(written from a Production point of view)
McDonald's Corporation is the world's largest chain of fast food restaurants. In 1979 McDonald's ran promotional ads that tied in the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture with their Star Trek Meal. The offer was valid at participating McDonald's and lasted until February 1980 (or until supplies lasted).
When the production of The Motion Picture ran into financial difficulties in February 1979, Paramount Vice-president of Marketing and Licensing, Dawn Steel, was charged with creating another revenue stream to help cover the ballooning production costs. She did so by organizing a merchandising and licensing fund drive, which climaxed in a highly imaginative presentation, held in the largest theater on the Paramount lot. A resounding success, the presentation was met with enthusiasm by the attending prospective licensee companies, which included McDonald's. Signed on together with beverage company Coca-Cola, The Motion Picture constituted one of the first times that a non-Disney motion picture production was involved in a tie-in merchandising campaign with products from the the food industry and subsequently, crudely drawn comic strips (as no other imagery was yet available) were featured on the containers of both companies, a legendary one featured on those of McDonald's, featuring Klingons eating hamburgers and drinking Coca-Cola. When Steel showed studio head Barry Diller concept commercials featuring Klingons gobbling up two of America's largest brand names, he laughed out loud. Steel had never seen Diller laugh, before or after. (New York magazine, 29 May 1989, p. 45; Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History, pp. 108-109; The Keys to the Kingdom, 2000, Chapter 6)
Often incorrectly credited as McDonalds's very first outing in their "Happy Meal" concept, which was introduced a few months after the presentation in June 1979, The Motion Picture was nevertheless their first movie themed one, starting its run in December 1979. McDonald's ran several thirty second television commercials, promoting the Motion Picture Happy Meals, one of them presented by an actor dressed as a Klingon speaking in, what was supposed to be, Klingonese (at the time the language consisted only of a few exclamations, and it took until Star Trek III: The Search for Spock before the language was somewhat beefed out by linguist Marc Okrand), with a voice-over "translator" endorsing the Happy Meal, consisting of a regular hamburger, fries, soft drink, a McDonaldland cookie sampler, and a Star Trek prize. Reportedly, McDonald's sunk $20 million dollar in the television ads to promote their 50 million Star Trek Happy Meal boxes. (Playboy magazine, January 1980, p. 310) Some of these commercials can currently be found on the video sharing website YouTube.
Six different Happy Meal boxes were released (officially, the count is five, but there were two versions of the box featuring Spock), each featuring movie-inspired artwork, puzzles, and a short comic strip, created by artist Ron Villani, depicting a key action scene in the film. Each box had two jokes, including, for example:
- Q. What's most important when transporting "Bones"?
- A. To get the real McCoy.
The prize included with the meal consisted of a black or gray plastic "video communicator" that, when assembled, could be used to scroll the comic strip that was included, "secret compartment" rings (molded with images of Kirk, Spock and the movie Starfleet insignia), iron-on sheets featuring movie-inspired graphics and characters, toy versions of the USS Enterprise, K't'inga-class cruiser, long range shuttle, drydock, air tram, orbital office complex, travel pod, and the Epsilon IX station, and the board game Star Trek: Starfleet.
Video communicator comics
Each installment was eight illustrated panels in length and concluded with "Thus ends another chapter in the saga of the U.S.S. Enterprise." In each strip, the Enterprise is depicted in its pre-refit configuration.
#1 – "Star Trek Stars"
This comic was a brief introduction to the Enterprise, its crew, and its mission. The Enterprise is described as the "command ship of the Federation". Decker and Ilia are aboard, and the ship is en route to stop an alien force speeding toward Earth, likely V'Ger.
#2 – "A Pill Swallows the Enterprise"
Captain Kirk is awakened from sleep and informed that the Enterprise has been enveloped in a capsule. Spock is at a loss to explain it, and the construct is impervious to phasers. Suddenly, the crew see a "heavy Delphus meteor" approaching. Concluding that a "retro blast" would be ineffective, the crew braces for impact. The meteor is stopped by the capsule, which then dematerializes, and Spock concludes that they have a good friend out there.
#3 – "Time. And Time. And Time Again."
Kirk and Spock prepare to beam Uhura down to the planet Turages. The equipment malfunctions, and she materializes in 172 billion BC, confronted by a gigantic beast. She then appears in a rectangular construct drifting near a star in the year 21,000, using her communicator to send the message that she is "three solar systems ahead". Spock discovers that the transporter has been sabotaged. Uhura appears on home plate in Yankee Stadium in the year 1940, holding a bat, and surmising that the Klingons must be behind her predicament. She is then beamed back to the transporter pad of the Enterprise, along with her bat, with Spock quipping that "it was just a matter of time."
#4 – "Votec's Freedom"
- "Captain's Log, stardate 10:18:4. We land on Moonsek, and meet the last of the Mrogars."
Kirk and Spock beam down and meet Votec. He recalls how he fought in a war against the Nozda, and stayed behind to allow his people to escape. He was captured, and determined never to tell where his people were. Spock says that he can break Votec's chains with his new "ultra laser", and Votec plans to rejoin his people.
#5 – "Starlight, Starfright"
On a viewscreen, Kirk shows McCoy subplanet 897-JOJ. McCoy is then abducted by transporter and is informed that a Doctor is needed for experiments. Spock offer that the Argontrons are afraid of darkness, so the Enterprise arranges for darkness and rescues McCoy with a shuttlecraft.