Star Trek: The Motion Picture—The Director's Edition

Star Trek: The Motion Picture—The Director's Edition
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
Country: USA
Star Trek: The Motion Picture DVD Cover

These days, it's too easy to take Star Trek for granted. Since the premiere of Gene Roddenberry's original, groundbreaking TV show in 1966, there have been close to a half-dozen spin-off series, nine feature movies (with a tenth in production), 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 (for an excellent analysis of this unique participatory culture, see Henry Jenkins' Textual Poachers).

Thus, it is easy to forget that, when Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in 1979, it was something of a gamble—hardly the sure thing that we normally assume with each new Star Trek movie. After all, despite its loyal following, the original TV 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' 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' 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). In a way, this makes it stand out from the movies that would follow it; but, at the same time, it is something of a liability because 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. Although it has been more than two years since he commanded the Starship Enterprise, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is called back into duty.

Kirk 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 could finally be 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 TV 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 Trek movies 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 sci-fi (1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still), was a good 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.

Most importantly, 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 scope. In some ways, he did the same thing for Star Trek itself, giving the innovative and progressive, but technically limited, TV show a jolt of the kind of magnitude that only the movies can give, and which has now become an expected part of the Star Trek universe.

Now, some 22 years later, Wise has been given the opportunity to revisit his film. Star Trek: The Motion Picture—The Director's Edition is not an entirely new movie, but it is one that is vastly improved. When the film was released in 1979, it 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. Now that he has been given the opportunity, Wise has trimmed some of the dialogue and updated the special effects in several key scenes. The result may not be the same as what fans remember seeing in theaters in December 1979, but it is definitely a better movie, the one that Wise had always intended to make, but never could because of the time crunch.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture—The Director's Edition Two-Disc DVD

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
AudioDolby Digital 5.1 surround
Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
SupplementsAudio commentary by director Robert Wise, special photographic effects director Douglas Trumball, special photographic effects supervisor John Dykstra, composer Jerry Goldsmith, and actor Stephen Collins
Text commentary by Michael Okuda, co-author of The Star Trek Encyclopedia
Three featurettes
  • "The Lost Enterprise: Star Trek—Phase II"
  • "A Bold New Enterprise: The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture"
  • "Redirecting the Future: Making Star Trek: The Motion Picture—The Director's Edition"
    Five additional scenes (from the 1979 theatrical version)
    11 deleted scenes (from the 1983 TV version)
    Storyboard archive
    Three trailers
    Eight TV spots
  • Distributor Paramount Home Video
    Release DateNovember 6, 2001

    Star Trek: The Motion Picture—The Director's Edition has been given a new anamorphic widescreen transfer in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio that is a notable improvement over both the previously available VHS and laser disc transfers. This does not mean, however, that it is perfect. In fact, fans may find themselves somewhat disappointed by the inconsistencies in the transfer, all of which looks to be a result of the original print, which at times looks faded and slightly dirty. A full-scale digital restoration probably could have alleviated some of these problems, but one must keep in mind that the movie is more than two decades old and will never look as good as what is being produced today. For the most part, the image looks fine, with strong color saturation and solid detail, even with the generally soft nature of the photography. In the end, the transfer is more than acceptable, but it falls well short of being truly outstanding.

    The new 5.1-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack remix is quite impressive. Starting from the original stereo mix, the updated soundtrack is quite 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 score sounds full and rich, especially the unique, reverberating sound he created to signal the presence of the alien cloud.

    As the last of the nine Star Trek feature films to be released on DVD, Paramount has assembled an impressive array of supplements for this two-disc special edition.

    The first disc contains the movie and two commentary tracks, one aural and the other textual. The screen-specific audio commentary 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 Okuda, co-author of The Star Trek Encyclopedia, who gives all kinds of tidbits on both the making of the movie and the Star Trek universe in general.

    The second disc contains 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 recent reworking. 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 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 this year 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 of us who don't know the movie by heart and aren't sure what has been altered or eliminated.

    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 new 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 broadcast on television in 1983, but are not included otherwise. All of these scenes, with the exception of the outtakes, are presented in anamorphic widescreen.

    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 three theatrical trailers in anamorphic widescreen (a teaser trailer, a full theatrical trailer, and a trailer for the new Director's Edition), and eight TV spots.

    Copyright © 2001 James Kendrick

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

    James Kendrick offers, exclusively on Qnetwork, over 2,500 reviews on a wide range of films. All films have a star rating and you can search in a variety of ways for the type of movie you want. If you're just looking for a good movie, then feel free to browse our library of Movie Reviews.

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