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Star Trek The Motion Picture

Star Trek The Motion Picture on DVD

Deluxe DVD, Substandard Trek

By Jim Bray

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. And I can watch those sections over and over again, though even here there are parts I learned to fast forward through.

Once the ship actually makes its rendezvous with the mysterious V'ger, however, what little energy there was 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.

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, and the fly-by around the Enterprise that Scott takes Kirk on before they board the ship is the sort of thing that can bring tears to the eyes of a Trekkie. Jerry Goldsmith's sweeping symphonic score, the main theme of which also became the theme for Star Trek The Next Generation, is also wonderful and the original soundtrack album sounded spectacular.

All that, or at least most of it, is lost on the DVD release, unfortunately, and that's a real tragedy. While the medium offers a chance for ultra high resolution images and outstanding digital sound, this disc leaves plenty to be desired.

The anamorphic widescreen picture (16x9 TV compatible) is fine when it's of actors on sets, but the special effects, the one visual thing that really makes this movie worth watching, look awful. They're grainy and matte lines abound. Now, maybe this is due to the high res DVD being so good it shows up all the flaws, but on VHS and laserdisc the movie looked really good. Here, you'd think it would look even better - not worse!

Likewise the sound. It's shrill in places, muddy in others and never comes close to what we expect from a DVD, especially a special collector's edition like this.

Oh, yeah. Collector's edition. This is the Director's Cut, where Robert Wise has gone back and done some tweaking. Often this makes a movie better and I really liked the addition of the scene where Spock is moved to tears. Other than that, however, the changes amount to new, cheesily animated opening credits and a trim here and a tuck there a line or two extra every so often, and an enhanced special effect here and there. For the most part it makes no difference, though it was nice to see they excised Shatner's jerky arrival when he beams up to the space station.

The DVD's saving grace is its extras. There's an abundance of them, and they're very good. Not only do you get a gang running commentary and a text commentary accompanying the movie, but there's an entire second disc of goodies.

The best are the documentaries, including a fascinating look at "Phase II," the aborted second Star Trek series that was eventually morphed into the movie in order to cash in on the success of "Star Wars." You also get a selection of trailers, TV commercials, some inconsequential extra and/or deleted scenes, a storyboard archive and a commercial for the latest Star Trek incarnation "Enterprise."

Just as the movie was originally meant to cash in on the "Star Wars" phenomenon, I get the feeling this DVD release was scheduled to cash in on the release of "Star Wars Episode One" on DVD. And just as the Star Trek the Motion Picture is far inferior to any "Star Wars" outing, its DVD can't hold a candle to Episode One's.

Too bad. I was really looking forward to this one and would trade all the extras for a pristine digital transfer that would dazzle my eyes and ears the way the movie did on that cold day in Spokane so many years ago.

But it was not to be.

Star Trek the Motion Picture, from Paramount Home Video
136 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, Stephen Collins, Persis Khambatta
Produced by Gene Roddenberry
Written by Harold Livingston, Directed by Robert Wise


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Updated May 13, 2006