Wednesday, 6 April 2022

Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition

Originally put together for an early 2000s DVD release by restoration supervisor Mike Matessino, producer David Fein and visual effects supervisor Daren Dochterman, Robert Wise's Director's Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture has drifted in limbo for the intervening decades - missing out on an entire generation of home video - thanks to a lack of forward-thinking when rendering the extended version's additional special effects shots. Specced (or more likely budgeted) for television broadcast and standard definition discs, the film's longer version was lumbered with an interlaced master; its elements lacking the kind of pixel bandwidth necessary to extract a high-definition alternative. Wise's preferred edit is only now available in 4K thanks to an unusually diligent restoration project that has, lovingly, reconfigured a film so time poor in terms of its original post-production that it was delivered wet to its premiere screenings. 

While it's difficult to not be sceptical about an expanded cut that arrives 17 years after the helmer's passing, Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition - although superficially similar to the 1997 Star Wars Special Editions - betrays little of the obnoxious third-party tinkering that George Lucas subjected his space opera series to. As with the previous DVD edit, The Motion Picture now opens with a Jerry Goldsmith overture, priming its audience for the more sedentary rhythms associated with Biblical epics. Extra moments and character clarifications are peppered throughout the piece, the best of which arrive in the third act: Leonard Nimoy's Spock expressing a kinship with the terminally unhappy machine they're investigating or James Doohan's Scotty patiently explaining that - on Kirk's orders - the ship's engine are being primed for self-destruct, a wrinkle that adds an extra layer of tension to the meeting with V'Ger. 

Obviously though, given how far removed from the original production this director's cut is, the majority of the attention the film receives is presentation based. Colour is corrected from the pallid countenance of the theatrical presentation to a more healthy hue while the film's soundtrack has been re-arranged to benefit Dolby Atmos equipment. This spatial audio allows the bleeps and blops of the Enterprise consoles to take on an almost symphonic quality that, at times, envelops the increasingly stunned crew. The photographical imperfections present in many special effects shots, thankfully, remain charmingly obvious and unchanged in this 2022 cut while the brand new CG shots, although not completely imperceptible, are often conceptually closer to the kind of work that Rafael Segnini is producing for his Kyojuu Tokusou Juspion web-series. It's an approach that sees computer effects used specifically to imitate the magical heft of miniature or puppetry special effects, rather than the physics-based sims modern movie goers have been trained to appreciate. A shot of the Enterprise docking with the living machine that sits at the centre of the V'Ger dreadnought is therefore designed to simulate two scale models knitting together in a cavernous studio setting rather than a more realistic collision between two massive interstellar objects. 

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