THE SCREENING ROOM
By Bill KallayHas it really been almost 30 years since "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" graced screens? If it weren't for that mega-budget film's relative success, there might not be any "Star Trek" movies, "Next Generation" or other television spin offs, "Next Generation" feature films, or the latest "Star Trek" movie reboot. Because of that film, five more feature films starring the original cast were made. While some were brilliant, others weren't so good. As almost any "Star Wars" fan will tell you about that series, each has its merits. The same goes for "Trek."
The “Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection” is now available on Blu-ray.
STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE (1979)
The original television show, which ran on NBC, lasted only three seasons. There was enough of a fan base to inspire the idea of reviving the show as a TV movie for a planned Paramount TV network in the 1970s. Those plans faltered, but due to the huge success of "Star Wars" in 1977, Paramount soon realized that they might have something valuable on their hands.
Paramount spared no expense in hiring the original cast, acclaimed director Robert Wise, and getting John Dykstra and Douglas Trumbull for the visual effects. "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" would try to better "Star Wars" in every way. It didn't. Though the film is visually stunning and epic, it falls short in story and heart, something that "Star Wars" had.
Over bloated and over budget, the film became better known for how much it cost. The show with a devoted following certainly had a built-in audience. And those who went back to see "Star Wars" over and over again would certainly want to see "Trek." But the film was ponderous and had too many plot points that took away from the original show's magic; the crew of the Enterprise. Audiences did see the film, and it did make a profit for Paramount. But it's regarded as one of the weakest entries in the original feature film series.
The lame subplot of Captain Decker (Stephen Collins) battling a virtually helpless Kirk (William Shatner) was out of place and unnecessary. Kirk was decisive and smart. He didn't need any help other than from Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and occasionally his crew. Shatner himself is much too heavy handed as Kirk, barely cracking a smile. Spock seems to have more emotion than he does.
The film limps along, though seeing the film for the first time in years, Wise's direction keeps the film from floating away into space. He's always had a great command of the screen, and this film is no exception. He and his crew paint a broad canvas and the film is epic. I remember seeing it in 1979 on the huge Orange Cinedome theater screen. The Jerry Goldsmith overture (and score, for that matter), and Klingon approach on the V'ger Cloud is still one of my favorite movie scenes. The visual effects are stunning and still hold up well. But the film soon falls into a slumber after that, dragging its audience down with it.
There is certainly a lot of production value in this film. It's not as terrible as most people say it is. It's just not a great movie.
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)
Paramount, probably under the command of Jeffrey Katzenberg, cut the budget way back for the sequel. Gone were the huge sets, huge cast of extras and elaborate visual effects (though Industrial, Light + Magic was hired). In their place was a fairly new writer/director in Nicolas Meyer and a recycled villain from the original series. The result was one helluva a movie. Even if it wasn't a "Star Trek" sequel and had different setting, the story is still great. "Khan" is quite simply one of the best "Trek" movies made.
I think most audiences, including die hard "Trek" fans, were surprised with this film. The story of revenge is carefully mastered, and the plot dealing with the Genesis device is well-done. The biggest surprise was seeing Ricardo Montalban as Khan. I'm sure that fans who watched the original series remembered him well. But for a generation growing up with "Fantasy Island," our impression of Montalban was of a gentleman on a goofy Aaron Spelling show. Little did we know that Mr. Rourke had some acting chops, and made for a great villain.
"Khan" works on so many levels. It's a tale of revenge, but also a tale of creating life with possible repercussions. It's a tale of being an absent father, yet trying to reconnect. It's a film of gamesmanship. It's a horror film. It's a film with sadness. It's just good filmmaking. Meyer was an inspired choice to direct and he gave the franchise a fresh bolt of energy. To this day, even with the "Star Trek" reboot in theaters, many will point to "Khan" as being the flagship of the "Trek" film series.
STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1984)
For years, I'd only seen this entry in the "Trek" series on VHS tape. Cropped, panned-and-scanned, the film seemed like a weak chapter. Its audience was already bummed on the loss of Spock (though the title of this film says it all), so this film starts off on a down note. The film was hyped due to the fact that Leonard Nimoy sat in the director's chair.
Although I had the opportunity to buy the LaserDisc and/or DVD in widescreen of this film, it wasn't one that I rushed out to buy. I always found it to be an "ok" movie. Now seeing it on Blu-ray disc, I've changed my tune a bit. "Spock" really isn't as boring and depressing as I once thought. In fact, it's pretty solid entertainment.
Nimoy proved himself to be adept at directing. He directs with as much confidence as Meyer or Wise did before him. The film is actually filled with more humor than I remember, especially since Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelly) has Spock trapped in his head. The widescreen cinematography shows off the original frame well (I'd always thought the film had a cheap set design, but they're actually not that bad). I think those VHS viewings warped my perception of the film. Christopher Lloyd plays an excellent Klingon villain, though I think it was hard for me to get Khan out of my head. The Enterprise crew is as reliable as usual and we can still count of them to save the day.
STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986)
Standing in the cold winter air, my girlfriend and I waited in the parking lot of the Edwards Newport Cinema in a long line. Everyone was waiting to see "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home." The only other line I waited in to see a movie that year was "Aliens." Once inside the huge 1000+ seat theater, we sat down and enjoyed a really fun movie. And she wasn't even a "Star Trek" fan.
This is considered to be the most accessible "Trek" movie, or "the one with the whales." Somehow, four screenwriters and director Leonard Nimoy mixed time travel and whales into a great entertainment. To this day, I can sit down and watch this film and still chuckle. The film is spirited and never slows down for ponderous plot points and discussions of right and wrong. It just goes.
Nimoy shows that during the mid-to-late 1980s, he was a strong director. The film is very capable in his hands. He'd follow up this fun "Trek" film with "Three Men & A Baby" in 1987, yet somehow fall into obscurity as a director. Such a shame, because it seemed that he and everyone involved with this film had a fun time doing it.
STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989)
Where to begin? I can understand Shanter's desire to get into the director's chair. After all, Nimoy did it and did quite well. But Bill, this just wasn't your film to direct. Felt by many "Trek" fans and occasional viewers as the worst "Trek" movie, "The Final Frontier" nearly caused the series to crash and burn.
The first indication that this wasn't a good "Trek" film was the Yosemite scene. Fun, yes, as Kirk climbs a rock and Spock floats in midair discussing the logic of it all. But it falls apart when Kirk loses his footing and falls in one of the worst visual effects scenes ever. For a big budget movie, the effect is laughable. Things don't get better as the Enterprise crew goes to a planet built with cheap sets and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) sings. It's cheesy!
STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991)
Despite the relative failure of "The Final Frontier," the crew of the Enterprise embarked for one last voyage. I remember enjoying the film back in 1991. It's got a fine supporting cast in Christopher Plummer and David Warner. The film is bittersweet because it's the last time we'll see the original cast together on film, but the final voyage of the original Enterprise crew isn't all that great.
The film moves fairly slow with a plot that's decent, but doesn't hold up over time.
THE CAPTAIN'S SUMMIT (2009)
You don't have to be a "Star Trek" fan to enjoy this casual roundtable discussion between Jonathan Frakes, Patrick Stewart, Leonard Nimoy & William Shatner. The captains get together for a fun talk about their time on the Enterprise bridge. Moderating is Whoopi Goldberg.
Viewers will be treated to the real people underneath the characters of William T. Riker, Jean Luc-Picard, Spock and James T. Kirk. Over the years, I've heard that Shatner was egotistic, and that Nimoy was done with "Star Trek." Here, the actors are relaxed and the viewer gets an inside view on how they dealt with their characters, negotiations on making further "Trek" films, and what it's like for them to deal with fans. Highly recommended to fans and non-fans alike.
BLU-RAY PICTURE AND SOUND
The Dolby TrueHD soundtracks are a remarkable improvement over the DVD Dolby Digital versions. Fidelity is much better and truer sounding now. Each of the films had 70mm Six Track Dolby Stereo prints struck, so the mixes were usually very good. Though the sound mixes vary in quality, much of the Blu-ray presentation is excellent. I still would've liked for Paramount to have released these in uncompressed sound. Sourcing the original magnetic stereo masters would've been an excellent presentation on Blu-ray.
The Blu-ray picture quality is also excellent, but there has been some cause for alarm over Paramount's use of digital noise reduction (DNR). Premiere site, www.thedigitalbits.com pointed this out recently. Bill Hunt, owner and editor of that site, made some very good points.
At first glimpse, the picture will be astoundingly clear and very sharp on a modest sized monitor. But if you're familiar with how the films were shot, and how they were presented, you'll notice that the DNR is overdone. The picture, as odd as it sounds, it's too clear. Some of the more glaring issues are seeing the softness of the original filters/lenses stripped away, and seeing the actor's heavy stage make-up in graphic detail.
These movies were shot on film. Celluloid has a certain grain structure and a certain appearance, depending on what film stock was used. Most of the visual effects done on these films, except for segments in "Khan" and "The Undiscovered Country," relied on photochemical and optical printing. Much of the compositing of layers to get those effects is now very clean and absent of film grain. What the viewer now sees is a hyper-clear rendition of the original films. Though I saw parts IV-VI in 70mm blow-up prints, and they were superior presentations to the 35mm versions, there was still softness and film grain on those images. There was film texture.
The rise of home video entertainment and the desire by most studios to make their catalog titles look as good as they can is admirable. But it shouldn't be at the expense of how the original film was made or intended to appear. The "Star Trek" films will appear to be excellent to most viewers, just as some of the recent Disney animated classics do. But viewers should be aware of how much tinkering has been done to give these older films more sparkle.
After viewing the "Star Trek" films in high definition, I felt the presentation was very good, but unnatural. If you're going to clean up the "defects" of the films, Paramount has done a good job at it. But again, my preference is for these Blu-rays to match as closely as possible the original look and intent of the filmmakers.
Either way, these Blu-rays of the original films is better than the DVDs or any other video presentation. It's great to have the crew of the Enterprise back, even if we can see their make-up all too well.
Special thanks to Click Communications
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