity from the deep reaches of space. It’s from this point on where the production begins to nab its cache of gifted artists who include James Bond production designer Ken Adam, Space Odyssey special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull, Blade Runner futurist Syd Mead and renowned Star Wars conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie; all culminating in a motion picture that would ultimately be directed by film veteran Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music). Under the stewardship of Wise, gifted special effects technicians such as Greg Jein, Richard Taylor and the good people at ASTRA would take two dimensional concept art of V’Ger and The Enterprise and render them into vivid three dimensional models.
As with much of Titan’s behind the scene, making of output, Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Inside the Art and Visual Effects is a veritable treasure trove of Trek lore and production information, featuring stills from the set, conceptual illustrations, quotes from the crew and more. Its all-encompassing nature not only covers the art and visual effects (as the title would suggest) but the overall production of the film and its long road toward development. The book offers longtime Trekkers an in-depth analysis of the franchises first feature and the cadre of talent that helped make it a reality; providing a wondrous opportunity to reassess a first installment all too often forgot.