Trek: The Motion Picture
= Highest Rating
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,
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
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.
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.
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
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.