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Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection

Paramount // PG // May 12, 2009
List Price: $139.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted May 22, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
My kids regularly remind me that I'm on the cusp of "geezerhood," so I guess I don't mind admitting that I remember watching Star Trek premiere in September of 1966. That was in the halcyon days when each network had a "new season slogan" and tons of preview ads that usually focused on a whole night of programming. TV-head that I was (not much has changed), I had already plotted out my weeknight viewing for that season and was very excited by two new science fiction series, Star Trek and ABC's The Time Tunnel. If not quite at the Trekkie and/or Trekker level of fandom, I certainly watched most if not all of the original three seasons of Trek, even rushing home on a Friday night at the end of the second season to hear the then-revolutionary and PR-hyped closing credits announcement that the show would be back for what it turned out was its final, third season. The fact is, somehow for a not all that successful show, Star Trek captured the imaginations of kids like I was and that no doubt helped turn it into the cult phenomenon it became, ultimately branching out to become on of the best known "brands" in all of science fiction.

Similarly, a decade after the series left the air, I remember the excitement when the feature film franchise was launched in 1979 with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. According to the informative commentary on the first film in the series, my home town of Portland was evidently no different than Los Angeles when the film started: the audience was applauding madly, and each name, names that frankly had never been A-list, brought even more insane ovations. Those ovations only increased when the actual actors appeared onscreen--in fact, at the first screening I attended, I missed large chunks of dialogue due to the raucous cheers of the audience.

If the first film didn't quite live up to the hype, it nonetheless paved the way not only for a slew of sequels, but the continuation of the Star Trek phenomenon on television, with such series as The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and, most recently, Enterprise. And of course the Star Trek brouhaha continues unabated with J.J. Abrams' relaunching of the franchise with his new feature film, hitting theaters just as this new BD set hits store shelves.

This set offers the first six Star Trek films in remastered editions (in their original, non-director's cut, theatrical versions), with a combination of both old special features from the 2 DVD Collector's Editions, and a spate of new bonuses.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture was an Event Movie in its day, and took itself perhaps a bit too seriously at times, perhaps a leftover of creator Gene Roddenberry's aborted attempt to launch a second television series, Star Trek: Phase II, out of the ashes from which this film grew. Directed by Robert Wise, who brought his calm self-assurance to the project, the film is both simultaneously plot-heavy and also almost entirely dependent on its audience's goodwill in terms of characters with whom it is already familiar. Paced deliberately slowly (almost a throwback to 2001, despite it following hot on the heels of the relatively manic Star Wars), Star Trek: The Motion Picture has, I think, been unfairly derided if only because hopes were so impossibly high for it.

The film certainly delivers on the character side of things, reintroducing our television favorites in various dramatic ways. There's more than a bit of nostalgia, as might be expected, cropping up throughout the film, and a lot of the most effective moments are simply in the repartee between Kirk, Spock, Bones and Scotty (as well, of course, as the supporting characters like Uhuru, Chekhov and Sulu). There's also the exotically alluring Persis Khambatta as the bald alien sexpot Lieutenant Ilia, and Stephen Collins as stalwart Commander Decker (obviously a prototype for Riker in The Next Generation).

I actually have always had a certain soft spot for Star Trek: The Motion Picture's ultimate "reveal" as to what exactly is the malevolent cloud which starts the film by devouring Klingons and ultimately moves within a hair's breadth of Planet Earth. It's a neat little story device culled from history and playing into an almost Philip K. Dickian view of technology being able to self-actualize.

Though this original theatrical release doesn't feature the spruced up special effects that the Director's Cut did (the film was rushed into release, and Wise and EFX guru Douglas Trumbull were never fully satisfied with the theatrical version's images), the fact is this pre-CGI effort holds up surprisingly well. No, it doesn't sport the shiny flawlessness of a lot of modern sci-fi films, but it achieves its aims quite spectacularly at times, especially in the obviously Kubrick-inspired finale.

