Star Trek: The Motion Picture
U.S.A. / 1979
Directed by Robert Wise
William Shatner
Leonard Nimoy
DeForest Kelley
Color / 136 Minutes / PG*
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC / 2-disc set)
Paramount Home Video
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
    10   10 = Highest Rating  
It's surprising that it took Paramount as long as it did to realize its stable of Star Trek theatrical films deserved the deluxe treatment on DVD — if only because of the horde of Trekkers still out there willing to fork over the bucks for 'em. Films 2 through 6 were released as bare-bones editions; now Paramount brings the first entry in the franchise, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, to DVD in a deluxe, extras-filled package. (No doubt as a prelude to re-releasing the other original cast titles with similar bells and whistles.) Director Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still) has re-cut the original theatrical print, adding or expanding some scenes while deleting/paring down others. Additionally, modern CGI technology has been used to enhance certain sequences and/or complete unfinished FX shots. Purists may rest assured that these moves work to the betterment of the film as a whole.
    No longer the cowboy of the cosmos, Admiral James T. Kirk now commands from behind a desk in his position as Starfleet Chief of Operations. When an unknown extraterrestrial entity of incalculable power is detected on a direct course for Earth, Kirk — the officer most experienced in alien encounters — seizes the chance to once more take command of his beloved starship, the U.S.S. Enterprise. Heavy cruiser Enterprise is the only Federation starship within range that can investigate the alien before it reaches Earth. This "pulling of rank" leads to a clash of egos between Kirk and the young, up-and-coming skipper of the Enterprise, Capt. Will Decker (Stephen Collins, now a TV reverend on 7th Heaven.) The admiral also uses his influence to have the ship's former chief surgeon, the irascible Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, yanked out of retirement and returned to active duty. With all of his original command crew except Mr. Spock again assembled, Kirk takes the Enterprise out of Earth spacedock and into the unknown.
    The reunion is complete when the ship's ex-science officer, the enigmatic Spock of Vulcan, transfers aboard from a fast shuttlecraft. Returning the warm
welcome of his former companions with a cold, distant demeanor (even more so than would be customary for the aloof, formal Vulcan), Spock explains that he'd sensed the alien "consciousness" from his home planet, calling to him across the depths of space. Volunteering his services as science officer, a grateful Kirk readily accepts. With Mr. Spock now at his side — even if his old friend is strangely reticent to acknowledge their past relationship — Kirk feels more confident about the looming confrontation with the alien entity. He will need that confidence. Already the mysterious alien has effortlessly destroyed three Klingon battlecruisers and a Federation listening post; its rendezvous with Earth is only hours away.
    Star Trek: TMP was justly criticized upon its premiere as a bloated, sluggishly paced effects-fest nearly bereft of the characterization that was a hallmark of the original TV series. Way too much of it was taken up with ambiguous FX sequences lacking in scale or perspective (Just what am I supposed to be looking at?) and seemingly endless "reaction" shots of the cast ogling said effects. Happily we can report that, for the most part, director Wise's re-editing of the film addresses these problems. Similarly, the new digital effects work cleans up a number of problematic shots while clarifying others with entirely new scenes. The CGI-rendered landscape of Vulcan looks stunning in comparison to the half-baked original; 23rd Century San Francisco, home to Starfleet HQ, is gorgeous. And V'Ger — the immense living machine at the heart of the energy "cloud" — is finally glimpsed in its entirety as it closes on Earth. Viewing the DVD also provided us the opportunity for a reappraisal of the cast and performances. While most of the original Trek crew are given little to do (nothing new as far as the theatrical films go), the "holy troika" of Kirk, Spock and McCoy are in fine form despite a supposedly "hard-edged" sci-fi script that downplays their familiar routines from the TV show. In fact, Shatner delivers his most modulated — i.e. least hammy — big screen performance as the hard-charging Kirk. Collins and the late Indian actress Persis Khambatta (as Ilia, the bald but sexually alluring navigator from planet Delta IV) lend able support as secondary characters who are nonetheless crucial to the story's resolution. Still, the "human adventure" plays a decidedly secondary role to the space opera special effects. Compared to the more colorful, comic book-style dramatics of the next film in the series (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), TMP comes off relatively sterile. Composer Jerry Goldsmith's magnificent score — one of his finest ever — goes a long way to help counter this.
    Even with this digital 'refitting' and a new appreciation of its merits, the film's central problem remains… The plot is basically nothing more than a big budget retread of an episode from the original television series ("The Changeling"). No amount of tweaking can alter that fact. Of course, if you're not familiar with that ep ("I am Nomad!") then this won't present a problem
* The film was originally rated 'G' when released in theaters, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be now. A marketing decision, I suppose.

Anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TVs, the video transfer of Star Trek: TMP (2.35:1 widescreen aspect) looks very good but isn't flawless. Created optically, the original effects shots from 1979 contain some visible grain. Interestingly, the restoration/enhancement team for the Director's Edition purposely melded their CGI work with this older footage to create a seamless effect — those who've never seen the movie before won't be able to tell where the "old" gives way to the "new". Thus the most readily noticeable enhancement is the newly remixed Dolby 5.1 Surround audio track. The movie has never sounded better, or Goldsmith's epic score more powerful.
    The two DVD set comes with enough Extras to satisfy any diehard Trekker. In addition to the film itself, Disc 1 contains a running audio commentary with director Wise, legendary FX wizards John Dykstra and Douglas Trumball, composer Goldsmith and actor Stephen Collins. Though some will no doubt be disappointed that Shatner, Nimoy or the other familiar Trek actors don't participate, this is a nicely balanced commentary that touches on numerous aspects of the production from different viewpoints. Another nice touch is a "text" commentary, written by Star Trek scholar Michael Okuda, which is accessible via the Subtitle options. This is loaded with all manner of lore from both the TV series and the movie franchise.
    Disc 2 is devoted exclusively to Extras. These include the teaser trailer, the original theatrical trailer, 8 TV spots (all with Orson Welles acting as announcer), storyboards, and a number of deleted scenes from both the theatrical cut and the 143-minute "expanded" version that aired on ABC in 1983. The most enjoyable goodies here are the three "behind-the-scenes" documentaries. Built around interviews with key participants, these short (the longest clocking in at under 30 minutes), info-packed docs cover not only the initial 1979 filming, but also the never-shot TV series pilot Star Trek: Phase II (which eventually served as the springboard for the first Trek movie) and the production of the Director's Edition itself. These should send any self-respecting Trekker into orbit with delight
. 11/19/01