Star Trek: The Motion Picture was neither the first nor the last big-screen follow-up to a beloved TV show, but it was certainly one of the most influential, launching a total of six cinematic adventures for the classic crew of the original Starship Enterprise. Heck, it wasn't even a great movie, painfully dull as it was with far too many scenes of people staring wide-eyed or issuing/repeating tedious orders, but it was still a blockbuster event, and all of Hollywood took notice. The little sequel that did, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, was where the franchise really took flight, with thrills, wit and the heady Trek spirit so disappointingly absent from Motion Picture. In fact, story elements from II were so strong, they led directly into the fun Star Trek III: The Search for Spock as well as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, forming a trilogy of sorts at the core of the series.
After Leonard (Mr. Spock) Nimoy so ably stepped up to helm III and IV to deafening acclaim, a little-known contract clause led to William (Captain Kirk) Shatner trying his hand at directing a feature film, resulting in the undeniable low point Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. II director Nicholas Meyer was coaxed back to guide Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, concluding the tales of the classic crew on a literary note, right down to a Klingon villain who incessantly quotes Shakespeare. Along the way, bravery and brains, phists and phasers overcome everything from artificial intelligence to missing whales to man-playing-in-God's-domain, and every minute is worth checking out at least once. These half-dozen sci-fi opuses are tendered anew in Paramount's Star Trek Original Motion Picture Collection, now debuting on Blu-ray Disc.
All six of these 2.35:1 movies have been digitally remastered for Blu-ray, and each is strikingly clear and stable, The Motion Picture despite instances of smoke and the expansive V'ger cloud itself. There's a fair amount of dirt (old school special effects have a lot because they combine layer upon layer of celluloid) but many of the miniature shots are every bit as awe-inspiring as they were in 1979. The über-sharpness does lead to some twitchy matte lines and other unforgiving moments, however. Shot with a largely TV crew on a limited budget, The Wrath of Khan often appears grainy and soft (and is lit a bit too brightly for a feature film, in my humble opinion), with more twitch than I'd like. All six titles exhibit some compression artifacting, II more severely than others.
The Search for Spock ushers in a new level of clarity that basically carries through the rest of the series, although it does reveal subtle flaws in the effects, like some nasty shifting garbage mattes around the model spaceships. And damn, that Klingon cruiser is green, no wonder they have to cloak themselves when they travel. Mild ringing also compromises what should be soft glows. The Voyage Home is a terrific character drama--and comedy--and so the unadulterated preservation of faces is priceless in the many close-ups. The Final Frontier is long on fine textures, and Undiscovered Country is about as eye-catching as the rest, although Klingon uniforms and other instances of parallel lines can strobe somewhat when moving quickly through the frame. Suffice it to say, this is the best these movies have ever looked.
Paramount seems to be sparing no expense to make these discs everything they can be, hence brand-new Dolby TrueHD 7.1 remixes/remasters for every film. Jerry Goldsmith's magnificent Motion Picture score rocks with ample bass oomph (you kids will recognize this music from Star Trek: The Next Generation), part of an overall busy, aggressive mix. We are bombarded with all manner big, room-filling energy effects, with hard surrounds making use of our sides and rears, including specific off-camera voices. Tiny details like the crackling of Kirk's fireplace or a boat in the bay outside his window are welcome touches to Wrath of Khan, but surprisingly the inescapable sandstorm on Ceti Alpha V seems almost tame, and the modern polish and punch of other tracks in this set seem missing here. A flyover of the U.S.S. Reliant has a pleasing directionality though, explosions have nice heft, and warp speed is a hoot.
The Search for Spock delivers a greater aural sense of activity onboard The Enterprise, with more bass and a heightened impact: When something blows up, we really feel it. The extreme conditions on the Genesis planet are engaging, too. Sound is essential to a major character, the alien probe, in The Voyage Home, expressed with a sense of beauty, mystery and menace. The complex time travel sequence is a layered head trip. San Francisco circa 1986 is not super-complex so the mix calms down for much of the movie, but when there are city sounds or a whale swimming, it's deftly executed. The Final Frontier comes off as really loud and overdone, like an attempt to propel an otherwise lackluster experience, putting a post-production Band-Aid on a D.O.A. movie. I suppose it could be an entertaining workout of the home theater, just in the most obvious way.