Though the film is patently lethargic at times, that slowness is countered by the wonderful character turns by Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley and their cohorts. Though the film is obviously flawed, it retains enough of the charm and magic of the original series to warrant a deeper appreciation by Star Trek's legion of fans. Yes, it may have disappointed some, but the fact is, if it hadn't been at least as relatively successful, both in terms of reestablishing the franchise, and, frankly, at the box office, no other Star Trek features would have followed.

Generally considered by a lot of classic Star Trek fans as the best of the original cast's film outings, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan took the reestablishment of the franchise for granted, and then ran with the ball, revitalizing the series and finding just the right balance between rip-roaring action and more relatively nuanced character exposition. If Star Trek: The Motion Picture suffered from a certain bloat and portentousness, The Wrath of Khan rightly returns the series to an almost B-movie ethos which suits it perfectly.

This second film in the series famously acts as a sort of dual sequel, not only to the first feature film, but to one of the best remembered episodes of the original series, "Space Seed." Ricardo Montalban portrays Khan, a genetically engineered "superman" whom Kirk exiled in the television series after Khan led a failed coup aboard the Enterprise. Now all these years later, a hapless Chekhov (Walter Koenig) and Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) stumble on Khan and his hoard, who have suffered the sandy slings and arrows of a not very hospitable desert planet in the intervening decades. That sets up the main plot arc of Khan seeking revenge against Kirk. Against this a subplot involving Kirk's long ago paramour, her son, and the "Genesis Project" (a technology which infuses dead planets with life) plays out. This was the film debut of Kirstie Alley, playing Vulcan Lt. Saavik (a role which would subsequently be taken over by Robin Curtis).

For both of you who have neither seen nor heard of the film, I won't post spoilers here, other than to state that at least two major characters die, one a "guest star" in this film and another a recurring feature of both the television and film franchises. The second death was one of the worst kept "secrets" in film history and in fact led to director Nicholas Meyer playing with the audience by showing several major characters supposedly being killed in the opening scene.

The Wrath of Khan is a fun roller coaster ride which attempts, sometimes fairly successfully, to inject some character ruminations into the proceedings, especially with Kirk's advancing age and growing intimations of his mortality. That of course mirrors the eventual death of one of the main characters (and the other one, with a uniquely personal connection to Kirk), not to mention the apparent agelessness of the genetically enhanced Khan. Meyer has a firm hand on the directorial reigns, especially impressive considering his relative inexperience in the film idiom when this film was made. While Khan doesn't have the nonstop visual splendor of the first film, it more than makes up for it with fine attention to character detail which is, after all, what catapulted the original series to cult status to begin with.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock might best be summed up with a simple, "They find him."

But seriously, folks, (and this second film in what turned out to be something of a trilogy is deadly serious at times) the heartbreak and malaise that overtook the climax of Wrath of Khan continues unabated here, with Bones getting sucked into the gaping maw of something that looks like schizophrenia. On top of the mortal repercussions following in the wake of the battle with Khan, Kirk and crew then find out that the Enterprise is about to be decommissioned. Not exactly the stuff of light, frothy comedy.

The Genesis Planet turns out to not only hold the key of Spock's fate, but also the main conflict in this film, as the Enterprise crew attempts to prevent the Klingons from utilizing the Genesis technology as a weapon. This film returned the Star Trek franchise firmly back to its core characters, its real strength, under the wise guidance of first time director Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy mentions in his informative commentary track that the first film was too much about the Enterprise itself, and not the people who inhabit it. If The Wrath of Khan moved squarely back to character, it was focused more on Montalban's commanding presence. For all its depressive qualities, The Search for Spock finally finds the emotional core that was always the real drawing power of Star Trek.

For every "City on the Edge of Forever" in the original Star Trek, there was a "The Trouble with Tribbles." Well, maybe not literally, but the original series had the unique capability to have fun with itself, despite the critical perception of Shatner and crew as unabashed egotistical hams (and I'm not really arguing with that assessment). That same slyly winking quality infuses the wonderful Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, perhaps the most tonally successful of all the Star Trek films, and most definitely the most unashamedly enjoyable. This is the film you really should start your Star Trek adventure with, if somehow you're not previously familiar with the television series. This is, to time travel back a few decades myself and engage in a little bygone parlance, a hoot and a half.

