Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition

Star Trek - The Motion Picture - The Director's EditionSynopsis: The U.S.S. Enterprise proudly soars again in this new, beautifully restored Director’s Edition of the original Star Trek movie classic. This new Director’s Cut features enhanced visual effects and a new sound mix, supervised by legendary director Robert Wise. When an unidentified alien destroys three powerful Klingon cruisers, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) returns to the newly transformed U.S.S. Enterprise to take command. Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and the cast from the acclaimed original Star Trek television series mobilize at warp speed to stop the alien intruder from its relentless flight toward Earth.

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Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition 8.25

eyelights: its tighter pacing.
eyesores: its tighter pacing. its discrepant new sfx.

“Why am I here? What was I meant to be?”

I’m a fan of ‘Star Trek: the Motion Picture‘ – in fact, so much so that I think it’s the greatest of the Star Trek cinematic journeys. But I’m one of the few: most people prefer brisker science-fiction films, which is why the much over-rated ‘The Wrath of Khan’ is a long-standing favourite.

Even Robert Wise, the acclaimed director of ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still‘ and ‘The Andromeda Strain‘ was ultimately unhappy with it, feeling that the production was rushed by the studio and that he hadn’t had a chance to complete it as he’d intended – he felt it was a “rough cut”.

Hence “The Director’s Edition”.

Released in 2001, this revised version was cobbled together from existing footage (some of which had already made it into the extended television broadcast version – much to Wise’s discontent) and was enhanced by newly-generated CGI visual effects as well as a revamped soundtrack.

It doesn’t contribute much with respect to new scenes, but it’s essentially an entirely new edit of the picture, which tightens it considerably. Although one could hardly call it brisk, the pacing is more in line with modern sensibilities than the original film, which was much more drawn out.

Sadly, this is a double-edged sword, because part of the original version’s charm is the fact that it lingers, that it affords us the opportunity to explore its wonders in nearly real-time, just like the crew of the Enterprise do. Cutting some of these atmospheric flourishes diminishes its magic.

And then there is the matter of the new special effects, which were likely top of the line back in 2001, but which look subpar by today’s standards – something which cannot be said about the painstaking efforts of the original team, which still look good today. CGI simply doesn’t age well.

To make matters worse, they simply don’t blend well with the original film, which couldn’t possibly be more ’70s if it tried, unique as it is stylistically. These new effects look modern so they are discrepant in a film that was mostly rooted in practical effects – not CGI animation.

Part of the problem may be the resolution at which the effects were rendered. As this was only considered a home video release, the CGI was done in standard definition – which may have been fine for VHS and DVD played on low-res televisions, but it just doesn’t cut it now.

At best one could conclude that this was a primary experiment at giving a facelift to the franchise, eventually culminating in the tastefully-produced “remastered” version of the original television series. But ‘The Director’s Edition’ is undoubtedly a mixed-bag product of highs and lows.

Case in point:

  • The new Vulcan scenery is MUCH improved. The original film features some pretty terrible-looking shots that looked like some rejected ’50s footage. Now at least it looks decent, realistic, even. And it’s seamless. This is by far the greatest improvement of the picture.
  • When Admiral Kirk arrives at Starfleet HQ, there’s an extended shot of the shuttle’s arrival over the bay. It helps the pacing a little bit, but the effects simply don’t blend in with the rest of the footage.
  • It seemed to me that there were a few more ships floating in space during the drydock sequences. It certainly felt more populated, for good or bad.
  • Unfortunately, they didn’t fix the flat picture of Kirk and Scotty on the shuttle window as they make their way to the refitted Enterprise for the first time. That looks so shabby that it deserved redoing – much like the Vulcan sequence did.
  • There’s a new bit just after Admiral Kirk leaves the bridge after checking in for the first time: an alien partakes in a discussion about the fact that Captain Decker has been sidelined by Kirk, even though he’s been overseeing the Enterprise refit.

We later see him in the crew gathering as well, in a few shots that, to me, looked inserted. In fact, it looked like they added aliens in the briefing; they looked out of place, since there were so few of them scattered here or there.

