Star Trek - The Original Motion Picture Collection on Blu-ray disc
by Jim Bray
If you've been waiting with baited breath for Star Trek movies on Blu-ray, Paramount has a treat for you with its first such release.
The Original Motion Picture Collection gives you all six of the original cast's movies, in glorious 1080p and they look and sound better than they ever have before. These are - at least to date - the definitive versions of the classic movie series.
So bite the bullet, Trekkies who are also audio/videophiles; this is the set you'll want. "Just Plain Trekkers" will also love all the extra stuff Paramount has added to sweeten the deal.
The set comes in handsome box containing seven discs - one for each movie and one for the extra "The Captains' Summit" disc, a periodically interesting hour-plus of talking heads featuring "Captains" William Shatner and Patrick Stewart and their "Numbers One" Leonard Nimoy and Jonathan Frakes, hosted by Whoopie Goldberg (Guinan, from TNG). They joke around and reminisce, but for the most part it seems more self-indulgent than information-packed.
Fortunately, there's a lot of other stuff to love in this set.
Paramount says each of the films has been remastered digitally and in high definition (they also claim that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan has been fully restored) and each soundtrack has been revived with new 7.1 Dolby TrueHD tracks. Besides the freshly clothed movies, you also get more than 14 hours of special features, including more than two hours of all-new material.
The picture quality overall is excellent, as is the sound. Strangely enough, I thought that Star Trek II had the weakest audio/video of the set, despite Paramount's claim that it was restored fully. Perhaps it was the most deteriorated of the bunch - and it isn't as if the picture or sound is substandard, it's just that I don't think it matches the rest of the set - especially I, V and VI, all of which look and sound fabulous.
Each Blu-ray starts with the trailer for the new Star Trek movie and another for the original series first season Blu-ray. I can see the rationale for this, but it does get a tad tedious after a couple of movies; fortunately, you can skip through them.
Here's my take on each of the films:
Star Trek The Motion Picture
The first Star Trek movie was greeted by fans worldwide with lineups around the block when the film premiered in 1979.
I was one of them, a Trekkie positively salivating with delight at the prospect of a new adventure for the Enterprise and its crew. All the elements were there: the original cast with Gene Roddenberry at the helm, a big Hollywood budget and an honored director with a history of making classic motion pictures.
So I stood in that lineup (in Spokane, Washington as it happened), waiting to be thrilled and dazzled by the new voyage.
And I was. Seeing Star Trek TMP was a treat. But it didn't last.
The first hour or so is still enjoyable - the parts dealing with reassembling the crew and getting the Enterprise ready to go again. I can watch those sections over and over again, though even here there are parts I learned to fast forward through. But that trip around the refurbished Enterprise when Scotty is taking Kirk over to it the first time has never looked better! I watched the 1080p picture on a 106 inch screen with 500 watts of fine Rotel power to each of the five main channels and it was nearly enough to bring tears to this old Trekker's eyes. It is just plain great!
The only problem with the Blu-ray presentation is that it's so sharp and clean I could see the matte lines in places I hadn't noticed them before! Check them out especially in the opening Klingon scenes, as well as with some of the astronauts and sundry little ships around the Enterprise in that fly-around.
Anyway, once the ship actually makes its rendezvous with the mysterious V'ger, what little energy there was in the movie dissipates more rapidly than V'ger's power field cloud when it approaches Earth, and the movie ends up being a ponderous bore for the most part.
I think maybe the problem was that the movie took itself far too seriously. There isn't a real laugh in it at all and the banter you'd expect to find between Kirk, McCoy and Spock (especially the latter two) is almost completely nonexistent. When we do get some humanity between them it seems forced.
And the story itself is really just a rehash of "The Changeling," a TV series episode where the space probe Nomad comes into contact with the Enterprise and mistakenly thinks Kirk is its creator. Not that a TV rehash is necessarily a bad thing: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan is a sequel to a TV episode, but on the whole it's a far more entertaining movie.
The cast seems restrained, as if in awe of the fact that they're on the Big Screen now, and there's very little chemistry between them. Despite that, they do a workman's job in their roles considering that, other than Kirk and the new stars Stephen Collins and Persis Khambatta, they have very little to do.
The story involves a mysterious destructive force cutting a swath through space on a heading that will bring it directly to Earth. The newly refitted Enterprise (which looks great!) is the only ship in range, so Kirk muscles his way back aboard as skipper and they leave space dock to head the intruder off at the pass.