Star Trek: The Voyage Home finds the finally reunited crew journeying back a few centuries to 1986, where they must retrieve a humpback whale to prevent future (or is that present?) annihilation. It's a patently silly premise, but it actually works within the context of this blatantly hilarious film.

The fun of course is seeing these 23rd century fish out of water attempting to get a very large 20th century fish into water, and running into time travel conundrums every step of the way. Everything from slang ("What do you think he meant by 'exact change,'" Spock queries Kirk after they unsuccessfully attempt to board a bus) to the annoyances of punk rock are brilliantly skewered. Catherine Hicks is along for the ride as a whale scientist and putative love interest for Kirk. A somewhat melodramatic subplot featuring Chekhov is ultimately a little silly, but it doesn't detract very much from what is simply a fun and funny outing with the Enterprise crew. Director Nimoy again wisely understood that after the tsuris of the last two Star Trek films, the audience was probably craving something less weighty and portentous, and he delivers that in spades in The Voyage Home.

For every peak, there's a valley, and such is the general consensus about The Voyage Home's follow-up, the largely lamentable Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. After two outings as director, Nimoy stepped aside to let his co-star William Shatner take the reigns. Whether or not that is the main reason for the film's paltry charms is a matter for debate, but the fact is The Final Frontier takes all the goodwill fostered by The Voyage Home and squanders it on a patently silly story with hardly any redeemable characteristics.

Did you know Spock had a half-brother? Evidently no one else did, either, until this film, which posits Sybok (strangely similar to Shylock--is he half-Jewish?) as the villain of the piece, another half-breed who, unlike Spock, has gone over to "the dark side" of emotional imbalance. Sybok has taken a slew of people hostage on a planet and of course the Enterprise crew sets off to rescue them. Sybok then seizes control of the Enterprise. (Does any baddie ever not sieze control of the Enterprise? You'd think they'd have a combination lock or something by now). Sybok is convinced he's in direct communion with God and needs to get to the area of space where God is in order to further understand the Deity's motivations.

That sets the Enterprise out on a quest to cross "The Great Barrier," an imaginary borderline between explored and unexplored space. Suffiice to say that after much huffing and puffing, Kirk more or less regains control of the ship and then pilots it to this "undiscovered country," whereupon the main characters alight on a planet that may or may not be inhabited by, you guessed it, God. Even writing this summary makes me giggle a little. And, oh, did I forget to mention the Enterprise is being chased by a renegade Klingon out to assassinate Kirk just for the pure pleasure of it?

The Final Frontier is really a pretty hopeless mess. About the only thing to recommend it are the nice bookending segments in Yosemite, where we at least get a little of the classic Star Trek repartee between Kirk, Spock, and Bones. Otherwise, this is the nadir of the original cast Star Trek film experience.

Nicholas Meyer finally got his wish to name a film after the line from Hamlet when the last of the original cast movies was titled Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (a title that was originally attached to The Wrath of Khan). The Undiscovered Country goes back to the ecological themes of The Voyage Home, mining much the same lighthearted spirit, but also working in a darker subtext as longtime enemies, the Klingons and the United Federation of Planets, find they need to work together to avert catastrophe (an obvious parallel to the downing of the Berlin Wall and end of the Soviet Union and, at least for a little while, to the Cold War).

Beginning with an explosion that serves as a not so subtle stand in for Chernobyl, The Undiscovered Country is the most political of the Star Trek films, and decidedly fascinatingly so (to paraphrase Spock) at times. We get a full fledged attempt at interplanetary peace, met with an insurgency that will fight at any cost to maintain warlike conditions. Sound familiar? But it's in the smaller moments that The Undiscovered Country finds its true resonance, and indeed, at least relatively speaking, its profundity. Watch, for example, Brock Peters' obvious distaste as he spouts a monologue about racial intolerance.

