Monday, January 9, 2012

An Argument Against Topps Making Trading Cards Begins With Star Trek: The Motion Picture Cards!

The Good: A few interesting images of aliens.
The Bad: Card quality, Image orientation, Backs!, Order.
The Basics: An abysmal collection of cards from the lame Star Trek: The Motion Picture confounds collectors and composts on investors.

There is a long, fallow period in Star Trek collecting for virtually every collectible from the cancellation of the series up until 1991, Star Trek's 25th anniversary (reviewed here!). In that time, there were books, a few collector's plates and the sporadic action figure line. There were also trading card releases, usually focused on the films. The last major release from Topps cards before they stopped producing Star Trek cards was a series of cards released focusing on Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

As it turns out, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was very successful in its day, was not only a mediocre film, but an absolutely terrible trading card release!

Star Trek: The Motion Picture trading cards were originally released in boxes with thirty-six packs, packs containing ten cards, a sticker and a stick of bubble gum in each. The main series consists of 88 cards with 22 stickers. The stickers are essentially the chase cards of this release. Chase cards, for those not up on card collecting lingo, are bonus cards that appear in packs with an infrequency that makes them hard to find and therefore must be chased after. They are considered bonus cards and are numbered outside the numbering of the regular (common) cards in the set. The set is most commonly found these days in complete sets as opposed to unopened packs. Unopened packs are usually disproportionately more expensive than the sets.

The Star Trek: The Motion Picture trading cards were also made more complicated by the fact that there were at least three releases (differentiated only by card numbers and the checklists) which (simplified) were: the standard 88 card/22 sticker release, a 60 card release, and a 30 card release. The last two releases had cards edited out of the series, numbers changed and a new checklist cut. Otherwise they are identical. Therefore, the prime release is actually the best, giving the most value for the money one is likely to spend finding these.

This set of trading cards very well may have been assembled by orangutans. There is no sense of order to this set other than having a general flow following the plot of the film. Unfortunately, the cards are broken up with cast and ship shots that break up even the chronological order cards. The order problem is made more problematic by the sloppy way this set is assembled. Images are oriented both landscape and portrait style with no rhyme or reason to the direction of the image other than what fits. When assembled, this means one has to constantly turn the binder to read cards or see the image from the proper orientation. The only redeeming aspect of the orientation changes is that the backs that have writing on them are all in portrait style. Unfortunately, not all the backs have writing and as a result, the collector is liable to have to continue turning the binder at weird angles to see what the images are of!

This haphazard quality to the cards is continued with the general order of the set. The set is kind of cool in that it has some rare shots of aliens from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. These shots are more extensive than those that appeared in the film and if one has not seen the film, they might be led to believe that the Andorians and other races had a significant role in the film. These alien shots come randomly amid starship shots and plot cards. In other words, the order of the cards is irregular and poorly organized.

Similarly, the order of the stickers follows no rhyme or reason. The sticker of Scotty is #1, the sticker of Rand is #2, then the unshaven Spock . . . this follows no order pertaining to either the film, character names or actor names. The only really decent thing about this set of cards is the images. The image quality is good, given the limitations of the day when these were produced. Unfortunately, the decent and possibly unique images on some cards are mixed in with publicity shots.

Flipping over the cards reveals a new definition for the word "disorder!" The backs are a random mix of actor biographies, quotes from the celebrities, plot summaries (five cards), and puzzle piece murals. Mural cards were very popular in the 1970s and fans would collect cards and flip them over and make a giant image out of the images on the backs. That is a fine idea, except that in this particular set, there are at least three different murals, one made up of 16 and two made of 24 cards each (depending on the mural). This makes for a few problems, not the least of which is that the murals cannot be assembled while in the binder! Usually (these days at least) murals come in sets of nine because that is how many cards fit into a standard card page. Lacking that, there is no way to both protect the cards in card pages and have the murals revealed to a fan.

This is a moot point, though, because every indication points to the idea that these cards are not standardized, that the fronts and backs are completely random. Outside the checklist, none of the backs correlate with the image on the front of the card and I have found instances of two cards with the same number (numbers in this set are on the front, so front images and numbers of cards are the standards) that have different backs! This becomes comical in some instances, like the card #6 in my set, which features the new Klingon make-up and the pretty hideous Klingons on the bridge of their ship and the back of the card is a biography of Persis Khambatta, Lt. Ilia in the film and a former Miss India!

The writing on the backs of the cards is pretty bland as well. The cards that have text are not terribly informative or interesting.

The chase cards are stickers and there are twenty-two of them in the complete set. That may be the best organized part of the set as it starts with stickers of the cast, then goes into aliens (for some reason Decker is considered an alien in this set!), and it concludes with starships. The stickers are one per pack and the average box tended to have decent collation on them. The problems with them are that they tend to have machine tracks on them and the backs (which tell the collector how to use the sticker) are often stained from the bubblegum.

The bubblegum, by the way, is absolutely foul and should not be consumed if you happen to find packs of these cards!

A box of these trading cards, unopened, is often obtainable for $50 - $100. Complete sets of all 100 cards and stickers tend to run anywhere from $30 - $50 and one complete set is usually obtainable in a box. If one must buy this set, it's probably a better idea to find it preassembled as finding people to trade with to complete a set of these is a bear. This set predates promotional cards for Star Trek releases, so everything in the set was found in packs.

The cardstock is thick, crappy grade cardboard and there is no UV coating, so the cards get damaged and discolored fairly easily when not properly cared for. This set is often found in less than mint condition. Purists and absolute completists will want this set, but it has little appeal for general fans or most Star Trek fans. Unlike some of the other early sets, I have no sentimental attachment to this terrible card release so I am happy to advise interested hobby enthusiasts to avoid it.

Investors will find this set is a generally poor investment, especially with the advent of Ebay.

This set culls from source material found in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, reviewed here!

For other mixed series Star Trek trading card sets reviewed by me, please check out:
Star Trek 25th Anniversary Series 2
Star Trek Master Series
Star Trek 1994 Edition Master Series
Star Trek Cinema 2000
Star Trek (2009 movie) cards


For other card reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2012, 2008, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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