Douglas Trumbull on Making Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Film School Rejects recently interviewed special effects maestro Douglas Trumbull about creating the visuals for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the changing nature of the cinematic experience, and how epic visuals can tell a story in unique ways.

[T]his was something that I learned when I was working with Stanley Kubrick. During the production of 2001, Kubrick was realizing that he had this responsibility to create an epic experiential movie that would be about space, completely unusual, and take the B‑movie sci-fi thing to a completely new and higher level of production quality. He realized that he wanted to change the cinematic language of having dialogue and reverse angles and over the shoulder shots and all the conventions of cinema. He said, “I’m going to take those out.” He started doing them and then realized how that would interfere with the ability of the audience to see it themselves and he didn’t really have to talk about it. If he did a good job visually, the Enterprise would speak for itself, and in 2001, the Star Gate would speak for itself.

No one in the film ever says, “Oh my God, it’s the Star Gate!” or “Look out!” or “Watch out!” or “Duck!” or whatever. There were none of the normal melodramatic cliches. Kubrick was trying to avoid them in 2001 and that carried with me and has carried with me ever since. So, when a movie comes along like Star Trek, I look for an opportunity for a sequence like that, where people stop talking and you can just enjoy the beauty and the music. That’s my very intentional way of going about making movies. Making them more immersive and less traditional or melodramatic.

He also tells some really cool behind-the-scenes stories from the production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, from the legal issues surrounding the film to why he chose to rebuild the Enterprise when he came on-board the film.

Related: I recently rewatched Star Trek: The Motion Picture and posted some thoughts on its strengths and flaws.

Read more about Douglas Trumbull.