The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Some 'special
editions' are
not so special

August 17, 2000
By Franklin Harris

"A poem is never finished, only abandoned," wrote W.H. Auden in 1970. Thirty years later, he could say the same of a movie.

George Lucas never stops tinkering with his films, even when his "refinements" are not for the better. His "special edition" re-release of the original "Star Wars" trilogy contained one genuinely improved sequence. The hallways of Cloud City in "The Empire Strikes Back" benefited substantially when Lucas' special effects team digitally transformed blank walls into windows overlooking a vast, gleaming cityscape. But all the other "improvements" were anything but.

George Lucas
George Lucas
The Jabba the Hutt footage added to the original "Star Wars" is awkward and redundant. Its dialogue serves only to remind us of what we learn a couple of scenes earlier: that Han Solo owes Jabba lots of money and is going to be in big trouble if he doesn't pay up, and soon.

And let's not even get into the changes Lucas made to the confrontation between Solo and Greedo. There is too much bad blood there.

Lucas' pal, Steven Spielberg, is little better. He gave us an alternate version of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" that, unwisely, toned down Richard Dreyfuss's character. Instead of seeing him driven near the brink of madness by his obsession with UFOs, we merely see him acting, well, peculiar.

Now, occasionally, some directors do improve their films the second time around. However, this is usually because they are repairing some damage inflicted by the producer, the studio or some other black-hearted type. Ridley Scott's director's cut of "Blade Runner" (1982) leaps to mind, as does the "renegade version" of "Highlander 2: The Quickening," which is still pretty awful even though it is light years better than the original cut.

All of which brings me to the subject of this rumination.

I confess a certain fondness for "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." I realize this places me beyond the pale in some circles. After all, doesn't even a fair proportion of Trekkers or Trekkies or whatever dislike, nay, even hate ST:TMP?

The refitted U.S.S. Enterprise begins its rendezvous with V'Ger in ''Star Trek: The Motion Picture.''
Courtesy Photo Copyright Paramount Pictures
The refitted USS Enterprise begins its rendezvous with V'Ger in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture."

Well, yes. But there is also a growing, disturbing, revisionist school of thought that maintains "Starship Troopers" was a brilliant satire. That's not going to keep me from thinking "Starship Troopers" was unspeakably dumb, silly and pointless. Which it was.

Despite it's flaws, ST:TMP has its moments. Leonard Nimoy is excellent as the colder-than-usual Spock. The majestic score by Jerry Goldsmith ranks with John Williams' "Star Wars" scores as the best in science-fiction history. And the plot satisfyingly inverts the message of "2001: A Space Odyssey": Instead of humanity needing the help of a cold, alien intelligence to evolve, a cold, alien intelligence needs humanity's help to evolve.

I've always been a sucker for Gene Roddenberry's can-do humanism.

Of course, I admit, the film drags at times. Much of the acting is appalling. (William Shatner can act, but only with a strong director, like "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan's" Nicholas Meyer, reigning him in.) And the story seems a bit thin.

So, now ST:TMP's director, Robert Wise, is giving the film the "special edition" treatment.

While I welcome the chance for Wise to fix some of ST:TMP's faults, given the track record of special editions, I'm not convinced this is all for the best.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture has uncovered some of the changes we'll see when Paramount releases the special edition of ST:TMP on DVD next year. So far, it seems we can look forward to restored footage and improved special effects, the latter courtesy of Foundation Imaging.

So far, so good, but also says the plan calls for replacing one of the film's most effective sequences: the scene in which Spock rockets into the interior of the alien V'Ger spacecraft.

It seems the original scene, scrapped because of lackluster special effects, has Spock and Capt. Kirk entering V'Ger together.

The restored scene may be good on its own, but can it really replace Spock's now classic thruster-suit ride?

As I abandon this work, I can only wait and see.

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