Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Director's Edition) Review
The original series of Star Trek received an anti-climatic end way back in 1969. A change of time-slot to an off-peak viewing time resulted in plummeting ratings, and the show was cancelled with less than eighty episodes produced. The cast and crew moved in different directions afterwards, and the show was slowly resurrected in the form of syndication. Carefully amassing a heavy cult following, the show was such a tremendously popular series that fans bombarded Paramount studios demanding its re-commission. By this time, Star Wars had brought science-fiction back in vogue, and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry knew that the time was right to dust off his pet project and bring it back to the TV screens. However, it wasn't before long that the proposed new television series of Star Trek would not be optioned by Paramount; the studio instead more partial to the idea of bringing Star Trek to the big screen.
Thus, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was conceived, and was the first of what is soon to be ten major feature outings for the Star Trek universe in all of its different guises. All of the original series' cast were brought back - even Leonard Nimoy decided to return, after initially refusing to do the television series due to enjoying a successful theatre career. The film was seen as some sort of amnesty for the cast. Grace Lee Whitney even reprises her role as Janice Rand, even though she was fired after thirteen episodes due to being heavily unreliable. Roddenberry's wife Majel Barrett (wife of Roddenberry and occasional guest star in the original series) was brought back to pay Nurse Chapel.
Realising that this first motion picture outing for Star Trek needed a big budget and a big emphasis on quality, Paramount and Roddenberry pushed the boat out by hiring Oscar winning director Robert Wise (The Sound Of Music, The Andromeda Strain, editor of Citizen Kane) to helm the picture, and Douglas Trumball (2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running) and John Dykstra (Star Wars to design the elaborate special effects shots that aimed to put the original series to shame. In fact, most departments of the production were encouraged to go boldly where no Star Trek production had gone before, with the production design, costumes and makeup (this was the first time the Klingons had their distinctive look) venturing forth into different territory.
The script was based on a story by Alan Dean Foster and finalised into a screenplay by Harold Livingston. As for the actual plot, the story begins with a glorious overture, which helps give the film a deserved epic status. However, once the film actually begins, three Klingon vessels are instantly destroyed by an unidentified alien cloud that seems ferocious in its destructiveness. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) now an Admiral at Starfleet, is fully aware that this cloud is headed towards Earth, and uses the opportunity to wrestle the love of his life - the U.S.S. Enterprise back to his command from new Captain Will Deckard (Stephen Collins), citing his greater experience as the reason. This angers Deckard (who is the son of Commodore Matthew Decker the starship captain who bravely sacrificed himself in the classic Star Trek original series episode The Doomsday Machine) who feels that he has been deliberately sidelined by Kirk for his own ends. On voyage to intercept the cloud before Earth is destroyed, the Enterprise is joined by Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who has abandoned the Vulcan ritual of Kolinahr (the purging of all emotions) in pursuit of the cloud, which he believes holds the answers to his spiritual destiny.
On its own terms, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is an enjoyably epic science-fiction tale with slightly dated effects and slightly weak plot. Compared to the masterpieces that were Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, The Motion Picture pales in comparison. It's easy to see why, some of the special effects shot are thrown in merely as an aim to wow fans of the original series who were used to cardboard sets and ropy effects. These new effects, although nominated for an Oscar, are still stuck on screen for far too long and quickly exhaust their usefulness. The film is so dependent on the amazement factor of these effects shots that it fails to care about the scripting and pacing. One of the reasons Star Trek is such a popular show is the abundant warmth it generates in the audiences' hearts without having to pander to over-sentimentalising. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is however cold and empty. This might be the fault of newcomer to the Star Trek legacy Robert Wise, who has struggled with emotion in science-fiction and yet has managed to effectively convey it in films such as The Haunting and The Sound Of Music.
The production design and costume design, although innovative and stylish, simply do not help proceedings; they are bland and minimalist in design, and suck all of the colourful elements of the original series out of the film. The cast of familiar leads, although solid and reliable, almost feels in over their heads, and struggle to play second fiddle to the overbearing visual effects shots. The new characters Ilia (Persis Khambatta) and Deckard (Stephen Collins) also seem distanced from the regular crew; they might as well be wearing red security guard costumes from the original series.
There are some memorable elements of the film. Jerry Goldsmith's score is simply fantastic, and was so good that Roddenberry cited it as his favourite Star Trek theme. Goldsmith's score is rousing, chilling and eerily cosmic in its origin, and he clearly shows that John Williams does not hold the monopoly on memorable film scores. William Shatner looks the best he has ever looked; he's slimmed-down and charismatic, and it's easy to see why he replaced Jeffrey Hunter as Captain of the original series based on what is on display here.
Many versions of Star Trek: The Motion Picture have circulated over the years with different edits and longer and shorter cuts. For this DVD version, director Robert Wise supervised a re-edit, along with some added CGI effect shots for some sequences. Rather than listing the changes here, you'd be advised to check out the Internet Movie Database for details.
In short, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a worthy science-fiction film that is both enjoyable entertainment and a good first chapter of a lengthy feature film series. It isn't the best effort by far, but it maintains its own dated charm.
