Star Trek - The Motion Picture Trilogy

Star Trek - The Motion Picture Trilogy 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 - especially if you think only the three movies starting with "The Wrath of Khan" are worthwhile.

Some would argue that each film has its charm, from the bloated but comparatively soulless effects extravaganza of The Motion Picture to the warmer and fuzzier The Undiscovered Country. And they'd be right. But for some reason, II, III and IV seem to have a special place in the Star Trek universe and this is undoubtedly why Paramount has split that trilogy off and offers it in its own boxed set side by side with the six titled "Original Motion Picture Collection."

The set comes in an attractive case inwhich the inner carton contains all three movies in a flip open concept. We'd have rather seen each title in its own plastic case - which is how Paramount did it with the Original Motion Picture Collection, but this is a minor complaint.

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 enough special features to choke a horse.

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 other films. And unfortunately, this trilogy doesn't look as good as the other three "original" films that are in the other boxed set.

Note: this release doesn't contain as many extras as the bigger boxed set, so if that's important to you you'd be better served going for the full meal deal.

Here's my take on each of the films:

"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 story.

It'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, as the first of a trilogy that 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:

  • Commentary by director Nicholas Meyer and Manny Coto
  • James Horner: Composing Genesis
  • Collecting Star Trek’s Movie Relics
  • A Tribute to Ricardo Montalban
  • Starfleet Academy: Mystery Behind Ceti Alpha VI

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, from Paramount Home Entertainment
112 minutes, 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby TrueHD 7.1
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nicholls, Walter Koenig, James Doohan, Ricardo Montalban, Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Kirstie Alley, and Paul Winfield
Written by Jack B. Sowards, Produced by Harve Bennett
Directed by Nicholas Meyer

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.

Extras include:

  • Commentary by Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor
  • Industrial Light & Magic: The Visual Effects of Star Trek (HD) (I love these effects features!)
  • Spock: The Early Years (HD)
  • Star Trek and the Science Fiction Museum Hall of Fame (HD)
  • Starfleet Academy SCISEC Brief 003: Mystery Behind the Vulcan Katra Transfer

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, from Paramount Home Entertainment
105 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nicholls, Walter Koenig, James Doohan, Christopher Lloyd
Written and Produced by Harve Bennett,
Directed by Leonard Nimoy

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:

  • New Commentary by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
  • Pavel Chekov’s Screen Moments (HD)
  • The Three-Picture Saga (HD)
  • Star Trek for a Cause (HD)
  • Starfleet Academy: The Whale Probe (HD)

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, from Paramount Home Entertainment
118 minutes, 1080p Widescreen, Dolby TrueHD 7.1
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nicholls, Walter Koenig, James Doohan and Catherine Hicks
Produced by Harve Bennett, Screenplay by Steve Meerson & Peter Krikes and Harve Bennett & Nicholas Meyer, Directed by Leonard Nimoy

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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