15 October 2015

Review: Return to Tomorrow: The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture: An Oral History by Preston Neal Jones

Acquired December 2014
Read April 2015
Return to Tomorrow: The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture: An Oral History
by Preston Neal Jones

This book collects transcripts from innumerable people involved in the production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, weaving them together into a narrative. Everyone is here: Gene Roddenberry, director Robert Wise, the whole cast from William Shatner to Stephen Collins, even science advisor Isaac Asimov and the guys who created the lighting effect used in the warp core. Their narratives chronicle the complete development of the film, from the days when it was the pilot for the new television series Star Trek II up to the last-minute delivery of the special effects and premiere.

I don't know if any other film has ever had 672 tightly packed pages written about it before, but surely this must be unparalleled. The preproduction, filming, and postproduction are covered in exhaustive detail. The original 1979 film is often criticized, but on reading this, you can tell that everyone involved was trying to create the best film that they were capable of creating, and much of went wrong was down to time... despite the film having an inordinate amount of time spent on it! Drafts volleyed back and forth even during filming, and character throughlines were left on the cutting room floor.

The amount of thought and effort that went into this film is mind-boggling, down to a determination that none of the video feeds for the bridge monitors repeat between different scenes! There was a real effort to build a plausible, functional future. My favorite fact, though, is that for the wormhole sequence, the actors dubbed their dialogue speaking slooooowlyyyyy, no effects were used to slow the voices. "Phoooootooooon tooooorpeeeeeedooooooes aaaaawaaaaay!"

After reading the book, I rewatched the "director's cut" of the film on DVD. I already had a fondness for the film, but this book solidified my feeling that though other Star Trek films might be more exciting, there's something about Star Trek that no other incarnation of it has ever captured as well as this one, a feeling of exploration, that knowing the universe will ultimately lead to us knowing ourselves. It's a great book about the making of a great film-- certainly the only Star Trek film that would hold up to this kind of treatment.

The human adventure is just beginning.

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