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Film / Star Trek: The Motion Picture

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Scotty: The crew hasn't had near enough transition time with all the new equipment. And the engines, they're not even tested at warp power. And an untried captain...
Kirk: Two and a half years as Chief of Starfleet Operations may have made me a little stale, but I wouldn't consider myself untried... They gave her back to me, Scotty.
Scotty: Gave her back, sir? I doubt it was that easy with Nogura.
Kirk: *in Scottish accent* Ye're right.

The one that gave Klingons their trademark forehead ridges.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the first movie in the Star Trek film series, released in 1979.

Eight years after the Cancellation of the original Star Trek series, which had gone on to be Vindicated by Reruns, the blockbuster successes of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind convinced Paramount Pictures to follow up by green-lighting a Sequel Series for the franchise, Star Trek: Phase II, to serve as a backbone of a new fourth major television network, with Trek creator Gene Roddenberry running the new show. However, within a couple of years, and after substantial pre-production had already gone forward on the new series, Paramount ultimately vetoed the idea of starting a new network, fearing major cash drainage.

However, Paramount decided to use the work already put into Phase II to finally make The Movie (Roddenberry and Paramount had tried to get a Trek movie off the ground four years earlier, which fizzled), with noted director Robert Wise (director of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), West Side Story and The Sound of Music) at the helm.

As a side note, the general story is nearly identical to the Original Series episode "The Changeling,"note  with elements from "Obsession" and the Animated Series episode "One of Our Planets Is Missing"—and in fact the movie's story was intended to be the pilot of the abandoned Phase II.

The plot sounds simple enough. An unstoppable entity calling itself V'ger is heading towards Earth, destroying all in its path, and the Enterprise is sent out to investigate. The story was originally written to be an hour and a half pilot to Phase II (two hours with commercials), stretched to 2½ hours, most of which involved the bridge crew staring at special effects in awe. This led to the film to receiving several Fan Nicknames based on its quite slow pacing, such as "The Slow Motion Picture" and "The Motionless Picture". Wise's declared intent at the time was to create a 2001: A Space Odyssey for that era, and the equally slow-moving Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a blockbuster. This film's criticized slow pacing was partly the reason towards making an Actionized, Surprisingly Improved Sequel, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The novelization of the film is noteworthy for two reasons: it is the only prose Star Trek fiction ever written by series creator Gene Roddenberry, and it contains a footnote explicitly addressing rumors that Kirk and Spock were lovers (it may or may not have cleared that up).

The movie is also noteworthy for its score, composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who would go on to score four more Trek theatrical films (he had been Roddenberry's first choice to score the original Trek first pilot, "The Cage", but was unavailable at the time). Goldsmith's main theme would be re-purposed as the theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation, and his Klingon themes would be adapted in other Trek film scores and in later Star Trek series.

In 2001, a Director's Cut was released on DVD. It has been trimmed to be slightly faster-paced and includes improved special effects, including a shot that shows the entirety of V'ger. It also revealed that the original film was more of a workprint and Wise was not allowed to trim it to a more reasonable length because executives feared such information would ruin the film's reputation ahead of time, and Wise was so slow at filming the movie that when the prints were delivered for the movie's premiere, they were still wet from last-minute editing. In 2022, a 4K remastered version of the Director's Cut was released on streaming, Blu-ray and a limited theatrical release.

This movie provides examples of:

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    Tropes A-M 
  • Activation Sequence: When the refitted Enterprise leaves spacedock. The spacedock lights go dark, things disconnect and get out of the way, there is bridge chatter to report multiple forms of readiness, and in response to Kirk giving the orders for thrusters, Enterprise lights up and starts to move.
  • Advertising Campaigns: No less than Orson Welles narrated the original trailers and ads for the film.
  • The Aesthetics of Technology: The pastel aesthetics of the Enterprise's interior and the crew uniforms were criticised both at the time and for many years later. But now, what with Everything Is an iPod in the Future, they seem ahead of their time. Interestingly, the Starfleet uniform belt buckles actually look a bit like iPhones or iPod touches.note 
  • Alien Geometries: V'ger remains one of the trippiest examples in film, consisting of nothing but bizarre angles and lights.
  • All There in the Manual:
    • The production diary has elaborate backstories for many of the bizarre aliens shown at the Federation headquarters. As an interesting subject of what constitutes Canon, almost none of this backstory has featured in later Star Trek productions. One species was even stated as being expert cloners and that the Federation relies on them for cloning soldiers in times of war.
    • Most of these aliens get fleshed out in the novel Ex Machina, which is set immediately after the movie, incorporating bits of their original descriptions from the production diary. The Saurians, meanwhile, at least get mentioned every time someone pulls out a bottle of "Saurian brandy,'' which was around in the Original Series.
    • The biggest example are Deltans, the species to which Ilia belongs. If you didn't read the novel, you'd have no idea why Ilia had to take a vow of celibacy, or why she refers to the crew as "sexually immature species" (which is why Sulu and Chekov do an immediate Male Gaze when she enters). According to the book, Deltans use sex as an everyday form of communication. Even the act of greeting someone is a sexual act. Now, bear in mind Decker was stationed on Delta (which is how he met Ilia), so you have to have a new respect for a guy who is unfazed by their society on a daily basis.
    • It isn't mentioned onscreen, but Willard Decker is the son of Commodore Matt Decker from the TOS episode "The Doomsday Machine", which somewhat justifies his gung-ho attitude towards giant space threats.
    • Gene Roddenberry's novelization reveals the identity of the woman killed in the transporter accident as Vice Admiral Lori Ciana and that she was effectively Kirk's girlfriend at the time, with Admiral Nogura partly relying on her to keep Kirk interested in his desk job at Starfleet Headquarters. The movie gives no indication of this.
    • The Blu-Ray releases include the Library Computer, an interactive database that will appear on screen as the movie plays offering entries on characters, ships, places, etc. with additional information on them.
  • Ancient Astronauts: The novelization mentioned that an unknown race of aliens used to have a base on the Moon where they manipulated early humanity.
  • And the Adventure Continues: It ends with "The Human Adventure is Just Beginning".
  • Artifact Title: It is no longer 'The' (only) Star Trek Motion Picture.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Decker, Ilia, and V'ger.
  • As You Know: Kind of a variant: Decker explains that Voyager 6 disappeared into "what we used to call a black hole." If they don't call them that any more, why bother using the obsolete terminology? It got worse when the subsequent Trek shows ignored this line and featured several references to black holes. It is possible that certain phenomena observed from Earth were called black holes but were in reality wormholes, which would explain why V'ger wasn't crushed by a singularity.
  • Attack! Attack... Retreat! Retreat!: When the Klingons first encounter V'ger, they go Leeroy Jenkins and fire photon torpedoes at it. When that fails and V'ger starts blasting them, they beat a hasty (yet futile) retreat.
  • Author Appeal: Robert E. Wise is familiar with intellectual sci-fi flicks with overt religious overtones.
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: The original version was rated G (and regraded to "Not Rated" on packaging of the recent DVD/Blu-Ray release), even with one truly frightening moment and frank sexual discussion. The Director's Cut was re-rated PG because the sound mixing was more "intense" and "menacing".
  • Back in the Saddle: Deconstructed. Kirk has been captaining a desk for several years, in which time he's spent very little time in space, meaning his instincts are rusty. In addition, Enterprise has just completed a massive refit in which she's effectively been entirely rebuilt, meaning she's not the ship he knew before. Commander Decker, who was in command of Enterprise through her refit period, is much more familiar with the ship and, in Kirk's own words, "nursemaids" him through the mission, helping them narrowly avoid destruction due to Kirk's unfamiliarity with the ship's new design and associated teething problems.
  • Big "NO!": Decker during the wormhole scene, though this is partially due to the wormhole slowing down time for the ship.
  • Body Horror:
    • Not clearly seen, but the transporter malfunction apparently results in this.
      Transporter Operator: Enterprise, what we got back didn't live long... fortunately.
    • The novelization suggests that Sonak and the other crewmember (Vice Admiral Lori Ciana) were rematerialized with their internal organs outside their bodies.
  • Bookends: The traveling pass over the Klingon vessel in the beginning of the film and the traveling pass under the Enterprise at the end.
  • Broken Pedestal: One of the reasons Decker is angry with Kirk replacing him as captain is because Kirk personally recommended him for the position beforehand.
  • Celebrity Paradox: A rare nonhuman example is Played With in that the real life Space Shuttle Enterprise was named after the fictional starship Enterprise, but in-universe the Enterprise space shuttle is shown as a precursor and namesake to the starship.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Decker is made Science Officer after Sonak's death, since no one else with the right qualifications is familiar with the Enterprise redesign. Spock shows up to resolve that issue later on.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: It isn't as apparent as with other Starfleet uniforms, but each division is differentiated by the color surrounding the assignment patch: white for command, orange for sciences, green for medical, red for engineering (just like TOS), pale gold for operations, and gray for security.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Marvel Comics published a mini-series adaptation of the film, which was followed by short-lived series chronicling what happened after the movie. Meanwhile, McDonald's featured a serialized comic strip adaptation of the film on the boxes of its first-ever Happy Meals, released as promotional tie-ins with the film.
