One can only imagine the myriad of enthusiasm surrounding the first Star Trek film in 1979. After “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” redefined the word blockbuster, there was a barrage of excitement and bated breath for the next sci-fi masterpiece to cover cinema screens. What first started out as another Trek series, Star Trek Phase II it would’ve been titled, Paramount executives saw their chance at big box office and gave the green light for a full-blown spectacle of immense proportions. And indeed the goals of this first film were high. Director Robert Wise (“The Day the Earth Stood Still”) wanted to address the idea of man and his need for validation. He also wanted to give character arcs to players who, in the original series, were little more than set dressing most of the time.
Regardless of the ho-hum reaction and general disdain for this first Star Trek movie, the film was a success and, believe it not, has made more money than any other Trek film after you adjust for inflation. Though fans and critics walked away jolted and disillusioned, don’t let all of the bad hype surrounding the film stop you from seeing it. It’s a big-minded movie with big-minded ideas whose production was too rushed to achieve anything beyond lukewarm thinking. It’s no secret, then or now, how rushed the making of this film was and what a mess it became trying to get one of the most ambitious movies of its time to meet a December 6th 1979 opening night. The mythical tales of late-night of tape and popsicle stick visual effects to Paramount staff delivering prints of the film literally minutes before the picture was scheduled to start are all true and make the drama of the film’s creation much more exciting than the film itself. Because, as much as all we Trek fans want to admit, the first movie is more of a landmark than a good film. The fast-paced and ego-driven goodness of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is ten times the fun, goofy action movie that “Star Trek The Motion Picture” wasn’t. In all subsequent Star Trek films the action has been ramped higher and higher until plotlines, character arcs, and any real emotion towards these characters is left by the wayside in favor of stupid gags, twisted villains, and the ability to market and bastardize what little dignity the franchise had left in it.
The problems in the original cut of this film are many and this new “Director’s Cut” does much to fix those issues. Firstly, the film has been completely reedited to make a new, more conducive film-watching experience. While “Star Trek The Motion Picture” will never be a great film, there is no amount of editing that can fix that problem, it is certainly a much better film than it was more than twenty years ago. The first hour is still mind-wrenchingly boring, sans that fantastic Enterprise un-docking sequence, and the underlying elements of plot and theme are still so far under the surface that there is little that can be done to fix such things without major re-shoots. The conflict between Decker and Admiral Kirk is still foggy, and other major players, such as Chekov, Uhura, and Scotty, are still window dressing. Doctor McCoy continues his old crony ways with little more to offer than attitude and the Spock’s struggle with his human emotions remains the most interesting aspect of the entire movie. The V’Ger phenomenon that plagues the second half of the film is improved by visual effects, but by that statement alone you can deduce what that amounts to in terms of adding to the story. The “Director’s Cut” offers little more than a look at what might’ve been, but dressing up an old car with new paint doesn’t change the make, model, or how well it runs, if you pardon the metaphor.
VIDEO ^ First off let’s praise the work and effort gone into reworking old shots into looking even better than their old-school techniques could ever allow. The V’Ger cloud, the Enterprise itself, and the new look at the future San Francisco all appear gorgeous and bring the scale of the film up a notch or two, something not even I thought possible. These redone effects, such as the asteroid explosion in the wormhole, bring the film into the realm of sci-fi classic, and don’t take you out of the film by their shoddy, rushed appearance like those apparent in the video releases did.
Now, let’s take another moment to notice that all of the dirt, grain, and scratches from prior effects work still look just as bad as they used to, and thanks to the 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen enhancement, they are that much clearer. The opening Klingon attack is a good example, with grain and dirt everywhere thanks to the layers of effects work needed for the shots. Where is the digital cleanup? Why, if all this money was going to be spent on such an endeavor, weren’t these small details addressed? These few complaints don’t add up to much when compared to the rest of the movie, because the good certainly outweighs the bad, but if this is going to be the “definitive” version of the film, why stop at new effects, and not clean up the old ones?
Regardless, this new transfer is a revelation for many reasons. The soft appearance gives you a film-like quality instead of what might be thought of as a second-rate transfer, and the blacks are wonderfully deep while edge enhancement is kept low. Colors are stable, if not a bit flashy, and the contrast is sharp. Solid work, but bafflement resounds on not cleaning up prior print errors.
AUDIO ^ Restored from the original elements one sound effect and vocal element at a time, this is a superb Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is a welcome treat and is sure to dazzle even the most casual Star Trek fan. Goldsmith’s fantastic score now pumps from all sides and keeps the ears tingling with new highs and fantastic lows that were missing from previous and inferior VHS and Laserdisc releases. The surrounds are wonderfully active and are used most aggressively for great flyovers and a few vocal cues that thankfully don’t get gimmicky or overwrought. This is an extraordinary mix and it’s about time someone got a remix right! An English Dolby Surround 2.0 track is included, as well as English subtitles and/or Closed Captions.
EXTRAS ^ Screen-specific Commentary director Robert Wise, effects supervisors Douglas Trumball and John Dykstra, actor Stephen Collins and composer Jerry Goldsmith ^ This worthwhile listen is an informative track and has the participants each recorded separately. All have enough of their own insight and endearing stories to tell, and the pace barely lags. While I wasn’t sure how this track was going to play out, it’s clear that even the most jaded, in-the-know Trek fan will get a great deal of information from this group and learn a lot that he or she probably didn’t know. The only caveat is that Wise sounds scripted but, considering his age (87 at the time of this recording), maybe that’s for the better.