  • There’s a new bit with a crew arriving on the Enterprise through the transporter. Kirk and one of the women discuss Bones’ impending arrival. It adds humour and sort of fleshes out that scene.
  • Is it just me or is the turning off of all the drydock lights and equipment before departure new to this version? Seems to me that I remember the lights on the Enterprise switching on, but not the rest of the lights switching off. It’s not as dramatic.
  • I don’t know if they enhanced the sight of the Enterprise going to impulse power past some planets, but it really looked like crap on this DVD. Talk about underwhelming.
  • When the Enterprise gets caught in a wormhole, the explosion was enhanced. It didn’t bother me too much, but afterwards, as we see the bridge’s screen, there are crappy red blurbs added to it, to simulate debris. It’s garbage.
  • They added the sight of one of the Enterprise’s nacelles from the window of Kirk’s quarters. It’s discrepant and the angle seemed off with relation to the way the stars were disappearing. The scene was better without it, in my opinion.
  • There’s a bunch of redundant new ship console graphics. The originals were good enough.
  • There’s an interesting addition to the scene in which Chekov burns his hand: In it, Ilia tempers his pain by using her empathic powers. I wonder why it was initially cut, as it makes the character a bit more interesting.
  • Did they add a shot of the Enterprise flying inside V’ger? Either way, it looks cheap on DVD.
  • They replaced a P.O.V. shot of V’ger approaching Earth with an exterior shot. It technically looks better but the problem is that the V’ger we see there looks nothing like the one we’ve been seeing thus far. Instead of a large cloud formation with a machine inside, it’s just a long ship. Anyway, the P.O.V. shot is more menacing.
  • There’s this weird sequence that was added in which Spock cries for V’ger “as a brother”. WTF. This is completely out of character and was best left on the cutting room floor.
  • There’s a CGI effect shot of V’ger’s devices going into orbiting position over Earth. It really looks like CGI, and so it’s utterly discrepant.
  • At one point, at the Enterprise is flying into V’ger, there’s this scan of the whole crew, one by one. The camera is so shaky that it looked amateurish. Couldn’t they stabilize the camera in some way? I don’t know if it was in the original cut, but it stood out here.
  • In a completely revamped bit, light pixels came out from V’ger, turning into hexagonal shapes that create a bridge between itself and the Enterprise. Holy smokes it looked half-ass! The original is better, more mysterious.
  • They also trimmed a few scenes, like the sickbay scene with Spock and or when Kirk tries to reason with the Ilia/V’ger probe. The producers clearly did it for pacing, but this reduced the scenes’ potency – without the extended interactions between the character, they feel abrupt, less logical.

Look, ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ will never be ‘Wrath of Khan’ or the 2009 ‘Star Trek‘ reboot. And it was never intended to be: It was rooted in the first television episode of ‘Phase II’, the aborted second ‘Star Trek’ series. And it plays exactly like a television episode – but with a larger scope.

A scope it well deserves.

It’s a spectacle, yes, but more akin to a masterwork of art than a series of fireworks. To try to make it anything else is never going to be successful – it just doesn’t have it in itself. Granted, this was director-approved, but I wonder if Wise underestimated the quality of the film that he made.

In producing ‘The Director’s Edition’, he gave us a different perspective on the same story, but I’m not convinced that it was the best outcome – especially since it was revised nearly 25 years after the fact, and after some initial reticence on his part. Still, at least he gave us both for us to enjoy.

For that alone, I can’t help but commend him.

Post scriptum: I didn’t compare the two versions side-by-side, and even during the same week, so please feel free to highlight any discrepancies in my observations if you notice any.

Date of viewing: June 13-14, 2016

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2 responses to “Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition

  1. It’s an underrated movie. I would argue that it is, thematically and stylistically, the truest Star Trek movie. I always saw Starfleet as a cross between the United Nations and NASA, but Nicholas Meyer made it into an evolved Navy. Here you truly sense they are space explores, not military people. Anyhow, I thought the Special Edition is an improvement. Bob Wise, a former editor, really fixed some issues regarding the pacing. Nice review!

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