To think, just 10 years after we landed on the moon, post Star Wars and within hiding distance of Alien, 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture saw the cast of the 1966-1969 original series return in striking style, and with fan support, to the big screen for their biggest and most imaginative adventure so far.
It was a remarkable success to, not only the fourth highest grossing movie that year but they even earned three Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction, and Best Music, Original Score, which doesn’t happen that regularly now with science fiction, or – not as much as it should. The accomplishment launched Star Trek into the stratosphere and beyond the original TV series, even though the film wasn’t finished and enforced editing on its release.
Back in 2001, the film had a director’s edit release with enhanced effects, by director Robert Wise no less, that was before the 4K UHD capabilities we have now. This specific release has new featurettes which show off the difference and, quite frankly, it looks amazing! Restored by producer David C. Fein, with restoration supervisor and assistant to Wise, Mike Matessino, not only do we now get the 4K UHD vision, there’s also Dolby Atmos on the soundtrack and a HDR range, which in English, means it looks really special.
First things first, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Director’s Edition, in 4K UHD is worth the jump up to the highest grade you can (currently) get. As well as super-snazzy titles, and that reinstated Jerry Goldsmith-composed iconic theme – associated with The Next Generation – it looks modern and, they’ve managed to restore and re-layer special effects that keep it within its age but enhance the overall standard. As the film opens, and the mysterious phenomena is attacking the Klingon ships, after they’ve attacked it to be fair, you get a sense of a proper big-screen picture, as Starfleet watch the demise of the famous foes from a distance.
It’s a while since I revisited but I do think it was worth the wait. There’s something calming and still intelligent about this trip for the original cast, noticing the late 60s sensibilities but also, it’s easy to forget how diverse and contemporary it is. Those enhancements, as well as the implementation of Dolby Atmos surround sound – it felt like a real, fresh experience for viewers old and new, with more inquisitiveness and ‘life’ questions, that’d I’d forgotten about.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture has an important shift in tone and budget. Whilst there’s always that essence of a different ‘quality’ with the old TV series’, Robert Wise’s direction and this film really goes all out to explore the bigger possibilities of Trek beyond the restrictions of visuals, by asking the big questions and also the performances notch up a level, as if everyone involved knew this was significant, whilst never quite losing those original character traits, which have gone on to inspire everything in front of it.
That extra level of gravitas and seriousness isn’t overdone though, and once original characters start arriving, as they’re not all there on the ship from the start, you get a balanced story with a wonderfully impressive build of story, and the old mystery box in full flow – which JJ Abrams was definitely influenced by in his new Trek outings. The only thing that lets the film down a little is how long one or two scenes are. The opening sequence of showing off the ‘new’ Enterprise, is a clear indication of budget and advanced filming techniques but, my word, it goes on for far too long – as impressive as it for the era.
Wiseman also uses the split diopter shot quite regularly but I didn’t find it too annoying, it just turns up throughout the film, again showing off the scale of what they can do now, rather than the smaller sets of the past. I enjoyed seeing William Shatner at a slightly more restrained level as Kirk, but it’s also fun to see the legendary Bones (DeForest Kelley) and his brilliant one-livers, James Doohan’s Scotty trying to get the ship working properly, Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura, George Takei’s Hikaru Sulu, and (more of a bit part) for Walter Koenig’s Pavel Chekov doing their thing on the bridge. Plus, of course Leonard Nimoy’s Mr Spock, fresh from trying to find more of his Vulcan side at the beginning, to a gradual re-learning of the human side and his friends
Grace Lee Whitney’s Janice gets a welcome spot, plus Majel Barrett-Roddenberry justifies a mention, an important cog in the ST work across generations as the voice most onboard computer interfaces throughout the series from 1966 to 2009! The addition of Stephen Collins’ Decker (who’s playing it like an early Fassbender) and Persis Khambatta’s IIia, both strong characters within the setup and an important part of what’s to come in the narrative.
So, with that in mind, and to talk vaguely, the crew do eventually catch up with what invisible unknown has been chasing and destroying things, and this is where Star Trek: The Motion Picture excels. The scale inside the oddity is quite special. It’s a visual ‘trip’ in the old sense but it’s a welcome one, and along the way you get hints of Event Horizon, influences from Metropolis (in certain ways) and Stanley Kubrick in the odd stylistic, you can see what Independence Day stole and (even though it’s the same year) there’s little echoes of Alien during discoveries. These special effects came to life with help of the Paramount Archives, recreating effects in UHD via six months of intense work (we’re told) to bring the level of detail and intrigue the entire build-up deserves.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Cut in this form is an incredibly measured film that’s big on high concepts. There’s very distinct cinematography, which traverses the blue, beige, black, white and grey work, and it all works keeping it nice and simple. It’s also evident that much of this success comes down to those involved around the film, with the likes of Isaac Asimov involved as a Scientific Advisor, and the legendary Syd Mead’s conceptual involvement as well.
I’ve already mentioned some Special Feature teachings (full list here) within this review, and there are plentiful on a separate disc to enjoy. If you got the previous 2001 version, those are here but it adds legacy insights aplenty and I particular enjoyed the geeky/graphic design segment, from the original 16mm and 65mm, as its fun and a core part of the Trek world. That entire ‘Human Adventure’ feature and segment breaks down and travels through a host of insider creations. Alongside learning about new graphics and restorations, it multi-collaborative artistry and this is a wonderful way to revisit the original film that kicked off a lifetime of Star Trek adventures.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Director’s Edition is available on 4K UHD + Blu-ray now: https://amzn.to/3egrC3L
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