  • Commander Contrarian: Decker. Justified early on; Decker does know the refit Enterprise better than Kirk at that point. Overriding an order from Kirk even saves the ship from being destroyed by an asteroid. Later on, however, he continues to advocate actions which are obstructive or downright contrary to their mission, even recommending firing on V'ger to escape its tractor beam. Decker justifies this with his claim that giving the captain alternatives is the duty of an executive officer, a point which Kirk reluctantly agrees is true. This does nothing to alleviate the hostility between the two.
  • Computers Are Fast: The reason V'ger keeps destroying all the ships it encounters is because its greeting message is transmitted in mere milliseconds, under the assumption that the ships are fellow mechanical lifeforms and will thus be able to understand and communicate at the same rate of speed. Normal lifeforms don't even realize they've been contacted, and thus V'ger doesn't perceive them as intelligent. Spock's telepathy allows him to sense that a message was sent, thereby allowing him to deduce its nature and respond in kind.
  • Continuity Nod: Various supporting characters from the original series turn up, with various promotions. Janice Rand has a brief scene attempting to resolve the Teleporter Accident, and Nurse Chapel is now an MD serving aboard Enterprise.
  • Cool Starship: This movie introduces the Klingon K't'inga-class battlecruiser — essentially a more powerful version of the familiar D7 design from the series — in the opening scene, as well as showcasing the redesigned Enterprise.
  • Costume Evolution: The uniforms were famously changed from the red, gold and blue tunics with black pants in the show into varying pastel shades of tan, grey, khaki and white, along with pants that merged straight into the shoes. The sheer variety of uniforms is interesting, as Kirk himself seems to change outfits every other scene. Behind-the-scenes, the convoluted engineering of the uniforms made the actors hesitant to sign on to another movie unless those were changed, and only the white engineering jumpsuits progressed to later films with some alterations.
  • Critical Staffing Shortage: After Sonak dies in a Teleporter Accident, Kirk asks Decker to find him another Science Officer, Vulcan if possible. Decker informs him that Sonak happened to be the only Vulcan science officer available, and the last qualified applicant on the planet (in the sense that no one else is familiar with the Enterprise redesign). Kirk's response is to have Decker double up as first officer and science officer, since they're on a tight schedule.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The battle at the beginning of the movie between three Klingon battlecruisers and V'ger. Poor Klingons never had a chance.
  • Darker and Edgier: This film takes a more serious tone than the original series.
  • Deconstruction: Of the original series, showing how, even in the 23rd century and despite all the advancements in science and technology, space exploration is still a dangerous business.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Spock theorizes that this is what V'ger is actually trying to do.
    Spock: Each of us, at some time in our lives, turns to someone — a father, a brother, a God — and asks, "Why am I here? What was I meant to be?"
  • Disintegrator Ray: V'ger's main weapon digitizes whatever it hits, storing an exact duplicate in its databanks. Three Klingon ships and the Federation monitoring outpost fall victim to it. Ilia is vaporized by a scaled down version used by V'ger's probe.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Spock, in his own words, "penetrates" an "orifice" to get into V'ger's inner chamber, then passes through a large structure that looks like a vagina on its side, touches a pink, pulsating sensor to make intimate contact with V'ger, is overwhelmed with stimulation then finally passes out from exhaustion and wakes up alone in a a G-rated movie!
  • Dress-O-Matic: The V'ger probe in Lt. Ilia's form appears in the sonic shower in her quarters apparently completely naked. Kirk pushes a few buttons on the shower controls to somehow put an outfit onto it before it steps out of the shower.
  • Dull Surprise:
    • Sonak and another crew member suffer a hideous death at the hands of a malfunctioning transporter. Kirk's response is a flat, affectless 'Oh my God.' without a change of expression. Albeit justified in the fact that over the 5 years Kirk spent exploring aboard the Enterprise, he’s seen a LOT weirder things happen.
    • Kirk, Bones and Decker standing on the Enterprise saucer without spacesuits. It was a tense situation but you’d think somebody would have looked around in awe.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Director Robert Wise edited Citizen Kane and spent the forty years after that making masterpieces of cinema. Accordingly, this film feels like it's from an entirely different era when watched alongside Wrath of Khan and the films that came after. Its spectacle-based panorama, "soft" lightning and film stock, '70s sci-fi fashions, methodical pace, and use of an overture all make it feel more like a roadshow historical epic from the '60s than the relatively-modern Khan. Their intent was to imitate 2001: A Space Odyssey, but coming after Star Wars (A New Hope) it really felt its age.
    • This film marks the first appearance of the Klingon language, which consists entirely of one-word sentences.
  • Earth All Along: Kind of—V'ger turns out to be the (fictional) NASA probe Voyager 6.
  • Easily Forgiven: Spock uses his famous neck pinch to disable a lowly Enterprise crew member, steals a thruster suit, then uses the suit to explore the inner depths of V'Ger. After the Enterprise recovers him he does not suffer any consequences for his actions and Kirk tells Doctor McCoy that he needs the recovering Spock back on the bridge as soon as possible.
  • Enhanced on DVD: Twenty years after the movie debuted, Robert Wise came back and massively overhauled and Re-Cut everything for the DVD release. That included fixing some unfinished special effects, removing some useless scenes and adding some others, sweetening the audio, and most importantly, chopping down the waaaay too long special effects shots. Many fans point to the DVD edition as being far superior to the theatrical release. The Blu-Ray/4K/streaming release of the Director's edition in 2022 further enhanced the effects (old and new), color timing, and sound mix to modern standards.
  • Epic Launch Sequence: Okay, more like an "epic re-launch sequence", as it's the launching of the freshly re-fitted Enterprise. Also a meta example, as it represents the relaunching of the Star Trek franchise itself.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Actual deaths in this movie consist of the crews of three Klingon ships getting vaporized for shooting torpedoes at the approaching V'ger; Commander Sonak and another officer, who die horribly on their commute in to work; the crew of the Federation's Epsilon 9 station, who were only in V'ger's way; and Ilia, who is vaporized by a scan. Earth is nearly destroyed by a probe they themselves had sent out centuries ago that was looking for its mommy.
