Today, in celebration of Star Trek Day, Paramount+ has released the remastered Director’s Edition of the first Star Trek feature film, 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, now in 4K UHD.
They gave her back to me, Scotty
Set on board a refit USS Enterprise, the film reunited the original cast of the television series, with stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy returning to their legendary roles of Kirk and Spock. An enormously powerful alien force that destroys everything in its path is heading towards Earth, and the crew of the Enterprise must try and stop it while learning about its true nature.
For all its grand scale, The Motion Picture is ultimately a film about identity and finding one’s path. Kirk, Spock, and V’Ger are all searching for something that will give them direction and make them feel whole, with each of them finding their answers in very different ways.
The film as released in 1979 was often critiqued for its somewhat languid pace, with some fans dubbing it, “The Motionless Picture.” While its pacing left something to be desired, it does tell a story very much in the tradition of the original show while giving Star Trek a greater sense of scale and grandeur. And its great craftsmanship was recognized by the Academy, giving the film three Oscar nominations – Set Decoration, Visual Effects, and Original Score.
The 4K UHD release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Director’s Edition brings director Robert Wise’s vision of the film into the modern era with a major update in visuals and sound, and the result is spectacular. A labor of love in every respect, the film is a visual and aural experience like never before and can finally be seen as the epic film it was designed to be.
Ready or not, she launches
Star Trek: The Motion Picture has had a strange and difficult journey, as far as movies go. Born out of a pilot for a proposed television revival of the original series, the film began production in August 1978 without a finished script and wrapped principal photography later than scheduled. That was only the preamble to a much larger problem: the original company commissioned to do all the effects work on the film failed to produce any usable footage, forcing Paramount to hire visual effects pioneers Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Andromeda Strain, Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and John Dykstra (Star Wars) to complete the work. Having only 7 months to finish the effects in order to meet a locked-in release date in December, the teams worked around the clock – literally. While the visual effects were being created, director Robert Wise and editor Todd Ramsay were trying to find an editorial shape for the film, despite often having large holes where the effects should be. This sometimes forced them to drop whole sequences into the film as the footage was coming in, with little time to massage the edits, which also affected the sound mix and color timing. The film ultimately met its release date but received a lukewarm response from audiences, who were unaware that what they were seeing was a compromised version of the film, which was a great disappointment to Robert Wise.
Fast forward to the late ’90s, and the team of restoration supervisor Mike Matessino, producer David Fein, and visual effects supervisor Daren Dochterman teamed up with Wise to craft a new cut of the film that would address some of the issues and enhance the story. They tightened the pace of the film, fixed some of the effects shots, added some others, and put together a new sound mix.
One of the biggest changes made, from a visual storytelling perspective, was the reveal of V’Ger. The theatrical version skipped over this entirely due to time constraints, so what V’Ger really looked like from afar had remained a mystery for more than 20 years. Among the edits Wise made were adding back a few scenes that didn’t make the theatrical cut, including some important Spock moments that frankly never should have been cut in the first place. They also added a star field to the film’s 2-minute overture (which had previously played over black and was sometimes mistakenly cut out by projectionists). A throwback to the golden age of cinema, The Motion Picture was one of the last films to have an overture (along with Disney’s The Black Hole, also released in 1979).
Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition debuted to positive notices in 2001, with many saying it was clearly a superior version of the film. Unfortunately, even this version had its compromises. The print provided by the studio was subpar, and the decision to produce it in standard definition meant it was not ready for the then-upcoming HD era. The team has spent the past 20 years advocating for a return to the film in order to bring it up to current standards and future-proof it so that it can be enjoyed for many years to come. Producer David Fein chatted with us recently about this and much more, which you can read here.
A Totally New Enterprise?
Af for this new 4K version, the cut of the film is the same as – or very close to – the 2001 Director’s Edition. What is different are the changes, both large and small, to the film’s visuals and soundtrack.
The original camera negative was scanned at 4K resolution and any instances of dirt or damage were fixed. The team made use of industry standard color grading tools to regrade certain shots and give everything a consistent overall look. In the past, the film’s color palette was a bit bland and veered toward the “cold” side. It is now slightly warmer, particularly in the flesh tones. The added warmth makes the proceedings more appealing and more in line with director Wise’s original intentions. It also appears that a certain amount of sharpening was applied to some softer shots, but it’s tastefully done. All of it leads to an image that showcases Richard Kline’s cinematography and gives it a polished veneer that makes the film look like the expensive studio picture that it was. It far exceeds Paramount’s recent 4K transfer of the theatrical cut.
The visual effects see an even larger upgrade. Paramount was able to locate many of Douglas Trumbull’s 65mm film elements as well as John Dykstra’s VistaVision footage, which were scanned at 8K and 6K, respectively, then re-composited and cut into the picture. The results are absolutely stunning. The textures of the Enterprise hull, the layers of the cloud, the details on the V’Ger spacecraft… virtually every original effects shot in the film looks noticeably better.
The visual effects that were added as part of the original Director’s Edition are also here but tweaked a bit, owing to the increased resolution and 20 years of advances in digital effects technology. All of it integrates beautifully with the rest of the film.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of this project is the new Dolby Atmos sound mix, which is markedly different from any previous version of the film. It is a very active mix with both big and subtle moments that create an environment far denser and more layered than before. Dialogue appears to have been mixed to have a richer lower end, making what sometimes seemed a bit tinny now sound much fuller. Every environment is more sonically active. The Enterprise is full of many different sounds that really gives you the feel of being on starship, and V’Ger itself has far more of an auditory presence and feels more menacing and mysterious.
The team’s discovery of the original ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) tapes gave them the ability to use them in fun and sometimes surprising ways. There was a great deal of material recorded and never used and some of it is applied here in a way that makes the movie’s world feel much larger and more lively.
The music cues from Jerry Goldsmith’s legendary score have been remixed under the supervision of engineer/producer Bruce Botnick, a longtime colleague of Goldsmith’s who was part of the original scoring sessions in 1979. Some of the cues feel like they’ve been remixed in a way that favors a particular instrument, but by and large the score remains the same and sounds better than ever.
This is a superb sound mix that really brings the film alive and matches the incredible visuals.
The human adventure begins again
After 42 years, the film has finally been given all the resources and time necessary to present it in the best possible way. It takes all of the adjustments made in the original Director’s Edition and improves upon them. The various changes, large and small, greatly enhance the story the film is trying to tell and truly let it stand as the most epic of the Star Trek feature films. Even longtime detractors might find the film more to their liking now. For fans of this film, well, there is no comparison. This is the definitive version of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
The film is available now on the Paramount+ streaming service in the USA. And in May you can see it on the big screen during a 3-day at theaters across the USA with Fathom Events. Blu-ray and digital releases of the film will arrive in September from Paramount Home Video. International availability has not been announced yet.
More to come
TrekMovie will be taking a closer look at the many changes in the film in the coming days, and look for an in-depth discussion on our Shuttle Pod podcast soon.
Find more news about TMP-DE and other Star Trek home media and streaming at TrekMovie.com.