Along the way they pick up Spock, who's on a mission of discovery, and between them they out-logic the machine intelligence they discover and help it evolve into a new type of life form we never really get to understand.
The special effects are marvelous. Jerry Goldsmith's sweeping symphonic score, the main theme of which also became the theme for Star Trek The Next Generation and Star Trek V, is wonderful as well; I remember the original soundtrack album (which was an early digital recording) sounding spectacular, so I was looking forward to this new digital freshening.
It doesn't disappoint. The 1080p widescreen picture is terrific, the best I've seen for this feature by far. Matte lines notwithstanding, this is truly "a toy for the eyes", as an earlier video release called it.
Likewise the Dolby TrueHD sound. It's a little shrill in places, and muddy in others but overall I'm very satisfied with Paramount's presentation. The surround channels are used well, the music swells from the front just as it should and, while there isn't as much use of the low frequency effects channel as I'd like, it's pretty good for a movie made before low frequency effects channels were introduced.
By the way, this is not the "Director's Cut' released on video earlier. It's the original theatrical version and other than missing the scene in which Spock was moved to tears in "TDC", I think it works better.
Here's a list of the new special features included on this disc:
There's a lot of cool stuff here, as with each disc, though I'd have been happy merely with the movie looking and sounding as great as it does.
Star Trek the Motion Picture, from Paramount Home Entertainment
"Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan" could be credited with having saved "Star Trek" from a premature (well, to many of us) fate.
"Star Trek - The Motion Picture" was a big disappointment in that it forgot what made Trek great and concentrated instead on special effects and "bigness' - in short, it was form over substance.
Paramount decided, for whatever reason, to take control of the series from Gene Roddenberry's hands and gave it to Harve Bennett. The result was a much smaller movie than "TMP" and, other than the special effects (which are fine, but not breakthrough like the first movie's) a much better movie.
The story's a sequel to the "Space Seed" episode from the original TV series' first season. Khan Noonian Singh (Ricardo Montalban, in all his scenery-chewing glory) is a superman from the late 20th century. The result of genetic engineering, and one of the causes of the Eugenics War that led to his - and his "tribe's" - eventual exile from Earth, he has no delusions of grandeur. No, he IS grand, and has no intention of letting the galaxy forget it.
In the original episode, Kirk ends up marooning Khan and kin on the planet Ceti Alpha 5, where he's free to build whatever society he chooses.
Jump ahead fifteen years and Khan and the remnants of his community are discovered by Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) and his aide Commander Chekov (yes, of course, THAT Chekov) who think they're actually on Ceti Alpha 6. One would think the Federation would have better galactic road maps than they do, so their starships wouldn't make such silly and elementary navigation mistakes, but what's a Star Trek episdoe without plot hole or two in it?
Plot holes are a grand Star Trek tradition, and it's nice to see them being exploited so well again...
Anyway, Khan gets free and takes control over Terrell's ship and uses it to seek out now-Admiral Kirk to have his revenge.
There's a nifty subplot involving the Genesis machine and its "Life from lifelessness" theme that will carry through the next Trek movie as well. It's the Khan stuff we're really here for, though, and Bennett, Montalban, et al, don't disappoint.
Star Trek II is the first of the trilogy that concludes with IV (and is available as a trilogy in a separate boxed set), and the three can almost be viewed as a single movie - especially II and III, which relate directly to each other.
Besides Montalban, we're also introduced to Kirstie Alley as Lt. Saavik (played by Robin Curtis, and not nearly as well, in STIII). This was probably her breakout role, and she's very good as the confused young Vulcan being mentored by Spock. Director Nicholas Meyer (who also made the terrific "Time After Time" and came back for Star Trek VI) does a nice job of riding herd on the production.
It's a neat yarn and while the 1080p picture is the weakest of the six movies here, it's hardly awful. This is still easily the best version of the movie available for the home theater, and well worth owning. The picture seems a tad washed out and grainy in places, but the Dolby TrueHD audio is up to snuff and of course you get a bunch of extras as well:
Star Trek II:
The Wrath of Khan, from Paramount Home Entertainment
Star Trek III is the warmest of the Trek movies, and my personal favorite, yet it's still a ripping yarn with enough action and adventure to keep Trekkies happy.
Directed by Leonard Nimoy, the film picks up where "Star Trek II - the Wrath of Khan" left off. Spock has just died and his mortal remains (which turn out to be not nearly as mortal as originally suspected) have landed on the new Genesis planet.
