As well as the main cast, the movie sees the return of Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand (now a transporter chief), Majel Barret as Christine Chapel (now a doctor), and Mark Lenard as the Klingon Captain - making him the first actor to play a member of the three principal alien races in Trek - Romulan, Vulcan and Klingon. He's also the first actor to be seen in the redesigned Klingon makeup and speak the Klingon language. The movie also marks the first use of the Vulcan language.
Chief DiFalco, who takes over as navigator after Ilia is abducted was played by Marcy Lafferty, who was William Shatner's wife between 1970 and 1994. She had a brief career as an actress in the 70s TMP was her most prominent feature.
This is one of the last movies to feature an overture - a short (in this case a 1:40 excerpt from Ilia's theme from the main soundtrack) piece of music that plays before the opening credits begin. That main theme would of course be reworked to be the theme for TNG. The theme from TOS is heard three times in the movie (in a new arrangement), each time while Kirk is recording a log entry. The only other movie to not feature the TOS fanfare in its theme is Undiscovered Country.
The five previous ships named Enterprise that Decker shows the Ilia probe are the 18th century frigate, the WWII aircraft carrier, the space shuttle prototype (which was of course named for the starship Enterprise in the real world), an unknown starship, and the TV Enterprise. The unknown starship is an early design from TOS which went unused. Fans speculated that the Director's Edition of TMP would replace the unknown ship with the NX-01 Enterprise, but this did not happen.
In the SF writers have no sense of scale category, V'Ger's cloud is referred to as 82 AU in diameter in the theatrical cut. An AU is the distance between the Sun and the Earth's orbit, and while the Solar system is quite big, 41 AU represents Eris' orbit, and as such V'Ger would actually encompass almost the entire system. This is changed to 2 AU in the Director's Edition, representing a cloud that would encompass all of Earth's orbit if it were centred on the Sun.
In a Starlog article in 1980, Harlan Ellison claimed that Gene Roddenberry took Haold Livingston to arbitration with the WGA five times, trying to get a writer's credit, but he was unsuccessful each time. Alan Dean Foster successfully did so however - he had initially no credit even though the story was based on In Thy Image, a script he wrote for Phase II.
Orson Welles provided narration for many of the film's trailers - Robert Wise worked on Citizen Kane and the Magnificent Ambersons, so they had a connection.
The film has been cited as the most expensive ever made at the time, with a final cost of either $44 or 46 million, depending on the source. However, Superman: The Movie had a budget of $54 million, though this was not known at the time. Also, accounting for inflation Cleopatra was more expensive, and a 1966 4-part version of War and Peace made in the Soviet Union had a reported budget of $100 million at the time.
Notably, TMP's budget included the costs of the various attempts to relaunch Trek as a movie or TV series in the 70s, While the viability of this from an accounting perspective is debatable, there is some crossover between the end of Phase II's production and the start of TMP's (Persis Khambatta and David Gautreaux were hired for Phase II, as were most of the original cast. Also many of the Enterprise sets were built for Phase II), so it's somewhat justifiable.
In autumn 1978, Paramount pre-sold the movie to ABC for either $10 or 15 million depending on the source. This allowed for two airings of the movie, the first no earlier than December 1982. The TV version of the movie had scenes added to it that weren't in the theatrical cut, one of the first films to do so.
In my prior post, I mentioned pressure to meet the December 7th 1979 release date due to the $35 million guarantees given to theatre owners. Given the financial structure of these guarantees, Paramount would have been in the hold for up to $70 million if they'd missed the deadline. However, it's worth noting that the ABC and theatrical pre-sales meant that TMP had made back its budget before a single second had been seen by the public.
Also in my prior post I mentioned Dawn Steel's merchandising push as how Paramount raised the cash for the effects reshoot. Steel aggressively went after licensees on the trade convention circuit, and put on an over the top show at the Paramount studios to convince them to come on board, even though she had no finished footage to show them. Somehow she convinced Coca-Cola, and McDonalds amongst others to buy into the movie. She was promoted to VP of productions in features despite being less than six months in Paramount at the time and went on to become one of the first female movie moguls.
Merchandising leading out of the movie included a novelisation; a three-issue comic adaptation form Marvel (which became an going that would run to 18 issues in total before DC acquired the license) ; View-Master reels, themed coca-cola cups and mugs, the first movie-themed Happy Meals (complete with TV ads featuring a Klingon), a poster book, a making-of book, blueprints, a cutaway poster, a photonovel, trading cards, model kits and toys, a vectrex game, and a newspaper strip which ran for four years. (Due to poor lead times on information coming out of the movie, Ilia is a character in the first two storylines as the creators did not know she died.). Steel estimated that the merchandise sales amounted to at least $250 million, of which somewhere between 1% and 11% went back to the studio depending on the product. It's entirely possible that Steel's fundraising drive saved both TMP and the studio.