  • Explosive Instrumentation: Downplayed.
    • When V'ger's first shot hits the shields, the ship suffers no damage save for an electrical surge going right to poor Chekov's console and giving him some nasty burns. The electrical surge looked like it was V'ger's weapon itself, partially getting past the shields.
    • During the transporter accident, a console in engineering responsible for that system goes haywire and spits out sparks, as they hadn't finished repairing it.
    • Averted when Spock smashes his computer console while the V'ger is messing with it. Spock breaks the keys and nothing else, though the probe starts shocking him in retaliation.
  • Expospeak Gag: McCoy describes his Mandatory Unretirement in this manner.
  • Familial Chiding: Kirk has just taken control of the ship on authorization from Starfleet Command, and is trying to rush a newly refit Enterprise to meet V'Ger before it arrives in the Solar System. When Scotty tries to tell him the warp drive needs further simulations, Kirk gets short with him. McCoy chides him for it.
    McCoy: Jim, you're pushing. Your people know their jobs.
  • Fanservice: A mechanical example; the long, long pass around the Enterprise in spacedock is her very first appearance on the big screen, and Trekkers got a good look at the gorgeous lady.
  • Fanservice Extra: The background characters at Starfleet Command include some personnel (of both genders) in very short skirts and skimpy tops.
  • Fashion-Based Relationship Cue: The novelization reveals that in Deltan society, headbands such as the one Decker puts on the Ilia probe mean the wearer is in a marriage-like relationship.
  • Flawed Prototype: The Enterprise. The ship was gutted from head to toe and outfitted with brand new equipment. However, the ship still needed time to finish installing the equipment and do a proper shakedown cruise when V'ger decided to show up. The Enterprise's first attempt at warp ends up creating a wormhole that sucks up an asteroid and are forced to use photon torpedoes when the phasers are off-line due to being connected to the screwed up warp core. It isn't until Spock returns that the ship is in working order.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • As the yet-unidentified cloud approaches the Epsilon IX station, one of the background voices reports "Receiving an odd pattern now..."
    • Spock describes V'ger's homeworld as "a planet populated by living machines with unbelievable technology." 10 years later, came the Borg... (See also Leitmotif for a possible connection between V'ger and that race.)
  • Four Star Bad Ass: Kirk. To quote Uhura: "[Their chances] of coming home from this mission in one piece may have just doubled."
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: A split second before being assimilated by V’ger’s energy probe, the final Klingon cruiser gets off a second shot from its aft photon torpedo launcher at point blank range (see here at 4:28). It’s as effective as the first one.
  • FTL Test Blunder: The USS Enterprise has just undergone an 18-month long refit, updating and improving most of her systems. But they haven't ironed out all of the bugs yet, including the warp drive. The new engines aren't properly calibrated, and Kirk orders that they employ the new warp drive while still in the solar system. The imbalance in the engines creates a wormhole that shorts out their subspace communications and has an asteroid trapped with them heading straight for the ship with deflectors and shields disabled. A photon torpedo destroys the asteroid, and the use of animatter in the torpedoes warhead destabilizes the wormhole, freeing the Enterprise. Scotty warns that it will happen again if they don't finish calibrating the engines.
  • Funny Background Event: Decker trying not to laugh his ass off at Sulu's clumsy interactions with Ilia. He's aware of the affect Deltan females have on males (especially human males), but it doesn't make it any less funny to watch Sulu act like an awkward teenager with a crush.
  • Future Spandex: The movie has this in spades. The main cast threatened to quit if they didn't get rid of them, seeing how not everyone looked good in them. Plus, the spandex costumes were hard to get into and out of, requiring the help of assistants every time the actors needed to use the bathroom, hence the uniform change in the rest of the Star Trek movies.
  • Grew Beyond Their Programming: V'ger started out as a simple probe. The machine race that found it hooked it up to a giant starship so it could do a better job. After traversing the entire universe, all that knowledge allowed V'ger to gain consciousness and redefine its own mission.
  • Hated Item Makeover: As the old hands become reacquainted with the rebuilt and refitted Enterprise, Doctor Leonard McCoy declares that he'll go down to the ship's sick bay with a certain dread. "I know engineers," he forebodes, "they just love to change things." Sure enough, his report to Admiral Kirk is: "It's like working in a damned computer center."
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • In the theatrical cut, Uhura has one after seeing the Federation outpost taken by V'ger, forcing Kirk to repeat his order, "Viewer off!"
    • Chief Rand enters one during the transporter malfunction.
  • High-Tech Hexagons: All over the place—the Klingon ships' tactical displays, the light gantries in Spacedock, the Federation scanning outpost, and the steps Kirk and company walk over to reach V'ger near the film's end.
  • Ignoring by Singing: In order to keep from receiving the final sequence, and disprove its assertion that "carbon units" are not true life forms, V-Ger burns its receiving antenna leads to prevent "hearing" the final sequence.
  • Impossibly Tacky Clothes: The new uniforms as a whole apply, but Bones' civilian outfit makes him look like a long lost Bee Gee. Wearing the headpiece of the Staff of Ra around his neck doesn't help.
  • In Space, Everyone Can See Your Face: Spock has an (untethered!) spacewalk scene using thrusters, and Kirk has a much shorter spacewalk to catch Spock when he comes flying back. You can see both their faces, though slightly obscured.
  • Instant A.I.: Just Add Water!: Kirk surmised that V'ger "amassed so much data it achieved ... consciousness itself!"
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Decker isn't really a jerk at all, in fact he has a very good reason to be pissed at Kirk, but a lot of his arguments as to why Kirk is unfit to command the Enterprise are justified and in the best interest of the ship, not due to personal resentment. McCoy even realizes this and tells Kirk so.