The Enterprise limps back to space dock and the crew, devastated by the loss of the Vulcan first officer, waits for a reassignment that never comes.
McCoy, meanwhile, has gone from crusty and curmudgeonly country doctor to the personification of weirdness (though he stops short of imitating Michael Jackson) and it turns out his metamorphosis is due to Spock having put his life essence into him before making his nearly ultimate sacrifice.
Of course nobody, including McCoy, knows this until Sarek (Mark Lenard), Spock's father shows up at Kirk's apartment and explains the facts of Vulcan life.
Armed with the new knowledge that there's a chance to save Spock, Kirk pleads with Star Fleet to let him return to Genesis with McCoy to try "reunifying" Spock. The pencil necked bureaucrats turn him down, however, so Kirk and his inner circle of series regulars steal the Enterprise right out of space dock and head for Genesis.
Unfortunately, the Klingons have gotten wind of the Genesis device and want to turn it into a weapon, so they're cloaked and waiting for the Enterprise when it arrives at the Genesis planet. This provides the film's conflict as Kirk and his merry band have to find and save Spock while fighting off the Klingon bastards who'll stop at nothing to acquire the Genesis device.
Some wags have written off every odd-numbered Star Trek movie as being wastes of time and, though they're not too far off the mark when it comes to "V," "Generations," and the second half of "The Motion Picture," "The Search for Spock" is one of the best entries. Besides being a good Star Trek yarn, it's also a wonderful story about friendship, respect, and duty, and though it could easily have gotten bogged down in schmaltz it manages to resist that temptation and instead ends up being quite inspiring.
The cast does a good job in their familiar roles, especially Shatner as Kirk, who comes off as more human and less pompous than in any other entry. Christopher Lloyd is also very good as Klingon Commander Kruge - and watch for John Larroquette in an early role as a Klingon crewthing.
It's nice to see them taking chances, too. In "Khan," they had the guts to kill off Spock (even if only temporarily) and in "III" they blow up the beloved Enterprise. In both cases they do it very well and instead of angering Trek fans they endeared themselves to the legions even more.
The 1080p picture quality is better than II, but not as good as the best of the series, which display wonderful depth. But it's no slouch, either, with good color and sharpness and nice contrast. The remixed audio also does the Blu-ray justice.
Star Trek III:
The Search for Spock, from Paramount Home Entertainment
Star Trek IV is the series' lightest entry, if you ignore the silliness in V, but it's also the most serious in that it's a cautionary tale about our fragile environment and how over the long term our short term shortsightedness could have horrible consequences for the human race in ways we could hardly dream.
It's also the third in the trilogy of films in which Admiral Kirk manages to regain command of the Enterprise, fight an old nemesis, kill his best friend, resurrect him, destroy the Enterprise, get court martialed and busted back to Captain, then be given command of a new Enterprise.
Nimoy directs again, as he did so well in STIII, and he does a fine job of taking our heroes through their misadventures in 1980's San Francisco. The Enterprising bunch are fish out of water as they stumble through what to them are virtually the dark ages as they try to kidnap a couple of humpback whales and bring back to the 23rd century to save the Earth.
They need the whales because a mysterious probe has come into the solar system and begun hollering for them - and, not finding them, is wreaking havoc on the rest of God's creatures that aren't yet extinct.
Saving the whales retroactively and thereby saving the Earth proactively gives Kirk and his now-renegade crew the big stick with which to beat any rap Starfleet would give them for their actions in Star Treks II and III, and all ends happily with the crew taking up their traditional duties in a brand new Enterprise that just happened to be waiting for them in space dock when they just so happen to need a new ship.
It's standard Star Trek stuff, and that means it's a good ride with likeable, comfortable characters, a healthy dose of action/adventure, and even some food for thought thrown in for good measure. It's the least action-packed of the Trek movies (with the possible exception of "The Motion Picture") but you don't miss the shoot 'em ups because there's plenty more stuff to like.
Besides the usual crew members, who deliver their usual journeyman performances, Catherine Hicks is along this time, as a whale expert and the requisite Kirk love interest that had been missing since the original TV series (not including Dr. Marcus, of course). And who'd have thunk - she dumps HIM at the end of the movie!
