The history of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” is well known. Since the film was a combination of all the efforts through the years to bring “Star Trek” back as either a series, a TV movie, or a feature film, the development process was one-of-a-kind.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “The Motion Picture” cost $46 million to create — which included all the development costs from Phase II and the other aborted projects — and brought in $140 million for Paramount.
The film that brought Trek to the silver screen and into the zeitgeist of popular culture was fraught with delays, changes, and a stunning last-minute finish. Since Paramount had taken in almost $30 million in advance payment for TMP from movie theaters around the country, if they did not deliver it on time, there would have been a series of damaging lawsuits.
While the very existence of Paramount Pictures was tied to the fate of TMP, the very lives of the stars of the film hung in the balance as well.
According to William Shatner’s 1994 book, “Star Trek Movie Memories,” the set of the living robot was fraught with danger. ”Movie Memories” is among the many Trek-themed books Shatner has written through the years. This book was written with co-author Chris Kreski — who also helped Shatner write ”Get A Life.”
Walking Toward the Alien
As the story goes, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy finally explore the mind of what they thought was a gigantic living machine who was terrorizing Earth — named V’Ger. They were joined by Decker (Stephen Collins) and Ilia (Persis Khambatta). As they crept down from the saucer section and climbed down into the heart of the creature, energy bolts flashed from above, lighting their way.
They made their way onto a central platform where an old NASA probe sat. Kirk and the others soon discovered that V’Ger was actually short for Voyager. And the “alien” actually originated on Earth.
It was on this set which Shatner says three people were endangered. One of them was him. He described, in detail, V’Ger’s resting place, which he called “the killer set.” The crew constructed it about five feet above the ground, which allowed them to wire everything from beneath.
“Looking not unlike the stylized inner workings of a personal computer, the set was absolutely stunning,” Shatner wrote. “Deep gray metallic interiors spreading spider-web-style over a gleaming black underlayer.”
Shatner and his fellow actors realized that it mattered dearly where they stepped on this set. Not all of the spots which led to V’Ger were supposed to carry weight.
“The floor of V’Ger was created almost entirely from thin black plastic,” Shatner wrote. “We found a checkerboard pattern of thin plastic and heavy octagonal steps.”
Accidental Electrical Shock
Shatner said that V’Ger set was both “deadly and beautiful.” He wasn’t really exaggerating. Shatner wrote that on the first day of shooting on the V’Ger platform, two of the lighting crew had fallen through the set floor while they worked, and one “received a terrible shock.”
As the day wore on, it was Shatner’s turn to walk toward V’Ger. He admitted that he could not get the thought of what happened to his colleagues out of his mind.
Captain Kirk Falls for V’Ger
“We were all extremely tentative, downright scared, during our practice descent,” he wrote. But the more he thought about it, Shatner was determined not to have Kirk “hopscotching like a nine-year-old girl.”
As he strode toward the V’Ger probe, he took a few steps and landed on one of the thin plastic spots, and plunged through.
“Horrified, my mind immediately flashed upon sudden electrocution,” Shatner wrote. Luckily, he caught himself at his armpits and dangled for a bit until the crew pulled him back up. He wrote that the fall “nearly killed me.” But in the end, he survived. Shatner said that he was “thankful” that the worst thing that actually came of that incident was an embarrassment.
“I still haven’t entirely lived it down, and it was most definitely NOT one of Captain Kirk’s finer moments,” Shatner wrote.