Today I look back at Star Trek: The Motion Picture's theatrical release. I may've been a five-year-old kid, but I was there. And I kinda remember it. With this in mind, please join me on a warp down memory lane and a recollection of first contacts with the Star Trek films. With any luck, it'll inspire you to share similar stories in the comments below.
I am a five-year-old kid from New Jersey - a strange place whose verdant farms resemble Omicron Ceti III, beach communities resemble Risa and industrial north resembles a Y Class planet. My parents decide to take a holiday vacation in nearby New York City. We'll see a large arboreal life-form festooned with decorative illumination and left to die in a large outdoor marketplace. Around town I will see a promotional poster for a film. It will have three floating heads, one of which will be partially obscured by dark blue vertical stripes and somewhat ... demonic. I will be simultaneously horrified and fascinated by this image and demand – DEMAND – to see it.
My parents take me to what was then Loews Astor Plaza cinema, now the Best Buy Theater. (I'm serious.) It is Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The force of the music is unlike anything I've ever heard before. The moment when the Enterprise enters a wormhole frightens me to the point of burrowing my face in my mother's side. Soon thereafter I fall asleep and am carried by back to our hotel.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
I never see this in a theater. Yeah, I know. It's only one of the best movies ever made. What do you want from me, I'm seven, hardly master of my fate.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
But I must have seen it by June 1, 1984. Maybe at a friend's house, or a Betamax rental, or I read the comic adaptation. Or perhaps I absorb enough relevant lunchroom conversation. Either way, it is enough for me to jump into Star Trek III without worrying about continuity.
I somehow connive my grandfather, a Ukrainian immigrant who survived pogroms, the Great Depression and a lifetime of backbreaking labor, to take me to see this. A lively one-way conversation about mind melds, the Genesis device and Fal-Tor-Pan takes place during the drive home.
I enter a twelve-year old kid, I exit a Star Trek fanatic. I laugh, I cheer, I cry, I say “nuclear wessles” over and over again. As a movie addict, this first screening of The Voyage Home is the high I'll be chasing the rest of my life.
I begin watching TOS reruns in earnest and, in a years' time, set my weekly schedule to each new episode of TNG. The timing could not be more perfect.
There's no going back now, there be whales here!
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
I'm at the tail end of my freshman year of high school and allowed (sometimes) to see movies without parental supervision. It's opening night at the megaplex on Route 9 and there's a line snaking through the lobby and into the parking lot for the 9 pm screening of The Final Frontier. The last show is getting out and the ushers are shouting “all those waiting for the next Star Trek screening, you MUST keep in single file against this wall!”
Defiantly, I call out, “We only take orders from Starfleet!!!”
The joke kills and it is the first time I use the love of Star Trek to make an instant connection with strangers. It took me a second screening to recognize that this movie kinda stinks.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
I am now a senior in high school. I actually work at the movie theater. I don't see it opening night (working, you see) but it all works into a master plan. Y'see, there's a girl I like that I work with and during our shift I grumble about wanting to watch the new film. She says she'd like to see it, too, so we make a plan (dare I call it a date?) to go in a few days.
As employees we get to go free, and even bring a friend. I call an older friend to take us, because he's got a car. Unfortunately, in the parking lot he whips out what we in the 1990s used to call a “left-handed cigarette.” (That's a lie. No one has ever called them that in any time period.)
I support IDIC, but horticultural happiness has never really been my thing. It is, alas, something my erstwhile date seems to enjoy, so the two of them puff away, get cozy and go “woaaaaaaah” at the destruction of Praxis.
Today, I can spout reams of dialogue from The Undiscovered Country from memory and don't even recall the girl's name.
It is hard to be a Star Trek fan at NYU Film School. You kinda have to keep that sort of thing quiet. But in between screenings of 16 mm hand-drawn animated shorts by Serbian dissidents at the combination smoothie bar and laundromat, I slip off to the Village 7 to see Captain Kirk get killed by a bridge.
To my left is a man from central casting doing nothing to disavow anyone of the Trekkie “Get A Life” aesthetic. At the moment when the emotion chip-filled Data says “Oh, sh*t,” he bounces the tub of popcorn off his lap, yanks on his hair and bellows in full voice “I don't BELIEVE it!!!”
I engage him in a 40 minute dialogue after the show.
What a night! I'm a young man of 22 and a group of friends, some into Trek, some not, all meet up for some drinks and then the film. Afterwards a chum who enjoyed himself but was a little skeptical ribs us that the Borg are really just Robo Space Zombies, right? My retort: And how is there anything possibly wrong with that!?!
A set-up similar to First Contact... but with a different movie. The quote of the night goes to my good friend John. As the closing credits roll during what felt like an average episode of TNG he says in his best TV announcer voice, “Coming up next on Seinfeld....!”
2002 was an awful year in New York City. And the release of Nemesis sure didn't help any.
I've done a really good job of sublimating this whole experience.
Luckily, Trek-at-the-Movies didn't end with Data singing show tunes. (I actually kinda like the part where Data sings, but you get my point.) Thanks to our friends Red Matter and Brand Awareness, the Enterprise would launch once more. And I've got a fairly fantastic story to tell about the first time I saw this movie. One that you'll have to wait until next week to read.
So, tell me, what are YOUR Star Trek movie memories?
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at UGO.com for more than four years. He has produced two independent films (look 'em up!) and is a member of the New York Film Critics Online. In 2005, he was named the Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast by IFC. Jordan fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy.