“Thrusters ahead, Mr. Sulu. Take us out.”
As longtime readers of this site know, I’ve already reviewed/discussed 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” several times, including a an anniversary theatrical screening in September of 2019. I am an unashamed fan (and occasional apologist) of this absolute gem of a sci-fi film. Directed by Robert Wise (“The Andromeda Strain”), with a lush musical score by Jerry Goldsmith, “Star Trek-TMP” is better described as a sensory experience than a straight linear story (like 2009’s “Avatar”). With the gorgeous music and striking images, TMP is perhaps the closest we’ll ever get to a Star Trek Symphony.
Originally conceived as a low-budget theatrical release for 1975 (“Star Trek: Planet of the Titans”), and later as the pilot for a failed Paramount network the following year (an idea that would come to fruition with “Star Trek: Voyager” on the short-lived UPN network), TMP was then hurriedly reimagined as a potential big screen rival to George Lucas’ wildly popular 1977 hit, “Star Wars”. With a much healthier budget than originally planned, TMP got the green light. After a flop-sweating production schedule that began without a finished script, the film finally debuted–minus a preview screening–on December 7th, 1979 in Washington, DC.
Note: Aesthetically and contemplatively, TMP has much more in common with its cinematic predecessors “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and the Russian-made “Solaris” (1972) than with the rollicking roller-coaster ride that was “Star Wars.”
To those who haven’t seen TMP, here is a ‘director’s cut’ of my earlier, cruder plot summary from my 2017 review–back when I had zero idea what I was doing with this site :
Kirk and his reassembled crew (including a resigned but returning Mr. Spock) depart in a sleek, refurbished USS Enterprise to encounter a massive, mysterious, destructive energy-cloud that has already destroyed three Klingon ships as well as a Starfleet listening post. The massive ‘cloud’ is on a direct course to Earth. As the Enterprise penetrates the outer layers, it discovers that the cloud enshrouds a colossal alien vessel that has a wayward NASA space probe, Voyager Six, at its nucleus.
The ancient probe has mutated, become self-aware, and now calls itself “V’ger” (thanks to a bit of cosmic schmutz on its own nameplate). V’ger seeks to find and join with its creator, and seems incapable of believing that mere humans (“carbon units”) were its makers. Kirk orders the Enterprise to transmit the proper NASA coded reply to V’ger’s obsolete radio message, and his first officer Will Decker touches V’ger itself (not in that way…) in an effort to ‘join’ with it and merge into a new blend of organic and artificial life. This new life form apparently exits our dimension and Earth is saved.
With that bit of business out of the way? Viewer ahead…
“Jim, you’re pushing. Your people know their jobs.”
Director Wise often said he regretted that he never had time to properly edit the film as he wished, since film cans containing still wet reels of the film (pre-digital) were rushed via plane to make the DC premiere event. In 2001, shortly before he passed away in 2005, Wise finally got to finish his movie in a subtly improved version that fixed many bugs and tightened some of the earlier languidly-paced editing.
However, Wise’s Director’s Cut was remastered in standard DVD resolution (480p), as it was made on the cusp of high definition media (1080p), which quickly became a new industry standard, before being supplanted by the current 4K standard. As a result, many of the lower-resolution visual effects had to be completely remade for this new version.
Several producers & visual effects maestros who aided Wise with the original 2001 Director’s Cut DVD have returned to produce this 4K version of TMP. They include restoration supervisor Mike Matessino, producer David C. Fein, and producer/effects artist, Daren Dochterman.
I was at San Diego Comic Con 2019 during a panel for the then-40th anniversary of the film, when David C. Fein, who’d been sitting directly behind me, stood up during the Q & A session of the panel to announce that Paramount was indeed working on a 4K restoration of the film! We burst into applause within the small meeting room, expecting an imminent release. Sadly, the COVID pandemic happened half a year later, and many of those earlier plans were scrapped.
“This is an almost totally new Enterprise.”
Now, nearly three years later, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” Director’s Cut in 4K has arrived, and I watched it last night via ParamountPlus on my 7 ft. collapsible screen in high definition and in Bose sound. It was a revelation. A considerably darker print than the Blu-Ray releases of TMP’s 1979 theatrical cut, TMP now looks a lot closer to the film prints I saw theatrically over 42 years ago.
Struck from TMP’s original 65mm film elements, much fine grain has been restored to surface textures and faces, and the new Dolby Atmos sound mix gives the actor’s voices more of an ‘in-the-room’ feel than the more obvious post-production vocals heard in earlier releases.
