Coming up on April 5th (also known as Star Trek Day) Paramount+ is releasing a 4K UHD upgrade of Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition, with a physical media release coming this fall. This has been a highly anticipated legacy Star Trek project ever since it was teased back in 2019. Work on the new edition reunited the original 2001 DVD DE production team of producer David C. Fein, restoration supervisor Mike Matessino, and visual effects supervisor Daren R. Dochterman. TrekMovie had a chance to talk with producer David C. Fein about bringing director Robert Wise’s “final cut” into the modern era.
Can you talk us through how difficult it was to make this project finally happen?
There is no better time for this to have ever happened, as now. Now is the time when the breakthroughs that we’ve had technologically really delivered on what we could do, and how we can make it so much better than it ever was before. So how it happened? Of course, we did the original work in 1999, and the film [The Director’s Edition] came out in 2001. That was always intended as the work cut to show the studio to go back and do it on film. We were thrilled with it, but it couldn’t hit everything. It could hit what would be possible from DVD standards, and the studio was thrilled because that’s where the studio was making the money at the time. We presented it to them, and they said: “This is beautiful. This is wonderful, thank you. But we don’t see a reason to go to high def right now.”
So things change over the years. It was incredibly important to [Robert Wise] that his legacy be The Director’s Edition, because he always was very upset that the theatrical wasn’t finished, and it meant the world to him that The Director’s Edition was. So having to watch the theatrical come out again, in high def, because there was no Director’s Edition, he took me aside at his condo, sat me down, and said, “You know, Dave, I need you to promise me something, Never give up. This film has to be The Director’s Edition. And it has to be on film or at least film master quality.” And I gave him my promise that I would never stop.
Over the years, I’d go back to the studio and say, “Hey, now it’s time for us to go back and do it again.” And they’d say, “Well, you know, the high def [Theatrical version] is still here, we don’t really see putting in the time and it isn’t cost-effective.” So we kept going and kept going. There were two important breakthroughs that happened around the 40th anniversary of the film. Number one, this film seems to have this 20-year cycle, we had the renewed interest from the 40th anniversary, and [number two] we finally reached a place where I knew we could also do it cost-effectively, at film [quality] level. Originally, we could never have done the production, even close to the budget we had today, which was still reasonable, anytime sooner, and at this quality. And that was my goal.
When I went to the studio, I said, we are producing a new digital negative. That’s what my goal is, I’m going to do a new digital negative so that it will be timeless and available in all formats for the future. And now it has been finished in a way that is able to be used in every format for the future as well. So speaking to them, they understood, they loved it, and it was just a matter of going within the studio to figure out where we get the budget, how we worked it out, and it took a while to do it. And Paramount+ were our wonderful saviors, who came in and said, “Of course, let’s do it for Paramount+.” And I said, “So long as we get our film negative, let’s go for it.” Paramount+ has been incredibly supportive and helped get the job going.
What has changed specifically in the technology in the last 20 years? And how did that change the way you approached it, compared to how you and the team did 20 years ago?
What’s changed over the 20 years really has been computer technology, because one of the ways that we were even able to do The Director’s Edition originally was we were able to bring it into the editing system and really have the ability of adjusting everything in the project as we went along, having it freely there to work on it. And really, it wasn’t until the invention of Thunderbolt 3, if we’re going to start talking about real technology levels, that we got to the point where we could bring the film into a computer and keep it as an uncompressed negative, and do the assembly, but also do work on every shot, sitting in front of an editing system. And not only do the edit but also be able to adjust everything. And pretty much just about every shot in the film has had some alteration or touch to it. A lot of that is just going in to bring out the subtle details in the negative, but also going shot-by-shot multiple times, being careful to get that dirt and excess grain out of it. Because that was my big focus with Daren and everybody involved that we needed to take out every problem that drew people out of the story. My focus now was, as encouraged by Bob, to make it the best story it can be, not the best restoration of something old. So my goal was to focus on the storytelling and use every tool available — color, sound effects — to make it compelling, cohesive, and engaging more than ever, and the edit hasn’t changed. But there’s so much more going on now in the background, and even visually than ever before, to really amplify that and give it an exhilarating experience.
