The 4K Director’s Cut of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” finally beams down, via Paramount Plus…

“Thrusters ahead, Mr. Sulu. Take us out.”

The USS Enterprise gets an overhaul, both onscreen and behind-the-scenes, for the 4K remastered Director’s Cut of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”

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.

A reluctant Leonard Nimoy finally came aboard for the movie after negotiations with director Robert Wise. Nimoy had a lawsuit with Paramount over the use of his image that resulted in some hard feelings between he and the studio. Those issues were resolved, and the actor would return for seven more Star Trek films (including the rebooted Kelvinverse movies), two of which he’d direct.

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.

The Enterprise is probed by V’ger in a 4K remastered shot from the restored Director’s Cut. This is another shot inspired by the 2001 Director’s Cut DVD, but given greater detail and definition in the 4K remaster.

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.”

****SPOILERS!!****

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 :

The story:  

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 USS Enterprise has never looked better.

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.

Starfleet Command Headquarters in San Francisco, as it appeared in the 2001 DVD version (top) and the restored 4K version (bottom), currently streaming on ParamountPlus.

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.

More of Starfleet Command Headquarters in San Francisco.
Top: From the 2001 Director’s Cut DVD (notice the TOS-era shuttlecraft departing on the right, upper deck).

Bottom: The same scene, with added grain, sharpness, contrast, but still retaining the distinctive, ‘matte-painting’ aesthetic of late 1970s visual effects. This is one of the things I really love about both versions of the Director’s Cut–it remains true to its roots.

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.

San Diego Comic Con 2019; the panel for the then-40th anniversary of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”
Left:
Producer David Fein of Paramount, who’d worked on the 2001 Director’s Cut of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture Director’s Cut” , took to the mic to mention that talks are underway to remaster the film in HD. I had no idea he was seated directly behind me at the panel!

Right Top: Mark Altman, Daren Dochtorman, Ashley Miller, Robert Meyer Burnett and Bill Hunt sit on a panel honoring the 40th anniversary of ST:TMP.

Right Bottom: Daren Dochtorman, the visual FX maestro who worked on both the 2001 DVD of the Director’s Cut and the 2022 remastered version.

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.”

My iPhone doesn’t do it justice, but these are a couple shots I took during my own screening last night.
Top: Spock (Leonard Nimoy) helps out Scotty (James Doohan) in engineering. Some engine throbs and other new sound FX were added in the 2001 DVD and are retained here as well.

Bottom: Kirk (William Shatner) and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) implore the newly arrived Spock to “please…sit down!” in the ship’s new observation lounge. The windows has been digitally changed, with the ship’s warp nacelles visible in its lower corners. There was also added glare from objects in the room visible on the window’s interior surfaces–these were new details added for the 2022 remaster.

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.

Improved contrast, as well as added grain and overall darkness characterize the more film-like aesthetic of the 4K TMP restoration. This shot of Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) approaching the Enterprise in a ‘travel pod’ retains the window reflection of the starship in spacedock, a detail originally added for the 2001 Director’s Cut DVD.

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.

Top: The USS Enterprise leaves drydock in the 2001 Director’s Cut DVD, fixing an optical matting issue from the 1979 theatrical cut that caused a left-side portion of the dock to disappear during the ship’s exit.

Bottom: The remastered 4K version goes a step further and adds a previously missing Earth to the shot; an oversight in both the theatrical and 2001 DVD. Both shots, like many in the Director’s Cut, retain much of the original miniature model work, matte lines and all. Once again, this is a Director’s Cut that still feels like a 1970s movie in many respects.

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.

The orbital office complex above Earth looks much sharper than in previous video releases of the movie, and one important detail has been added back; the previously ‘missing’ travel pod, docked to the lower bottom left of the station, has been digitally added onto the model as well. The restored travel pod on the office’s exterior was also a holdover from the 2001 Director’s Cut DVD, except in this wide shot, where it was accidentally omitted. Now, this long-standing blooper from TMP is finally resolved in the 4K restoration.

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.

Once again, I apologize for my iPhone’s low resolution, but this was one of my minor nits with this otherwise flawless 4K restoration. The scenes bathed in red light within the climactic V’ger ‘amphitheater’ set looked a bit lacking in fine detail, especially when compared to the previous HD Blu-Ray release of the theatrical cut, leaving Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) looking like he went for a swim in tomato soup. The scene was slightly more defined on my iPad, but not by much. This could be an artifact of my digital projection system, or of normal HD streaming compression. Hard to tell.

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.

One of the more dramatic improvements between the 2001 DVD of the Director’s Cut vs. the new 4K version is the level of detail seen on the V’ger spacecraft as it arrives in Earth orbit after shedding its outer cloud layers. There is also a lot more color added to the virtual V’ger model as well.

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.

Spock’s home planet of Vulcan was given a lot more detail in the 2001 DVD and 4K restorations as well; including added statues of warriors carrying lirpa weapons (as seen in TOS Star Trek’s “Amok Time”). The new Vulcan skyline also ditched the 1979 theatrical version’s large gas giant and moons seen orbiting the previously-established moonless world of Vulcan. The Vulcan sky is also given a dusty, Mars-like hue–a coloring used for the planet in later feature films and TV spinoffs.

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.

More detail is added to the V’ger nucleus pathway, which was seen in the theatrical version as already in existence.
Top:
The 2001 DVD version retained the original storyboard concept of V’ger creating the pathway specifically for his “carbon unit” guests.

Bottom: The 4K remastered version retains the 2001 DVD concept of V’ger’s improvised pathway, but added an almost ember-like glowing within freshly laid steps–implying the steps were made from energy to matter conversion. This glowing aftereffect was a minor textural detail added for the 4K version.

“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.

The Enterprise bravely faces the unknown in the final act of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”

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!

Images: Trekcore.com, Trekmovie.com, ParamountPlus, Author.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Eddie Egqn says:

    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.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for that clarification, Eddie. Appreciated!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul Bowler says:

    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!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 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.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. scifimike70 says:

    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.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 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.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. scifimike70 says:

        You’re welcome.

        Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s