The film is also notable for its many star turns, including Christopher Plummer chewing the scenery as a one-eyed Klingon, and a sort of fun cameo by Iman as a shapeshifter who ends up doubling Kirk himself (wasn't that a Star Trek episode?). Kim Cattrall is also on hand as a Vulcan who may have some ulterior motives of her own, and David Warner is nicely restrained (at least for a Klingon) as Gorkon (read Gorbachev), the High Councilor who hopes for peace at last. At least one veteran of another Star Trek enterprise (no pun intended), Michael Dorn is also on hand (Rene Auberjonois' cameo is missing from this theatrical version).

There's a certain melancholy that creeps over this film as it nears its denouement. After many faux "final" films, it was obvious to everyone that The Undiscovered Country would indeed be the last in the Star Trek film franchise to present the original cast. When Kirk avers that the crew needs to "take its time" returning home for the long put off decommissioning of the Enterprise, it feels like a message to everyone who has ever loved Star Trek in any of its many incarnations. It's always hard to say goodbye to an old and trusted friend.

The Blu-ray

I must say I was repeatedly underwhelmed with the image quality in a lot of these films. All of them sport an AVC codec with 2.35:1 OARs, and there is abundant detail and generally excellent to superb color in all of them. But there are also annoying artifacts, such as omnipresent DNR in all the films, some really bad edge enhancement in The Voyage Home, as well as problems with the BD's superior resolution revealing some fairly bad flaws in the source elements (the opticals at the end of Star Trek: The Motion Picture show their "seams" quite obviously). These are definitely a step up from SD-DVDs, but, as has been reported repeatedly, only Wrath of Khan underwent a complete restoration, and it shows (and I mean that both positively with regard to that film in particular and negatively with regard to the rest in the set). In a sort of cruel irony, the best overall looking film next to Khan is The Final Frontier. You're not going to scream in horror at any of these transfers, but similarly I doubt very few of you are going to be rubbing your eyes in surprised disbelief at their quality.

Happily, the repurposed Dolby TrueHD 7.1 English mixes are for the most part quite excellent, with a lot of really superb LFE at times and a surprising amount of immersion in not only ambient environments, but dialogue as well. Everything from the roar of explosions in The Undiscovered Country to the more subtle and omnipresent water sounds of The Voyage Home are rendered with precision and excellent fidelity. There's little telltale aging in any of these soundtracks; if only the image quality were as good as these. The range of underscores, from Goldsmith to Rosenman to Eidelman, are also well reproduced, and mixed expertly throughout the surround channels. Also available are French DD 2.0 and Spanish mono mixes, as well as subtitles in all soundtrack languages and Portuguese.

