|Director: Robert Wise|
|Screenplay: Harold Livingston (story by Alan Dean Foster, based on Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry)|
|Stars: William Shatner (Capt. James T. Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Cmdr. Spock), DeForest Kelley (Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy), James Doohan (Cmdr. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), George Takei (Lt. Cmdr. Hikaru Sulu), Walter Koenig (Lt. Cmdr. Pavel Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Cmdr. Uhura), Majel Barrett (Dr. Christine Chapel), Persis Khambatta (Lt. Ilia), Stephen Collins (Cmdr. Willard Decker)|
|MPAA Rating: PG|
|Year of Release: 1979 / 2022|
|Country: U.S. |
It is all too easy to take Star Trek for granted. Since the premiere of Gene Roddenberry’s original, groundbreaking TV show in 1966, there have been nine spin-off series, 13 feature films, and an incalculable deluge of Trek-related cultural artifacts, from the billions of dollars of official merchandising, to the incredible amount of artistic and literary production by the legions of dedicated fans who gather at dozens of conventions every year. Thus, it is easy to forget that, when Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in 1979, it was something of a gamble. After all, despite its loyal following, the original television series had been perceived for many years as something of a failure, having lasted only three seasons (1966–69), a total of 79 episodes, many of which suffered from exceptionally meager budgets, especially during the second and third seasons.
During the mid-1970s, Roddenberry and others were developing a new series with the same cast of characters called Star Trek: Phase II. After the phenomenal success of George Lucas’s Star Wars in 1977, Paramount switched gears and decided to turn Star Trek into a motion picture. Oddly enough, although Star Trek: The Motion Picture is often thought of as being made to cash in on the Star Wars juggernaut, the two movies could not be any different. While Lucas’s space opera is fast-paced, action-oriented, and mythological in its notions of pure good and evil, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is slow and cerebral, more enraptured by stately sci-fi imagery than it is by heroes and villains and chase sequences and shoot-outs.
If anything, what the first Star Trek movie most resembles both visually and thematically is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the film most directly responsible for initiating the modern era of serious cinematic science fiction. This similarity makes it stand out from the more action-oriented Trek movies that would follow, even if it does not share Kubrick’s rigorous intellectualism and visually exacting methods. While there are moments that are deeply engrossing without being conventionally exciting, too much of Star Trek is, for lack of a better word, tedious.
The story involves an enormous, extremely powerful alien cloud that is slowly moving toward Earth. We get a sense of just how dangerous this cloud is when it vaporizes three Klingon ships and a Federation space station in the film’s stunning opening sequence. To deal with this mysterious, dangerous phenomenon, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is called back to duty even though it has been years since he commanded the Starship Enterprise. Kirk quickly reassembles his faithful crew, including the Vulcan science officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy), the always irascible Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and the engineer Scotty (James Doohan). Each major character is given a loving reintroduction, which must have thrilled fans to no end in 1979 who had not seen these characters on-screen for a decade. The move to the big screen—in ’Scope widescreen, no less—must have been that much more thrilling, as the Star Trek universe was finally being portrayed in the larger-than-life manner it had always deserved, but had been consistently denied by the limits of television in the 1960s.
Kirk’s assumption of command of the Enterprise is a hard shot to the ego of the previous commander, a rising young star named William Decker (Stephen Collins), who is more familiar with the newly retrofitted starship. Yet, it is Kirk’s experience exploring the cosmos that is most needed on this mission, and he and Decker eventually find a working relationship, although it is not without its tensions.
The slow-moving narrative (the screenplay was penned by novelist and television writer Harold Livingston from a story by prolific sci-fi novelist Alan Dean Foster) charts the Enterprise’s journey to intercept the mysterious cloud before it reaches Earth. There are some exciting moments along the way, such as when the Enterprise is caught in a worm hole. But, for the most part, the journey is a build-up, a way of increasing the space cloud’s mysterious aura. Once they reach the cloud, the movie verges on the surreal in a way that none of the other Star Trekmovies ever did (least of all the immediate follow-up, 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a violent and melodramatic revenge tale).
Star Trek: The Motion Picture is certainly an inventive and thoughtful science fiction movie, even if it is not entirely in keeping with either the television show that preceded it or the movies that would follow it. In this way, though, it remains unique and memorable. Legendary director Robert Wise was pressed for time in making the movie, but he lent it a distinct air of intelligence and purpose. Wise, who had won Oscars for the musicals West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965), but was also know for directing horror (1963’s The Haunting) and science fiction (1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still), was an inspired choice to helm such an ambitious project. His professionalism and extensive experience proved to be crucial when the movie’s production came down to the wire.
Wise was able to maintain the importance of the characters and the story, even when the special effects were constantly threatening to engulf them. At the same time, though, he used the effects to new advantages, especially in his almost fetishistic attention to the Enterprise, which truly allowed the ship to become its own character. Wise’s camera and the improved model effects for the first time gave the Enterprise true mass and scale, which is the same thing he did for Star Trek itself, giving the innovative and progressive, but technically limited, TV show a jolt of the kind of magnitude that only the big screen can give.
However, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as it played in theaters starting in December 1979, was an incomplete film because Wise and his production team had to rush the final stages of postproduction in order to meet Paramount’s imposed release deadline, which meant that many of the effects shots, sound effects, and, in some cases, entire scenes had to be either left in the film in a truncated form or had to be removed altogether. In 2001, Wise was given the then-rare opportunity to revisit the film and complete what had been incomplete. The resulting film, dubbed The Director’s Edition, was not an entirely new movie, but it was one that was vastly improved. The theatrical release version had been pushed to the very last minute—the print was literally still wet when Wise premiered it in Washington, DC, and it was never given any previews. In returning to the film, Wise was able to trim some of the dialogue and update the special effects in several key scenes. Those improvements have now been enhanced even further with a subsequent 4K restoration in which more than 100 shots were either given new or improved visual effects and the soundtrack was given a complete overhaul, resulting in a film that is even more visually impressive than either of the two previous versions while still maintaining the general look and feel effects work in the late 1970s. It may not be the same as what fans remember seeing in theaters more than 40 years ago, but it is definitely a better movie, the one that Wise and the rest of his team had always intended to make.
|Star Trek: The Motion Picture—The Director’s Edition 4K UHD + Blu-ray|
|Audio||English: Dolby Atmos surroundEnglish: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surroundDolby Digital 2.0 isolated music track|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Supplements||Audio commentary by David C. Fein, Mike Matessino, and Daren R. DochtermanAudio commentary by Robert Wise, Douglas Trumbull, John Dykstra, Jerry Goldsmith, and Stephen CollinsText commentary by Michael and Denise OkudaIsolated scoreThe Human Adventure 8-part documentaryDeleted scenesEffects testsCostume testsComputer Display Graphics“Phase II: The Lost Enterprise” featurette “A Bold New Enterprise” featurette “Redirecting the Future” featurette “The Longest Trek: Writing the Motion Picture” featurette “Special Star Trek Reunion” featurette “Starfleet Academy SCISEC Brief 001: The Mystery Behind V’Ger” featurette “The New Frontier: Resurrecting Star Trek” featurette “Maiden Voyage: Making Star Trek: The Motion Picture” featurette StoryboardsAdditional scenes: 1979 theatrical versionDeleted scenes: 1983 TV versionTeaser trailer Theatrical trailerTV spots|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||September 6, 2022|
|When Paramount released Star Trek: The Original 4-Movie Collection 4K UHD boxset a year ago, there was some not-so-subtle grumbling that only the original theatrical version of Star Trek: The Motion Picture was included even though it was well known at the time that Paramount was hard at work restoring and enhancing The Director’s Edition for a 2022 release. Well, the wait has certainly been worth it, as this new version of Wise’s improved cut from 22 years ago looks even more impressive, with substantially—and I mean substantially—enhanced visual effects and a whopper of a remastered soundtrack. Paramount went back to the source, scanning the original camera negative and master interpositive elements in 4K. They also retrieved from the archives almost all of the original VistaVision and 65mm visual effects negatives and scanned them in 6K or 8K, which were then used to recomposite the shots in order to avoid the inherent visual degradation from the original rushed optical process. Thus, the visual effects, while being created from the original plates, look much, much better than they did in both the theatrical version and the 2001 Director’s Edition. The visual effects shots that were created for the first Director’s Edition that were originally created in SD resolution have now been recreated in 4K, thus bringing them into visual alignment with the rest of the film. The resulting 4K UHD image, which has also been color graded for High Dynamic Range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available), is simply outstanding. The level of detail is thoroughly impressive, as the image has never looked so sharp and clean and the colors have never looked so bold and clear. What is particularly impressive is how consistent the image is; for those who aren’t familiar with the film, it will be difficult to discern what is original from 1979, what was created for the 2001 version, and what has been updated for this version. It all looks stunning. The film is simultaneously old and new, and it should thrill Trek fans to no end to have it in hand. The same can be said for the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which was completely remastered from all the original elements. The updated soundtrack is impressively expansive in its scope and range, with creative and effective use of imaging and directionality. The opening sequence immediately sets the bar, with the Klingon ships rumbling across the screen and the energy balls shot out from the alien cloud creating a distinctly ominous sound. Jerry Goldsmith’s memorable and instantly iconic score sounds full and rich, especially the unique, reverberating sound he created to signal the presence of the alien cloud.|
As for the supplements—well, let’s just say there is a lot. We will start with the new stuff, kicking things off with a brand-new audio commentary by David C. Fein, who produced both the 2001 Director’s Edition and the remastered version; restoration supervisor Mike Matessino; and conceptual designer and visual effects artist Daren R. Dochterman. All three men were instrumental in remastering the film, and they speak at length about all the work that went into it, which turns the commentary into a treasure trove of insight into what it takes to tackle a project of this magnitude. All three are also prominently featured in The Human Adventure, a new 48-minute, eight-part documentary chronicling how this new version of The Director’s Edition was created. The eight featurettes include: “Preparing the Future,” “A Wise Choice,” “Refitting the Enterprise,” “Sounding Off,” “V’ger,” “Return to Tomorrow,” “A Grand Theme,” and “The Grand Vision.” The documentary is stuffed with a wealth of information and insight from a wide array of contributors. There are new interviews with Fein, Matessino, and Dochterman, as well as production illustrator Andrew Probert, model builders Pat McClung and Jim Dow, Atmos sound mixer Michael Babcock and music mixer Bruce Botnick, negative researcher Gene Kozicki, visual effects supervisor John Dykstra, visual effects cameraman Douglas Smith, and colorist Alexis Van Kurkman. We also get archival interviews with director Robert Wise (circa 2000), visual effects director Douglas Trumbull, cinematographer Richard Kline, production designer Harold Michelson, Paramount’s then-President of Production Jeffrey Katzenberg, and composer Jerry Goldsmith, as well as audio clips of interviews with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, sound effects creator Alan Howarth, and production illustrator Syd Mead.
