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Grading The Star Trek Movie Tie-In Magazines

Grading The Star Trek Movie Tie-In Magazines

Lurking among the archive copies of some 475+ issues of the various magazines I edited, I recently unearthed the nine licensed Star Trek movie publications created at Starlog Press from 1984 to 1994. It was the first time I've looked at some of them in years, others, in decades. I examined each with a critical eye and the benefit of further experience. Let me tell you, prejudiced as I may be, what I think of them now.

All nine share certain credits: Publishers Norman Jacobs & Kerry O'Quinn (Jacobs alone when O'Quinn exited the company just before Star Trek V), Associate Publisher Rita Eisenstein (she sold the ads), Assistant Publisher Milburn Smith, Creative Director W.R. Mohalley (who designed all covers), Special FX Editor David Hutchison and Editor, me. Our longtime Paramount Pictures publicity contact Tom Phillips assisted on every publication.

Yes, Starlog Press published a tie-in for 1982's Star Trek II, but that was months before I joined staff, so I'm loath to offer a critique of Wrath. I had nothing to do with it. We'll start with The Official Star Trek III: The Search for Spock Movie Magazine ($3.50, 68 pages, 1984). I was fairly new at the licensed product game, having debuted as solo Editor of two 1983 High Road to China tie-ins and then merely assisted on another pair that year, Octopussy (for Starlog Editor Howard Zimmerman) and Superman III (for Comics Scene Editor Bob Greenberger). Trek III found me in charge as Editor, again of two different publications. Looking at them today, I hang my head in despair. They suck.

The Trek III Movie Magazine cover unites images of Kirk, Kruge, Spock and the Enterprise (all airbrushed together into one nightmarish image; it's, essentially, Stone Age PhotoShopping). I guess we (Jacobs, O'Quinn, Mohalley, me) didn't like the film's key art (used in its poster) and instead created this---oddity infested with far too many hype-driven coverlines. And, you know, as with any licensed project, the studio (Paramount) gets to see the cover and every other editorial page and alter anything they wish, but still they approved this? Sad. Inside, aghhhhh!! The design and layout is pedestrian. The magazine has both glossy color and cheaper, lesser-grade paper black & white pages "interleaved" throughout (four color, then four b&w, repeat). Color photos get good to acceptable reproduction (kudos to our separator and printer!) but the b&w stuff (both paper and photo repro) is just terrible (death to our separator and printer!). Movie unit photographer John Shannon and ILM FX photog Terry Chostner couldn't have been happy with what was done to their work. Sorry!

It was then common in our licensed magazines not to credit individual stories (no bylines!). So, who wrote what I can't always determine today. Overall, the contributors (listed in the masthead) are Greenberger, Patrick Daniel O'Neill and John Sayers (who all later wrote episode synopses for the 74 issues of my three Trek TV titles); Steve Swires (who chatted with director Leonard Nimoy); Lee Goldberg and his journalist Mom Jan (she quizzed Dame Judith Anderson); Rachel Long, Sal Manna, Assistant Editor Eddie Berganza and me. I believe Greenberger (later Editor of DC's Star Trek comics and a bestselling Trek novelist) penned the movie's much-too-lengthy short story synopsis, and I know I interviewed Gene Roddenberry and Harve Bennett (the film's writer-producer). But the best story by far is a bylined essay on Trek III and the whole saga itself by regular Starlog columnist David ("The Trouble with Tribbles") Gerrold. It's still an intriguing piece 30 years later and yet I have no memory whatsoever of publishing it! I should give this "book" (publishing jargon for magazine or issue) a D- rating today, but Gerrold's stellar contribution single-handedly raises it a whole letter grade to a C-. Woo-hoo! We're almost average! Thanks, David Gerrold!

There's also The Official Star Trek III: The Search for Spock Poster Magazine ($3, 1984). Same staff. Four color covers surround 16 similarly bad b&w pages of cast bios and articles that wrap 10 posters (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Kruge, Saavik & David Marcus together, the cast posing wth Anderson, FX shots). Remove the staples (carefully!) and the posters unfold to a hefty, sometimes grainy four-sheet size. The cover (which displays all posters) is far better than its companion book's. Rating: C.

The Official Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Movie Magazine ($3.95, 68 pages, 1986) is a warp speed advance on its predecessor. It's all color pages and pix on nice glossy paper stock and we managed great reproduction on all but four or five of the publication's 112 photos (snapped by Bruce Birmelin, FX shots by ILM). Thanks, new color separator and new printer! To Jacobs' dismay (and extra cost), I exceeded (by 10 shots) my separation "budget" (one per color  page + half again of the 68 total pages = 102 total seps allotted back then). Oops! I confess now I did it on purpose. But you got your money's worth this time!

