Broken Base: A crashing bore that nearly buried the Trek franchise for good, or a worthy Trek Spiritual Successor to 2001: A Space Odyssey? For better and/or worse, it's probably the Trek film that comes closest to being an episode of the Original Series in movie format. Compare The Search for Spock, which tends to get much more muted reactions from just about everybody. Maybe the only Trek movie to get this treatment (at least until the J. J. Abrams films) especially after the Re-Cut DVD version, which many felt improved the movie.
The fly-over of the refit Enterprise not only establishes the new design and serves as a "thank you" to fans who helped to bring back the franchise, but it serves to establish a sense of scale of how big the ship really is. First, you have Kirk and Scotty; knowing how tall they are, you can extrapolate the size of their travel pod. Knowing the size of the travel pod, you can see how big the Enterprise is during the fly-by and the docking sequence. Finally, knowing the approximate size of the Enterprise, you get a sense of just how huge V'Ger really is. In the novelization, it's stated that the Enterprise approaching V'Ger was analogous to a mosquito approaching the Enterprise.
What exactly was going on in The Meld at the climax is puzzling until you realize that the light surrounding Deckard and Ilia was the light probe V'ger used to "collect data". However, unlike the previous probes, this one is slower and gentler, because V'ger doesn't want to "collect data". It's using the probe as a transporter beam to merge him and Ilia AND ITSELF.
Fridge Horror: V'Ger's "entire journey" becomes a lot scarier when one takes into consideration that V'Ger basically murdered countless innocent races as it absorbed them in its quest for knowledge.
Harsher in Hindsight: Decker's wanting to meld with V'Ger not ten minutes after the latter is described as a child might take on a whole different meaning in the wake of the underage sex crimes that actor Stephen Collins was revealed to have committed in 2014...
Putting one of the most popular Ho Yay pairings in entertainment history in a rainbow on the poster. At the time, the rainbow was extremely popular in media design and home decor generally, such that it would have been more surprising if they hadn't used one. However, the rainbow used for gay rights was started in 1978, so one wonders if it was intentional.
The big reveal hinges on the fact that V'Ger is actually Voyager 6. 16 years later, another spacecraft named Voyager would headline its own series. In fact, the premise of that series is about Voyager being flung to the far end of the galaxy and trying to find her way back to Earth, not unlike V'Ger's backstory.
Bones giving Kirk a What the Hell, Hero? over kicking Decker out of the Captain's chair, when the very next film has him telling Kirk "Get your command back. . . before you really do grow old," in a tone implying "I don't care who you have to screw over, or just plain screw, to do it."
Spock mind melding with the Red Angel and going into a Heroic BSoD on Discovery makes him having a crack at V'ger pretty hilarious. "Join my mind with an incomprehensible hyper advanced intelligence? I'm sure this time it'll be fine..."
On the topic of Discovery, one of the most-heard complaints about that show? That they redesigned the Klingons, evidently just because they could.
"This simple feeling..." is exactly what, now, Spock? Especially since they're holding hands? And Kirk's gazing at him with a look of unprecedented, almost aching tenderness?
Well worth noting: Hand touching is Vulcan kissing. Yeah.
"Dammit Bones, I need you!Badly!"
The page image for Ho Yay is from this movie. Just sayin'.
Watch the scene where Spock first shows up on the bridge. Now look at Kirk's face. Does he or does he not look like he's just had the love of his life returned to him from death? His entire face lights up in that moment. There's no ambiguity there whatsoever.
And V'Ger finally understands this 'simple feeling' once Decker and Ilia join with it... sorry, is this supposed to be subtext?
Been reading this, have we? "Apparently one of the reasons the film had to have a secret slash message was that without it, 'it is simply inconceivable that the creator of such an intelligent series would let its first foray onto the big screen be such a trite science fiction story.'"
Misblamed: While Gene Roddenberry is often lumped entirely with the blame for the Troubled Production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, in actual fact the responsibility was pretty equally divided between Roddenberry, director Robert Wise, and initial visual effects designers Robert Abel & Associates. Roddenberry couldn't make any firm decisions as to the storyline and kept rewriting the script on the fly until Paramount were forced to step in and remove him from creative control, Wise made several decisions such as insisting on major set and costume redesigns and not shooting for more than 12 hours a day that caused the budget to balloon, and then RA&A completely failed to deliver any usable visual effects, forcing the studio to hire Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra to churn out the effects no matter what the cost. Paramount actually were open to letting Roddenberry produce a sequel, but after a meeting in which he angrily refused the notion of any restrictions on the budget or his creative control, they decided that had learned nothing from his experiences on the first film and kicked him upstairs.
The hilariously weird electro- belching noises V'Ger makes when it signals the creator during the climax.