Academy Awards 1979
Academy Award Nominations 1979
Best Art Direction/Set Decoration - Linda DeScenna, Leon Harris, Joseph R. Jennings, Harold Michelson, John Vallone
Best Original Score - Jerry Goldsmith
Best Visual Effects - John Dykstra, Grant McCune, David K. Stewart, Robert Swarthe, Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich
Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, the print has been remastered for this Director's Edition and so is in relatively good shape, with few speckles and digital artefacts. Star Trek: The Motion Picture has always been a dull looking film in terms of brightness and colours, but this transfer complements the film well, with a good level of sharpness. Also, the new CGI scenes added to the film are seamless, and only a true fan could spot the difference between this version and the original theatrical version.
Presented in a new 5.1 surround remix, the sound track of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is excellent, with good use of spatial channelling and an adequate level of deep bass and surround events. Dialogue sounds crisper than it ever has before, and the newly added sound effects sit nicely with the original sound track. A 2.0 surround track is also provided.
Menu: A very good animated menu that pits the viewer amongst the Enterprise's bridge looking at the main viewscreen, with each option plunging the viewer into deep space. Disc 2 has a fantastic 'light-trip' sequence that pits the viewer directly into the concluding scenes of the film.
Packaging: Presented in a double amaray, this is a rather nifty Special Edition from Paramount's Widescreen Collection, maintaining the film's original cover artwork and giving the package a stylish design. Also included is an additional booklet that has liner notes from director Robert Wise and chapter listings for the film.
Audio Commentary By Robert Wise, Douglas Trumbull, John Dykstra, Jerry Goldsmith & Stephen Collins: Not the liveliest of commentaries, even if it assembles most of the key production members of the film. The participants are recorded separately and edited together into one audio track, and there are a few pauses throughout the film. Each participant discusses their contribution to the film on relevant sequences, for example, composer Jerry Goldsmith is most prominent during the film's overture and main title sequence, whilst Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra can be mostly heard during the many special effects sequences. Considering his age, Robert Wise talks fluently and interestingly about his experiences on making a Star Trek film, and the commentary proves quite valuable as a result. The only pity is the lack of a cast commentary.
Text Commentary By Michael Okuda: It is doubtless that fans of Star Trek will own the brilliant Star Trek Encyclopedia in either book or CD-ROM form, and so this text commentary by co-author of the Encyclopedia Michael Okuda is a real treat for fans. Presented in subtitle form on screen, Okuda reveals many tech-nerd facts for fans and enthusiasts alike, and doesn't overload on the information, considering his status as a fountain of all Star Trek knowledge.
Phase II: The Lost Enterprise - Featurette: This is a thirteen minute featurette devoted solely to illustrating how Star Trek: The Motion Picture was brought to the screen; detailing how Paramount toyed with the idea of another Star Trek series. Features interviews with some of the writers hired to pen scripts for the series, along with Majel Barrett, who offers firsthand insight into the process.
A Bold New Enterprise - Documentary: A very good thirty minute documentary featuring interviews from all of the major crew members along with cast members William Shatner (Kirk), Walter Koenig (Chekov) and Stephen Collins (Deckard). A Bold New Enterprise fully informs the viewer on every major behind-the-scenes event that occurred throughout the film and is very informative indeed. Actor Stephen Collins mentions how co-star Persis Khambatta was distraught to have her beautiful hair shaved off entirely for the character of Ilia, and Walter Koenig mentions how the production schedule was so rushed that the script wasn't even finished before shooting began.
Redirecting The Future - Featurette: A fourteen minute featurette devoted to documenting how the 1999 director's cut re-edit of Star Trek: The Motion Picture took place, and the processes involved in restoring. This is very interesting for the fans of the original version of the film, as it fills in the gaps of why certain sequences were changed.
Trailers & TV-Spots: The original teaser trailer is presented, which is the most interesting considering that most teasers are shown to audiences a long way before the film is completed, and usually features a different marketing mix than that of the theatrical trailer. The trailer is also included, along with the 1999 Director's Edition re-release trailer. For completist and promotional sake, a promo spot of the latest Star Trek series Enterprise is thrown in, along with eight TV-Spots.
Additional & Deleted Scenes: Rather than whitewash the film with new scenes in the same style as George Lucas, the filmmakers have respected their fans by presenting the original versions of scenes that were re-edited or changed for the Director's Edition. Five sequences are presented that featured in the original 1979 theatrical version that are no longer in the modern version. Also featured is a roll of Trims featuring short portions of deleted sequences. These Trims would have been more helpful if they explained whereabouts in the film they were cut from. Outtakes are also provided, and these are essentially unfinished effects shots. When Star Trek: The Motion Picture was shown on network television for the first time in 1983, eleven sequences were added to the film. These eleven sequences are presented here, and are merely fleshier characterisations.
Archives: Storyboards to three key sequences of the film are presented here, the sequences are Vulcan, Enterprise Departure and V'Ger Revealed. These storyboards are good basic sketches of the film's shot sequences, and have user navigated transition.
If this is the treatment that other Star Trek films will be given, than fans are in for a treat. This DVD package of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is brilliant, and clearly demonstrates that tremendous care and attention has been given to ensuring this DVD is the best it could be. A must own for any science-fiction fan, regardless of whether this is your favourite Star Trek film or not.