  • Jetpack: Sort of. To get a closer look at V'ger's nerve center, Spock steals a "thruster suit"—a space suit with a rather impressive thruster pack attached. This is implied to be an emergency escape system, and during the destruction of Epsilon 9 someone can briefly be seen attempting to use one in this manner. What else you could plausibly do with a rocket booster that has only a single, fixed duration burn in it attached to your spacesuit is somewhat difficult to imagine.
  • The Juggernaut: V'ger's technology is completely beyond anything the Federation or any other race is capable of handling. The top-of-the-line Enterprise could survive exactly one hit from V'ger's weapons, and V'ger just fired again before they talked it down.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Admiral Kirk is back on the Enterprise, but he occasionally finds himself at odds with the ship's commander, Captain Decker. At one point, Decker countermands one of Kirk's orders during a crisis, and ends up saving the ship from destruction as a result.
  • Just a Machine: Played with. Decker initially dismisses Ilia-bot as the thing that killed Ilia. However, he starts falling in love with Ilia-bot, causing McCoy to harshly remind him, "Commander... this is a mechanism." By the film's end, Ilia-bot is basically V'ger in humanoid form.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Admiral Kirk, before the movie begins. Ironically, Gene Roddenberry infamously got kicked upstairs as well because of the film's disappointing critical reception.
  • Lampshade Hanging: McCoy remarks that he expects the entire sickbay has been redesigned, because engineers just love making changes, in reference to the movie's Enterprise being substantially redesigned compared to the original series's version.
  • Leave the Camera Running:
    • The movie feels like it has more than enough plot for a 46-minute running time TV episode or even a two-parter with a little padding, but that 70-80 minute plot is crammed into a 132-minute movie, so about halfway through the action stops dead while we watch long distance shots of the Enterprise cruising through what were undoubtedly the pinnacle of special effects at the time (in other words, a cheap screensaver by modern standards) for about half an hour.
      • One notes that the film's plot is pretty much the (never filmed until now) pilot for Star Trek: Phase Two so yes it it did start out as a 46-minute story.
    • Troubled Production on the part of the special effects crew was at least partly responsible for this. There was so much difficulty and expense in getting the effects shot that Paramount essentially decided to use all of it, because dammit, they'd paid good money for that footage!
  • Leitmotif:
    • The Klingon theme that would echo in later movies and TV shows, and a love theme that plays during Decker/Ilia and Kirk/Enterprise scenes.
    • In Star Trek: First Contact, also scored by Jerry Goldsmith, the Borg's leitmotif is very similar to V'ger's leitmotif from this movie, perhaps lending credence to the popular fan theory that the "planet of machines" was the Borg homeworld. This is also somewhat supported by Spock, who has been telepathically receiving some thoughts from V'ger, saying that "Any show of resistance would be futile, Captain."
    • A slower mix of the main theme from Star Trek: The Original Series plays when Kirk is delivering his Captain's Log.
  • Let No Crisis Go to Waste: Kirk uses V'ger's imminent approach to get Starfleet to assign him command of the Enterprise, which is currently the only ship in interception range, and he has no intention of giving it back once the crisis has passed. McCoy even lampshades this when dressing down Kirk for his hostility towards Decker.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: One gone would be bad enough, but the novel and movie establish that not having Spock, Bones or the Enterprise would leave Kirk an Empty Shell of a man.
  • Machine Monotone: Probe Ilia speaks in mostly monotone, though she's occasionally demanding when she gets tired of activities which have no purpose to her mission. Her softer tone towards Decker indicates that the real Ilia still exists within her.
  • Magical Security Cam: When the Klingon ships are discombobulated by V'ger, a Starfleet observatory is watching through a sensor probe, which is reasonable enough. Later on, said observatory sends a direct broadcast to the Enterprise, and the live feed continues well after it gets zapped.
  • Male Gaze: When Ilia reports for duty, Chekhov and Sulu snap fixed, amorous gazes as if to say, "Hot damn! A Deltan!" They even act like buffoons around her at first. Decker (who is well aware of the power Deltan women have on sexually immature Terran males) is trying not to crack up in the background.
  • Mandatory Unretirement: McCoy.
    Kirk: Well, for a man who swore he'd never return to Starfleet—
    Bones: Just a moment, Captain, sir. I'll explain what happened. Your revered Admiral Nogura invoked a little-known, seldom-used 'reserve activation clause'. In simpler language, Captain, they drafted me!
  • Manly Tears: Spock weeps for V'ger.
  • Mechanistic Alien Culture: The Ilia Probe struggles to comprehend carbon-based life (the probe is a humanoid android created by a society of Mechanical Lifeforms to interact with the Enterprise crew), so it uses extremely mechanistic language, like "Carbon Units," "Kirk Unit,"—not "Decker Unit". as it still retains enough of Ilia to recognise her former lover—etc., to describe human(oid) society and individual "carbon units." The Ilia Probe created by the machine entity V'ger, being an android, is not an example, but its perception of humanoid society is, as it is colored by the machine belief (as it is on the machines' homeworld) that "carbon units" exist to "serve the creator" (which, according to the machine logic, must be a living machine as well, like V'ger, its creation; similarly, V'ger and the Ilia Probe perceive the USS Enterprise as a Mechanical Lifeform serviced by "Carbon Units"). Interestingly, this implies that "Carbon Units" (carbon-based life) on the machines' homeworld are considered "artificial" by the living machines, which raises some very interesting questions about their evolution and technology.
  • Mega-Maw Maneuver: Done from the other side here. After Enterprise has taken position behind V'ger, V'ger uses a tractor beam to draw them into a hatch on that side, closing it behind them.
  • Mile-Long Ship: The main body of V'ger is 48 miles long according to Deleted Scenes and the novelization.
  • Mood Whiplash: Less than ten minutes after the horrifying transporter accident, Bones' usual reluctance to use the transporter is played for its usual laughs. Even worse, the crewman that beamed up before Bones quoted him as saying he first wanted to see how it scrambled their molecules.
  • The Movie: Or rather, The Motion Picture, because we're classy, dammit.note 
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Though she doesn't say anything, the look on Rand's face all throughout the transporter accident scene clearly says this. Thankfully, Kirk reassures her that it isn't her fault.
  • My Skull Runneth Over: Spock tries to mind-meld with V'ger and nearly fries his brain from the information overload.