Older Than They Think: Sonak is sometimes thought of as a Suspiciously Similar Substitute to Xon, Spock's intended replacement from the aborted series Star Trek: Phase II, and the transporter accident a way of getting rid of him to allow Spock back into the cast. In actual fact, Sonak's death is something taken directly from the pilot script of Phase II (which was turned into this film), except there he was called "Ronak," and the transporter malfunction just caused his pattern to dissipate into nothingness, instead of rematerialising him in a horribly warped state.
A script for a one-hour pilot for a new Trek series that never came to be was made into a two-hour movie by the addition of a little extra chatter and lot of establishment shots of truly insane length, such as our first look at the new Enterprise, as well as when V'Ger is revealed. 2001: A Space Odyssey moves at light speed by comparison. Fortunately, Jerry Goldsmith was on hand.
The original VHS release was actually 12 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. Which, believe it or not, improved the movie somewhat, since much of the material that was added back in consisted of dialogue that actually advanced the plot and explained what the heck was going on while also giving the rest of the cast and extra more screen time, allowing for some quirky humor and philosophical musings that made them seem more alive and, well, human.
Editing wasn't actually finished when the movie premiered—in fact, the filmmakers were frantically editing to the very last few hours before the premiere, to the point where the film prints were still wet. Editing was completed properly for the director's cut, and this makes the movie a much better flick.
Also, bear in mind that this movie was a very big deal at the time—Trekkies had spent ten years clamouring to see a new live-action version of the show (and remember that this was before home video, so unless they caught some reruns it really had been ten years since they saw anything involved with the show). Some bits were left (when we first see the Enterprise, Kirk's arrival at Starfleet, McCoy beaming in, Spock first stepping on The Bridge, etc.) so the fans could cheer for their favorites returning.
Popularity Polynomial: Star Trek: The Motion Picture was popular enough that it did financially well at the box office. Despite critics bashing it, Trekkies were glad to have Star Trek back. After Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and especially after Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, fans began to see 1979 Motion Picture in a different light, often jokingly calling it "The Motionless Picture" due to its slow pacing and subdued performances from the cast. The dynamic melodrama and powerful character moments of II, and the refreshing comedy relief humor of IV, were often held up as unfavorable comparisons for The Motion Picture, resulting in it getting thrown in with the other odd-numbered Trek movies as inferior.note This tendency to regard the odd-numbered Trek films as inferior is generally attributed to having started with the fan reaction to Star Trek V. The 2001 Director's Cut has improved the reputation of the film somewhat, thanks to better pacing and improved visuals, though the film is still considered too slow for some fans.
Retreaux: This Star Trek film, more than any other, has the feel and style of a Golden Age Epic Movie. It's directed by a venerable Golden Age era film director, has a pre-credits overture, lots of wide angle shots, a sweeping, outstanding music score by a composer who was mentored by the Golden Age era composers, slow pace where mood and characterization is favored over action scenes, very little comedy relief, extended scenes without dialogue, and a subdued but still powerful performance by the cast. 1979 was almost fifteen years removed what is usually agreed to be the end of the Golden Age of American films.
The scene when Kirk and Scotty fly around the updated Enterprise is among the most widely-mocked scenes for lasting so long, but it was a huge deal for Trekkies at the time, who seeing it up-close and in live-action for the first time since TOS's cancellation in 1969.
Use of the "blaster beam" in the score was revolutionary at the time, earning Goldsmith an Academy Award nomination. Thanks to Christopher Nolan's overuse of the effect in the past few years, though...
Shout-Out: May or may not be intentional, to Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The look of the energy bolts, a giant machine that consumes everything, a crew member who looks stunningly like Rotwang's model note Roddenberry said he had always wanted to show a sexually magnetic hairless female alien, but never revealed if he was consciously thinking of Metropolis, even a false or replicated (although non-evil) version of her. And in a sense, the overall message, that emotion is necessary as well as logic, and in communing with the Creator by absorbing and transforming Decker and Ilia, Vger is creating a "heart" for itself.
As awesome as the effects in the theatrical cut generally are, there are a few cases where it's obvious that the effects were rushed in order to meet the release deadline. Notable examples are the horrible-looking asteroid explosion, and two occasions later in the film where V'Ger's energy bolts are rather clumsily matted in. Also happens literally. The first special effects company couldn't get the job done, so Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra had to be hired late in the production.
In the TV edit which aired several times on ABC in the 1980s, one notorious scene, in which Kirk spacewalks out of the Enterprise to join Spock at the meeting with V'Ger, features an unfinished wide shot of Kirk leaving the ship, with the studio rafters and scaffolding visible all the way around the edge of the "ship exterior". The scene had been cut during filming but was restored to pad the TV edit before anyone realised that it had not undergone any post-production. It also didn't help that the scene was part of the original space walk, in which Kirk joined Spock and encountered a "memory wall" together.
The astronaut who gets thrown away from V'Ger's attack on the station has comically thin and doll-like limbs.
