Justice League and Classic Trek get the 4K disc treatment
By Jim Bray
Fans of the cinefantastique are in for a treat – well, maybe – with new 4K disc releases from Paramount and Warner Brothers. One is a boxed set of the four earliest Star Trek movies and the other is a massive upgrade – well, maybe – of a major DC comics universe stinkeroo.
Let's talk Trek first. I've been wanting to see these movies in 4K since there was 4K, especially the first film – the ponderous Star Trek the Motion Picture. It was, as was advertised back in the day, a "toy for the eyes" with fantastic special effects that made the trusty old Enterprise look simply splendid. Alas, that was about all there was to it; the story was a rehash of the old TV series' The Changeling, except that the old TV episode was better and accomplished its story in an hour-long venue with cheap and cheesy special effects.
I remember standing in line outside a Spokane, Washington, movie theatre with my best friend, Les, to see the film the day it came out. We were nuts, but Trek fans, and really wanted it to be a good film. And heck, with the original cast returning, Robert Wise directing and Jerry Goldsmith's musical score – plus special effects by the great Douglas Trumbull, it had all the makings. What it lacked was a screenplay.
Anyway, it was the best looking of the early Trek films and I really wanted to see it upgraded to the 4K experience. And Paramount has done a reasonable job. The studio says in its press materials that it, and the other three in this boxed set, have all been remastered from their original elements, and that's a good place from which to start.
Alas, I think perhaps they should have done a full restoration, like they've done for such 4K classics as Indiana Jones and The Ten Suggestions, er, Commandments. Those films pop off the 4K screen in their UHD presentations and, while all four of these Trek films do look better in 4K than even their Blu-ray counterparts (as they should!), they don't really pop off the screen.
The other three are pretty much the same – the best video versions yet but not as good as I'd hoped for. The Wrath of Kahn (Star Trek 2), Search for Spock (ST3) and Voyage Home (ST4) all have moments when they look absolutely terrific, but for each one there are also soft, fuzzy moments. Perhaps this was the directors' choice, and the 4K HDR treatment merely reflects that, but I don't have to like it.
There's another issue with Khan, too. The press materials – and the darn boxes themselves – state clearly that the set contains both the theatrical and the director's cut, but if that's the case they've hidden the theatrical version so well I couldn't find it. So, we just get a director's cut which, unlike many director's cuts and/or extended editions, in this case adds little and merely serves to flesh out a couple of scenes at the expense of pacing.
The boxed set also includes a four-disc Blu-ray collection of the remastered films, so if you've yet to embrace 4K you can purchase this set knowing that it's still the best you can get, so far. Of course, Paramount being Paramount, there could be a fully restored set available by the time you upgrade your home theatre hardware.
Each 4K disc contains a commentary as supplement (The Motion Picture also has an isolated musical score, which is cool), but the Blu-rays add a lot of stuff – though it was already available on older home video versions. Audio isn't Dolby Atmos but it is lossless and it's as good as one can expect from films of this age.
So, if you're a Trek fanatic who has yet to get these four great – well, three great and The Motion Picture – movies on Blu-ray, this is your chance. And if you want 4K, this is also your chance and you probably won't regret it (high praise, eh?). But it could, I believe, have been better.
Paramount is releasing the films separately on Blu-ray as well.
Then there's Zack Snyder's Justice League – not to be confused with the Zack Snyder Justice League that came out on 4K disc in 2018 and stank up the video store shelves, assuming there were still video stores in 2018.
As a kid, I was a fan of DC comics and never read the Marvel stuff, but on screen the Marvel franchise has been far more successful at making enjoyable movies compared with the rather spotty record of DC product. And I didn't think much of the original release of Justice League.
Back then, I said "(Snyder) seems to have a knack for making films that take themselves more seriously than required – even the humour in Justice League seems forced. And it's artsy fartsy, with ponderous slo-mo shots that add nothing but a sense of "you're slowing down the movie so you can make it look cool" (not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that) or "you're slowing down the movie so you idiots in the audience have time to figure out what our geniuses are doing here."
On the other hand, I've wondered in the past if there were a great epic trying to get out of a shorter, worse movie. I wondered that about David Lynch's Dune, for example, though I never saw any director's cut of it.
Here, Snyder expands on the two-hour original by doubling the running time, but not by doubling the fun. This seemed to me to be just a longer and more ponderous Justice League, a film that doesn't do justice to DC's venerable League in the first place.
Superman is dead (though they way Henry Cavil played him I never thought he was alive) and Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) senses there's about to be a world of hurt coming down on the Earth (I guess he read the screenplay). So, he and his little Wonder-full friend Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) start trying to recruit his own band of Avengers just in case.
Good thing, too: bad guy Steppenwolf (who turns out to be merely a stooge for an even worse guy, like Ronin was in Guardians of the Galaxy 1) takes a magic carpet ride to Earth looking for Infinity Stones – er, Mother Boxes that can be combined and unleash that world of hurt on the multiverse, enslaving everyone who isn't fully vaxxed – er, something like that.
Then we get four long hours of alternately Justice League recruiting and angst and bad critters taking over the world, causing angst. They should have left it alone, or gone back to square one.
The new version is broken down into Parts (as well as there being chapter stops) and spreads over two 4K discs (there are also Blu-ray versions in the box) and really tries to be epic. Heck, Snyder himself in the "making of" supplement on Disc One says he was determined to create such an epic.
Which makes me wonder why, especially since the "original" version was released in widescreen, he decided to cut off the sides and release the film in a 4x3 format, which is how our old CRT televisions were (and movies before the 1950's).
When I think of "epic" movies, I think of films like Lawrence of Arabia and Ben-Hur and those were definitely not "narrowscreen" format. Heck, Ben-Hur's aspect ratio is about 1000:1 (okay I'm exaggerating), so wide that when I buy a TV I get the biggest size I can afford to ensure Ben-Hur looks as epic as possible. I love the film that much.
So, no. Zack's Justice League may consider itself an epic but it sure doesn't look like it.
The 4K picture is good, but suffers from Snyder's penchant for filming very dark-looking films, almost as if he's shooting "day for night" or using a dark filter. This works against the film popping off the screen, though I must admit that some of the shots look great; there just aren't enough of them (though God forbid the movie be any longer!).
The audio is fine, though. It's presented in Dolby Atmos, which of course is backwards compatible for those of us who have yet to tear our home theatres apart to rewire them for new speakers and channels. But the fidelity is fine, the bass is nice and tight, and all the channels get a nice workout.
I checked out some of the online reviews of Zack Snyder's Justice League and appear to be a voice in the wilderness among a crowd of people who seem to think it's better than Citizen Kane (another overrated movie, in my never humble opinion), so your mileage may certainly vary.
For me, though, I'm tempted to go back and watch the shorter version again, if only to see how the two differ.
But life's too short for that.
A far more enjoyable time in the home theatre would be spent with the first and the last two Avengers movies. Same basic story, told much, much better.
Copyright 2021 Jim Bray