Note: Much of the movie’s dialogue had to be rerecorded due to noisy film projectors used to supply the Enterprise bridge set’s monitors.
As with the previous 2001 DVD version, there are lots of new ADR and foley effects that make the 1979 film come to life, including reuse of TOS Star Trek’s original bridge sound FX, which immediately adds an aural warmth. Walter Koenig’s “Chekov” also has a few new ship’s intercom addresses sprinkled throughout the film, replacing the harsh, mechanical-sounding, male-voiced computer of TMP’s theatrical version. The theatrical version’s obnoxious, monotone klaxon was also replaced in the Director’s Cut with an electronic version of TOS’s more siren-like wail.
What I really appreciate is that, in many ways, the film still looks like a late 1970s movie, even with a few visible matte lines and other artifacts to remind us that this is still a lovingly-made, analog-era movie. The digital facelift work is subtle and unobtrusive, with rare exceptions. This is not the Star Wars Special Edition.
If I had any criticisms of this otherwise flawless 4K restoration, it’s that the harsh red lighting of the final ‘V’ger amphitheater’ confrontation scene (to reflect V’ger’s ‘impatience’) looked a bit mushy and ill-defined on my system. However, it appeared slightly less so when seen on my iPad this morning, so this could’ve been a translation error with my HD digital projector. For full disclosure, my home projector is rated for 1080p HD only, not 4K.
There were also moments that lost some definition due to the overall darkness of the print, including Spock’s awakening in sickbay following his spacewalk inside V’ger’s interior. Once again, this issue was slightly lessened when viewed on my brighter iPad screen this morning, so I’ll also chalk that one up to an interpretive issue between my two main playback systems. They can slug it out later.
Either way, this richer, saturated print of the movie is more in-line with how I first remember seeing it theatrically over 42 years ago on high-contrast, grainy film prints (no digital cinema in those days). Over the years, I’ve become used to bright telecine prints of TMP made for video. In fact, I’d forgotten that the film’s original color palette & black levels were, in reality, much more shadowy.
“What types of recreation does the crew aboard your vessel enjoy?”
For those who prefer physical media, like myself, word on the street is that this remastered Director’s Cut of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” is coming to Blu-Ray/4K this September (no set street date as of yet), with new extras, including a few lost-and-found deleted scenes, not seen in previous DVD/Blu-Ray releases. In the meantime, the film can be streamed in HD and 4K on ParamountPlus, and if you’re a Star Trek geek like myself, it is well worth the subscription fee for this, and all other Star Trek content. Enjoy!
Be Safe/Stay Strong.
With the recent invasion of Ukraine, here’s hoping the courageous Ukrainian people will see daylight from this nightmare. Wishing the people of Ukraine perseverance, and that their nightmare ends sooner than later. Meanwhile, the current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is over 1 million (and over six million worldwide) as of this writing. Please use caution and good judgment when it comes to masking and safe distancing, as many states are now easing prior COVID restrictions due to decreasing numbers of infections, though some states are reporting increasing case numbers as a result.
In these challenging times, be safe and stay strong. Despite these turbulent times, let’s hope that “the human adventure is (truly) just beginning” once we get past our species’ trying adolescence. Live long and prosper!
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One note:. The two 35mm prints for the December 6 1979 premiere of ST-TMP arrived very late in the evening of December 5. Passengers on that commercial (not private) flight included Robert and Millicent Wise, editor Todd Ramsay and several members of Paramount’s post-production department. There was a tech run-through beginning at 10AM the following day (6) at the MacArthur Theater.
Thanks for that clarification, Eddie. Appreciated!
This sounds brilliant. Hopefully get to see it soon, not sure when it will be available in the UK. I’d certainly love to see this in 4K STTMP is such a great film, I love the epic scope of it, and the cinema photography is stunning!
Hoping PrimeVideo carries it overseas soon.
At the very least, it’s rumored to be coming to physical media in September, so hopefully not too long a wait.
The brilliant work of Douglas Trumbull on movies like Star Trek can remind us how pre-CGI effects may often age better than much of this century’s CGI. The 4K revolution may help to enhance these earlier sci-fi classics and the first Star Trek movie is indeed deserving. Thank you for your review.
Thanks for the comment, Mike.
And yes, there is a heft and a tactility to those old physical/optical FX that is very difficult to capture in modern CGI, I agree.