Producing the Memory Wall Sequence

According to legend, the memory wall is the great lost sequence of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and was cut only because it was impossible to complete the necessary effects in time for the movie’s December 1979 release.

The truth is that, although it was incredibly expensive, the sequence was abandoned because it failed on many levels. Director Robert Wise rejected it during post-production and replaced it with Spock’s spacewalk.

Original idea

The original idea for the sequence was that Spock would leave the Enterprise without Kirk’s permission in an attempt to explore V’Ger and learn more about it. He travels through a series of corridors before mind-melding with a memory sphere that is part of a digital version of Ilia. He collapses and is rescued by Kirk.

V'Ger memory wall storyboards
Storyboards by David J. Negron

In the earlier version, Kirk pursues Spock when he leaves the ship and follows him into a curved corridor. Before he can catch up with the Vulcan, he is trapped by a group of crystals, which rapidly cover him and pin him to the wall.

On the bridge, the crew watch and a horrified Sulu advises Kirk to use his phaser. Kirk has the same idea but cannot reach his weapon. He calls to Spock for help, desperately describing his predicament until only static is transmitted.

Spock, who at first appears not to have heard, suddenly heads toward the captain, draws his phaser and evaporates the probes that threatened to short-circuit Kirk’s life-support unit. Spock explains that he was out there seeking answers, which leads Kirk to ask: “Answers to what, Spock? Our dilemma… or your personal one?” The two men continue to explore V’Ger together, stopping to examine a sensor bee.

Proceeding into the “memory wall” with Spock, Kirk watches as the Vulcan grasps a small, floating sensor device similar to the one implanted in the Ilia probe’s throat. The two watch in fascination as the device flows back to its programmed path when released.

Within the crystal-like wall, Spock discovers mechanisms that store information, including the dematerialized Klingons and Ilia. Saying he needs to mind meld with the crystals and learn the truth about V’Ger, Spock removes one of his gloves and, touching the crystals, begins the meld. As in the final version, a quick series of abstract patterns follow Spock’s scream and this would have led directly into the sickbay scene.


Problems with the sequence emerged as soon as filming began. The memory wall set — essentially a long, curved corridor — was built by Robert Abel and Associates. As soon as Production Designer Harold Michelson saw it, he knew it was going to cause problems. In many ways the set was impressive; the inner wall was translucent and patterns of light were back-projected onto it, suggesting that complex information was stored by V’Ger.

There was a culture clash between the Abel studios and the production team. Abel’s people had created detailed storyboards for the sequence, which they had thought would be followed closely. The trench and memory wall sets were due to have been enlarged using matte paintings, animation effects and superimposed miniatures. Plans called for crystal-like formations extending far off into the distance. The trench was designed to be shot from a distance, so the image could be inserted into the center of the final film, with a false-perspective miniature and optical paintings extending it in much the same way as the scene in which Kirk and his officers leave the Enterprise saucer and walk to V’Ger.

The production team was used to working in a very different manner and expected to be able to modify the sequence as they filmed it. The way the set had been constructed, none of the walls could be removed, so the actors could only be shot from a restricted range of angles. The Abel staff felt the answer could have been to shoot more footage of the actors against a blue screen, like models, and then composite them into the film. Production thought this approach was impractical. Instead, the actors had to be flown through the set on wires, but the rig needed to do that proved incredibly unwieldy.

William Shatner
William Shatner films a memory wall scene

In addition, because of the practicalities of visual effects at the time, the crystallization scene and the sensor bee had to be filmed on set rather than be added later. William Shatner had no stand-in for this and endured being encased within the first spacesuit design (which was extremely hot, because it was essentially a camouflaged diver’s wetsuit) for long periods while effects technicians affixed dozens of small, pyramid-shaped structures, covered with front projection fabric to make them glow under the proper lighting. Each pyramid was attached to a wire. During the take, all the wires were pulled simultaneously so the structures “flew” away from Kirk. When printed backwards, it would appear as though all the pyramids were affixing themselves to the captain.

A plaster arm was also constructed, and on a small set in Robert Abel’s effects installation closeups were shot of Kirk’s arm being covered by the crystals.