    Tropes N-Z 
  • Naked on Arrival: Probe Ilia is beamed in sans clothing. V'ger helpfully beams her into a sonic shower so she isn't strutting around in the buff, and the shower comes with some kind of instant clothing button that puts her in a spacey bathrobe. The Ilia probe was very hot — in the temperature sense (and, sure, the other one too) — when it arrived, the sonic shower was to cool it down. Though how a sonic shower would do so (or why it's called a "sonic" shower when you can clearly see water on Ilia's skin) is another question.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The Enterprise transporter is both powered and in active state while Scotty is busying repairing the system, so when Starfleet ignorantly beams over Sonak and a second person, it immediately goes haywire and mangles the poor bastards. If Starfleet had properly relayed the memo about the transporters or Scotty had secured the system while he was operating on it, the accident would never have happened.
  • No Seat Belts: Averted—the fact that seat belts were a subject of public discussion in the late 1970s and that the bridge crew kept thrashing around falling out of their seats in TOS probably helped. This bridge has chairs with armrests that fold down over the legs. They do look kind of awkward, though. Played straight for the handful of poor bridge officers who don't even get chairs, let alone restraints. In the novelization, Kirk is embarrassed to realise that he doesn't know how to deactivate the safety bar so he can get into his chair, until someone discretely does it for him.
  • No-Sell:
    • The battle between the three Klingon ships and V'ger is completely one-sided, with the former firing three photon torpedoes into the latter that simply vanish, and a last-ditch photon into V'ger's digitizer ball that does nothing to slow their demise.
    • Downplayed with V'ger's first attack on the Enterprise. The same attack that wiped out three Klingon battle cruisers at the beginning of the movie with one shot each is largely dissipated by the shields, and what little residual energy gets through only lights up the warp core for a bit and fries poor Chekov's hands. However, Scotty immediately notes that shields were depleted by 70% with just one attack, so the next shot will definitely kill them.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: All you see of the transporter accident is a woman screaming mid-transport, their outlines slowly melting, and just when her screams get loudest, the beam vanishes, and you get the aforementioned Body Horror line. Brrrrrr...
  • Obliviously Evil: V'ger kills the crews of three Klingon ships, everyone on the Epsilon IX station, Ilia, and nearly the population of Earth. There is no malice in its actions; it simply doesn't understand that what it's doing is wrong, as it doesn't realize that "carbon-based units" are alive. From its point of view, all it's doing is gathering information as efficiently as possible (and removing inconvenient obstacles to its objective).
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • A fairly subdued one from a Starfleet officer after observing the results of the engagement between V'ger and the Klingon cruisers:
      Lieutenant: We've plotted a course on that cloud, Commander. It will pass into Federation space fairly close to us.
      Commander Branch: Heading?
      Lieutenant: Sir, it's on a precise heading for Earth.
    • When the transporters malfunction on the Enterprise, Janice Rand lets out a hushed and horrified "Oh no - they're forming."
    • The Oh, Crap! continues when Kirk and Scotty realize Starfleet finally got Sonak and Ciana back...just not in one piece.
  • Ominous Clouds: The film opens with a massive cloud in space passing through Klingon Space heading directly to Earth. The cloud is already impressive and foreboding on its own. But then it is able to easily dispatch three Klingon Battle Cruisers, And then we're told it is on a heading directly towards Earth, and we later learn that it is over 2 AUs note  in diameter.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: Can be heard while the Enterprise is inside V'ger.
  • The Only One: The Enterprise is the only starship available to confront V'ger. Keep in mind that "interception range" means "from Earth to the Klingon border," an empire with which, at the time, relations were at best frosty.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: It isn't obvious at first, but both Kirk and Spock are wildly out of character for most of the film, and only McCoy can see it in both of them. It's not til the closing scene that the banter between the three heroes becomes what fans were used to on the show.
  • Our Wormholes Are Different:
    • A warp malfunction pitches the Enterprise into an unstable wormhole, within which is an asteroid they have to blow up before a messy collision.
    • A different kind of wormhole ("what they used to call a 'black hole'") is what landed Voyager 6 on the far end of the galaxy.
  • Permission to Speak Freely: Decker is outright hostile towards Kirk in plain view of their subordinates, and even more so in private. Kirk looks as though he wants to punch him in the face numerous times, but lets it go as he needs him to guide his command of a ship he no longer recognizes. Notably, when they're in private and Decker invokes this trope directly, Decker does it correctly; he keeps his tone respectful and his comments on point. McCoy ends up taking Decker's side after Decker leaves.
  • Pilot Episode: As mentioned above, the script was written as the pilot episode to a new television series, and was hastily being rewritten after filming had already started (hence the addition of Spectacle). In fact, if you watch it with this in mind, you might spot that the finished product still hits many of the beats required of most television pilots, such as introducing the characters, and relaunching the ship, elements which weren't strictly necessary for the story that's being told here, but which make perfect sense in context of setting up the format for a new television show. This is also the explanation for the main flaw of this film: It's a 2+ hour theatrical movie with only about 45 minutes worth of story in it.
  • Planet Spaceship: Downplayed. If one includes the concealing cloud (2 AU, twice the distance from Earth to the sun), then V'ger dwarfs a fair portion of the entire solar system. V'ger itself, however, is indicated to be a merely 48 miles long, which still dwarfs pretty much every ship known to the Federation but is miniscule in astronomical terms.
  • Plot-Driven Breakdown: The transporter accident that kills Commander Sonak creates a competence gap in the science crew that Spock can then fill.
  • The Power of Love: It causes Decker, Probe Ilia, and V'ger to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence.
  • Putting the Band Back Together: Kirk drafts McCoy for this reason, and Sonak is a Replacement Goldfish for Spock until the transporter knocks him out of the picture and the actual Spock shows up.
  • Rank Up: Since end of the Enterprise's five-year mission depicted in the original TV series, Kirk has been promoted from Captain to Admiral, Scotty has been promoted from Lt. Commander to full Commander, Sulu and Uhura have been promoted from Lieutenant to Lt. Commander, and Chekov has been promoted from Ensign to Lieutenant. Neither Spock nor McCoy were promoted because both left Starfleet after the end of the five-year mission.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • They chose Voyager as the design of what became V'ger because it was a current event—Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977, and by the time the film was released, both had already visited Jupiter. Mixes with a bit of Hilarious in Hindsight as there were only two Voyager probes... no matter that only two were ever launched (NASA's original plans for the Voyager program were to launch several pairs of probes, but lack of budget forced them to launch just two spacecrafts).
    • Sonak was killed in the transporter accident because he was intended to be in the film as Spock's replacement, but Leonard Nimoy agreed to come back late in pre-production, forcing them to add his introduction largely separate from everyone else. The full production history gets even more interesting, the replacement Vulcan science officer in the Phase II series was to be Xon and played by David Gautreaux, who was recast in a minor role as the Epsilon IX commander.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The usual Kirk/Spock dynamic is handily pointed out by the film's poster.
    • A richly-colored rainbow was a very popular motif in the late 70s-early 80s. It was used for everything from children's cartoons to a Presidential campaign. New Age devotees adopted the symbol of the rainbow about this time.
    • Fridge Brilliance: Kirk is at the red end of the spectrum, and Spock is at the green/blue end. Kirk's human blood is red, and Spock's Vulcan blood is green (presumably making Ilia's Deltan blood yellow).
  • Red Shirt: No one's wearing one, but that doesn't help their survival chances much.
    • Played straight with Ilia. The V'ger probe is interrupted by Spock, who it then zaps in retaliation. Decker then tries to help Spock, and is also zapped. Then it outright vaporizes Ilia, who did absolutely nothing to provoke it. The probe would have also killed a security officer prior to her, but they cut his death to give Ilia's more dramatic weight.
    • Originally, they planned to kill Chekov. Thankfully for the sake of the sequels they didn't know they would be making, it was decided that it would be more dramatic if Kirk listed Decker and Ilia as the only casualties at the end.
