On Dec. 7, 1979, Paramount’s Star Trek — The Motion Picture hit theaters and launched the franchise on the big screen. The film, which reunited the cast of the NBC series, went on to earn three Oscar nominations (for art direction, original score and visual effects) at the 52nd Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
No mistake about it, Star Trek is a big movie — big in scope, big in spectacle and, most important, big in entertainment values. Trekkies will be pleased to know that almost all of their favorite characters are back in their original roles (with the welcome addition of voluptuous Persis Khambatta as the Navigator); while the Enterprise itself, which had apparently been in drydock these many years, has now been rebuilt and enlarged to an unimaginable vastness — unimaginable except, of course, by producer Gene Roddenberry and the special effects teams assembled by Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra (who go curiously uncredited in Paramount’s official press handouts).
What gave Star Trek its lasting appeal on the small screen was not its sense of endless exploration — not just of the vastness of outer space, but an exploration of those cosmic values that enrich and ennoble our own humanity. Star Trek — The Motion Picture also has this as its central purpose. Beyond its visual splendors and its screen-shattering catastrophes, the standard fare of today’s sci-fi epics, there is a theme that finds its culmination in a statement which, while hardly profound, surely bears repeating — that love combined with understanding can produce a universal harmony.
As the film opens, an unknown force with awesome power to disintegrate both men and machines is hurtling toward Earth. The reconditioned Enterprise, without even time for a shakedown cruise, is ordered into service to intercept and destroy this new enemy. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is once more in command — to the intense dissatisfaction of Commander Decker (Stephen Collins), who believed that he would, and should, be in charge. One by one, Kirk is joined by his former confederates — Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Scotty (James Doohan) and Sulu (George Takei) — as the starship races through the universe toward its destiny.
The evidence of the invader’s destructiveness is awesome. Enormous airships are engulfed in waves of blue, crackling energy, then disappear without a trace. It affects and reverses electrical systems aboard the Enterprise, can paralyze individuals or make them vanish. Aware of these overwhelming odds, Kirk decides not to fight what he can’t even see, but to try to make contact for the purpose of communication. And, as it turns out, that is precisely what the enemy was also trying to do (albeit a trifle crudely).
Obviously, this provides a field day for the special effects people; and while I’m not sure of the purchasing power of $40 million at today’s inflated prices, it’s money well spent. Star Trek may lack the magic weaponry of Star Wars or the awesome splendor of Close Encounters mammoth mother ship, but it shares their sense of wonder at the technological marvels that lie ahead and the vastness of universes yet to be explored. And its models are models of ingenuity.
Somewhat less so is Harold Livingston’s screenplay, which often seems addicted to talking a great deal about things that we should rather see, which tends to make the film seem somewhat longer than its 132 minutes. And while Robert Wise’s direction keeps the human action moving briskly enough, he has a disconcerting way of letting his characters gaze off at the phenomena of outer space with a “gollicky mo!” expression that is in odd conflict with their presumed experience and sophistication. I like to think that were it not for his preordained December 7 deadline, Wise would have trimmed another 10 minutes from his movie.
But I’m not complaining. This Star Trek is truly an epic spectacular (or a truly spectacular epic), reflecting the highest degree of Hollywood’s vaunted professionalism in every department, from Jerry Goldsmith’s resounding score to Richard Kline’s wide-ranging photography to Harold Michelson’s eye-filling production design, which brilliantly solves the often sticky problem of making the full-scale sets look as if they might actually fit inside the many models. — Arthur Knight, originally published on Dec. 10, 1979.