Ultimately, TMP took in $11,926,421 in its opening weekend, with a domestic gross total of $82,258,456, and foreign gross of about $57 million (approximately $79 million more would be added in home rentals in the 80s). While this is an impressive take, between the high total budget at the time, a further $10-20 million in marketing, the fact that a lot of the merchandising fees went into keeping the production going meant it was deemed a disappointment by the studio. While Wrath of Khan was greenlit quite quickly, it was done so with severe financial restrictions. TMP's performance was also used as an excuse to bump Gene Roddenberry upstairs to a consultant role and get him away from day to day running of the movie franchise. That said, TMP remains one of the best-performing Trek movies when inflation is taken into account, it's the 4th highest grossing movie, outperformed only by the three alternate universe stories.
V'Ger's core was a full-scale mockup of a Voyager probe built by JPL loaned to the production. NASA were given a mention in the closing credits as a result. Jesco von Puttkamer, a legendary NASA engineer who worked on Apollo, as well as being program manager for SETI and unmanned long-range spaceflight has a science consultant credit - he was brought in during Phase II's production, and is apparently the person who came up with the tag "The Human Adventure is just Beginning".
Isaac Asimov also has a science consultant credit, also dating back to the Phase II development period. He was brought in to reassure Paramount executives of the feasibility of the plot elements presented in the script for In Thy Image, of a robotic probe being sent out into space and returning to Earth.
The V'Ger sound effects were performed on a homebrew musical instrument called a Blaster Beam, invented by Craig Huxley (who played Peter Kirk in Operation -- Annihilate! and Tommy Starnes in And the Children Shall Lead). It consisted of an eighteen-foot aluminium body with several strings, amplified by motorised guitar pickups. Einstuerzende Neubauten would be proud! The Blaster Beam was also used for audio effects in Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock and First Contact.
While I quite liked the new Starfleet uniforms, especially the short=sleeved version Kirk and Sulu wear, they were incredibly impractical and uncomfortable. George Takei noted that they required assistance to be put on or taken off, even for minor things like using the bathroom. A major reason for the redesign for Wrath of Khan was that the main cast refused to wear them again - though they were recycled into parts of other costumes, notably the enlisted crew jumpsuits after a dye job.
Reception coming out of the studio screening and the première were chilly. In 2,000 Barry Diller, Paramount's CEO at the time said "The movie was horrible and we were scared to death". He also told Nicholas Meyer that one of his most wrenching moments was seeing lines around the block for the movie, knowing it didn't deliver.
After the première, Shatner was convinced Trek was dead in the water, saying "Well, that's it. We gave it out best shot, it wasn't good, and it will never happen again". Fifteen years later, he amended the statement with the line "Shows you what I know".
In 1983, Nimoy said the film was finely crafted, but frustrating from an actor's perspective, that they didn't get to play the characters the way they were used to. In 2012 he added that like Shatner, he felt the movie left the franchise as a "beached whale", saying that "Robert Wise and Gene Roddenberry were looking to do a 2001 kind of thing", but that there wasn't enough drama and it didn't use the characters well.
Fan and critical reaction is also along those lines. with nicknames including "The Slow-Motion Picture", "The Motion Sickness Picture", The Motionless Picture", and "Where Nomad has Gone Before", referring to the TOS episode The Changeling. The movie has a 45% Rotten Tomatoes rating.
Despite all this, TMP picked up an impressive selection of award nominations, including Oscar nods for art direction, score and visual effects; a Golden Globe nomination for score, the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation (it lost to Alien); and Saturn nods for Makeup, Costumes, Music, Lead and Supporting Actress and Actor, Director, SF Film and Special Effects. The only win was the Saturn for Special Effects however.
Roddenberry's novelisation has a number of additional details which are interesting, some of which make it into canon, and others he'd later contradict himself:
The Klingon Battlecruisers are referred to as K'Tinga class rather than D7 as they were in the show. This class name would later be used to represent a refit of the original D7.
A new character, Admiral Lori Ciana is added to the story. She's been in a relationship with Kirk since the Enterprise returned to Earth, and argues with Admiral Nogura that Kirk should be granted command of the contact mission. She agrees to take a temporary reduction in rank and transfers aboard the Enterprise, but is killed in the same transporter accident that kills Commander Sonak.
