127Jammer's Review: "Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition" (DVD, 2001)
- Dec 28, 2001Note: This review contains spoilers for "Star Trek: The Motion Picture."
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
The Director's Edition
DVD release: November 2001 (USA)
PG, 136 minutes
Screenplay by Harold Livingston
Story by Alan Dean Foster
Produced by Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Robert Wise
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***
The recent DVD release of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture -- The Director's
Edition" represents a revisit to a piece of the Trek canon that these days
seems known more for its place in Trek turning-point history than for its
value as a feature film. Among fans and critics, ST:TMP is not often highly
respected in the ranks of the Trek films. In terms of tone, it certainly
stands out as the odd child of the film series. It can be argued that the
film was remembered more for being a big event in the franchise's direction
than for being a story that people remembered as part of the canon.
And for good reason. When "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" first came out in
1979, it landed amid years of anticipation for a project that went through a
string of changing would-be destinations. First it was going to be "Phase
II," the new Trek TV series. (Even then, Paramount wanted to launch a TV
network with Trek as its flagship, something that wouldn't happen until
1995.) At one point it was considered as a TV movie. Part of the decision
for the destination was affected by the huge success of sci-fi classics
"Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." If Star Trek was going
back into production, it would be foolish not to aim for the big screen.
When it finally came out, some were disappointed, especially after the
thunderous excitement of "Star Wars" two years earlier. ST:TMP was a
slow-paced, cerebral, talky film with little in terms of action. For its
creators, it was a miracle of effective coordination in the face of
impossible, rapidly approaching deadlines. The product itself was barely
finished -- production and then post-production went to absolutely the last
possible moments, with reels of the film being distributed to theaters
practically within hours of their first show times. When the time came
around for the sequel, "The Wrath of Khan," it would be a return to sharper
character interaction and faster-paced storytelling -- what the audiences
really wanted from Kirk and his crew.
Now, 22 years after the original theatrical release, we have the new ST:TMP
Director's Edition DVD, a project that was given Paramount's blessing and
which director Robert Wise finally felt comfortable in revisiting. I
recently sat down to watch the film for the first time in several years. I
honestly wasn't sure whether I'd notice the enhancements or not, since it
had been some time since I'd seen the movie from beginning to end. But like
all things that trap themselves in the corners of our memories and
imagination, I remembered ST:TMP better than I had expected, even the
specifics of certain shots.
ST:TMP is not a great film and never will be. It's flawed as science fiction
and flawed as Trek. But it is a *good* film. It's particularly good in that
it withstands the test of time. After 22 years and all sorts of progress in
the arena of visual effects, the film has aged well. Both the production and
the storyline bear scrutiny today.
Up front, the following should be noted:
1) The Director's Edition is a better film than either the original 1979 cut
or the 1983 cut for TV that restored footage unused in 1979. (The 1983 cut
is what landed on many previous video releases.)
2) The Director's Edition is not different from previous cuts of the film in
ways that significantly impact the storyline (not like the director's cut of
"The Abyss," for example).
3) The film benefits from DVD quality, which is the best way to see the
restored film today, with a superior audio mix and the excellent picture
quality we've come to expect.
As a film, ST:TMP is not so much about its characters and personalities as
the later films are. Most of the supporting characters like Scotty, Sulu,
Uhura, and Chekov are pushed to the sidelines as they have often been and
are rarely seen as individuals. McCoy lends his personality to the
proceedings but doesn't hugely figure into the plot. The primary character
arcs are for Kirk (regaining command of the Enterprise, which he lost in
being kicked upstairs), Spock (whose failed attempts to purge his emotions
in the Vulcan ritual of the Kolinahr reveal both his need for and torment by
human emotions), and Decker (who finds himself relieved of command because
Kirk pulled some Starfleet strings in his goal to regain his captaincy, and
also realizing his feelings for Lt. Ilia are resurfacing).
The story revolves around an approaching, all-powerful alien spacecraft that
calls itself V'Ger, shrouded in a huge expanse of clouds, which is on a
direct course for Earth. The Enterprise must intercept it and solve its
More than anything else, ST:TMP has some awesome sights to see. As Trek
films go, the tone of ST:TMP is much more in the vein of epic science
fiction. There's a grandness and a greatness to the scope of the film,
something beyond anything probably any of the other Trek films have strived
for or reached. Yes, the film is slow-moving at times and maybe too
preoccupied with its reverence for the launch of the redesigned Enterprise,
but those are important aspects that make the film memorable. I've always
considered ST:TMP to be somewhat underrated by fans and critics who write it
off as a bore, because there *is* a real sci-fi story at its center.