Cover looks pretty nice (and has less copy on it). Full page pin-up photos of all cast members are provided, as intended, for them to autograph at conventions. Mohalley devised the attractive interior design format for the still unbylined stories whose writers include Greenberger, Lee Goldberg, Dan Dickholtz, Tony Timpone and Edward Gross. Among the interviewers supplying quotes for the cast bios and interviews (Roddenberry, Bennett) are Ian Spelling, Randy & Jean-Marc Lofficier, John Adcox, Marian Sue Uram and the Official Star Trek Fan Club's Dan Madsen & John W. Davis. Again, who knows who wrote what? On the masthead, I share Co-Editor credit with my Starlog Managing Editor Carr D'Angelo and award Photo Editor status to Berganza. Design staff includes Maggie Hollands and Jim McLernon. The best innovation? The text-heavy movie synopsis has vanished, replaced by an extremely visual "Story in Photos" feature (retelling the film in pix and captions). This magazine is an improvement, thankfully, in every way. I'm actually proud of it. Rating: B+.

Our second entry for this sequel is The Official Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Poster Magazine ($3.50, 1986). Same format as last poster mag, but, hallelujah, all color! The cover displays nine of the 10 posters (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott, Sulu, Chekov & Uhura together, Gillian, etc.). Nice reproduction on almost all pix; the posters are not as "sharp" as one might like (but what can you expect when original color slides the size of two postage stamps are photographically "blown up" to 16" x 22"?). And the unbylined short cast bios (just four or five graphs each) were by company staffers: D'Angelo, Berganza, Timpone, Dickholtz, J. Peter Orr, Richard Gilbert, intern Sean O'Halloran.

This is our last Trek poster product. Although I edited 10 poster mags, I never understood their supposed appeal. We were essentially selling you posters wrapped like fish in a magazine and we knew that after tacking those posters to a wall, you would probably throw away the rest (the editorial part that, perversely, most mattered to me). I was glad Jacobs eventually abandoned this format and we stopped publishing poster mags. Rating: B-.

Unbelievably, we also did a third Trek IV entry: The Official Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Movie Special ($5.95, 52 pages, plus eight fold-out posters different from the poster mag selection, 1986). This "Deluxe Edition" was also all color and, astonishingly, included no advertising. Boasting a classy, simple cover featuring the film's key art, it was marketed primarily in movie theaters. I only did an "intended for theater concession sale" publication three times (the others: Aliens, Willow), and I'm unsure if they ever sold that well. Same credits as the Trek IV Movie Magazine (minus Gross, curiously). Inside, there's a seven-page "History of Star Trek" story to explain the saga to newcomers, bios and different full-page pin-ups of only the Enterprise Seven (sorry, Gillian) and---horrors---a 21-page, text-heavy "short story" synopsis of the flick (so that's where this bad idea fled!). There are only a few soft or grainy images among the posters and 102 color pix (I broke the bank on separations here as I would only have been budgeted for 78. Cue extra cost and publisher rage!). Rating: B.

Finally, I know what I'm doing with The Official Star Trek V: The Final Frontier Movie Magazine ($4.95, 68 pages, 1989). Nice cover (fewer words). All color! Managing Editors: Berganza, Dickholtz. Designers: McLernon, Calvin Lee. I've defied tradition and at last introduced bylines on all articles, so now we know who wrote what! There are three exclusives: a nifty Trek V set visit tour by Marc Shapiro, Hutchison's examination of the special FX created by Bran Ferren and his firm Associates & Ferren and a fabulous four-page art gallery of designs and illustrations from the film's art director Nilo Rodis-Jamero. Sayers, Greenberger, O'Neill, Mike McAvennie and Kim Howard Johnson wrote profiles of 14 cast members using quotes from interviews by Shapiro, Spelling, Kathryn M. Drennan and Bill Warren. Even better reproduction on all pix (unit photog Birmelin, back for Trek V, must be relieved). No allotted number of seps for me to (pretend to) carefully count (we used a new, as-many-as-you-wish separator)! No posters!No synopsis! Rating: A.

Let's uncover The Official Star VI: The Undiscovered Country Movie Magazine ($4.95, 68 pages, 1991). All color! Managing Editor: McAvennie. Art Director: Lee. Crucial design assistance again: McLernon. The cover's ultra-busy with too many coverlines, one major photo and three small ones as well as some clumsy "silhouetting" by Mohalley (to remove the unwanted background) which inadvertently gives four actors bad haircuts. Inside, it's a visual book: the movie's synopsis is an eight-page photo feature (with pix now numbered and linked to captions for easier reading comprehension) and there's a five-page gallery of behind-the-scenes shots. Trek VI unit photog Gregory Schwartz should be pleased with all that (and the fine reproduction). The cast profiles are now written up by those who did the initial interviews: Spelling, Shapiro, Lynne Stephens, Dan Yakir and Adam Pirani. Also contributing: Johnson, Warren, Drennan and Eric Niderost. The whole edition's nicely done!