At the start of the novel, Kirk is on holiday in Alexandria, and Starfleet transmit Epsilon IX's recording of the Klingon squadron's destruction directly to his brain. There's a suggestion in this section that Starfleet that Starfleet has used implant technology for more nefarious purposes as well - this coming only a few years before Roddenberry would present an even more utopian view of the Federation in TNG.
The scenes where Spock is about the recieve the symbol of totla logic, and later when he's recovering from his attempted mind meld with V'Ger includes a mention of the Vulcan term T'hy'la, which has a triple meaning of friend, brother and lover, being how Spock sees Kirk. This has been a major source of fuel for the Kirk/Spock shippers and slash ficcers down through the years.
The novel also establishes that Will Decker is the son of Commodore Decker from The Doomsday Weapon.
Finally, Roddenberry spells V'Ger as Vejur for much of the book. It was spelled as Veejer in the original script for In Thy Image.
The novelisation of Encounter at Farpoint suggests that Kirk inadvertantly starts a new tradition by travelling to Enterprise by shuttlepod, which Picard follows when he comes aboard the Enterprise-D. This would later be canonised during the flashback sequences in All Good Things...
The Shatnerverse novel The Return would establish that the living machiend Voyager 6 encountered were The Borg, though this is not reflected in either the main canon or the later Trek novels that have a tight continuity.
The 2005 novel Ex Machina, set immediately after TMP states that of the original crew, only Scotty and Uhura were part of the regular ship's complement as recruited by Decker, with Admiral Nogura transferring Chekov and Sulu to the ship in the hours before Kirk took command It also says that Decker recruited Uhura specifically to help him recruit as many non-human crew as possible, making his Enterprise the most diverse ship in service at the time. Furthermore, the novel states that Decker was considering making Uhura his executive officer, adding context to her first line in the movie: "my people are all tied up here"
Opinion time (at last!):
So, this film is flawed as all hell. I can't dispute Nimoy (or indeed @SimonJones) when they compare the film to 2001. But it's clear that Robert Wise is no Stanley Kubrick, and Gene Roddenberry and Harold Livingston are no Arthur C. Clarke. It's very much an SF story in the best Clarke tradition - that of the Big Dumb Object being investigated by humans. And the pacing and tone of the movie would work fine as a novel. Hell, I can look up from my laptop right now and see a good half-dozen such novels in my eyeline.
So let's concentrate on what works, shall we? First, it looks pretty damned good. The motion controlled effects are showing their age at points (especially the rear projection shots of Kirk and Scotty in the work pod), but I still get a kick out of the dematerialistion of the Klingon ships, and the Enterprise ship model is gorgeous. When you consider the incredibly short deadlines and the number of effects shots (a then-unprecedented 500), the work is exemplary. I also love the imagery on display during Spock's foray into V'Ger's memories.
Second, I'm a big fan of detail-laden Hard SF. And I'm never going to claim that Trek is Hard SF, but I also love the crunch of technical detail - blueprints, technical readouts, line art. It's a big part of why I love mechanically complex toys like Transformers and Valkyries. And in many ways, the Enterprise is a main character here. So much of the movie is given over to the end of the refit, the lengthy panning and launch sequence, the Warp Drive failing, all these little details that are basically bullshit, but they give a feeling of authenticity to the affair. And it's a big part of why I enjoy the movie. The Starbase Kirk and Scotty depart from, the drydock and Epsilon XI have all these little ancillary spacecraft flying around, and guys in EVA suits doing stuff. It makes the world feel lived in, in a way no other Trek movie even attempts.It's so minor, but it's stuck with me for decades.
While most of the performances are decent, there's a few standout moments that deserve highlighting - Kirk's repeated attempts to get Spock to sit down when the pair and McCoy convene in his ready room is amusing, and Persis Khambatta does some great work when V'Ger is probing her - the expressions on her face are fantastic and especially convincing of a feeling of distress.
Finally, as I said upthread, it's so incredibly ambitious as a Star Trek story that I have to respect it for attempting, and almost succeeding in telling that story. It's fascinating to watch despite and because of its flaws, and it reinvigorated Star Trek for a new decade, leading to unprecedented success - 12 more movies over the course of 40 years, and 24 series worth of TV spread over 20 consecutive years. It's a damned fine legacy for any movie to spawn.
Furthermore, the production of the movie is so amazingly convoluted and wrought with drama that it'd make a fine movie in and of itself, in the vein of RKO 281 (which did the same for Citizen Kane) or An Adventure in Space and Time did for Doctor Who's early years. As Mister Spock would say - fascinating.