The Human Adventure Begins Again: Experiencing the Fortieth Anniversary of Star Trek: The Motion Picture

JW William was greeted at the AMC Indianapolis 17 with the colours of TMP.

Star Trek fans across the United States and Canada may have been conspicuously absent from their couches, NFL watch parties, or other activities on Sunday as Fathom Events brought Star Trek: The Motion Picture back to the big screen in honour of the film’s fortieth anniversary. While TMP is typically derided as a slow, almost ponderous, film, it is remembered fondly by many fans, especially those who had endured a decade long drought of live-action Trek after the airing of “Turnabout Intruder”, the final episode of the Original Series, in 1969.

The film, prefaced with an introduction featuring Walter Koenig, Jon Povill, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, and Harold Livingston contains interesting background information that the casual Trekker may not know about the evolution of the feature film, and served as a fitting stage for the main event.

Reflecting on the film, fan Carol Schaef of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania said, “The ‘Star Trek Lives’ movement worked… Those of us who went to conventions and belonged to organizations like S.T.A.R. (Star Trek Association for Revival) and the Star Trek Welcomittee saw our patience rewarded.”

Schaef wasn’t alone. Kevin Sandler from Saint Mary’s, Ohio drove an hour to Fort Wayne, Indiana for a screening. His parents had taken him to Careen when he was eight, and on Sunday he took his wife, kids, and the same parents back to the cinema to behold the sight again. “I don’t care what the critics say,” says Sandler. “It’s a beautiful movie from start to finish that touches something very deep within me.” Sandler and his wife even shared a selection from the soundtrack, “Ilia’s Theme”, at their wedding.

Also seeing the film in Fort Wayne was Eric Peeper, who first saw the film on video as a kid while a Star Trek newbie. “Even though I may have been expecting a more Star Wars-ish movie, the biggest thing I remember enjoying was the pacing.” He described the experience as one that felt “…so real, that we were there.” For Peeper, this was his first time seeing the film on the silver screen. “I felt that all over again.”

(Jonathan Trautner, Ontario, CA) The doors opened today for the first Fortieth Anniversary screening of Star Trek: The Motion Picture

For myself, this was my first experience seeing TMP on the large screen. Together with two friends (one in a Discovery Pike uniform cosplay), I ventured to the AMC Indianapolis 17 for the 1 PM showing. We had been planning to go at 4 PM, but it was hard to find a spot where three seats were available together. The Indianapolis Colts played at 1 PM, which made for a relatively easier time of selecting seats. My companions and I found the experience enjoyable. One of our trio had seen the film during its original release, but each of us marvelled at the details we picked up on the large screen that we had not noticed before, even on the best quality media we had seen.

Fathom Events screened the original theatrical release (which I had never seen), so missing were some of the meaningful character moments that I have come to cherish from the additional footage originally added to the ABC Sunday Night Movie (and later VHS) releases of the film. That said, the pacing was actually better than I had anticipated given my history with the film. (I consider the Director’s Edition my favourite version of the film.)

For my companions and myself, quiet chuckles and the occasional talking along with the dialogue brought great joy to us. Each of us, over a drink afterwards, shared how much we needed this dose of our childhood. Seeing Star Trek, the Star Trek we grew up on, back on the big screen was a balm for each of us in the midst of a challenging time in our world.

David Cheng and friends saw the film at the AMC Del Amo 18 in Los Angeles.

Russell Meyers, who saw the film with a friend at the NYC Regal E-Walk described it as “A solid Trek tale of humanism, friendship, and love winning out in the end.” Patrick Collier of Hoover, Alabama “got emotional watching” Sunday’s screening. Bryan Erdy in Atlanta, Georgia observed that the film was high concept sci-fi, and many fans seem to agree with his assessment.

Devoted fans of TMP were treated to a nearly pristine projection, with superb sound. Of course, it does bear evidence of the rush to theatres in 1979. The silver-jacket clad stagehand is present, some issues exist with colour timing and bluescreen/rotoscoping effects. The sound mix felt better than I remember from the 1983 Special Longer Version, but has not seen that cut since the release of the Director’s Edition, I may be remembering that wrong.

The special effects were particularly effective and impressive on the big screen. Scott McCarty, who took in the show in Denver says that the SFX on the big screen “served to emphasize how big (V’ger) was and the cosmic scale of what we were seeing.” For myself, I noticed intricate details and patterns I had previously missed and found myself glued to the screen during the one point I had identified as a possible ‘run to the loo’ point in the film.

Left to right – Boomer Kipper-Taylor, Nick Kipper, and Jim Taylor prepared TMP attire for the screening they attended at the Preston Crossing 16 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Of course, the film has its warts. During the V’ger flyover, the reaction shots of the crew marvelling over what they were seeing became laughable quickly. Nothing can save the story from feeling like Alan Dean Foster, Harold Livingston, and Gene Roddenberry forgot that the episode “The Changeling” existed. There are moments that suffer from over-extended silence, where a word or an exchange among our beloved friends could have served to alleviate the melodramatically over-the-top attempt to create tension.

In spite of these issues, beholding William Shatner and the crew of the USS Enterprise grace the big screen held a deeply emotional place in the lives of many forty years ago, and it is clear that even today that emotion can be captured once again. For the fans, even forty years later, the human adventure continues.

Fans in the United States and Canada have another opportunity to see the film on Wednesday, September 18th at participating theatres. Dates in Europe and the rest of the world vary.