    • Not wearing red shirts didn't seem help the Klingons, the two crew members horribly mangled by the transporters, or the crew of the Epsilon IX station.
    • The crewman who Spock neck-pinches before stealing a thruster suit has a reddish-brown uniform, the closest we see to an actual red shirt. He survives the movie.
  • Replacement Goldfish: In the beginning of the film, Kirk is quite insistent upon getting a Vulcan science officer, even after Sonak dies via malfunctioning transporter. He is obviously trying to replace the now-absent Spock.
  • The Resenter: Captain Decker is not at all happy that Kirk's hijacking his command after he just spent the last year and a half overseeing the Enterprise's refit. However when Kirk chews Decker out over it, McCoy sides with Decker, saying that Kirk is the resentful one because Decker has the one thing Kirk wants—permanent command of the Enterprise.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Probe Ilia is a perfect mechanical reproduction of the real Ilia, down to the smallest bodily functions. In fact, this is the chink in the probe's armor, as it were: Ilia's memories and feelings (mostly for Decker) have been reproduced "with equal precision."
    Kirk: They had a pattern to follow.
    Spock: They may have followed it too closely.
  • Robot Girl: Probe Ilia. And intentionally or not, she strongly resembles the Machine!Maria from Metropolis.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: The Klingons appear with forehead ridges for the first time ever. Though here, they share the same sort, whereas later Trek installments would show different varieties of ridges amongst Klingons.
  • Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale: V'ger is originally classified as being over 82 AUs in diameter, which would make it the size of the entire solar system. It's brought down to 2 AUs in the DVD release, which would make the cloud the entire size of Earth's orbit around the sun, which is still quite massive but far more reasonable to hide a ship which, at best, can't be much larger than a planet.
  • Scenery Porn: The effects budget was huge, and they made sure to put all of it onscreen. Pacing suffered noticeably as a result.
  • Scotty Time: One thing that gets inherited from the series.
    Scotty: Admiral, we have just spent 18 months redesigning and refitting the Enterprise. How in the name of hell do they expect me to have her ready in 12 hours? She needs more work, sir! A shakedown!
  • Sex Goddess: Ilia, although she'd never take advantage of a sexually immature race, as Commander Decker can tell you. Hilariously, one of the first things Ilia tells Kirk after reporting for duty is that her oath of celibacy is on record. As noted in All There in the Manual, Deltans have sex as an everyday part of life; even communicating is a sexual act — so it makes sense that Starfleet wouldn't want to make saying "hello" awkward for non-Deltans.
  • Shaped Like Itself: The crew's attempts to learn about V'ger are stymied by that fact that it will only describe itself as seeking its creator, and said creator is simply that which created V'ger. Ilia later reveals that V'ger isn't being obtuse here; it literally doesn't know how to describe itself or its creator. It's not until the climax that they get enough leverage to make V'ger reveal itself to them, thus allowing them to figure out why an incredibly powerful "living machine" thinks someone or something on Earth created it.
  • Shout-Out: Both the much-beloved fly-by tour of the new Enterprise and some of the music cues recall strongly elements of Robert Wise's The Hindenburg (1975).
  • Signs of Disrepair: Voyager 6, which is how the antagonist got its name.
  • Single Tear: Spock, of all people, sheds one for V'ger.
    "I weep for V'ger as I would for a brother."
  • Space Clothes: And man, did the cast hate them. See the Tropes for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan for more.
  • Space Opera: Heavily influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey, the first movie is very different in tone from the rest.
  • Space Suits Are SCUBA Gear: Averted. Both Spock's and Kirk's space suit air systems were contained within a backpack type suit which fed directly to the helmet.
  • Spiritual Successor: Wise's intention for the film was to make it one to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • Stock Scream: We hear a Wilhelm Scream during V'ger's initial attack on the Enterprise.
  • Story Arc:
    • It will get more focus in the next one, but Kirk's mid-life crisis (and he was already feeling his age in the original) starts here, carrying on until Star Trek: Generations.
    • Also is the start of Spock realising that having emotions (and showing love for your friends) is a good thing actually, with some stops and starts along the way.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Admiral Kirk responds to the incoming V'ger threat by using his clout to reassume command of the Enterprise. Unfortunately, he's been out of the Big Chair for over two years, and that chair is on The Bridge of a thoroughly redesigned Enterprise. As a result, he nearly gets the ship destroyed before they've even left the Sol System.
    • In addition, Kirk reclaiming command of the Enterprise means taking the big chair away from his hand-picked successor. This naturally leads to plenty of resentment that undermines their professional relationship.
  • Take That!: A number of early promotion materials released to the press during production contained the tag line "There is no Comparison", an answer to those who speculated Paramount was just going to make a Star Wars rip-off. Younger fans may not be aware of how important it not being a Star Wars ripoff was. Everyone was doing them at this time, and most of them were really bad. Not only was this not a Star Wars ripoff, it's actually rather good (for a given value of good).note 
  • Taking You with Me: Kirk orders Scotty to prepare the ship's self-destruct (or more precisely, detonating the warp core as a matter/antimatter bomb), to be carried out on his command, in case their attempt to disable V'ger from its central core fails.
  • Technology Porn: Along with the introductory flyby of the ship in dry dock, there's a few loving shots of the Enterprise's awesome-looking warp core.
  • Teleporter Accident: Sonak and another crew member are mangled by a malfunctioning transporter as the Enterprise is preparing to leave. And yet, mere minutes later in screen time (and mere hours in-universe), McCoy is still treated as irrational for not liking them.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Klingons are confronted with an absolutely gigantic cloud/ship/thing traveling at warp speed through their space, something several AU in diameter. It's seemingly just minding its own business and on a course to cross into Federation space in a few days. But the Klingons decide that the best move ... is to fire a handful of torpedoes into it. With predictable results.
  • Too Strange to Show: What Decker, Ilia, and V'Ger become, since they disappear from our universe entirely.
  • Typeset in the Future: During the Original Series, the exterior markings on Federation spacecraft were set in the standard typeface used by the U.S. Air Force. Beginning with this movie, the typeface was changed to Eurostile Bold Extended.
  • Unfinished, Untested, Used Anyway: Enterprise has just gone through an 18-month refit and pretty much the entire ship has been rebuilt. They haven't even gotten to engine tests yet. Kirk orders it pressed into service anyway, because the more time they have to 'meet' it, the more time they have to figure things out. A Surprisingly Realistic Outcome happens when the warp engines glitch out the first time they're used, nearly getting the ship destroyed.
  • Vow of Celibacy: Lieutenant Ilia randomly informs Kirk when she comes aboard that she has one. Expanded on in the novelization.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Sonak, Spock's Replacement Goldfish dies before getting much screentime or characterization.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back!: No one at the end seems terribly upset at the departure of Captain Decker, and the return of Kirk to full-time command.
  • Weapon Running Time: V'ger's plasma-energy bolts travel slowly enough that the Enterprise can see them coming for ten or fifteen seconds —but has no way to divert or stop them and must depend on shields for defense.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: V'ger, via Probe Ilia, falls in love with Decker, but is completely confused with this emotion.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Played for Laughs when Kirk reveals it wasn't Nogura who "drafted" McCoy.
    • When Decker saves the Enterprise from the wormhole, Kirk attempts to give him one of these for countermanding his orders. Decker ends up throwing him a Shut Up, Kirk!, letting him know that he's going to get the crew killed with his inexperience with the ship's new systems.
    • After Decker leaves, McCoy takes it even further, ripping Kirk a new one. In the theatrical version, he even makes a thinly-veiled threat to declare Kirk medically unfit for command if Kirk doesn't start listening. After McCoy lets him have it, Kirk does indeed start to listen.
  • The Worf Effect: Appropriately enough, the Klingons are on the receiving end at the very beginning of the film. Three K't'inga-class warships get insta-disintegrated by V'ger to showcase how powerful V'ger is.

