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STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE
The Director's Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Majel Barrett, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins
Director:  Robert Wise
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  136 Minutes
Release Date:  November 6, 2001

"Now we've got it right where it wants us."

Film **1/2

It’s hard to believe now, but when the original Star Trek TV series was cancelled after only three seasons and 79 episodes, it was considered a failure.  Syndication would later hint to studio executives that they might have had a hit on their hands after all, and the first Star Trek convention in 1972 would confirm it.

Initially conceived as a pilot for a new series on a new network owned by Paramount, the influential success of Star Wars meant the studio would eventually opt to make it a big screen project, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture was conceived.  The major cast members were all reunited, along with some new faces (originally signed to take part in the never-realized series), and a major Hollywood director, Robert Wise at the helm, all under the production of creator Gene Roddenberry.

The movie was a major success at the box office, and insured the continued evolution of the franchise into more films, new TV shows, and finally even Paramount’s own network, UPN, launched by a new Star Trek series, Voyager…a couple of decades late, maybe, but good things come to those who wait.

This first film, therefore, may be the most significant event in the history of Star Trek, yet for many, it’s not considered a series high point.  The creators seemed to go a little too much in the opposite direction of the television show.  If the series had only a few unremarkable matte shots of the model Enterprise repeated over and over, the movie would have a more detailed and functioning ship that could be filmed from any direction.  And that’s what they did, sometimes to the point of absurdity.  The arrival of Captain Kirk (Shatner) and Scotty (Doohan) via shuttle, for example…a neat looking piece of film, but did it have to be THAT long?

The interiors of the Enterprise were completely revamped as well.  Gone was the colorful, primitive, art deco throw-together of the show, and in its place was a sleek, reflective, highly technical and fully realized starship.  Amusingly enough, one of the storylines involves Kirk’s dependence on a young starship captain, Decker (Collins), to help him get used to the advanced new Enterprise!

The sets are impressive to a point, but they also lend the picture an uncomfortable sterility.  Replacing color with metallic hues was a bit of art direction that even affected the costumes, leading the ship and crew to look more like hospital quarters than a space travel vessel.

A 2001 influence is definitely inherent, and it helped that this picture shared the same special effects man, Donald Trumbull.  Even for 1979, some of the effects shots are indeed impressive, and with this cleaned up “Director’s Edition”, they are even more so.

What got lost amongst the impressive sense of style was the substance.  Star Trek was never about looks, but about character and story.  Some of the best episodes still rank amongst science fiction’s top offerings.  While Star Trek: The Motion Picture had a terrific idea for a finale, it’s hard not to overlook the vast amounts of pure filler that leads up to it.  One might even notice that about an hour into the picture, nothing has really happened yet.

Gone were the classic script elements:  the humorous bickering between Dr. McCoy (Kelley) and Mr. Spock (Nimoy).  Gone was the true sense of wonder; the kind a terrific script could provide more of than a thousand detailed special effects.  Gone to a certain point was the sense of relationship these characters had with one another…almost as if they had to test the waters all over again!

The addition of the two new characters, Decker and Ilia (Khambatta), were also somewhat of a distraction.  The fact that they were the focal points of the climax also took something away from the main characters, leaving the true fans without much to cheer for.

These are all legitimate complaints, to be sure, but in retrospect, I think the first film has aged fairly well.  Hindsight may have proven it an unusual link between Star Trek’s past and future, but it was a link nonetheless.  It may not fit in as well with subsequent offerings, but the flip side is that it seems to stand alone as its own entity…part of the whole and yet apart from the whole.  I can still remember when the picture debuted…it was certainly enough for Trekkies to see a new chapter in the Star Trek saga…we didn’t really get around to nitpicking it until some time later.  And given the crop of other successful sci-fi films surrounding it, like Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Close Encounters, one can appreciate that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was definitely different from its peers and highly original in its own right, even if it wasn’t quite as good.

This new “Director’s Edition” should be considered the definitive version of the film.  Original special effects sequences that were planned (and even storyboarded, as demonstrated in the disc’s supplements), were created and inserted under the supervision of Robert Wise and with the approval of Paramount.  Certain scenes were tightened, others enhanced or replaced.  The final film creates a more fantastic environment and gives the finale even more impact and wonder…I like how it plays now, and apparently, Mr. Wise is at long last satisfied.

It’s too bad he didn’t opt to do some CGI work on William Shatner’s toupee…

Video ***1/2

This is an impressively restored print presented via a terrific anamorphic transfer from Paramount.  The picture looks great throughout, with crisp, clean images and excellent color rendering, as well as a genuinely cleaned up print.  Only a few telltale signs of age exist:  a speck here, a bit of shimmer there…but overall, nothing distracting.  The most problematic scene was possibly the appearance of the probe on the bridge, which was essentially a bit bolt of electricity…some of these sequences look barely touched because of the lighting and color extremes, and you can compare other portions of the film with it to see how far the restoration work went on other parts.  This is definitely the best home video presentation ever offered for this title, and fans should be very pleased.

Audio ***1/2

The new 5.1 remix is a blast to listen to.  Jerry Goldsmith’s classic score (that would later provide the theme for The Next Generation series) sounds better than ever…the multiple channels really open up the dynamic range and the orchestration of the music.  There are several action oriented sequences that get some daring panning and crossover work, and these effects all play smoothly and crisply.  The .1 channel rumbles through most of the film just to give the space machinery that ever-present ambience.  Dialogue is clear, though from time to time, a bit thin sounding in comparison to the livelier parts of the re-mix.  Still, this is a highly commendable effort overall.

Features ****

This double disc set marks Paramount’s most extensive features offering for a Star Trek movie, and rightly so, I think, since this film takes up a large chunk of the franchise’s history.  Disc one features an audio commentary by Robert Wise, effects men Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra, composer Jerry Goldsmith and actor Stephen Collins.  They are recorded separately, but edited together smoothly, and serves as one part of the overall information and history package of the disc.  The second feature is a printed commentary via the subtitles by Michael Okuda, co-author of The Star Trek Encyclopedia.  Watch it while you listen to the commentary for an extremely detailed learning session.

The second disc contains three good documentaries…one on the evolution of the project from TV show to movie, one on the making of the movie itself (with fresh cast and crew interviews), and a terrific third one detailing the new “Director’s Edition”.  There are plenty of deleted and alternate scenes…five from the original theatrical version that are essentially the unaltered original scenes that were replaced by the newly created ones, plus an outtake of a never-finished scene for the climax.  There are also eleven extra scenes that were part of the 1983 version for home video and television for fans who liked the 142 minute cut.  There is an original teaser and original theatrical trailer, plus a trailer for the new “Director’s Cut”, 8 TV spots, a look at the original storyboards from which most of the new effects work was created, and a promo for the new Enterprise TV show.  The menus are also animated with sound.  A terrific package for Trekkies!

Summary:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is an impressive DVD offering all around…the new “Director’s Cut” makes for a better viewing experience overall, plus Paramount’s terrific audio and video transfer and generous helping of extras make this a must-own for fans of the series and the films.