The matte painting for Spock's homeworld in the Theatrical Cut are very unconvincing, looking very flat and obvious, especially compared to the other matte paintings in films at the time, and that's before you get to the continuity flub of depicting Vulcan as a volcanic planet instead of a desert one. It was completely replaced and much improved in the Director's Cut.
While the film tries to depict Kirk and Scotty as being visible through the windows of the inspection pod they use to board the Enterprise, the effect isn't too successful, and makes them look like a pair of cardboard cut-outs. Tellingly, after this film the franchise would depict shuttle windows as being opaque until Star Trek: Insurrection, where the technology had improved enough to convincingly depict the occupants moving with the shuttles.
They Changed It, Now It Sucks!: While generally seen as a big improvement overall, the Director's Edition did come in for some minor criticism over changes made to the sound mix, in particular the red alert siren being changed to a much wimpier-sounding one, and V'Ger's energy bolts getting a much shriller and higher-pitched noise. For some reason, Wise removed Kirk having to bark "Turn it off!" a second time, when the original cut showed how shocked the crew was that Uhura was unable to notice Kirk's order the first time.
The film actually features some far more profound and interesting themes than its more well-received sequels, which for the most part are much more standard action-adventure takes on the franchise. Unfortunately, said themes are either glossed over or crammed into the last twenty minutes and not given enough time to be explored, meaning that they end up taking a back seat to the effects sequences.
The machine race. We are talking about a species so advanced that they can take a Voyager-series probe from the twentieth century and turn it into a sapient weapon that makes a Borg cube look like a paddle steamer. And yet not only do we never see them again either in the movies or the series, but nothing whatsoever comes from Decker bonding with V'Ger. Unless, as speculated by numerous people, up to and including Gene Roddenberry himself, the machine race is the Borg... (which only raises a completely different set of equally interesting questions, like why the Borg would behave so apparently benevolently towards a wayward Earth probe made from, in their estimation, "stone knives and bear skins.")
Powered by going way over budget. From the iridescent paint job on the Enterprise that made Chroma Key fail hard, to zillions of vehicles and costumes you only saw on screen once, to (of course!) the mind-bending V'Ger sequences, you should seriously consider giving your eyes a break every now and then.
Not to mention the awesome effect when the Enterprise warps out.
The photon torpedoes look and sound deadlier than they ever did in the original series. The exact same sound and effect (except for changing the torpedoes from blue to red) would be reused in all Star Trek up through First Contact, which introduced quantum torpedoes (and photon torpedoes still saw use in that film, as well as on Deep Space Nine and Voyager).
V'Ger has absorbed enough to knowledge to become basically sentient, yet it doesn't know its proper name is Voyager simply because of some mud on its exterior. Either that or the hyper-intelligent lifeforms that built it never invented the sponge.
Rather, it harkens back to a line from The Old Series by Kirk: "Man makes God in his own image." V'ger expected a Machine Creator, not carbon life forms.note In fact, this was addressed by Decker, who used a variation of Kirk's line ("We all create God in our image.") but for some reason this scene was removed and can only be seen on the TV cut. (Possibly to avoid the ire of religious groups?)
Supposedly, Robert Wise had the uniforms designed so plain compared to the bright TOS uniforms (which were planned to be used again in the Phase II series), so that the audience would focus more on the actors' faces. Unfortunately, the actors don't get to show a whole lot of emotional range throughout most of the movie, so the ploy ended up backfiring spectacularly.
Word of God says that the cast and crew themselves hated the uniforms they wore for this film (the zippers were so long that actors needed help going to the bathroom), and that a condition for their return in a sequel was for them to be replaced, leading to the redesigns introduced in The Wrath of Khan.
Ho Yay: The movie is already fairly homoerotic, but the novelisation takes it Up to Eleven. For one thing, the novel introduces the Vulcan word t'hy'la, which Spock uses to describe Kirk, and which can mean friend, brother or lover. For another, it outright states that it was Kirk's mind that had called to Spock across the lightyears and ruined his Kolinahr (the film implies that it's V'Ger's arrival in Federation space, not Kirk's mind, which disturbs Spock during his Kolinahr ceremony, and Spock later says he sensed a powerful and perfectly ordered consciousness that might hold "his answers.").
For what it's worth, the novelization was written by Gene Roddenberry. Yes, that Gene Roddenberry—his only published Star Trek prose. (Roddenberry did this, in part, as an act of revenge against the film's screenwriter Harold Livingston—Roddenberry really wanted to get script credit but didn't (and turned down co-story credit), so he got his own back by novelizing the script, as was his legal right. It's worth noting that Livingston and Alan Dean Foster (who has story credit) aren't mentioned on the front cover.)
Foster repeatedly confirms that he had nothing to do with the novelization. If you know his work at all, you can tell by reading it isn't.