Star Trek: The Motion Picture

the novelization written by
Gene Roddenberry

reviewed by David Landon


Movie novelizations are sometimes dismissed as just another piece of a film's merchandising campaign. To disregard Gene Roddenberry's retelling of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in this way, however, is to miss out on one of the most important pieces of Star Trek literature ever printed. There’s a persistent belief that Alan Dean Foster served as Gene’s ghostwriter on the book, and it isn’t true. Foster provided the initial treatment that served as the skeleton of the story that eventually became The Motion Picture, and as such he received story credit for the film. The book’s cover also contains the "story by Alan Dean Foster" credit, and the fact that Foster did ghostwrite the novelization of George Lucas’ first Star Wars film led some to believe that he did the same for Gene Roddenberry on The Motion Picture. A comparison of the two books, however, makes it clear that they are not the work of the same author.

In the beginning, it could be argued that Gene Roddenberry had no grand ideas about the future of mankind; he just wanted to create a successful television show. However, during the years between Star Trek's cancellation in 1969 and the start of preproduction on Phase II (the aborted television series that eventually morphed into the first Star Trek film), Gene obviously had begun to think deeply about what life would be like in the Star Trek century. He expounded on his ideas at convention appearances and on the "Inside Star Trek" record album produced in 1976, but The Motion Picture was his first chance to actually show people his vision of 23rd century Human society. The movie, of course, only offered a few tantalizing glimpses. The novel offered Roddenberry the opportunity to throw in all those little things that didn't make it into the film, and that's a big part of what makes this book special. In the author's preface, Roddenberry casts himself as a historian of sorts, chronicling events that "really" happened. It's the same approach that L. Frank Baum took with his Oz books, and it's an interesting touch.

The Motion Picture is often criticized for its glacial pace and its long, dialogue-free special effects sequences, and obviously the book is an improvement here. You never really feel like the story is bogging down, and the long flight into the V'Ger cloud is peppered with interesting details; the characters are actively analyzing and discussing what they're seeing, instead of staring wordlessly at the main viewer. Also, the character arcs for Kirk, Spock, and Decker are much more fully fleshed out in the novelization, and the story is better for it. For example, Decker's desire to be the one who "joins" with V'Ger is a natural development for his character here, and looks less like the last-minute jettisoning of an expendable "guest star."

Roddenberry has a unique writing style. He loves exclamation points, and his seemingly random use of italics reminded me of the way A.A. Milne would randomly capitalize words in his Winnie-the-Pooh stories. However, he cleverly avoids tipping the reader off to V’Ger’s true "identity" by spelling the Intruder’s name "Vejur" throughout the story. In any case, if you were frustrated by The Motion Picture, if you felt that it had huge potential that went unrealized, then you need to read this book. I've read Alan Dean Foster's original treatment, and a couple of earlier drafts of the shooting script, but the Roddenberry novelization stands as the best version of the story we know as Star Trek: The Motion Picture. At a time when the prevailing sci-fi fad is to show a grim-'n-gritty future where the uglier aspects of human nature still reign supreme, this book immerses you in a positive, tantalizingly real vision of a future where we have finally become what we ought to be

main.gif (11611 bytes)

Free counters provided by Andale.

banner.gif (754 bytes)

Click here to return to the Star Trek novels page.
Click here to return to the Main Index Page.