There is an impressive (some would say oppressive) amount of bonuses in this set, the best of which are the multiple commentaries by various filmmakers and participants like Meyer, Nimoy, and Shatner. If the Okuda commentaries occasionally stray into pure silliness at times (does anyone really believe The Final Frontier is much better than dreck?--the Okudas evidently do), they at least have a fan's true love and devotion for the series. Aside from the list below, all of which are contained on each film's disc, there is a seventh bonus disc, Captains' Summit, featuring a nice round table with Shatner, Nimoy, Stewart and Frakes, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. The only minus is it barely runs an hour. Each disc also offers BD Live, which currently has Trivia Quizzes running. There are also "Library Computer" options on all discs, which offer a spate of pop up factoids about various facets of the production. Otherwise, you get:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture:
• Audio commentary: Michael & Denise Okuda, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Daren Dochterman
• Featurettes (HD): "The Longest Trek: Writing the Motion Picture," "Special Star Trek Reunion," "Starfleet Academy: The Mystery Behind V'ger"
• Deleted Scenes, Storyboards, Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan:
• Audio commentaries: director Nicholas Meyer (previously released); Nicholas Meyer and Manny Coto (new to BD)
• Featurettes (HD): "James Horner: Composing Genesis," "A Tribute to Ricardo Montalban," "Collecting Star Trek's Movie Relics," "Starfleet Academy: The Mystery Behind Ceti Alpha VI"
• Featurettes (SD): "Captain's Log," "Designing Khan," "Where No Man Has Gone Before: The Visual Effects of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," "The Star Trek Universe: A Novel Approach"
• Interviews, Storyboards, Theatrical Trailers<
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
• Audio commentaries: Director Leonard Nimoy, writer/producer Harve Bennett, director of photography Charles Correll and Robin Curtis; Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor
• Featurettes (HD): "Industrial Light & Magic: The Visual Effects of Star Trek," "Spock: The Early Years and Star Trek," "Science Fiction Museum Hall of Fame"
• Featurettes (SD): "Captain's Log," "Space Docks and Birds of Prey," "Speaking Klingon," "Klingon and Vulcan Costumes," "Terraforming and the Prime Directive," "Starfleet Academy: The Mystery Behind the Vulcan Katra Transfer"
• Still Galleries
• Storyboards
• Theatrical Trailers
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home:
• Audio commentaries: William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (previously released); Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (new to BD)
• Featurettes (HD): "Pavel Chekov's Screen Moments," "The Three-Picture Saga," "Star Trek for a Cause," "Starfleet Academy: The Whale Probe"
• Featurettes (SD): "Time Travel: The Art of the Possible," "The Language of Whales," "A Vulcan Primer, Kirk's Women," "Future's Past: A Look Back," "On Location," "Dailies Deconstruction," "Below-the-Line: Sound Design," "From Outer Space to the Ocean," "The Bird of Prey," "Roddenberry Scrapbook," "Featured Artist: Mark Lenard"
• Interviews, Still Galleries, Storyboards, Theatrical Trailers
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier:
• Audio commentaries: William Shatner and Liz Shatner (previously released); Michael & Denise Okuda and Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Daren Dochterman (new to BD)
• Featurettes (HD): "Star Trek Honors NASA," "Hollywood Walk of Fame: James Doohan," "Starfleet Academy: Nimbus III"
• Featurettes (SD): "Herman Zimmerman: A Tribute," "Original Interview: William Shatner," "Cosmic Thoughts," "That Klingon Couple," "A Green Future?," "Harve Bennett's Pitch to the Sales Team," "The Journey: A Behind-the-Scenes Documentary," "Makeup Tests," "Pre-Visualization Models," "Rock Man in the Raw," "Star Trek V Press Conference"
• Deleted Scenes, Still Gallery, Storyboards, Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country:
• Audio commentaries: Director Nicholas Meyer and screenwriter Denny Martin Flinn (previously released); Larry Nemecek and Ira Steven Behr (new to BD)
• Featurettes (HD): "Tom Morga: Alien Stuntman," "To Be or Not to Be: Klingons," "Shakespeare and Starfleet Academy: Praxis"
• Featurettes (SD): "Conversations with Nicholas Meyer," "Klingons: Conjuring the Legend," "Federation Operatives," "Penny's Toy Box," "Together Again," "The Perils of Peacemaking," "DeForest Kelley: A Tribute," "Original Cast Interviews"
• Documentary (SD): "Stories from Star Trek VI"
• Convention Footage, Still Gallery, Storyboards, Theatrical Trailers

Final Thoughts:
Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture Collection is a mixed bag, part of which can be laid directly at the varying quality of the films themselves. More troublingly, however, is the odd decision not to release the Director's Cut of Motion Picture (not to mention the less radically tweaked revised versions of several others). Does this mean yet another high-priced "collection" is in the works? I have to say my hunch is it is, and I find that lamentable. Perhaps more pertinent to this particular release is the sometimes iffy image quality. The plus side of this release is the handsome packaging, the really superb extras, and the overall excellence of several of the films. It's up to you as individuals whether you see the transporter half full or half empty. This could have been a DVD Talk Collector Series title if Paramount had taken a little more care with it. As it is, it's Recommended.

"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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