Old 'Trek' gets a bold new look|
December 6, 2001
By Franklin Harris
Although many Trekkers find it disappointing, I've always had a soft spot for "Star Trek: The Motion Picture."
Harlan Ellison branded it "Star Trek: The Motionless Picture," and not without reason.
Director Robert Wise raced to complete the film for a December 1979 release, leaving it rough around the edges — literally so in the case of some of the special effects shots.
Rushed editing left in scenes that were too long and added nothing to the plot. Characters spent minutes just standing around and looking at each other.
The situation wasn't improved when ABC aired an even longer version of the film in 1983. The added footage ranged from pointless (such as a "humorous" exchange between George Takei's Sulu and Persis Khambatta's Lt. Ilia) to embarrassing (Capt. Kirk's half-finished space-walk scene with part of the soundstage visible in the background).
Still, it has always seemed that somewhere inside "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" there was a good movie trying to get out.
After 22 years, Wise has found it. "Star Trek: The Motion Picture — The Director's Edition" is the film Wise wanted to make in the first place.
Unlike George Lucas' "Star Wars" special editions, this is no radical makeover. It is more of a facelift — a nip here and a tuck there.
The movie still takes its time, and a few more cuts wouldn't have hurt, but the story proceeds far more smoothly. And there is a limit to how much trimming Wise could do without irreparably harming Jerry Goldsmith's majestic score.
Wise has also brought in Foundation Imaging to clean up unsatisfactory special effects and add new ones where time didn't permit before.
This is where Lucas went overboard. He added new effects sequences to the original "Star Wars" trilogy just because he could. And the new computer-generated shots are jarringly obvious when viewed alongside shots composed in the '70s.
The guys at Foundation Imaging, however, wisely avoid trying anything too flashy. Their new effects, while created using the latest computer technology, don't look much different from what could have been done in 1979. The result is that new shots, like Vulcan's landscape and V'Ger's attack on the Enterprise, blend seamlessly with the old.
The two-disc "Star Trek: The Motion Picture — The Director's Edition" DVD set includes a running commentary featuring Wise, Goldsmith, co-star Stephen Collins and special effects artists Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra. Other extras include three making-of documentaries, theatrical trailers and all of the deleted and trimmed scenes from both the 1979 and 1983 versions.
The most interesting bonus footage comes from the aborted "Star Trek: Phase II" television series. After the runaway success of "Star Wars," Paramount decided to scrap "Phase II" and relaunch "Star Trek" as a motion picture franchise. But, in addition to providing the model for "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," "Phase II" also became the blueprint for "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
Unfortunately, most of the documentary footage is superficial. As interesting as the "Phase II' material is, it ignores key events, like that bit about "Star Wars" pushing Paramount's executives to put Trek on the big screen.
Still, extras are just extras. The point is that we can now see "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" as its director intended. It still isn't the best Trek film — that would be the second one — but it may be runner up.