How Star Trek Made Its Scariest Scene Even More Traumatizing

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

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Star Trek is a franchise that has provided freaky frights in countless episodes, but its scariest moment happened on the big screen. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, there is a scene where two Enterprise crew members die in a transporter accident, and we are treated to the awful shrieking sound of doomed people being torn apart at the molecular level. As if that scene wasn’t scary enough, Paramount tweaked both the sound of the scream and Kirk’s reaction in the Director’s Edition of the film, and the result is genuinely traumatizing.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

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This may be Star Trek’s scariest moment, but you’d be forgiven if you didn’t remember it. The scene is only a small blip in the bloated runtime of The Motion Picture, but it certainly left an impact on our childhood selves that we never got over (where’s Counselor Troi when you need her?). In the scene, things go wrong with two crew members trying to use the transporter, and while seeing their deformed bodies is upsetting, what really sells this scene is the use of sound.

The Transporter Acident

Originally, the noise being made by the doomed crew was more akin to a painful gasp, but that all changed when the Director’s Edition was being edited together. When The Motion Picture first came out, it was rated G, but Paramount gave the authorization for the director’s cut to go up to PG. That may not sound like a huge change for this first Star Trek film, but it allowed for the sounds of the transporter accident to be changed into the scariest thing ever recorded for Trek.

The Most Horrible Pain Of Your Life

Producer David C. Fein later told CinemaBlend that he wanted audiences to wonder just how much more mature the film was and to ask questions like “What could possibly have been done to that film at the time to gain a PG rating?” Accordingly, he told his sound department that he wanted “a nails on a chalkboard level of tension.” He also asked them to “imagine…you were in the most horrible pain of your life and you needed to scream just to get it out…what would it sound like if, finally, you could make some sound?”

A Disturbing Noise

Wisely, the Star Trek producer didn’t tell the sound team exactly how to do it, trusting instead that they would use his instructions to create the scariest sounds and worst vibes for audiences. This is now a scene that demands attention, and even if you just had The Motion Picture on as background noise, you’ll definitely have to look up when you hear these two officers being torn to death by technology. As a further edit, William Shatner’s original “oh my God” reaction (one which made people laugh in the theaters) was changed to him somberly staring at the tragedy that just happened.

Star Trek Should Do More Horror

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While Star Trek has never given us an outright horror film (though First Contact came close), the first film delivered the scariest moment for audiences, one the franchise hasn’t ever managed to top. Forget creepy sights like alien conspirators exploding in The Next Generation or mutilated Borg getting stacked up in Voyager. No, Trek’s most frightening moment is the one from decades ago that completely vindicated Dr. McCoy’s fears of using the transporter.

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