STAR TREK Original Motion Picture Collection Blu-ray Review

     May 27, 2009

STAR TREK Original Motion Picture Collection Blu-ray (1).jpgThe short version review of Star Trek Original Motion Picture Collection is this: there have been some complaints about the picture quality of some of the Star Trek Blu-ray’s. I’m not saying I’m a greater expert than some of the people who’ve reviewed these things, but whatever qualitative differences that are to be had seem to come from the source material over anything else. If you love these films and have a Blu-ray player, you’re getting something close to definitive for at least half of the collection (the only question would be the three films that have director’s cuts). If you’re a casual fan, you might be better off buying the trilogy version. But there are plusses and minuses to most of the films, and if you’re a fan of the franchise, you can even find things to like in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. All films come in widescreen (2.35:1) and in Dolby Digital 7.1 TrueHD, and all films come with a trivia track called a library computer with factoids about the universe (not about the actors, etc.), and each film comes with a Starfleet academy brief about the film at hand (these run from 3-5 minutes and have a pretty girl talking about the science of the films. Grrr). I would argue these transfers are as good as they get. All films also come with BD-Live content, which appears to mostly be trivia games.

As for Star Trek, I was not a fan for a long time, until I came to the original series recently, and so I can respect anyone who says that Star Trek V is unredeemable garbage. It is (it even has a satellite that screams when shot), if you don’t care about the characters or the franchise enough to look past its myriad of problems. And in The Motion (less) Picture. That’s the sad part of fandom. The concessions that repetition of a bad thing can create those pockets of good, and arguably even the worst of these six have their moments.

For my reviews of each film, continue reading after the jump:

STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE

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The first film was conceived originally as a relaunch of the TV show. Stephen Collins (as Commander William Decker) and a number of the cast members were part of the original TV reboot cast, and then Star Wars changed the playing field. It was to be a film, and so the original cast came back, and Robert Wise was brought in to direct. Wise had done The Day the Earth Stood Still, but had spent most of the 1970’s floundering, having been on a lesser spin since Star!, so the film and its relative success didn’t really continue his career. Ironically, he started with Orson Welles, and edited Citizen Kane, and his career almost ended with this film, where Welles provides the narration for the trailers and TV spots.

Here the film begins with a giant space threat that destroys Klingon and humans alike. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) has been made admiral, but sees this as his chance to get his hands back on a ship. But not only does he want his old ship back, he wants Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley). Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has been training for the Colinar (whatever the fuck that is), and also decides to join up with his old gang. And there’s Scotty (Montgomery Scott) Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Sulu (George Takei) and Chekov (Walter Koenig). Added to the cast is Lt. Ilia (Persis Khambatta), who is an alien (check out her shaved head), from a race of people who really like fucking, apparently.

This film has pacing problems out the ying-yang twins. After a relatively exciting opening, it takes a while for everyone to get their stuff together to go out and find what eventually becomes V’Ger and then when they get there, there’s a lot of passing through stages of stuff. Some of it looks incredible, but Wise maintained that the timeline was so crunched on the film that he didn’t get to really edit the effects so much as place them in. Such may excuse some of the problems, but Wise was getting older, and the film suffers from a geriatric pacing, and things just taking too long to get going, and Persis Khambatta is not much of an actress.

What I like about the film is the idea that Kirk needs Bones and Spock to be a great captain. Without them, he’s unbalanced. There are four great effects shots, and it’s good to see that Wise is more interested in aping Kubrick than Lucas. But the film is mostly junk.

Extras included on this disc (besides the Library Computer Trivia Track), are a commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda, Judith and Garfield Reeves Stevens and Daren Dochterman. These are some of the biggest torch-carriers of the universe, and they give a fair commentary for one of the troubled films of the franchise, focusing mostly on the essential bits of trivia. Because the special DVD edition of the first film was about the restored director’s cut, and that version isn’t included here, all the supplements are new. There’s a making of called “The Longest Trek: Writing the Motion Picture” (11 min.) offers a perspective on the tortured pre-production, with comments from Koenig, writer Harold Livingston, the Reeves-Stevenses and associate producer Jon Povil. “Special Star Trek Reunion” gets for day background players to talk about the shooting, including one of James Doohan’s son (10 min. Ummm useless). There’s eleven deleted scenes (8 min.), two in which Sulu acts all pervy for a girl, three storyboard galleries, two trailers, and a seven TV spots.

STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN

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Okay, now on to a real movie. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one of those minor miracles. The franchise was a bit on the ropes after the first film, which was successful but not well liked. Nicholas Meyer, something of a dilettante, was brought in to write and direct, working with producer and writer Harve Bennett. Supposedly the two watched every episode and then crafted their story out of what they liked. They took a guest player, that being Ricardo Montalban, and made him the central villain, and (Meyers has to take credit for this) made him a very literate, capable man. Kirk is still an Admiral, training rookie cadets like Lt. Saavik (Kirstie Alley), but he longs to get his hands on a ship.

Khan captures Chekov and Capt. Terrell (Paul Winfield) when they mistakenly beam down to the wrong planet (Citi Alpha 5 vs. Citi Alpha 6, but it could happen to anyone), and tells of his plan to get revenge on Kirk. Watching Montalban recite his dialog is like watching a strong cat bat around a mouse with lazy precision. He rolls his words around like he knows how awesome he sounds. But Montalban never loses the malice. This film partly works just on his strengths. But Meyer understood that he wanted to make a naval film, and so it’s the prequel-sequel to Master and Commander in that way.

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This is pretty much the only great Star Trek film, and remains the only one that can truly stand alone as a great work of pulp art.

This one comes with two commentaries, the first by Meyer (from the previous SE) and a new track with Meyer and Manny Coto. All of the supplements from the original SE are included, including “Captain’s Log” (27 min.) with comments by Shatner, Nimoy, Bennett, Montalban and Meyer, “Designing Khan” (24 min.) talking to the crew about the look of the film, Original interviews with Shatner, Nimoy (in a great suit), Kelley and Montalban (11 min.), and effects-specific “Where No Man Has Gone Before The Visual Effects of Star Trek II” (18 min.) New is a James Horner interview called “Composing Genesis” (10 min.). There’s a prop collection featurette (11 min.), a featurette on people who write the tie-in novels (29 min.), thirteen still galleries, a theatrical trailer, and “A Tribute to Ricardo Montalban (5 min.) where Meyer talks about his desire to get Khan to star as Lear.

STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK

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For the third film, Leonard Nimoy took up the directorial reigns. This is probably the most underrated of Trek films, if only because it’s not that bad. The biggest problem with it is that it’d be about 40% better if it was 10% smarter. The film begins with the funeral scene form Khan, and takes off from there. It isn’t until about five minutes in that the film shows us something new, the enterprise returning home. It appears after besting Khan (SPOILER), the Genesis project has become a hot-button issue, and then everyone gets home and Sarek (Mark Lenard), Spock’s dad, shows up to figure out where Spock’s Katra is. Yeah, they’ve invented some tradition that Vulcans practice where they can save their spirit and stuff from the afterlife.

So Kirk and Co. decide to steal back the Enterprise, sabotage the only ship that could catch them, and head to Genesis to get Spock’s body back. There, they find out that Spock has been regenerated by the planet. But the Klingons are fucking pissed about Genesis, so Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) and company capture Krik’s son David (Merritt Buttrick), Saavik (Robin Curtis) and the Spock kid. John Laroquette is also one of the Klingons.

Okay, this film has a number of issues, with the worst being heavy, repetitive exposition, but what it does have is Kirk blowing up the Enterprise, and that’s worth a lot. Though the ending is pitched high, it still works, and it’s good that they spend the whole film doing the impossible (resurrecting Spock) instead of treating it as a prologue. But there’s something about this film that works even though it’s barely feature length, and the padding is a bit insufferable – especially in the Vulcan ceremony.

