Today we recognize Star Trek as one of the most progressive and intriguing of sci-fi franchises. But despite being quite the trailblazer of a TV series, Star Trek only lasted about three seasons in its original run during the 1960s.
There was a low-budget animated series in the early 1970s but not a whole lot else. Around the time that Star Wars had debuted in 1977 to a massive box office, there’d been a renewed interest in science fiction. It was the perfect time for Star Trek to jump onto the big screen with “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”.
The film, which reignited the pop culture allure of Star Trek as well as usher in a series of Star Trek movies, will soon be getting a 4K remastering this year. This is a big deal considering that the new remastering of the film will be going back to the 65mm prints to draw directly from the source for the best quality possible. For reference, 65mm prints are capable of storing high-res pictures that can be up to 8K in resolution.
These prints were discovered in Paramount’s vaults, having sat their for just such a preservation, and will make for a much more detailed version than the limitations of the 35mm print. It will make for a release that goes far beyond just improving what already exists on the initial DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film.
You may have noticed that film has often come branded as The Director’s Edition. This is because in 2001 there were computer graphics added to fix issues the director originally intended to improve that didn’t make it into the 1979 original film.
However, the 2001 release was short on time and cash which led to some visual effects still not being complete. One fix that was never finished was the presence of a travel pod for the sequence where our heroes take off towards the Enterprise. That change will be made to the 4K release among others, in addition to the improved color and sound.
Okay, so that’s all good news for Star Trek fans who have been looking forward to a pristine new transfer of the movie. But what about the movie itself? Is it any good? Well, let’s put it this way; it’s one of the most polarizing Star Trek movies.
The Motion Picture differs greatly from the other Star Trek movies since the films that followed were more about grand adventure than intriguing sci-fi stories the show was known for. What made “Star Trek” a superior show in comparison to the sillier concepts of “Lost in Space” or “Jason of Star Command” was the writing.
Beyond all the special effects of the Starship Enterprise engaging in ship-to-ship combat and encountering strange alien creatures, the show has amazing ideas that centered around humanism, desire, destiny, and political issues.
The movies, however, tended to favor more action. Look at the Star Trek episode Space Seed, which guest starred Ricardo Montalbán as war criminal Khan Noonien Singh, trying to revive a war of eugenics. It’s an exciting episode but more for Khan being a beacon of terrifying ideas about genetic superiority.
Montalbán would reprise this role in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” but as more of a violent man seeking revenge, featuring bigger hair and a bigger chest than he had in the show. Wrath of Khan is considered among Trekkies to be one of the best Star Trek movies simply for how intense the showdown is between Captain Kirk and Khan in ship-to-ship combat.
Before all that, The Motion Picture was a Star Trek film that felt closer to the series than any of the movies ever did. The central plot involves the familiar Enterprise crew being reunited for investigating a strange alien threat of a mysterious cloud heading towards Earth. Since dealing with such odd encounters is a specialty of the Enterprise, Kirk finds himself going from Admiral to Captain of the Enterprise once more.
The film touched on a lot of fascinating material to explore within Star Trek. For instance, what would happen if the ship’s transporters malfunctioned and didn’t properly arrange all the atoms of a person correctly? The results would be horrifying, obviously, but this film had the guts to address such horrors.
There’s a question of our existence when the alien cloud addresses the Enterprise crew through a humanoid robotic probe dubbed V’Ger. There’s also a deep questioning of finding purpose in our world and how mankind may be more of an arbiter of creation than they suspect.
Even when the film came out, it wasn’t exactly the Star Trek movie that most fans and non-fans were hoping for. The movie was released in 1979, just two years after the premiere of Star Wars when sci-fi action and adventure was in high demand. By comparison, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” felt like it had more in common with “2001: A Space Odyssey” than “Star Wars”.
It was a slow-moving picture which spent a lot of time just gazing at all the lavish cheesy (let unique for their era) visual effects of the alien cloud and the new and improved Starship Enterprise. These elongated shots became one of the biggest gripes of the film, to the point where even the Star Trek comedy series of Lower Decks made a joke about the slow pacing of observing starship exteriors.
The Motion Picture was the slowest burn of a Star Trek movie with a running time well over two hours. Yet because the plotting holds a closer relation to the high-concept ideas of the show, it’s also regarded as one of the more faithful films. Nearly every Star Trek film that has followed has been about featuring the most action, including the most recent film of “Star Trek Beyond” (2016) featuring intense ship combat, battles amid shifting gravity, and a motorcycle chase.
Perhaps the new remastering of The Motion Picture will garner a new love from those who haven’t seen it in years or ever. High-concept science fiction certainly seems to be in now and it’s the perfect time to reintroduce such a picture with a spiffy new 4K remaster.
“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” – The Director’s Edition will be premiering sometime this year on both 4K Blu-ray and the streaming service Paramount+.