Also new to this edition are a brief bit of recently discovered deleted scenes. There is also a new section on effects tests that gives us previously unseen shots of the Klingon ships and V’Ger; a section of costume tests that shows various actors, including Leonard Nimoy, posing for the camera in various costumes; and a section of computer display graphics that isolates the original footage of CG elements created for the various screens on the bridge.
In addition to the new supplements, there is a nearly complete accounting of all the “legacy” supplements that date back to the 2001 Director’s Edition DVD. These include a screen-specific audio commentary that covers a lot of ground by including director Robert Wise, special photographic effects director Douglas Trumball, special photographic effects supervisor John Dykstra, composer Jerry Goldsmith, and actor Stephen Collins. In addition, trivia fanatics can also opt to read a text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda, co-authors of The Star Trek Encyclopedia, who give all kinds of tidbits on both the making of the movie and the Star Trek universe in general. This disc also allows you to watch the film in the “Library Computer” mode, a thorough, graphically intensive, and user-controlled interface. Essentially, this is an interactive experience that allows you to access information about the Star Trek universe while watching the film. The Blu-ray creates a frame around the film with constantly shifting icons that represent different categories of information related to whatever is on screen at that moment: “Culture,” “Science & Medicine,” “Starfleet Ops,” “Life Forms,” “Planets & Locations,” “People,” “Technology,” “Ships,” and “Miscellaneous.” At any given point there can be six or seven of these icons available for clicking, and you also have access at all times to an Index that includes every term in the computer.
There are three separate making-of featurettes, each of which covers a different facet of the movie and can be watched in chronological order for a complete history of the movie's production, from its earliest conceptions, to its reworking in 2000. First up is “The Lost Enterprise: Star Trek—Phase II,” which runs about 12 minutes in length and elaborates on the original plans for the Phase II TV series in the mid-1970s that eventually became the movie. This featurette includes interviews with several key writers and production personnel, as well as rare footage of production and make-up tests. Next is “A Bold New Enterprise: The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” which, at half an hour in length, is a somewhat more substantial look at the making of the movie itself. It features then-new interviews with director Robert Wise, editor Todd Ramsay, composer Jerry Goldsmith, then-Paramount executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, and actors William Shatner, Walter Koenig, and Stephen Collins (Leonard Nimoy is notably absent). Last is the 14-minute “Redirecting the Future: Making Star Trek: The Motion Picture—The Director’s Edition,” which traces how the movie was reworked by trimming some dialogue scenes and using the original storyboards to improve the special effects (this is best demonstrated in the scene that takes place on Vulcan). This featurette is particularly interesting to those who don’t know the movie by heart and aren’t sure what has been altered or eliminated. We also get a number of shorter featurettes: “The Longest Trek: Writing The Motion Picture” is an 11-minute look back at the film’s history (beginning with the abandoned Star Trek Phase II television series); “Special Star Trek Reunion” is a 10-minute featurette in which Trek fans who were invited to appear as extras in the Enterprise crew debriefing scene reminisce about the experience; and “Starfleet Academy SciSec Brief 001: Mystery Behind V’ger,” a 4-minute faux Starfleet instructional video.
As Star Trek: The Motion Picture has been available in at least three different versions, there is a hefty section of the disc devoted to alternate and deleted scenes. One section contains five scenes from the original 1979 theatrical version that were either shortened in the Director’s Edition or had their special effects revised. This section also contains bits that were trimmed out of other scenes and outtakes of a sequence inside V’Ger that was never completed. A second section contains 11 scenes (most of which are better described as fragments from already existing scenes) that had been added into the movie for its television broadcast in 1983, but are not included otherwise.
Other supplements include a storyboard gallery that contains roughly 75 storyboards for three key sequences: Vulcan, Enterprise Departure, and V’Ger Revealed. Also included are a teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, and eight TV spots.
Copyright © 2022 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment