Douglas Trumbull, Effects Director for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Reveals That the film Almost Didn’t Happen

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Ahead of the September 15th theatrical re-release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Effects Director for the film, Douglas Trumbull, is making the interview rounds.

Last week, I brought you an interview he did with in which he described the attempt to elevate Star Trek out of campy television and into high science fiction, like 2001: A Space Odyssey. But this week, SyfyWire published an interview in which Trumbull relates that Star Trek: The Motion Picture nearly didn’t happen at all.

Due to a contract dispute, Trumbull initially turned down working on TMP. But when it was looking likely that the film wouldn’t get completed on time, Paramount started to get desperate. It wasn’t just “expectations” that would have been let down by a missed release deadline; at that point, Trumbull recalled, Paramount had already collected $30 million from theater owners who were expecting to show it during their busy Christmas season. They needed to finish the film, and at that point, were willing to pay Trumbull almost anything for him to help get it done. The film’s budget grew to over $46m, the most expensive film ever made up to that point.

When Trumbull came onto the set, he found a tremendous amount of rectification work to be done. He and his team threw out large parts of material that had been created by the previous VFX team, and took some creative risks in how they redesigned them. One pivotal scene, Spock’s spacewalk, had to be completely redone from scratch. Trumbull said of that scene, "It was a very big leap of faith on the part of Bob Wise, to actually entrust me to take over directing that sequence. But we had worked before. We knew each other pretty well, and he trusted me to go ahead, take it over and do it."

The completion of the film was down to the wire, due to all the effects rework it required. Trumbull recalled, "It was a really close call. That was probably one of the biggest close calls in movie history, where all the reels of film were coming out of the lab, and there was one final reel that wasn't quite finished yet, and it was wet film shipped to the theaters at the last minute."

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is being re-released in select cinemas across the United States, for two nights only, Sunday, September 15th and Wednesday, September 18th. You can view showtimes and locations, and book tickets, on

This article was written for the podcast Daily Star Trek News.

Alison Pitt is the writer, producer, and host of Daily Star Trek News, on the Roddenberry Podcast Network. A veteran Star Trek podcaster, she started her career on the weekly show Priority One: A Roddenberry Star Trek Podcast in 2015. She has appeared on panels at Star Trek Las Vegas, WonderCon, and San Diego Comic Con.

Alison Pitt