Alas, I have to downgrade an otherwise A rating for three reasons: 1) That busy cover. 2) A coverline unwisely ballyhoos "Enterprise crew posters." Untrue! There are 10 full-page cast pin-ups, but they're not those familiar fold-out posters. Misleading! Shoulda used the term "portraits" instead. 3) Ironic Anecdote Time! I requested a Leon Russom photo to run with his single graph bio (I didn't know his face; he briefly plays the Starfleet Commander-in-Chief). Paramount Licensing sent me two pix---and (although DS9 hadn't yet begun) I called up and said, "This really looks like Rene Auberjonois to me." No, I was firmly told, Auberjonois wasn't in the film, that's Russom. Well, OK, so I used one photo with the bio and a caption labeling him Russom and the other elsewhere (sans character or actor I.D.). As soon as we had printed magazines, I proudly messengered advance copies to Paramount Publicity in NYC. Phillips, my longtime contact there, promptly rang. "Dave, that isn't Leon Russom. It's Rene Auberjonois. Didn't you know he's in the movie?" Sigh. I apologized to Auberjonois personally about this snafu years later over dinner and he laughed, but, two decades afterward, I'm still miffed that I was persuaded to disbelieve my own eyes. So, rating: B.

At last, the end is near: The Official Star Trek: Generations Movie Magazine ($6.95, 76 pages, 1994). Associate Editors: Marc Bernardin, Michael Stewart. Art Directors: McLernon, Yvonne Jang. This time, Shapiro and Spelling wrote all 15 profiles (the cast, director David Carson, producer Rick Berman), except one piece each from Stephens and the Lofficiers. The cover looks pretty good; it's less crowded than last time despite using the film's key art braced by four portraits (Picard, Kirk, Data, Soran). Inside, terrific design & layout, even better photo reproduction (to make Generations unit photog Elliott Marks proud; selected Next Generation TV pix were also used). The eight-page synopsis told in pix and captions is especially beautiful. Rating: A.

However, upon Publisher Jacobs' insistence, we also did a variant version of that magazine billed as the "3-D Lenticular Collector's Edition" ($9.95, 84 pages, 1994). Everything's exactly the same except: 1) The murky cover. It combines five different portrait photos (deleting Data, adding Picard in a British Captain's hat and Chekov, Kirk & Scott together) with the slightly recolored key art. It's printed in the costly, laminated "Lenticular" process that so captivated Jacobs that he employed it on several publications. 2) The page count. You get eight more pages (but, annoyingly two of them are ads); the other six are devoted to "The Art of Star Trek: Generations," a stunning gallery of set designs, blueprints, costume concepts, weapons, props, etc. by film illustrators John Eaves, Clark Schaffer & company. If I recall correctly 20 years later, this was last-minute filler devised days before printing. No one had bothered to tell me earlier about the extra eight pages in this edition (my story, and I'm sticking to it) or else I "must have forgotten" about the bonus stuff due to my "overwhelming workload" (publisher version). 3) The price. Three bloody bucks more---due entirely to that lousy 3-D printing technique! Well, I never thought that kind of 3-D or its extra cost was worth it, so I'm awarding this variant publication a C+. In 3-D.

That's all. In 1996, the studio chose to democratically split licenses among different publishers, so some other firm made First Contact. Departing the Official Trek TV mag biz altogether in 1998, we also declined to do a Star Trek: Insurrection publication. Two years later, we exited the entire licensed magazine game after almost a quarter-century in that extremely risky business. The adventure of publishing later Treks continued elsewhere.

David McDonnell, "the maitre’d of the science fiction universe," has dished up coverage of pop culture for more than three decades. Beginning his professional career in 1975 with the weekly "Media Report" news column in The Comic Buyers’ Guide, he joined Jim Steranko’s Mediascene Prevue in 1980. After 31 months as Starlog’s Managing Editor (beginning in October 1982), he became that pioneering SF magazine’s longtime Editor (1985-2009). He also served as Editor of its sister publications Comics Scene, Fangoria and Fantasy Worlds. At the same time, he edited numerous licensed movie one-shots (Star Trek and James Bond films, Aliens, Willow, etc.) and three ongoing official magazine series devoted to Trek TV sagas (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager). He apparently still holds this galaxy’s record for editing more magazine pieces about Star Trek in total than any other individual, human or alien.

Copyright 2014 David McDonnell