The launch of the Enterprise, even if depicted with a healthy dose of
sentimentality, is one of the highlights of the film and one of the most
memorable sequences in the Trek canon. Even by today's standards, the
special-effects shots of the Enterprise in drydock have rarely been matched
in their pure scale, simplicity, and beauty. These days the focus is so much
on diving straight into the story that admiring something as truly awesome
as a nearly 1,000-foot-long starship is no longer something that can be
given any sort of consideration; we simply take it for granted.
Similarly, the venture into V'Ger's cloud -- an extended series of sequences
that take the better part of the film's second half and go for long
stretches with minimal dialog -- make for marvelous, great-looking eye
candy. The scale is simply awesome, as the Enterprise ventures deeper and
deeper into the cloud. The interiors of V'Ger have a truly alien look to
them, though they serve no apparent function. What this elaborate
environment is supposed to be used for is beyond me, but it certainly looks
good on film.
For the Director's Edition, certain special-effects scenes have been
enhanced. Most noteworthy include the destruction of the asteroid inside the
wormhole, some digital-matte exterior shots on Vulcan, and exterior CG shots
of V'Ger's vessel orbiting and firing on Earth. All are good examples of
enhancements that go far enough to be considered improvements over the
original but without becoming the least bit obtrusive or distracting. (The
exterior shots of the V'Ger ship, in fact, make what's happening clearer --
and it's said that all the changes are based on original storyboard concepts
that were not produced because of time or money.) The old and new shots
match well, and only those familiar with the original scenes will notice the
changes. (New CG work was done by Foundation Imaging.) If there's one
net-result difference between special effects in the late 1970s versus the
effects of today, it's one of clarity and crispness. The effects themselves
hold up well; where you notice the difference is the clarity of CG shots
over some (but not all) of the fuzzier old shots.
On the soundtrack, the most notable change -- other than general clean-up
work for a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix -- is the removal of the incredibly
annoying red alert alarm and replacing it with something less grating.
From a story perspective, ST:TMP -- in any cut -- is certainly flawed. It
takes a long time for the story to get under way, with the first hour of the
film establishing setup material that would be established in half the time
if done today (or even in 5-10 minutes in "First Contact"). That's not a
criticism so much as an observation. What is a criticism is how several of
the scenes don't really seem all that necessary, like the tragic accident
with the transporter or the too-many iterations of Kirk stepping on Decker's
toes and Kirk's perception of vice versa.
The storyline itself relies less on plot and more on a few grand gestures
that arise from a few basic underlying elements of the story. There's not
much in terms of plotting or character analysis; it's more like a big secret
being held until the revelation at the end. The one truly interesting
character analysis is of Spock, as his plight to find personal meaning
mirrors that of V'Ger's; neither can find meaning in pure logic and
knowledge without an underlying emotional satisfaction in their pursuit of
discovery. V'Ger is a wealth of knowledge but seeks out its creator to
answer the one question that it cannot answer through all the information
logged in its journey -- the ages-old question, "Why am I here?"
The film's closing revelations are in the true spirit of real ideas, with
that emphasis on seeking out new life and discovering amazing new things.
The ending aspires to be a true, cerebral science-fiction conclusion --
something that supposed "sci-fi" films rarely seem to attempt anymore.
(Clearly, this is a film that owes far more to "2001: A Space Odyssey" than
to "Star Wars.") It's unfortunate that the closing reflection dialog can't
manage to say more about what has just transpired. The dialog seems too
interested instead in saying, in an almost flippant tone, "the adventures of
the Enterprise will continue." It's frustrating to arrive at revelation and
have the characters brush it off so trivially. Also somewhat underwritten is
the impetus for Decker's choice to merge with V'Ger -- something that's okay
but might've worked better if it had been earlier telegraphed by the
screenplay through a better understanding of Decker.
What's remarkable about ST:TMP is that it's ultimately more about the
journey than the destination. It creates this journey with big, bold images
that are beautiful and memorable, and with a legendary score by Jerry
Goldsmith that cues our emotions in all the right places, from the bold
grandness of the first sight of the Enterprise to the haunting
mysteriousness of V'Ger that stands in front of us.
The film is not always fully engaging and is not intended to be exciting. It
features some ho-hum plot elements and some crises that seem tacked on. But
through its slowly building mystery, it's certainly a worthwhile Trek film
on its merits, totally apart from the fact that its existence paved the way
for the franchise as it has progressed for the 22 years since. Now on DVD,
re-edited to play at a slightly better pace, removing scenes that were
distracting or unnecessary in the 1983 version, this film deserves to live a
new life as a vital piece of the Star Trek canon. For those who follow the
Trek franchise, I recommend it.
DVD notes: "Star Trek: The Motion Picture -- The Director's Edition" is a
two-disc set that includes three brief documentaries about ST:TMP and the
new Director's Edition; commentary track featuring director Robert Wise,
composer Jerry Goldsmith, and others; original theatrical trailers and TV
spots; deleted scenes from the 1979 and 1983 versions; and storyboards.
Copyright 2001 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...