From the explosion of Klingon moon Praxis onward, The Undiscovered Country displays both a strength and subtlety, with mighty ships zipping all over the galaxy to pick up the pieces. An opportunity was wasted however, in my opinion, as the hot-rodded photon torpedo swirling, searching for its target could have (pardon the pun) phased fluidly between the speakers. These soundtracks are all the more impressive when we consider that every one of them predates Dolby Digital technology. Unless someone traveled to the future and brought it back…?
Fans of the two-disc special edition DVDs of these films, rejoice: With the exception of The Motion Picture, all of the extras have been carried over, in their original standard definition. (All movies are their theatrical cuts. The fêted Director's Edition of Motion Picture, an elaborate digital restoration/completion that superseded all other versions for DVD, could not be released on Blu-ray for technical reasons, and so specific content such as the audio commentary could not be included, for example.) For a detailed listing of all of the bonus content in the set, please refer to Product Details section near the bottom of this review.
There's plenty of new material however, some of it wonderfully high-tech as befits the subject at hand. Motion Picture receives a new audio commentary by visual effects experts Daren Dochterman, Michael & Denise Okuda, and science fiction/fantasy writers Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, along with the high-definition featurettes "The Longest Trek: Writing The Motion Picture," "Special Star Trek Reunion," and "Starfleet Academy: Mystery Behind V'ger." It's actually amazing how the bucket manages to come up full every time the home video mavens return to the well! Wrath of Khan benefits from the addition of "James Horner: Composing Genesis," "A Tribute to Ricardo Montalban," "Collecting Star Trek's Movie Relics" and "Starfleet Academy: Mystery Behind Ceti Alpha VI," again all in HD, plus a new commentary by director Nicholas Meyer and filmmaker Manny Coto.
Three new HD featurettes enlighten The Search for Spock, namely "Industrial Light & Magic: The Visual Effects of Star Trek," "Spock: The Early Years" plus "Star Trek and the Science Fiction Museum Hall of Fame." On The Voyage Home, we look back at "Pavel Chekov's Screen Moments," "The Three-Picture Saga," "Star Trek for a Cause" and "Starfleet Academy: The Whale Probe." Screenwriters of the new Star Trek, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, also weigh in on this popular installment with a new audio commentary. As we jump into The Final Frontier, "Star Trek Honors NASA," we stroll down "Hollywood Walk of Fame: James Doohan" and attend "Starfleet Academy: Nimbus III," while The Okudas, The Reeves-Stevenses and Dr. Dochterman add their audio comments. And on Undiscovered Country we uncover "Tom Morga: Alien Stuntman," "To Be Or Not To Be: Klingons and Shakespeare" and "Starfleet Academy: Praxis," with new feature commentary by Trek expert Larry Nemecek and Trek TV producer/writer Ira Steven Behr as well. The supplied trailers are usually presented in high-def.
Most of the discs in this set offer the BD-Live bonus Star Trek I.Q., to create and play trivia challenges over scenes from the movie in a special "Sync Mode" window. There are featured quizzes on various themes ready to go immediately, and newer stumpers proffered by fans will likely pop up in the months ahead, so this is definitely an exploitation of the BD-Live technology worth visiting again. Several of the movies also include the Library Computer mode, an incredibly deep onscreen overlay which delivers selectable background information--fact and appropriate fiction--as text/photos, within a variety of categories. All of this data is also accessible alphabetically, just a click or two away via the Blu-ray remote.
On a separate disc is the brand-new, exclusive Captains' Summit roundtable in HD, hosted by Oscar-winner and frequent Next Generation guest star Whoopi Goldberg. In this three-part, 71-minute discussion of all things Trek, familiar (albeit older) faces Shatner and Nimoy are seated alongside Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes, captain and first officer of the NCC-1701-D. It's a warm and entertaining collision of worlds, and a great cherry atop this six-layer cake.
Overall, the picture and sound are at least as big as I was hoping for, while the new extras build upon the old in such a manner as to titillate longtime fans and garner new ones. This collection is a celebration of everything that made the Star Trek movies so enduring, and one giant leap for Blu-ray-kind.
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