Earth is in a lot of trouble. After making a meal out of a few Klingons and the odd space station, a vast and malevolent cloud is on its way towards our home planet with some very dodgy intentions, and there’s only one thing standing between Earth and certain doom: the starship Enterprise.
Every geek worth his salt knows the history of Star Trek The Motion Picture. The original series got cancelled, everyone complained, they brought it back then cancelled it again, everyone complained again, they tried to bring it back with Star Trek: Phase II, and then Star Wars came along and Starfleet’s finest crew found themselves up on the big screen, hence the extreme makeup choices and Leonard Nimoy’s sudden investment in Max Factor products. But now, Paramount has released the first six Star Trek movies in a nice new Blu-ray boxset, so we have all the fun of seeing The Shatner in HD. But thirty years later, how does TMP (as Trekkies call it) match up?
It’s worth noting that this is the original theatrical edition, not the spruced up Director’s Edition that was released back in 2001. So there’s no dodgy CG ‘improvements’, Starfleet Headquarters no longer looks like a cut-scene from a Sega Saturn game, and the titles have broken free of the cheesy gold accoutrements and are back to classic white on black.
I’ve always had a great fondness for The Motion Picture, probably mainly because it’s one of my early movie memories, but mostly, I appreciate the scope of the film. It goes for ‘epic’ many times over, and quite often achieves that.
In a way, Star Trek has sometimes lost its way over the years, and more often than not feels less about exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life than having big spaceship battles. I think more than anything, the whole thing was a pretty risky move. Here you have Kirk and Spock, the two icons of the franchise, who are both seemingly acting with ulterior motives; Kirk wants the Enterprise back, Spock wants the emotional and logical fulfilment he hasn’t been able to achieve, so the film presents a family aboard the Enterprise that is not at all happy.
I guess what it boils down to is that this was Roddenberry’s attempt at 2001. And he makes a fair crack at it, but the script and the focus of the film lets it down. For instance, there’s very little urgency. I mean, it’s over half an hour before we even leave space dock. Kirk seems to spend most of his time stating how close the cloud is to Earth and how absolutely vital it is that they stop it, but for most of the time everyone seems content to sit back and say ‘wow, look at that.’ I can’t blame them though, the journey inside V’Ger is one of the film’s triumphs, with some incredible visuals and the legendary score by Jerry Goldsmith.
The central concept of V’Ger is fascinating, even if some of it stretches even Star Trek‘s usual suspension of disbelief with the whole machine planet thing, but then again, there is the Borg. The idea of meeting your creator and asking why is obviously a universal theme, and parallels Spock’s own journey as well. It’s a neat conclusion as well, and while it maybe isn’t the payoff that was needed after the preceding two hours, still, the Decker-Ilia conclusion works quite well, and Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley get a few choice lines to spout.
I realize the film was barely finished before it got released, but it needs a huge editing overhaul. For example, the wormhole sequence. It’s not needed at all and the only purpose it serves is showing that Kirk is a bit of a twat, and that the Enterprise’s engines need work, which again leads into another pointless scene where Spock is introduced. Spock’s entrance is almost like an overture, or a big fanfare, and the film could have been served better by him just showing up before it launches. The pacing is fine in some places, but languid in others where it needed to be more intense to balance the slower parts.
However, the film is frequently beautiful. The effects sequences are magnificent, and the production design superb, with the aforementioned V’Ger sequences, but perhaps more importantly, the new Enterprise. The lady has never looked better, and while the drydock sequences may seem like overkill to some, the effects and Goldsmith’s music really pulls them together, with the score itself being the best part of the film, bar none.
On Blu-ray, the film generally looks fantastic. It’s worth noting that this is apparently the theatrical version because the Director’s Edition was only rendered at 420p i.e. standard DVD definition. Obviously, Paramount weren’t big fans of future-proofing.
The film still looks great, though, although there is a lot of grain and noise in some of the effects sequences, notably the opening Klingon battle. Because of the nature of the film, where the effects just weren’t finished when it got to cinemas, there are some occasionally distracting matte edges that waver slightly. And there’s one shot in the approaching space dock sequence where the Enterprise and her signage seems to go an odd shade of green. But for a thirty year old film that wasn’t ever properly finished, it looks fantastic.
Unfortunately I don’t own a 7.1 surround system so I can’t properly say if it’s a decent TrueHD mix, but it certainly gave my 5.1 a good workout. The blaster beam reverberated up my spine many a time, and the score has a prominent role. The sound effects sound more immersive than the original DVD mix, and you can actually hear the whoosh as the Enterprise flies past the screen. Good job.
Thankfully, only the meat and potatoes of the special features from the Director’s Edition have been retained, which is the deleted scenes and trailers, leaving behind the pair of awfully boring documentaries from the previous disc. There’s a couple of new featurettes which are okay: The Longest Trek: Writing ST-TMP, which is as you’d imagine, the writing staff and Walter Koenig talking about the problems with conceiving a new Trek flick, and Star Trek Special Reunion, which has a bunch of fans and writers reminiscing about being extras in the ‘Viewer off… VIEWER OFF!’ scene.
The text commentary from the old DVD has gone, but it’s replaced by an actual audio commentary by a bunch of folks from various Trek sources: Michael and Denise Okuda, who actually wrote the original text commentary, Judith and Garfield Reeve-Stevens, who helped Shatner write some of his novels, and Daren Dochterman, a special effects guy who worked on the Director’s Edition. It’s really dry and just really boring, and like an audio version of the text commentary. These people may be involved in lots of Trek but they don’t come across like they have much enthusiasm for it.
To replace the text commentary, there is a feature called ‘Library Computer’. Ostensibly, this pops up while the film plays and it mentions topics that have just been on screen and you can find out brief facts about them. For example, if Kirk comes on screen, you can click on the Kirk bit and it’ll tell you what he’s been up to. It’s kind of like Wikipedia, only with a lot less information, thus not really worth it, especially since it’s probably a high probability that the audience for this already knows what the crew compliment of the U.S.S. Kelvin is.
The last new feature is a weird mini-doc presented by a sexy Australian girl in a Deep Space Nine outfit. It’s called Starfleet Academy and is part of a series, with this one being about V’Ger, so basically the girl stands on a set with a shot of San Francisco out the window and explains all about V’Ger and the Enterprise’s mission. It’s cute, but a bit of fluff, really. You can do a BD Live trivia quiz, but every time I tried to do it, my PS3 would not connect. But I’m sure it’s fun.
All in all, I still like The Motion Picture a lot, and I feel it’s a generally fascinating experience, both in the storyline but as a film itself. It shows they weren’t satisfied with just Xeroxing the original series onto the big screen and wanted to do something a bit more epic and taxing. True, the camaraderie from the series isn’t there, but the effort is. A little more time on the script and in the editing room and it could have had the potential to be a classic, but it’s certainly not the terrible film people make it out to be.
At least there’s no ‘double dumbass on you’, Deanna Troi does not get embarrassingly drunk, and ‘Ooby Dooby’ is thankfully nowhere in sight. And with the Blu-ray the closest way to revisiting it on the big screen, hopefully it might get a little more of the respect it deserves. Probably not, but there are always possibilities.
Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection 1-6 [Blu-ray] is available now.