Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Return to Tomorrow: The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Return to Tomorrow: The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture
by Preston Neal Jones
Published by Creature Features
Read June 16th 2015

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From the back cover:
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) is one of the most beguiling and important science fiction films ever made. Its spectacular realization of Gene Roddenberry's inspirational future and humanistic storytelling are a cinematic achievement unlikely ever to be matched. At the same time, the film was a deeply troubled production that rolled without a complete script and saw a wholesale change in visual effects companies--barely making its release date. 
In 1979, Preston Neal Jones was given unparalleled access to the cast and creators of Star Trek: The Motion Picture for what was intended to be a cover story for Cinefantastique magazine. Owing to the late completion of the film and ambitious scope of the manuscript, it was never published--until now. 
This book is a priceless time capsule, an oral history in the words of 60 of the film's cast and creators, interviewed as the film was being prepared for release--and nobody had any idea if it would succeed or even be finished on time. 
From the stars (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the entire cast) to the filmmakers (Gene Roddenberry, Robert Wise) to the brilliant visual effect artists, illustrators, model builders and technicians who realized the 23rd century on screen (costumes, sets, props, models, music, sound FX and more), no aspect of the film's creation is overlooked. 
Go behind the scenes of this pivotal sci-fi masterwork and hear the unvarnished, uncensored truth of how it was created. 

My thoughts:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture has always held a special place in my heart. Years ago, my mom brought home a rented VHS of the film, and we sat down to watch it with a bowl of popcorn between us. Looking back, I realize that this was the moment of a parent handing down a love of Star Trek to her child, and boy did it ever work! The moment the camera passed over the Klingon Battle Cruiser as it approached the immense V'Ger cloud, I was hooked. To me, for all of its flaws, The Motion Picture has always been my real introduction to Star Trek and the beginning of a love affair with that franchise that continues unabated to this day.

Many fans, however, have mixed feelings about The Motion Picture. While it is a beautiful film and responsible for the continuation of Star Trek, many have complained about the pacing of the film, or that it is "dull," or doesn't have enough action. However, I would counter that there is no film that reflects what Star Trek is more than The Motion Picture. And reading Return to Tomorrow only helped to reinforce that belief.

Return to Tomorrow is absolutely bursting at the seams with behind the scenes tidbits about the production of TMP. Through first-hand accounts from nearly every person involved with creating the film, the book outlines absolutely every single step of the production, from the early days of the proposed television series Star Trek: Phase II, to the incredibly rushed push to finish the film in time for its release date.

If there is any small complaint to be made about Return to Tomorrow, it's that there are no production photos or supplementary material to accompany the stories that make up the book. However, it is completely understandable that these are missing given the unlikely trajectory this book had to take to get published! Also, the book is so packed with material that to add anything on top of that would simply make it unwieldy or, heaven forbid, necessitate removal of some of the incredible stories that are the main draw of the book.

Reading Return to Tomorrow, I was often overcome with a strong desire to re-watch The Motion Picture. While I have seen it many times in the past, I am eager to give it another look with the stories behind its fraught production fresh in my mind. I foresee Return to Tomorrow being a companion on this rewatch, as well as having the book occupy an honored place on my bookshelf for years to come.

Final thoughts:

Reading through the first-hand accounts of the crazy days of the production of The Motion Picture, one cannot help but look at the film in an entirely new light. Even for me, as someone who already loved this movie, TMP became enhanced by the stories surrounding the production. I would imagine that someone who had a dim view of this film might have their mind changed by reading this book and reliving the experiences of the people who poured their hearts and souls into its production.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be in front of my television watching the Director's Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, with Return to Tomorrow within easy reach!

My next read:

This weekend, look for my review of Fearful Symmetry by Olivia Woods, the next book in my re-read of the post-finale Deep Space Nine novels!

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