Fact Track by Michæl Okuda ^ Michæl Okuda, if you didn’t know, is the co-author of The Star Trek Encylopedia and I guarantee there isn’t much you won’t know about this film’s ins and outs before the movie is over with. Everything from the names of ships to how fast Warp 9 and 5 are, nary a stone is unturned and I like it that way. This feature is so fascinating I doubt that anyone even halfway interested in turning it on will fight hard to turn it off, simply by the breath of knowledge shared. I hope this option turns up on every new Star Trek Special Edition, because it’s certainly the best special feature included on the disc.
Additional and Deleted Scenes ^ Presented in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (kudos Paramount!), these are five scenes from the Theatrical Cut presented in their original edits. They are “Cloud Journey,” “Vulcan And Starfleet,” “Attack On the Enterprise,” “V-Ger Flyover,” and “Wing Walk.” While these are here for die-hards only, fans of the film will be happy to see them in their original form, and if anything reinforce the fact that the new edits are much, much better than the original takes.
Trims ^ This is an 8 minute or so reel consisting of bits and pieces of footage sometimes just looks and movements or lines of dialogue. Again, these are here for the purists and completists only.
Outtakes ^ Again presented in Anamorphic Widescreen, here are some deleted scenes and/or alternate takes of existing scenes that were presented in either the Theatrical Cut or 1983 Extended Version (for Television). The scenes include: “Intruder Transmission,” “Sulu and Ilia #1 & #2,” “Officers Lounge,” “Kirk’s Quarters,” “Attack On The Enterprise,” “A Huge Vessel,” “Kirk Follows Spock,” “Ilia’s Quarters #1 & #2,” and “It’s Creator Is A Machine.” None of these are particularly interesting or noteworthy.
Advertising ^ All in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen comes the Theatrical Trailer, the Teaser, and the “Director’s Cut” trailer, the first two looking pretty damn good despite their age. Also included is a teaser for TV’s “Enterprise” and 8 TV Spots for “Star Trek The Motion Picture.” Apart from a few Storyboards which are haphazard and left to the imagination as to exactly what scene/sequence they refer to, we get no poster gallery or any other marketing materials which would’ve been a welcomed treat.
Documentaries ^ Phase II: The Lost Enterprise ^ This 12 minute feature is like foreplay without the sex. You get all revved up by 12 minutes of talk and speculation on how this new TV series was going to come into the world, what the concept was and how it was going to play out. Then we the feature abruptly ends, telling you absolutely nothing of the how and why necessary to bring this TV show to the big screen. You hear nothing of the proposed plotline of the film and its relation to the new series or vice versa. It’s a complete letdown of badly edited interviews from talking heads.
A Bold New Enterprise ^ At 29 minutes, this is a good feature that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Robert Wise, a chunky William Shatner, Paramount execs Jeffrey (“Shrek”) Katzenburg and Tom Parry, actors Stephen Collins, Walter Koenig, editor Todd Ramsey, composer Jerry Goldsmith and effects supervisors Douglas Trumbull and Richard Yuricich all get into the mix in this great documentary that details the production of “Star Trek The Motion Picture.” Everything from the nail-biting conclusion of the final cut and last-minute visual effects to Goldsmith’s dual scores, even the casting is covered. Most interesting is the original unused cues from Goldsmith that, while sounding great, just don’t compare to the final theme. Let’s note that not one word about why a “Director’s Cut” is needed in the first place is discussed here (more on this in a minute).
Redirecting the Future ^ Foundation Imaging as well as the new production team lead by David C. Fein, Michæl Matessino and effects supervisor Daren R. Docterman take us on a 15 minute journey into creating the new effects for “Star Trek The Motion Picture” as well as the work that had to be done to seamlessly blend them into the existing shots. Informative and fast paced, this is probably the best of the three documentaries because it’s so interesting to see the amount of work required to polish up the film to today’s standards.
Now allow me to get a little disgruntled as to why Paramount chose not to focus on the actual drama of the production and why there is nothing mentioning why a “Director’s Cut” is needed in the first place. Absolutely none of the drama from the making of the first film is included here. Undoubtedly the juiciest tales of backstage woe have come from “Star Trek The Motion Picture” and none of it, not one story or even a hint, is included. Now is this probably for publicity concerns, Paramount wanting to keep their image “clean” despite the muddy turmoil created in making this movie. That’s truly unfortunate. One can just speculate that a revision of this scale, another DVD release I mean, isn’t going to be happening any time soon and this release would’ve been the perfect place for the studio, as well as the cast and crew, to fess up and get the story straight on what actually happened. Instead we get smiling faces assuring us that everything went fine and that the tight budget constraints as well as the promised release date pressures had nothing to do with the final film as a whole. In fact, the entire reason for creating a new, spiffed up version isn’t even discussed. Sure, the effects are covered, but apart from that we hear nothing from Wise about his beef with Paramount or his struggle to create a great film that had too many obstacles to become such. With such a great edition, these documentaries had the capability to set the story straight, but instead do nothing of the sort.
OVERALL ^ “Star Trek The Motion Picture” is a film without equal. It’s a decent sci-fi film who earns respect based on goals, not follow-through. It began a franchise that some can call an empire, whether it is film or television. There is such a cult phenomenon, or at the very least a rabid fanbase, that will never let Star Trek completely die. The distant future with the wacky races and the crazy electronic gadgets will always be interesting to somebody, and this film is a nice statement on what man and machine might have in common if A.I. ever gets here. It’s too bad that the subsequent films abandoned the big questions all together for quick action and goofy plotlines, but such is life and the value of letting bigwigs make decisions. A hearty recommend for the effort, but boy, what I wouldn’t give to hear the real story of what went on behind the scenes, and why this “Director’s Cut” was needed at all.
OVERALL (DVD): * * * * – 4 Stars ^ MOVIE: * * * ½ – 3.5 Stars ^ VIDEO: * * * – 3 Stars ^ AUDIO: * * * ½ – 3.5 Stars ^ EXTRAS: * * * * – 4 Stars