Speaking of the visual effects. There are a few subtle things that weren’t in the 2001 edition. So were these things that weren’t possible but Bob wanted them or things you guys feel were in the spirit of what he wanted? Like the addition of the travel pod.
That was actually something that was intended to be done in the 2001 version, we actually always wanted to put the travel pod on the front of the office complex. And frankly, that was more a matter of time. And it wasn’t something that was essential to get in originally, because it didn’t change the story as much. The goal was to get everything that we wanted to get in originally into it this time. And we did. And just finding the original elements made it even more possible and beautiful.
Let’s talk about that. You had the original camera negative, and you had Trumbull’s 65mm elements.
Not all of it, much of it, there were still a lot of holes of things that were missing. The Paramount archive did an incredible job of cataloging and storing everything that they had. A lot of materials have been lost over the years. Trumbull’s 65mm material was scanned at 8K, Dykstra’s VistaVision material was scanned at 6K and the 35mm anamorphic was scanned at 4K.
Were Trumbull and Dykstra involved with you guys?
Trumbull was a consultant on the project. We spoke to John [Dykstra] about it, but he wasn’t directly involved in reviewing anything we’ve done. Unfortunately, it breaks my heart that Doug [Trumbull] didn’t get a chance to see the final work, but I know that he was thrilled with the quality and what was coming together. I’ll tell you the original composites for the film, I never realized that they were not nearly as sharp as I would have expected them to be. And when we were getting in those 65-millimeter elements, I fell off my chair, it was so gorgeous, just unbelievable, and clean. The clarity and sharpness. And then it would be sad because we’d find a shot in the film where we didn’t have the elements to work on it. And that’s why it was important that also over the past 20 years, I’ve been studying every single tool that’s out there that does not cause any picture loss, but is able to just bring out more of the details and found a good balance so that even the shots we didn’t re-composite, we were still able to bring them to a level that at least balance and generally match with what the other shots are, even though the other ones are a little bit clearer and better. Another benefit, in shots like the Enterprise leaving drydock, we found the Earth element that was always intended to be there, but wasn’t part of the composite. So that was an absolutely thrilling moment of putting that back in. And Daren did a beautiful job on it.
Now, this goes beyond what we see, it sounds different as well. It’s more intricate. There are some elements that we didn’t hear before, but you’re not creating anything new, I assume. So what can you talk us through about how you updated the sound for The Director’s Edition?
Well, this is not polishing, it’s working on the storytelling. So yes, there is a tremendous amount of improvement in the quality of what we had before. Because we have the ADR [dialogue replacement] tapes, we’re able to digitally transfer them. Paramount did a digital transfer for us, so zero generation loss, we were able to go back in and take all of those lines that have been muffled and adversely affected, you know, there were problems with most of the dialogue, because of the dubbing over and the rush. All of those pieces that were ADR have been put back into the film over the muddy ones. So they sound beautiful. What’s also wonderful is because we didn’t have the ADR before, we didn’t realize that some of the scenes that were put back in where we used the sound originally from the Special Longer Version because that’s all that was available to us. Well, Bob directed the actors to loop the dialogue for a number of those scenes. So now, we’re able to have [Wise’s] choice for the performances of the way that the lines are stated, for scenes that were restored to the film, but didn’t have the ADR dialogue originally.
So can you give us an example? Isn’t there a scene with Scotty and Decker and the Ilia probe that was deleted?