Paramount gives us a nice, crisp, colorful and contrasty 1080p picture here. It still isn't as good as the best of the series as outlined above, but it's far from bad. The widescreen image is, in fact, eminently watchable, and the remixed Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio is also top notch - it fills the room appropriately and the channel separation is just fine.
And once again Paramount piles on the extras:
Star Trek IV:
The Voyage Home, from Paramount Home Entertainment
Star Trek V: The Voyage Home is generally considered the weakest of the bunch and I would agree with that. However, watching it again after so many years I didn't hate it nearly as much as I thought I would. Not that that's high praise!
Shatner directed this installment, and contributed to the story, and whether that's the reason or not, V comes across as the most self-indulgent of the films. We see Kirk climbing El Capitan in Yosemite, Uhuru doing a supposedly nude fan dance (though not for pleasure, it should be noted) and we even get introduced to Spock's brother Sybok, who turns out to be the villain of the piece, if you can call someone who's merely misguided a villain.
The story is basically as much of a remake of "The Way to Eden" from the original series (and one of TOS' worst episodes!) as "TMP" was of "The Changeling". Here, Sybok is an outcast who has dreams, or delusions, of finding God at the center of the galaxy. You can't get there from wherever here may be, though, and knowing he won't be able to cajole the Federation into giving him a ship to try getting there he takes over the Enterprise after luring it to Nimbus III (which is not an old type of Harry Potter broomstick but rather a planet in the Neutral Zone)- to put down a supposed conflict there.
As it turns out, a young whippersnapper of a Klingon is hot to take on a Federation ship and when he learns it's the outcast Kirk he has a chance to beat, the salivating begins.
But the Klingon sub plot is just a sub plot - which is too bad because it cuts down on the opportunity for some nifty space battles and, instead, sticks us with the ludicrous story of these pilgrims trying to find God but instead finding that their Eden isn't quite the garden of unearthly delights they had anticipated - nor is the God they were seeking a particulary God-like being.
But if you wanted to see Kirk, Spock and McCoy singing "Row, row, row your boat" in a round around the campfire, this is your movie.
I wish they'd have managed to get this picture quality onto the II, III, IV trilogy, though. It is magnificent, with great color and detail, and the type of wonderful depth you can expect from the best Blu-rays. It is truly spectacular.
Ditto for the audio which, like the rest of the series, is now in Dolby TrueHD 7.1. There are a few places in which it sounds just a tad shrill, but for the most part it's excellent. Jerry Goldsmith's classic score (adapted or inspired from TMP's great one) comes through loudly and clearly here, and the surround channels are used to excellent effect.
Star Trek V: The Voyage Home, From Paramount Home Entertainment
The final movie here is Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which does a nice job of passing the torch on to "Star Trek: The Next Generation." It was supposed to be the last film with the original cast (though some show up again in "Generations") and it concerns the beginnings of the Klingon/Federation Alliance that's still in effect when Jean Luc Picard and his merry band take over the bridge of a subsequent Enterprise.
The movie's also an allegory for the Cold War between the East and the West (on Earth, of course) and begins with the destruction of the over -mined planetoid from which the Klingons (the East) got much of their resources. This emergency leads them to seek peace with the Federation, which the goodhearted Feds grant. Captain Kirk (whose son was killed by these same "Klingon bastards" in Star Trek III) is given the job of being the liaison between the two races.
But trust is hard to find among peoples who've been at each other's throats through 79 TV episodes and five movies and it doesn't take long for a monkey wrench to be thrown into the peace process - via a well timed assassination that looks as if it were performed by Kirk or one of his minions.
Christopher Plummer chews the scenery as Chang, a Shakespeare-spouting Klingon who's always up for a good battle as long as it's glorious, and Kim Cattrall plays, rather lamely, a Vulcan sidekick to Spock who's a lot more than she appears to be. We also get to see the former Yeoman Rand in a tiny role, as well as Spock's father Sarek. Michael (Worf) Dorn is even along for the ride in a tip of the hat to the Next Generation.
Star Trek VI is a reunion and a farewell at the same time, and it succeeds as both. It has an intelligent plot, with the usual action and social commentary, good special effects, and a memorable cast of familiar and new characters. It's a fine sendoff for the original cast, despite their refusal to stay gone since then.
The Blu-ray looks and sounds great! The 1080p picture is very clean and crisp and colorful, with very good depth.The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio rocks the home theater, with very good channel separation and dynamics. This is probably the best of the six films so far as video and audio quality are concerned.
And of course there are the extras:
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, from Paramount Home
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.