The year was 1979, and Sci-fi space dramas on the big screen where coming back into fashion after Twentieth-Century Fox’s huge success with Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977. So Paramount Studios looking to claim a genre success of their own, returned to the license of Star Trek they had gotten from CBS in 1976. Of course this wasn’t some random pick on the part of Paramount since Star Trek fans had been fighting to bring the series back in one way or another. Although Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS) had seen some success and carried on the original TV shows legacy fans wanted more. So everything from just bringing the series back to TV with new episodes, to a few TV movies, to an actual motion picture had been seriously discussed. In 1976 long before Star Wars: A New Hope had even been released, Paramount began to discuss producing a Star Trek movie called Star Trek: Planet of Titans, which essentially would have taken place after the series “five year mission” premise.
Ralph McQuarrie’s design for the Enterprise in “Planet of Titans”, many say this is the basis of Star Trek: Discovery’s starship design
The future of Star Trek: Planet of Titans was ill fated however, and Paramount decided to pull the plug on the project for a number of reasons in 1977, coincidentally only a few months before Star Wars: A New Hope would come out. Of course it’s doubtful that it was cancelled because of Star Wars: A New Hope, since even George Lucas had doubts it would be a success. However, Star Wars was successful, fueling Paramount’s motivation to finally use its Star Trek license, and finally ask Gene Roddenberry to become involved with the project. At first Paramount wanted to bring the series back to TV with Star Trek: Phase II, but as the project evolved it began to develop more into a movie. At that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was born, and Star Trek: Phase II was shelved to later evolve into Star Trek: The Next Generation.
When released in 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture would prove to be wildly successful with series fans and those looking for an epic Sci-fi fix after Star Wars. The film would go on to spawn 5 other films following the TOS crew, as well as leading to the creation and success of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987, and the additional films and shows that would follow including this years (2016) Star Trek: Beyond. The film itself would also play a crucial role in introducing several canonical plot points that would play out in some of the films and TV shows to follow. This of course includes a brief introduction to the Borg as we would later come to know them, but here in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, in the form of a distant mysterious bio-mechanical race that repairs and reprograms the films villain, V’ger.
For me personally I never thought this film was one of the best in the franchise series, although I do understand many consider to be among, if not the best. I mean I get the whole Enterprise being retrofitted and modified thing, and the reunion of the original crew, and other fan service but the story seemed a little bit too dark and off center for a Star Trek plot. That and that botched transporting scene is pretty terrifying, especially when followed up with the line “what did survive didn’t live very long”, yikes!
But, I’m here to talk about video games and let’s be honest this movie was in the right time and the right place. 1979 was a great year for arcade machines, and home consoles, as it would be the next few years to follow. Star Trek: The Motion Picture would appear as a title on the Vectrex, but in the arcade, Atari 2600, 5200 and many other systems of the era it would be called Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator. Essentially, the game no matter what the title, has very little to do with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, or its sequel Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan which would be released three years later. Instead of dealing with wayward V’gers or pirated Starfleet vessels controlled by Augments, you’re shooting up Klingons, and Romulans, and docking with star bases. To most of Star Trek fans and gamer’s it didn’t really matter, what did matter was that we where getting a Star Trek video game that for it’s time was pretty cool, and a true first.In a way though the film itself seemed to have a video game type feel to it in some spots, and/or the look of a 1970’s album cover with Enterprise dropped in the middle of it. The scenes involving V’ger assimilating things, combined with the scenes of the Enterprise, and/or a lone Spock navigating V’ger had a level of imagination involved in them that many didn’t expected at the time and/or in a Star Trek film. On the level of imagination this must hold the place of being the most imaginative film in the entire Star Trek (TOS) movie line, based on the shear amount of creativity that went into it. Just viewing the official trailer (above) you can kind of see what went into the film, and just how far out there it’s plot line really was, while being firmly grounded against the Star Trek universe. You can also see how the movie went on to inspire not only its own video games following, but many others as well.
Although I can’t claim it’s one of my favorites, there is a sense of this movie being an essential for a Star Trek fan. This is a film that despite not really being mentioned canonically moving forward in the series, still sets the ball rolling on everything to take place after. It’s also quintessential to see this one if you are a fan of that era in general, or just of science fiction of that era. Of course if you are a fan of gaming in that era as well such a an Atari 2600 collector, or a fan of early computers like the Commodore 64, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is also a blue print for Star Trek games as well as other games in this era as well. Overall, I’m not saying you have to become a fan of this particular Star Trek film, but checking it out mainly to get a sense of origin may be worth doing.