While Star Trek is currently enjoying a renaissance under the stewardship of Alex Kurtzman with a number of eclectic new serials including Picard, Strange New World, Discovery, Lower Decks and Prodigy, the imminent release of the franchise’s first foray onto the big screen, Star Trek: The Motion Picture The Director’s Edition on a stunning new 4K Ultra HD disc is a seminal reminder of the prominence and influence of the Trek phenomenon.
Initially conceived as a sequel show to the William Shatner lead Original Series, Star Trek Phase II, as it was billed, was suddenly scrapped by Paramount Studio’s head Michael Eisner after the explosive success of Star Wars saw rival studio’s scramble to capitalise on demand for sci-fi spectacle. With a number of sets already constructed and casting well underway, with Stephen Collins locked in as First Officer Decker, Paramount made a sharp pivot, scrapping the new series in favour of a big screen adaptation that would bring back the familiar faces of the Kirk, Bones, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew. However, the rush to hit cinemas and exploit Star Trek’s brand recognition, saw the studio fast track a crudely edited theatrical version of the film that would act as a divisive thorn in the side of Star Trek fandom for near on thirty years.
Now, 43 years later, the 4K UHD Blu-ray release concludes the long gestating journey of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, from bastardised money grab to a spectacular Director’s Edition that fully encapsulates the film’s nostalgia, emotion, and intelligence, all under the gravitas of authentic 1970’s science fiction. Lovingly bought to completion by Producer David C. Fein, Star Trek: The Motion Picture The Director’s Edition is a beautifully rendered vision of Robert Wise’s (The Sound of Music, The Andromeda Strain) innovative storytelling, genuine to cinematic aesthetics of the era, but elevated for the entertainment technology of the moment.
“So much work.” Explains David Fein, whose work on the film has occupied the maverick producer’s career for the past 20 years “Starting with a similar edit from what we did in 2001 was one thing, but now getting it to where it would work so much better was tough because there were so many little distractions throughout the film, and these all needed to be fixed. I found that there were distractions, be it due to the rushed time schedule, places where the camera unnecessarily shook, places where the grain was so high your mind went ‘Look at that grain.’ These things needed to be all, from beginning to end, smoothed out so as to not be a distraction from your experience.
“So the focus was, how can we not just do the Director’s Edition in this edit? How can we make it be the best that it can be, using today’s technology? Robert Wise had always told me, ‘Use every tool that’s available to tell the best story.’ And so I introduced to Robert the idea that there was more to picture that just what we see in the negative, and he was insistent that whatever’s possible to do, we should always do. Use the technology to tell the best story, because motion pictures are entertainment. It should be about your experience. It should be just about your experience in the best audio, the best visual images, the best design that completely encompasses your experience.
And while it sounds like a lofty ambition, Fein’s unique approach to remastering the film indeed delivers the goods. With the 4K disc boasting a rich, multifaceted soundscape that fully embraces the complexities of Dolby Atmos to craft an authentic otherworldly audio experience, while elevating Jerry Goldsmiths iconic score to a whole new level. But its Fein’s handling of the visual effects that really grant this Director’s Edition its unique signature.
With the background effects having been cleaned and colour graded to offer a more cohesive flow, Fein’s team haven’t been shy in replacing, or enhancing a number of special effects shots with new CGI elements. However, unlike past revisions made by the likes of George Lucas on his Star Wars films or the remastered Star Trek: TOS Blu-ray releases back in 2006, Fein has chosen to maintain Wise’s original vision, inspired and beholden to the film’s late seventies origins. The results of which reinforce the unspoken mantra of keeping the films authenticity and history.
“If we do a little enhancement, we’re able to even out the quality because we know what the negative is. And then it was brilliant that Paramount archives had so many of the original camera elements for the visual effects. And they were so soft at places. I hadn’t realized that the softness was part of the rush in the duplication process of assembling those elements. But by being able to go back to 8K scans of the 65-millimeter elements, 6K from the Vista Vision elements, and the 4K scans, and be able to re-composite them, combine them in digital, gave us these glorious shots that I never would’ve imagined. Which again, just draws you right in, so the magic and thrill for me was to make a film that works better than ever before. It was a wild ride.”
Although claiming credit on Star Trek: The Motion Picture The Director’s Edition as Producer, Fein’s contributions to the annuals of science fiction have seen him perfectly placed to undertake the film’s ambitious restoration, or completion if you will. An innovative force in Hollywood, the New York native started out as an entertainment journalist, contributing to several marketing campaigns for the likes of Aliens and Labyrinth before becoming a pioneer in producing supplemental material, with his ‘Film-School-In-A-Box’ featurettes elevating James Cameron’s Aliens Laser-Disc release to legendary status back during the early 90s. From there Fein founded Sharpline Arts, a production company focused on documentary and behind the scenes content for film and television productions. Under Sharpline Arts Fein has produced content around such classic genre films as The Guns of Navarone, The Last Starfighter, the Phantasm horror franchise and the movies of cult-film director Larry Cohen (Its Alive, Q The Winged Serpent).