Tropes seen in the novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture include:

  • All There in the Manual:
    • It's stated in the novelization that Commander Willard Decker is the son of Commodore Matt Decker from the TOS episode "The Doomsday Machine", and the Enterprise was his big chance to prove he wasn't crazy like his dad. That explains why he's none too pleased with Kirk casually commandeering the Enterprise (or some of his crew grousing about it). Notably, it's a complete inversion of of that episode, with Kirk now the flag officer who commandeers Enterprise from her rightful CO and makes poor command decisions that nearly lead to the ship's destruction.
    • The novelization also reveals the identity of the female transporter accident victim, as well as why Chekov and Sulu suddenly act strangely around Ilia. (Females of her species can emit pheromones that make males want to mate with them).
  • Amicably Divorced: Kirk and Lori Ciana, which makes Kirk's reaction to her death in the movie all the more weird. For this reason, many fans prefer to think that the person killed along with Sonak in the film's transporter accident was actually the ship's original navigator, who subsequently got replaced by Ilia.
  • Artifact Title: It's a book, not a movie.
  • Framing Device: The novel directly refers to the events of the original TV series as dramatizations based on the voyages of the Enterprise. So that means Star Trek is seen by its creator as a Show Within a Show. Justifiable since Roddenberry got fed up with being asked why the Klingons looked different from the ones seen in TOS. His answer remained that he always intended for everything, including the Klingons, to look more elaborate and detailed than they did on TV; they just didn't have the money or the technology to realize it. Making the original series an "in universe" dramatization takes care of that question. In terms of the production's looks, we might assume that what is low budget and zeerust to us in the real world is simply a stylistic choice on the part of the "in universe" show's creators.
  • Human Subspecies: "New Humans", an offshoot/movement of enlightened Earthlings which developed as a result of humanity throwing off the shackles of warfare and conflict.
  • Mindlink Mates: Spock hears Kirk's thoughts from light-years away, and later on it's mentioned that "It was common knowledge that telepathic rapport between Vulcan and human was possible only in cases of extraordinarily close friendship."
  • Ship Tease: The word t'hy'la, as mentioned above, along with the famous footnote in response that seems, on the surface, to debunk Kirk/Spock but could just as easily be used as evidence for it.
  • Vow of Celibacy: Ilia's is explained here. Deltans (Ilia's race) are highly sexual and view humans as immature when it comes to sex, and more to the point having sex with a non-Deltan can potentially kill their partner (because it involves a blending of minds as well as bodies). Deltans are compelled to take a vow of celibacy in order to join Starfleet. Just about everything in Deltan society is sexual on some level, even greetings. The issues became apparent when the Deltans killed the first contact team entirely by accident.


Video Example(s):


The USS Enterprise

Kirk and Scotty's flyby of the newly refit Enterprise

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5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / CoolStarship

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