Effects Director Douglas Trumbull Reflects on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 40 Years Later

The Enterprise in dry dock, in  Star Trek: The Motion Picture

The Enterprise in dry dock, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture

About a month ago, I told you about Fathom Events’s plan to bring Star Trek: The Motion Picture back to the big screen...with a limited theatrical release this September.

This week, Douglas Trumbull, the special photographic effects director for The Motion Picture, spoke to Comicbook.com over the phone about his role in making the film, and his thoughts on the re-release.

Prior to Star Trek, Trumbull already had an impressive resume. He had done VFX for The Andromeda Strain and Close Encounters of the Third Kind...and he had been the special photographic effects supervisor for 2001: A Space Odyssey, working with the masterful director Stanley Kubrick. So initially, Trumbull wasn’t thrilled with Star Trek. He said, “I was not a fan of Star Trek. I was an arrogant young director who had worked with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I had this attitude that Star Trek was beneath me. I never told that to anybody else, but I think that the truth of the situation was there was a gulf of distance between the kind of melodrama of Star Trek and the epic grandeur of 2001.”

He did, however, acknowledge that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was an attempt to elevate Star Trek into a higher level of science fiction than its campy television counterpart. “There was a definite desire to elevate Star Trek,” he explained, “And that's why it's named Star Trek: The Motion Picture, not just Star Trek something else. [...] That was why, I think, they hired Robert Wise, because he had done The Sound of Music and West Side Story, really important films that were epic in nature.”

So how did Trumbull fit into that strategy? He brought the skills that he learned working with Kubrick on 2001, which he said “was to allow the audience to just experience something without anybody talking about it.” Trumbull went on to explain that he was really proud of the scene with the Enterprise in drydock, which he directed. Because, he said, “That's kind of my ethos in film directing, is to stop talking and just start looking and watching, and let the music and the images carry the day.”

Reflecting on the film 40 years later, and its re-release in theaters, Trumbull said, “I’m more happy with the picture than I ever was. And I’m beginning to understand the film better than I did at the time.” He also said, “Having this 40th anniversary and showing the movie on screens in theaters, I think, is a really important opportunity for audiences to see the difference between what it's like to see something on television, and what it's like to see the same thing on a big screen, if it's shot for the big screen.”

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is being shown in select theaters on Sunday, September 15th and Wednesday, September 18th. Tickets are available now on fathomevents.com.

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