The film comes with a commentary by Nimoy, Bennett (sole writer on this one), DP Charles Correll and Robin Curtis, and a new track by Battlestar Galactica‘s Ronald D. Moore, and Michael Taylor (both of whom got their starts on Star Trek). Here again is a “Captain’s Log” with Bennett, Nimoy, Shatner, Curtis and Christopher Lloyd (26 min.), nerd-talk in “Terraforming and the Prime Directive” (26 min.), a new ILM featurette (14 min.), “Spock: The Early Years” (6 min.), which interviews Spock-at-17 actor Stephen Manley about his pom-farrings. “Space Docks and Bird of Prey” (28 min.) gets into the model work, “Speaking Klingon” (21 min.) speaks to Marc Okrand, who created the Klingon Language. “Klingon and Vulcan Costumes” (12 min.) gives the costume designers their due. “Star Trek and the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame” (17 min.) has Harve Bennett trek out to Seattle to talk about his films with the franchise. Then there’s two photo galleries, ten storyboard galleries, and the theatrical trailer.

STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME

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There are two types of people who don’t like part IV: those who just don’t like its light tone, and those who don’t like it because they want their space adventures less grounded in the period in which they were made. I am not one of these people, it’s fun to watch the cast bounce off each other, and call the others on their moments of overselling.

After getting everything sorted out w/r/t Spock, the crew of the Enterprise are on Vulcan preparing to return home for court-martial, when an alien presence disrupts all life as we know it on a trip to earth. It turns out they are looking for some whales, and so the crew have to go back in time (gotta go back in time) to retrieve a species that was extinct in their era.

Okay, this fish is out of water. And that’s the film, they bumble around 1986 (then modern) San Francisco looking for how to deal with their problems, but the plot is fairly tight, and the anachronisms have gone from creaky to amusing. Has anyone covered the punk song in the film? Cause it’s awesome. Though some of the jokes might miss, the chemistry of the cast is there, and it’s good to see the supporting players all being given something to do. And, that said, watching Nimoy and Shatner play comedy off of each other is revelatory. They’re great together, and the film works on its terms. And in the history of Star Trek, there’s always been the lighter episode here or there. This is the light movie, and it plays brilliantly.

The film comes with a jocular commentary by Nimoy and Shatner, and a second track with the writers of the latest Trek, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. There’s a doc called “Future’s Past” (28 min.) on the making of, with comments from Nimoy, Bennett, Catherine Hicks, and Meyer among others, “On Location” (7 min.) on the San Fran shoot, “Dalies Deconstruction” (4 min.), a sound design featurette (12 min.) and an interview with Walter Koenig (6 min.). There’s a featurette on Time Travel (11 min.), one on the language of whales (6 min.), a Vulcan primer on their culture (8 min.), “Kirk’s Women” on the multitudes of ladies that have fallen for the stud (8 min.), “Three Picture Saga” (10 min.) on how II-IV make a trilogy, and “For a Cause” (6 min.) on saving the whales. Special effects gets two featurettes “From Outer Space to the Ocean” (15 min.) and “The Bird of Prey” (3 min.), while Nimoy, Shatner and Kelley all give interviews, or did while making it (43 min.), Both Gene Rodenberry (8 min.) and Mark Lenard (13 min.) get their tributes on this disc. Then there’s a production gallery (4 min.), eight storyboard sequences, and the theatrical trailer.

STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER

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Leonard Nimoy directed two Star Trek films, and was able to turn it into a career. William Shatner directed the fifth film, and did not direct a second. The film is inarguably not very good. The premise is that Spock’s half-brother Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) wants to go through the center of the universe to find god. Kirk, Bones and Spock have to leave their vacation to go to some outer planet where Sybok has set a trap for their ship, but the Enterprise is also pursued by some feisty Klingons. Their ship is taken over, and so they go to the center of the universe. And find… something.

“What would God need of a star ship?”

The film is poorly put together, and the comic tone is mish-mashed. Shatner has complained this is partly because they were denied funding to finish the movie as intended, but – from the Yosemite opening – it just doesn’t feel right. And it’s fair to say, where Nimoy directed a film that was essentially all about his character, it did not feel as egocentric as The Final Frontier. This is also the film that suggests Scotty and Uhura want to do it.

There are two things I like about this film. One is that as scattershot as the tone is, some of the bad comedy works in context of these characters. Spock asks a question about the song “Row, row, row your boat” that feels right, even if hearing these gentlemen warble it hurts the senses. And the film ends with them killing God. Even if it’s not the God, that’s a very central to the core conceit for this franchise. They challenge superstition, and though the “therapy sessions” are awkward and highlight Kirk, there are good character moments within the pain. It’s just not a good movie in total.

