Star Trek film history: a terrible trailer, Saavik’s parentage, and preliminary effects shots

Three pieces of film spanning 1979 to 1984 tell interesting stories about how Star Trek movies were marketed over those five years. 

Prolific author Howard Weinstein was the guest at a lot of conventions in the ’70s and ’80s, and because of that the Paramount publicity department gave him wide access to promotional material. Weinstein told me: 

Here’s how loose things were: In the early ’80s, when Star Trek II and III came out, main publicity for the movies still worked out of Paramount’s NY office. I worked in Manhattan at the time, and I had good contacts with the promo people, who knew I was helping to promote the movies at Trek and SF cons. So they’d invite me in to root through their storage room and take whatever I wanted to use (and to do some giveaways) at cons — including official slides, press kits, stills, posters, 16 mm trailers and product reels. Can you imagine anybody doing that today?!

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

The theatrical trailer for the first movie was awful. It is now well documented that the film barely made it to theatres on time (read the excellent book Return to Tomorrow for a lot more on that) so it’s no surprise that the trailer was thrown together, but even so…

Oh, wow, that TMP “trailer” was miserable. When I got it to show at cons and library talks, I was almost embarrassed. As you could tell, they didn’t even have the most basic SFX (like stars in the shots of the ship) ready to include. Probably the lamest, most static trailer in movie history. No wonder they didn’t want it back from me!

Here is what the public saw before the movie premiered in December 1979.

The Wrath of Khan

Paramount also let Weinstein hold on to the product reel made to sell The Wrath of Khan to theatre chains — and this is the gem of Weinstein’s trove. Those watching the film in theatres in 1982 and after that on home video assumed Saavik was a Vulcan but, originally, they would only have been half right. Scenes in the shooting script and the novelization made clear that one of her parents was a Romulan. 

The product reel I had for Star Trek II is to my knowledge the ONLY piece of film including the cut scene in which Kirk and Spock discuss Kirstie Alley’s smoldering Saavik and reveal that she’s half-Romulan.

Product reels were shown at industry conventions like ShoWest, run by the National Association of Theatre Owners, which showcased upcoming films to moviehouse operators. Theatrical trailers are appetizers meant to be intriguing, but product reels are almost full meals, and this one reveals nearly the entire story, holding back only Spock’s fate. 

Here are the scripted scenes in which Saavik’s heritage is discussed. 

The reel also shows a decidedly flirty Saavik in a scene intended for the last moments of the film, with most of the crew gathered on the bridge. As Weinstein noted, Saavik comes across as “smoldering” but in the script she was meant to be coy and also funnier. Here is that scene.

I am glad that scene was not included. The levity was out of place right after Spock’s death.

The Search for Spock

Paramount decided to poke a little fun at ShoWest attendees with this one, using subtitles to have Kruge insult the audience. This reel gives away a little less of the plot than did the promo for the second movie. 

The effects were not quite final when the reel was made. In the film, Scotty’s opening salvo of photon torpedoes both strike the Klingon Bird of Prey on its central section. In the reel, the second torpedo can be seen striking the starboard wing.

My thanks to Howard Weinstein for sharing these and for encouraging me to post them online.

9 responses to “Star Trek film history: a terrible trailer, Saavik’s parentage, and preliminary effects shots”

  1. Wow. I’d forgotten that trailer for the first movie. With those shooting beams of light at the end, I half expected the title to reveal as “Visit the snack bar in the lobby”…


  2. I enjoyed this post! I’ve seen those Star Trek II scenes from the product reel before, but this is a higher quality copy than I’ve seen – I guess because it came from someone with Trek connections! Thank you indeed for posting it.

    I will offer some minor defense of the TMP trailer, though. It’s objectively not great by any stretch of the imagination, but given what they had to work with and all the impressive effects shots unfinished, it at least succeeds in building a sense of anticipation. Fans had been clamoring for new Trek for a decade by that point, so glimpses of the refitted ship and the characters “as they are now,” in most cases complete with promotions and everything, would have been cool. And “The Human Adventure is Just Beginning” is, I think, in many ways a better tagline for the entire franchise than “Where no one has gone before.” Plus – Orson Welles! That’s instant gravitas! (Yes, I know, he was also hawking wine around this time, but…)


  3. Hi bibliomike. You make an excellent point: we were all so happy to have any new Star Trek that they could have literally shot a hand-lettered card that said “New Trek soon!” and I would have been thrilled.

    And yes, for sure, as I said the film itself was behind schedule so they simply could not put a lot of effort into the trailer.

    But where the trailer was “miserable” was in connecting with non fans. People who had no interest in Star Trek or had never seen it were unlikely to be convinced to head to theatres after watching this trailer, so that is where is really falls down. Fans were going to the movie regardless.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.


  4. Actually, that TMP trailer was the “teaser” trailer, just meant to give a hint of what the film was about. It showed the Trek fans what they wanted to see: our familiar cast reunited ( even Spock, which was iffy at the time ) and the brand new Enterprise. When my friends and I saw it at a convention in October of ‘79 ( presented by Jesco Von Puttkamer ) the entire crowd cheered. We didn’t care that it gave no hint of the plot.

    The truly terrible trailer was the longer one that followed. Featuring a lot of unfinished wormhole footage, with non-pitch altered dialogue sloppily dubbed over, weird library sound effects, poorly animated titles and music from “Black Sunday”, that was a truly cringey promo for the film.


      • Both trailers can be found on the various disc releases, but here’s a YouTube link to the full trailer. Given the rush to cobble one together, it’s not truly TERRIBLE, but it looks and sounds very amateurish in its construction ( it doesn’t even have the sonorous tones of Orson Welles to lend it gravitas ). Bask in its cringiness and then rewatch the teaser trailer. It seems a lot classier now doesn’t it?


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