It is a deleted scene, it’s not going back into the film, it’s going to be put on the physical media [as a bonus]. It was a scene that we found 22 years ago, but there was no audio for it. And what we found was obviously, that at the late stage of the game, they were still considering leaving it in the film, so those volumes of dialogue were looped for the scene, and we were able to go back and put the lines in. So now the scene plays. And we actually finished the scene, we went back and did foley and sound effects and everything to make the scene really work now, even though it’s a scene that doesn’t belong back in the film, and that actually started out with Kirk making an announcement just to engineering. And that announcement would be played so that they could ask the probe questions, and that starts out with Scotty angrily saying something to her. But what’s great is we also found, this time around, that because we knew we were putting the scene back together, we didn’t have Scotty’s angle. Now we do. But that’s a perfect example of where the fact that there is looping existing, that there’s something more that can be seen from it.
Those extra scenes on the bridge or within the film that were intended to be looped and used in the film were just used based on what we had available before. Now the dialogue is improved. Now, as I said before, Bob’s focus, and what he told me from the start, was always focus on storytelling and use every tool available. We used The Director’s Edition audio as a base. And yes, there is new sound, because we even found additional dialogue that was intended to be used in the background from the actors that are now in different places within the film to fill in those holes. Aurally, this is a different film from 2001, the new Atmos mix is marvelous.
So if you’re a casual fan, and you’ve seen this film, what do you feel people will take away watching and listening to this, who maybe have dismissed the film in the past?
What I’m excited about is that even when they made the film originally, it never reached the potential of where it was going to go. Even the color is taking a major role this time. When they did the color grading, it was just as rushed in ’79 as everything else. It takes a while to time and carefully plan out the color for a film — they had four days, the whole film was colored in four days in ’79, and that remained what everybody matched to in every video transfer all along until 2001, where we did the best we could to kind of get it closer to the way that it should look. But at that time for home video, you color graded at the start, not at the end. Because you have that mastered, then you worked on assembling. When you’re doing it on film you’re working on the negative, then you go in and you start working on the color grading. So now with the new digital master, the Klingons are a darker, more gritty space, whereas when you’re on the Enterprise the lighting can change for the scenes, to keep it focused on the moment that’s happening and on the characters. There’s subtlety, your eyes are drawn into the characters through the color. Plus with HDR, where you can have the brightness and darkness and color levels that are amazing, we have the scene of the probe on the bridge, we see it now it is amazingly bright, because that’s what’s happening in the film. That’s the purpose of it being bright, because it can be, and the sound is so much more powerful to carry those scenes. Like the wormhole sequence, where the sound now moves with it, because the whole experience and the whole concept is to make sure that the story draws you in. Because that’s what we want. We want to be taken into an adventure and be pulled into it. All of these little aspects of ways that are compelling and storytelling were lost when they did it originally and lost all these years. And it wasn’t until now that we’re able to bring all of this back in and make it be a coherent film. It’s a different movie now that works so much better. I’m excited for people to see it because it is compelling.
And now with the sound. There are things going on in the film now, that happen, basically off-screen, or were happening that you don’t really consciously acknowledge. But for the first time, they’re suggested. And there’s so much happening to give it a more rich experience and a rich delivery of that story. It was all about making it this new experience that draws you in and takes you and gives you that film joy of just floating into it and doesn’t have any of the flaws over the years, other shortcomings that were there. It’s cleaned up, and one of my goals was, early on, I told everybody: let’s do everything we can to take anything that’s in the film that takes you out of the film out, like the huge grain, that’s suddenly all you’re looking at is grain going by. It can’t lose the detail because there’s so much beauty in what we’re seeing. But that grain distracted you. Like the big shot where the Enterprise is coming out of V’Ger and all you saw is blue with lots of grain. Now it’s smooth, it works without losing the quality. That’s the thing. There’s so much love in it, and giving us the experience of exhilaration at moments, that’s not the word that I ever would have used for the film before. So my greatest hope is that people will see it for what it is. It’s a film for 2022 and I’m so excited for everyone to be able to see it.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition debuts on Paramount+ April 5, 2022, with a disc release coming in September.
Find more news about TMP-DE and other Star Trek home media and streaming at TrekMovie.com.