The film comes with a commentary by Will and Liz Shatner, along with a second track by Michael and Denise Okuda, Judith and Garfield Reeves Stevens and Daren Dochterman. They try to be nice. The film comes with “Harve Bennett’s Pitch to the Sales team” (2 min.), a Behind the scenes documentary (29 min.) with Shatner, Bennett, and Nimoy (among others). Then there’s Make-up Tests (10 min.), “Pre-visualization Models” (2 min.) the deleted sequence “Rockman in the Raw”(6 min.) and a press conference (14 min.) with all of the cast. There’s a tribute to production design Herman Zimmerman (19 min.), an interview with Shatner (15 min.), “Cosmic Thoughts” (13 in.)  on space exploration, “That Klingon Couple” (13 min.) giving two of the Kilngon actors a chance to talk about the film, “A Green Future?” (9 min.), “Star Trek honors NASA” (10 min.), and James Doohan getting a Hollywood star (3 min.).There are four deleted scenes (4 min.), a production gallery (4 min.), three storyboard sequences, two trailers, and seven TV spots.

STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY

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As they say in the supplements, The Next Generation had been launched, and the last film was not well received by anyone. How to end it for the original crew? That’s easy: You bring back Nicholas Meyer.

Alas, Meyer came back not to reinvigorate, but to crow, and he made a film that bended the franchise more to his tastes than vice or versa. That said, Meyer is a man of relatively good taste, and so it works. A Klingon Moon explodes, dooming the Klingons to death if people don’t act fast. Spock asks that Kirk and Co. join him as the peacekeepers and ambassadors of goodwill. They meet Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner), and his crew, and most are a bit distrustful, while the Enterprise has lost Sulu (Takei) to his own ship, and on the bridge they are joined by Lt. Valeris (Kim Cattrall, in a role obviously intended to be a Saavik). After their dinner together, someone shoots the chancellor’s ship, and beams aboard to kill Gorkon and most of his crew. Kirk and Bones head over, and then are sent to jail. Such leads to where you can tell Meyer is having fun as it goes to a Sherlock Holmesian mystery.

Meyer, taking his victory lap with this film, sacrifices a lot of canonical things to have what he wants. It doesn’t really matter, though I know some have been curious about it. It just suggests that Meyer was taking advantage of the room, as it were. Nothing wrong with that. But his villain, General Chang (Christopher Plummer), is like Khan-lite as a Shakespeare-quoting asshole. But Meyer knows how to end it, and the grace notes aren’t all bad, even if this is the Scooby-Doo Trek film. The film tries to talk about America’s relationship with the U.S.S.R. and prejudice, and does okay with that, thought the metaphors are heavy handed as all get out.

This film comes with a commentary by Meyer and screenwriter Denny Martin Flynn, and a second by Trek writers Larry Nemecek and Ira Steven Behr. There’s a featurette “The Perils of Peacekeeping” (27 min.) on the film’s obvious cultural parallels, a making of (57 min.) that features Nimoy, Shatner, Meyer, etc. There’s a conversation with Meyer (10 min.), a Klingon featurette (21 min.), “Federation Operatives” (5 min.) giving returning cast members their due. “Penny’s Toy Box” (6 min.) is a tour around Paramount’s warehouse of props, while “Together Again” (5 min.) talks of Pummer’s relationship with Shatner (both are Canadians). New are a piece on stuntman Tom Morga (5 min.) and people dressing as Kilngons and playing Shakespeare (23 min.). There’s a tribute to Deforest Kelley (13 min.) and original interviews with the original crew and Iman (45 min.). Then there’s a production gallery (3 min.), four storyboard sequences, two trailers, and a 1991 con (CON!) presentation by Meyer (5 min.).

Rounding out the big box is a Captain’s Summit, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, with Shatner, Nimoy, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes. It’s a loose conversation between all of them about the fans, and about the films. It’s not bad, but it’s not exactly focused either. That said, getting those four together is something of a get, and the 72 minute conversation is amusing even if a piffle. It’s a nice bonus, and enjoyable for what it is, but there you go.

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