Star Trek The Motion Picture introduced three cool ships to captivate viewers.
Whatever your opinion of Star Trek The Motion Picture (TMP), it holds a pivotal place in Star Trek and motion picture history.
It inaugurated a series of Star Trek films now numbering 13 (with more, it seems, on the way). And it was “the first television-based movie released well after the end of the original television show,” as G.S. Perno notes for Cinelinx.
It’s also often hailed as “the most beautiful Star Trek movie,” whatever its other merits or missteps. A large part of its visual appeal is its new spaceship designs.
Here’s my ranking of the three coolest ships in Star Trek The Motion Picture.
#3 – K’t’inga-class Klingon Battle Cruiser
The Klingon D-7 battle cruiser from the original series is cool. But the trio of K’t’inga-class warships revealed in TMP’s opening sequence are simply magnificent in their malevolence.
The K’t’inga shares the D-7’s basic configuration. But its exponentially more detailed surface and ominous illuminations make it far more fearsome.
When the ships’ launch tubes light up, they look as though they’re lit by hellfire itself. You wouldn’t be surprised to see chunks of brimstone instead of photon torpedoes spewing forth.
Skillful motion control camerawork by Doug Smith of John Dykstra’s Apogee, Inc. shows off the models in chilling clarity.
The name K’t’inga means “bringer of destruction,” per the Memory Beta wiki. Every time I watch TMP’s first few minutes, I can believe it!
In Jeff Bond’s and Gene Kozicki’s Star Trek The Motion Picture: Inside the Art & Visual Effects (Titan Books, 2020), Dykstra says the Klingon battle sequence “had to be a sort of ‘grab ‘em’ shot” (page 167). Aided and abetted by Jerry Goldsmith’s click-clacking, hunting-horn score, it grabs viewers but good.
As wonderfully wicked as this K’t’inga trio is, it’s not strong enough to survive a close encounter of the foolhardy kind with V’Ger. But it is capable of striking terror into the hearts of Starfleet cadets who take the Kobayashi Maru test! Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan recycles footage of the ships during the simulation sequence.
#2 – V’Ger
Arguably, V’Ger—the energy cloud-enshrouded vessel enshrining NASA’s (alas, only fictional) 20th-century space probe Voyager 6—should have been the coolest ship in Star Trek The Motion Picture.
Not unlike the alien derelict in the animated series’ “Beyond the Farthest Star,” V’Ger is a tremendously high-concept vessel.
Unfortunately, bringing this conscious, “living machine” to the screen in a fully convincing way proved too formidable for TMP’s several visual effects units. As Nick Ottens explains at Forgotten Trek, art director Richard Taylor’s plans “proved too ambitious.”
The glimpses we get of V’Ger’s admittedly breathtaking interior never quite cohere into a comprehensive whole. The transitions between the outer layers of V’Ger’s cloud, the cathedral-like vaults over which the Enterprise flies, and the inner sanctum where V’Ger meets its maker are jarring, and give no sense of the “thing” as a whole.
The 2001 Director’s Edition attempted to remedy this flaw by including scenes of the V’Ger model as a whole.
You can see it clearly in this video starting at about 11:33, where “the intruder,” its cloud fully dissipated, slides into orbit around Earth:
Or in this video, at about 08:12, where you can see Vejur in its entirety just before it ascends in a blaze of glory to another dimension:
But as it stands, V’Ger gets only the silver medal. Like much in the film, it’s beautiful to look at but doesn’t quite hold together.
#1 – The refit U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701
Is there any other logical choice? The coolest ship in Star Trek The Motion Picture is Admiral Kirk’s obsession and original Star Trek fans’ first love, the starship Enterprise.
In the classic series episode “I, Mudd,” Kirk proclaimed, in android-addling jest, the Enterprise “is a beautiful lady, and we love her!” But TMP leaves no doubt Kirk actually believes that profession of passion with all his heart.
Andrew Probert and Richard Taylor’s refinement of Matt Jeffries’ original design left Star Trek fans in total agreement. For every viewer who complains Kirk’s inspection tour drags on too long (though Goldsmith’s score alone makes the minutes well worth spending), several others—myself among them—will insist the sequence lasts exactly as long as it should.
The refit Enterprise is a gorgeous design, perfectly realized in model form.
The flattened and upswept nacelles give it a sense of being in motion even when it’s at rest.
The thicker “neck” and saucer section make it look even more like the reliable, hard-working flagship it is.
And its new lights, from the color-changing deflector dish to the “spots” on its name and insignia, convey deep pride in Starfleet’s crown jewel.
You can get specific information about the refit Enterprise at both Ex Astris Scientia and Forgotten Trek. It would go on to be, with minor modifications, the NCC-1701-A in Star Trek IV through Star Trek VI.
I first studied the details of this version of the NCC-1701 as a kid in 1980, staring at artist David Kimble’s now famous cutaway poster on my bedroom wall. I wasn’t even a Star Trek fan yet—but I was and still am a fan of this Enterprise.