Review: “Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Director’s Cut”

Unfairly maligned for being too slow, abstract or serious – the first Trek film adventure is unlike anything that came before or since for the franchise. The original series before was a low budget, high adventure camp western in space. The movies and spin-off series afterward are more tightly written adventure/dramas combining action, humour and stories with meaning – though not too much.

‘The Motion Picture’ on the other hand is the most expensive, epic, deep and overall pure sci-fi effort the franchise ever did. Arriving at a time when audiences were coming off an adventure high from “Star Wars”, this film proved a disappointment because it owed more to the likes of “2001” than anything George Lucas has done – its more serous filmmaking than crowd pleasing. While its not up there with Ridley Scott’s atmospheric “Alien” which also opened the same year, TMP has hardly aged at all over the years and holds up better today than ever.

The performances are solid all round – Shatner at last doing something serious acting, Kelley at his best, Nimoy just superb, everyone is top notch with newcomers Stephen Collins & Persis Khambatta providing welcome support. The script is surprisingly tight and complex, despite there being large portions of the film where little to no dialogue is spoken.

What really makes the film though is the visuals and music. TMP is an extremely visual FX oriented movie – to combat the small handful of internal sets on which most of the film takes place, Wise gives us some beautiful effects which hold up to this day and have a much better sense of scale than most CG efforts of the last five years.

Combine this with some haunting work on the part of composer Jerry Goldsmith and you have large segments where there’s little or no dialogue/background noise but rather moving art. From the sweeping glide through of the Klingon ships, the tense attack sequences, the creepy but mesmerising trip through the cloud, these are truly a ride of beauty.

This “Director’s Edition” has now finally given Wise the chance to fix up the movie and show it how it should’ve been done – and it works. This is a great example of how editing, FX and just a few minutes of footage can have a large impact on the tone and feel of movie. Scenes are tighter, bolder and more engaging. Gone is the cheesy post-wormhole crew jiggling, that shot during the V’Ger ship flyover that looks like oatmeal and plastic garbage bags, and the imaginative but unconvincing matte paintings.

Added are a series of about two dozen new FX shots – a few to better show off things like the look of V’Ger, how the bridge probe arrived, etc. whilst others to add to the scale of the ship and/or movie. Unlike many of the new shots in the “Star Wars” Special Editions, these new FX fit perfectly into the film in both terms of look and feel – they enhance the epicness and clear up confusion rather than simply add cheesy creatures or make things more politically correct – the subtlety of these, combined with the fact these were shots and scenes that were originally planned for the film back in 1979 and then had to be abandoned for time and money reasons, are what make it work. Someone who hasn’t seen the film a few times before will miss quite a few of the new shots.

Also added are more scenes developing the characters – Spock crying over V’Ger, a better explanation to the philosophy & reasoning behind it, etc. The fact this is on DVD helps as well as this is a movie which makes a LOT of use of widescreen and complex omni-directional sound effects.

This is Robert Wise’s movie the way it was meant to have been – the 1979 version was a nice B-C grade on a report card, this version is a solid A-. It does lack the more immediate appeal of the even-numbered efforts of the film franchise (esp. Nos. 2, 6 & 8), but stands head and shoulders above the rest. True, epic storytelling and hopefully Paramount will be keen on doing more efforts like this on future Trek films (esp. the odd numbered ones).