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Is This the Star Trek I Remember?

Director’s Cut is a Whole New Enterprise

By Eric J. Plosky

Directed by Robert Wise

Written by Alan Dean Foster and Harold Livingston

Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett, Stephen Collins, and Persis Khambatta

Rated PG

With the Director’s Edition DVD release today of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the oldest film in the Star Trek franchise becomes the newest -- and, arguably, the best.

You know the story. James T. Kirk (William Shatner), who was kicked upstairs to admiral following the Enterprise’s five-year mission (the original 1960s television series), returns to his old ship to take the reins when a mysterious entity is detected heading for Earth, obliterating Klingon battle cruisers and Federation space stations in its way. Enterprise has just been refitted, and comes equipped with a new captain, Will Decker (Stephen Collins), but Kirk busts him to first officer, beams up Bones (DeForest Kelley), collects Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and we’re off to check out the psychedelic light cloud in the distance.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which hit theaters in December of 1979, has widely been regarded as slow, cold, and boring. Rushed through production to cash in on the sci-fi movie craze set-off by Star Wars two years before, the film originally featured interminable passages of the Trek bridge crew just gaping at the far-out visuals on the Enterprise viewscreen. Sure, the special effects were great, but what about the characters and their relationships? Wasn’t the story just a rehash of an old TV episode?

Those involved with The Motion Picture were themselves never happy with it. For its 1983 network-television broadcast, 11 scenes were added -- mostly dialogue -- to try to warm the picture up. It didn’t work. But now, thanks to DVD, we have the new two-disc Director’s Edition, personally spearheaded and supervised by The Motion Picture’s original man in the chair, Robert Wise, the multiple-Oscar-winning director of West Side Story and The Sound of Music.

Wise, now 87, didn’t speak of his Trek work for over 20 years. As he says in the audio commentary on the first disc, he had always been frustrated by the time and production constraints that prevented him from carrying out his original vision of the film. Remarkably, the completed picture was shipped off to theaters without Wise having previewed it himself -- in fact, Wise says, he personally toted the film can to The Motion Picture’s Washington premiere, even though he hadn’t seen it!

Supported by Paramount, Wise has now finally gotten the chance to do Star Trek the way he’d envisioned it. With help from his original 1970s storyboards, an assist from the graphics experts at Foundation Imaging, and some new editing nips and tucks, Wise has created a splendid new Star Trek: The Motion Picture -- one that overcomes the problems of its first incarnation.

There are spiffy new graphics shots. Computer-generated images of Starfleet’s San Francisco headquarters and the desolate surface of Vulcan replace cheesy matte paintings. The wormhole sequence, which features Enterprise blasting an asteroid, has a sparkling new ending. And, of course, there are new renderings of the alien entity V’Ger, including stunning sequences when it fires on Earth -- and on a computer-generated Enterprise.

Careful edits speed up the film’s pace. We no longer need contend with the molasses-like tempo of the rec deck scene; Wise has clipped some of Kirk’s feeble expostulation. On the bridge, Lieutenant Ilia (Persis Khambatta) doesn’t uselessly say, “Science officer’s computations confirmed.” The crew doesn’t shake quite as long on Enterprise’s emergence from the wormhole. Spock’s thruster suit doesn’t bore us with its verbal instructions. There are several other welcome cuts.

The picture, presented in widescreen, looks superb. Image quality, while sometimes betraying its 1970s origin, is very good overall, especially when compared to prior releases. Colors and flesh tones are richer; the stars’ monochrome uniforms seem brighter. Still, it is the improved sound that really dazzles. Anchored by Jerry Goldsmith’s classic score (so beloved that it was repeated as the Star Trek: The Next Generation’s theme) and available in either Dolby Surround or 5.1, the new sound mix is outstanding. Most noticeable is the replacement of Enterprise’s grating red-alert siren with something a bit more subdued. In short, the Star Trek: The Motion Picture we have here is definitely worthy of its full name. Director Wise, and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, intended The Motion Picture to be big, sweeping, and majestic. The film aimed to grandly present a true science-fiction story, to inspire its audience to ask questions about faith, the universe, and existence, just as Spock and V’Ger do. Appropriately, its tagline was “The human adventure is just beginning.” For the first time, with this Director’s Edition, The Motion Picture succeeds in living up to its creators’ expectations.

Breaking new ground for the Star Trek films, both discs come chock-full of goodies. On the first disc, audio commentaries by Wise, actor Collins, and some of the original production crew members tell some of the film’s back story. Composer Goldsmith chats a bit about his funky Blaster Beam, used to create some of V’Ger’s accompanying sounds. A text commentary by Star Trek Encyclopedia co-author Michael Okuda is best viewed along with the audio track.

The second disc brims with features, starting with original 1979 trailers and TV commercials. Playing up the epic nature of the film, most of this material was narrated by none other than Orson Welles. “It will startle your senses,” Welles intones, “It will challenge your intellect.” There is a trailer for the Director’s Edition, and a short promo spot for the new television series Enterprise. Plus, the second disc contains five additional scenes from the 1979 theatrical release and 11 deleted scenes from the 1983 extended television version.

We’re not done yet -- the second disc also includes three short documentaries. The first two describe The Motion Picture’s creation and include clips of an interview with Jeffrey Katzenberg, who in 1979 was the Paramount executive in charge of the project. There’s some rare footage from the 1970s, as well as a selection of Wise’s original storyboards. The third documentary is a look at the making of the Director’s Edition, complete with some before-and-after shots. All of these extra features are best viewed after the film itself.

For any Trek fan, this Director’s Edition is a must-have.