Had it been used, the first “spacewalk” would have appeared to have a lot in common with scenes in the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage, in which performers also “floated” on wires while clad in wet suits, and in which Requel Welch was also encased within floating “antibodies” (filmed in the same manner as Kirk’s experience).

Several members of the production team were not convinced by the results this produced. In the end, everyone from the production team and Abel studios felt that the shooting was a disaster. When Doug Trumbull was hired fresh off working on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Director Robert Wise gave him the go-ahead to abandon the memory wall and film a new sequence, which limited Kirk’s involvement and concentrated on Spock.


Good summary, but there are a few errors. It’s Robert Abel and Associates, not Associations. In one spot the text reads “mind melt” instead of “mind meld”. Finally, the pyramids attached to Kirk were not all pulled off at once. I’ve seen a few seconds of this Kirk attacked footage and they were yanked off sequentially, not simultaneously. The footage does indeed look terrible, and the wires are quite visible, so they made the right call dropping it.

You don’t cite sources, so where does the information come from regarding Abel actually building the memory wall set?

mmolyneaux (Jan 16, 2017)

Thanks for pointing out the typos! I fixed those.

The source is listed at the bottom: “The Unseen Star Trek (Part II–Star Trek: The Motion Picture),” an article published in Star Blazers Magazine.

I always wanted to see this scene. It would have provided some (more) physical action to the film, and explain how V’Ger actually worked (and use the crew’s phasers). Also liked the idea of Kirk and Spock exploring V’Ger as a team. This scene would also have provided a “hands on” scale to V’Ger not shown by the quick trip Spock made via jetpack (er… thruster suit). Paramount could make lots of money adding this to a new DVD release.

Kevin (Apr 1, 2017)

Nick, you missed a couple of typos.

Earl (Feb 7, 2019)


“The production team was used to working in a very different way and expected to be able to modify the sequence as they filmed it. The way the set had been constructed, none of the walls could be removed, so the actors could only be shot from a restricted range of angels.”

See last word…

WiL (Apr 27, 2019)

Thanks! I’ll fix that.

Ironically if the movie were produced today CG would have made the scene possible and no doubt spectacular. Though final version was good, I think this scene would have given audiences an even deeper look in to V’jur.

James Abell (Sep 19, 2019)

“desperately describing his predicament until only stasis is transmitted.” Do you mean “static”?

Gregory Saum (Oct 25, 2019)

Yes! Thank you. Fixed the typo.

You’re incredibly patient with people who have nothing better to do than sniff at a few minor errors in another man’s effort.

Thank you for a really great website.

John Adam (Jul 8, 2020)

Thank you for the compliment! But don’t worry – as long as readers are friendly about it, I’m grateful if they point out errors. No one can get everything right.

I’m glad to hear you enjoy the website!

Hello, This is a very informative place. I had never heard of the lost space walk scene until just now.

I was wondering if anyone could help me find a source for detailed drawing and measurements of TMP drydock. Though it would be an arduous task, I would like to attempt a 1/350 scale model of it to go with my upcoming 1/350 Enterprise refit.

Thank you very much.

Carl Brackin Jr. (Oct 6, 2020)

Thanks for your comment!

All the drawings of the drydock I have are in the “Designing The Motion Picture Drydock” article.

Good luck!

What about recreating the entire memory wall sequence using today’s CGI and deepfake technology. Was the memory wall scene entirely shot along with the actor’s dialogue intact? Who knows if this is something Paramount would even consider spending money now that it’s 2021. Very doubtful, but anything is possible.

Drew M. (Jan 10, 2021)

Well, it’s end of 2021 and there is a new 4K remaster of The Director’s Cut coming out soon next year, 2022. But there doesn’t seem to be any new footage, completed or not, such as of the memory wall sequence. Oh well. But the nice new remaster is a great selling point at least.

Thanks Nick Ottens for this in-depth article. I’ve heard about the memory wall scenes for like a couple of decades now and just stumbled upon this thorough explanation about what those scenes were about and why they were ultimately not included in the film.

Garret H. (Dec 15, 2021)

I’ve always had a huge amount of love for this movie, since I was a kid, and it’s only recently that I’ve realized that this scene even existed. Really interesting stuff, and thanks for putting this up!

Mike Stevenson (Jan 12, 2022)

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