Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979, Robert Wise), the restored director’s edition

Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Restored Director’s Edition occasionally feels like a fan project. Or at least a temp project. Like the new opening titles, set in gold. They look like they were done using an iPhone app. Then there are shots where they couldn’t find the original materials, so the picture suddenly looks terrible, like a hacky up-convert to 4K. There are plenty of spectacular restored shots, but when they’re bad, they’re really bad. And they’re usually during effects sequences.

The reason for restoring the director’s edition is because it was made for DVD, and they didn’t do the new special effects in high definition. It took the restoration team a while to convince the studio. The end credits break out the first and second teams, and some of the names are the same; they came back twenty years later to do the same work again, just with eight million more pixels.

The result’s… okay?

In addition to the bad titles and the damaged original footage or whatever, there are a few times the changed special effects don’t work in high definition. Only once is it distracting, when William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley all lose the edges of their bodies in front of a starfield because portrait mode choked on their pajama costumes.

Some of the CGI is good, some of it is middling, and a couple shots are lousy. It’s sometimes annoying but usually forgivable; they’re well-intentioned.

Content-wise, the narrative is unchanged from the last director’s edition (as far as I remember it). A space cloud of enormous power invades the galaxy, headed straight toward Earth, and the only starship in intercept range is the Enterprise. Except they’re undergoing a massive retrofit to make the ship movie-ready in 1979, not impressive for TV in 1966; plus, they’ve got a new captain, Stephen Collins, leading the same old crew.

But not Shatner, who’s a desk jockeying admiral now, or Kelley, who’s retired to take up some weird future New Age thing if his gold medallion is any indication, or Nimoy, who’s retired to his home planet Vulcan to give up all emotion and… get a more blinged-out gold medallion as a reward. They really missed the chance for Kelley and Nimoy to compare bling.

When Star Trek: The Motion Picture isn’t meandering through its sci-fi thriller plot, it’s vaguely about Shatner desperately wanting to relive his glory days and using catastrophe to do it, dragging Kelley along because Shatner can’t do it without him. There’s actually maybe the argument Admiral Kirk’s going through some depression and saving the known universe is just the way to get out of that funk. So long as he gets some help from his friends.

Shatner and Kelley act that arc, which is occasionally in the script. Nimoy shows up later and sort of figures in, but not really. Shatner’s arc stops when he and Kelley get to worry about Nimoy instead. But more significant than either of those arcs is Collins’s G-rated romance with Persis Khambatta. They used to know each other when he was stationed on her free love planet. They’ve got a bunch of unresolved feelings—not to mention Shatner assuming command of Collins’s ship and everyone on the crew being thrilled—and it gets more runtime than any of the other arcs. Also, it figures into the A-plot of the alien spaceship out to destroy Earth.

There is lots of good acting from Shatner, but Kelley’s an absolute deadpan riot throughout. Nimoy’s okay once he gets over his “logical means rude” bit. Collins is bland but affable. Wise directs the heck out of Shatner and Khambatta in entirely different ways but to similarly strong effect. Even as the finale plods—before racing too quick to the finish—Khambatta’s mesmerizing.

Sturdy support from the rest of the crew—Walter Koenig gets the most fun, George Takei and Nichelle Nichols get lots of background busywork, James Doohan’s around in the first act, then relegated to occasional “dannae ken if she can take any more” scenes. Unfortunately, Motion Picture’s got a clunky story, something the director’s editions improve but can’t fix.

Still, the special effects are glorious, the Jerry Goldsmith’s music’s peerless, and the movie’s generally great looking. Except for the pajama costumes, of course. Wise and the very large cast do wonders even with those silly, silly costumes. There are lots of people around at all times; even if they don’t get lines, they do have to react to the dire circumstances, all while in onesies.

I do wish they didn’t have that really bad footage in this version, but otherwise, all drive systems are good to go.

Leave a Reply