Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Director's Edition
William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett, Persis Khambatta, Steven Collins. Directed by Robert Wise. Aspect ratio: 2.35 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround 2.0. 136 minutes. 1979. Paramount Home Video 08858. PG. $29.99.
There's a "thing" out there, only days away from Earth, powerful enough to destroy the planet in a flash. Who ya gonna call?
Why, Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the starship Enterprise, of course. When Star Trek: The Motion Picture was first released in 1979, fans of the series flocked to see it. Star Trek hadn't made much of a stir in its initial three-year television run in the late 1960s, but it had become an international sensation in '70s reruns. After toying with the idea of a new series starring the same cast, Paramount Pictures decided instead to bring it to the big screen—the smashing success of Star Wars in 1977 made a Star Trek film a no-brainer.
The result was successful, but after the first thrill of seeing old favorites in a fresh story with modern special effects had worn off, most fans realized that The Motion Picture wasn't all it could have been. The chemistry between the characters was strangely absent. The acting was stiff, helped little by solemn dialogue delivered as if lifted right out of Henry V ("Bones, an alien object of unbelievable destructive power . . . yadda, yadda, yadda.") And while the story was definitely intriguing (if a little too reminiscent of a few original 'Trek episodes), it was dragged down by a torpid pace, with far too many shots of the cast gazing in wonder at the latest, slowly unfolding developments.
Director Robert Wise wasn't entirely satisfied with the result, either, having had to rush the film out to meet an inflexible release date. When the DVD release offered the opportunity to "finish" the film in the way he'd originally intended, he jumped at the chance. The changes are many—most of them subtle. Some scenes were added, some removed, increasing the length of the film from the 132 minutes of the original theatrical release to 136 (but still shorter than the bloated 143 minutes of the 1983 television broadcast, which was also released on laserdisc).
Most of the changes are in the special effects. Extreme care was taken to ensure that they blended well with the original work of effects wizards Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra. Though not dramatic, these changes definitely improve the film. For example, you actually get to see what the outside of the alien craft looks like in a few brief shots, and the transit of the characters from the Enterprise to V'Ger makes more sense than before.
Unfortunately, the other weaknesses are little-changed. There's still too much gazing into space, too much overacting, and too little of the character interaction of the original series. In future Star Trek films the cast would prove that they hadn't lost it after all, warming up considerably in the follow-up, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (generally acknowledged as the fan favorite of the series), and particularly in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (the most financially successful, with by far the loosest, most natural performances by the original cast). Here, however, everyone is simply trying too hard. I don't think Wise ever really understood that the magic of Star Trek was never in its stories, but in its characters.
Technically, this version of The Motion Picture is good, if somewhat of a mixed bag. The sound is considerably enhanced, though not quite of the best 2001 quality. There's good use of the surrounds, at least in the big FX set pieces, and bass is good though not outstanding. Jerry Goldsmith's fine score—the best ever written for a Star Trek movie—is also well served.
But the video quality is quite variable. Though the image is clean, with no obvious artifacts, and edge enhancement is not an issue, the detail and sharpness vary significantly from scene to scene, even from shot to shot. Sometimes the picture is admirably crisp, sometimes very soft. Many shots are so poorly defined they look as if they'd passed through a letterboxed, non-anamorphic stage at some point in the processing, though we have no way of knowing whether or not this was the case.
Extras include a commentary track by Wise, Trumbull, Dykstra, composer Jerry Goldsmith, and co-star Steven Collins. There are a text commentary, added and deleted scenes, and three documentaries (only the third, Redirecting the Future, covering the making of this Director's Edition, will be new or interesting to most fans). Probably the most fascinating extra, for me, was the short teaser trailer, narrated by an uncredited Orson Welles. (If it isn't Welles, it's a very good mimic!)
The Director's Edition may not be all that it could have been, but there are limits to the changes you can make to a 22-year-old film. None of this will stop fans from lining up to buy it. When our review sample arrived late, I went out and bought it, too. I'd do it again, mixed bag or not.