It’s a diverse body of work, and one that has allowed the multi-hyphenate to find a unique balance of creativity and technical detachment. Attributes that give Star Trek: The Motion Picture The Director Edition its elevated emotive punch played subtlety against the extensive visual effects inherent of its sci-fi heritage.
“Well, if you just approached it as a technical exercise, you’d have a simple remaster. That’s not what this was. This is reopening the film and focusing on telling the creative aspects of the story.” Muses Fein on the difficulty of finding that elusive balance. “You have to put your own mindset into the process.
“I’ll give you an example. One of my favorite changes is a moment in the film where Scotty is talking to another engineer who ask’s ‘Why did the captain order a self-destruct?’ That was always looking like it was a night scene in engineering, but it wasn’t as powerful as it needed to be. And I was looking, and I was thinking what could we do here? And what’s amazing is when you’re working with the camera negative, the place where audio would be on film, if you had a film print, is exposed picture.
“So what I found, looking at this exposed picture on the left hand side, is that there’s an engineer working on the engine. And because it was a negative and because there’s so much room, I was able to move it over. And now, as they say those lines, you have another guy who’s looking over going, “We’re going to die?” And it amplified the moment.
“So while you’re saying, technically, yes we could do that move, the creativity is, how is that scene working? Is that making me feel like I suddenly have more of a threat?
‘It is a balance of sorts. But what’s important is to have a technical expertise to know it’s possible. But it’s so much more important to feel the moments, to feel what’s going on. To say, is it working or is it not working?
“If you needed to amplify something, sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing what you’re looking to do. One scene is when Ilia (Persis Khambatta) is taking the pain away from Chekov (Walter Koenig). Now in this version, to stop this pain she reaches over to touch him. As the music comes up and she’s doing this healing touch, at that moment between him and her, all of the sound effects of the bridge disappear. Because of that, even though it was just a technical adjustment, it added to the enhancement of that moment being magical, being special. And even if you don’t notice it, it becomes more of a subliminal comment of her having some importance. Which is why the probe later choses to take her.
“Now understand, I am a fan. I love films. I love story. But I look at it as, ‘How are we going to tell the best story?’ And yes, I, just as much as everybody else, want to sit there and love what I’m seeing. I’m very sensitive to wanting to love what I’m seeing. And if there’s things that distract me and have me go, “Oh, look over there or that’s distorted.” or, “That’s not right. It doesn’t look real.” I don’t want to ever have that feeling because the fanboy is me in an audience, sitting in a theatre, watching something. And that’s for me, the greatest experience and the greatest joy, knowing that other people are able to see a movie without distraction.
“So you asked about technical versus creative. Technical is a tool, creative is an experience.”
Perhaps the most bittersweet aspect of the 4K releases of Star Trek: The Motion Picture The Director’s Edition is the sad fact that Robert Wise, who passed away in 2019, won’t have the privilege to see one of his most celebrated, yet troubled films finally achieve its completion. But for the legions of Trek fans who have long held the movie close to their hearts, this expanded and refined edition is celebration of cinema and fandom. And as with recent controversies surrounding Director’s Cuts, including Taika Waititi’s disparaging remarks on a possible Thor: Love and Thunder extended cut and the brutal divisions spawned by WB’s handling of the Justice League: The Snyder Cut, Fein has delivered a refreshingly sentimental argument for allowing creatives to embrace and revisit original visions without the imposed constraints of run times or marketing strategies.
“It’s a unique experience, that this film hasn’t truly been finished until now. It didn’t have a satisfied director who said, “Okay, I like this. This is it, let’s go with it.” It’s a case where the film wasn’t finished, and the last time that we had a chance to do so with Robert [Wise] was for DVD.
“And now that it’s been created in 4K, there is now an actual film master. It can now exist like any other movie. But it’s the only film in history that I know of that took 43 years to finish. And everybody got to see our dirty laundry along the way, as opposed to seeing just the finished film.
“Coppola went back and did the Coda for Godfather III. That was a case where he was finished and decided he wanted to go back. I’m all for things like Mad Max: Blood and Chrome, who have a second version that is just a different perspective. Or what if a filmmaker has a good idea about something that can really amplify or change the tone of a film? I think that’s a creative choice that they should have.
“There are times that I could see where if something didn’t work, maybe having a different version of it, or a different perspective, or something that could now work for today versus what worked for them. But that’s where other versions should have a right to stand on their own.
“Even Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as flawed as it was, there are people who remembered seeing it in the theatre in 1979, that’s their movie. That means something to them, and they deserve to have their movie. Special Longer Version was released on home video in the States and was the only available version of the movie for many years, so that has an emotional connection with certain people. And those people have a right to have that version because that’s theirs. But this now is the finished film, where I would expect and hope that people would now watch the film as this one, this version.
“As I’ve said before, I hope Bob [Wise] and Gene [Roddenberry] are up there watching it together and smiling.
STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE – DIRECTOR’S EDITION ON 4K ULTRA HD™ & DIGITAL FROM SEPTEMBER 14, 2022.
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