Home > Reviews > Assorted thoughts on STAR TREK: TMP: The Director’s Edition HD update

Assorted thoughts on STAR TREK: TMP: The Director’s Edition HD update

I just finished watching the new high-definition update to the 2001 Director’s Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which David C. Fein and Michael Matessino oversaw under the guidance of the late Robert Wise, attempting to complete the film as Wise would have intended to do in 1979 if he hadn’t been forced to release an unfinished rough cut prematurely. Readers of my first ST novel, Ex Machina, probably know how fond I am of the Director’s Edition, considering it greatly superior to the theatrical cut in terms of pacing, visuals, sound design, and so forth.

However, the big limitation of the DE was that it was only made in standard definition, including its new CGI effects that were only rendered at that resolution. Fein & Matessino always hoped to redo it in HD, but it took about as long for them to achieve that as it took for Wise to get the DE made in the first place. (For some reason, the credits on the 2022 HD edition refer to the original DE as the 2000 edition instead of 2001, so let’s just say it’s been roughly the same amount of time.) In addition, they completely redid the film’s color grading to improve the look, and made a few new tweaks to the visuals, as discussed here. The film is now streaming on Paramount+, and will be out on Blu-Ray later on.

I’ve been busy writing and haven’t found the time to watch until now, so here are some assorted thoughts, nothing too detailed.

  • The clarity of the film is definitely much greater. I noticed things I don’t think I ever caught before. I even almost recognized Mark Lenard’s face under the makeup of the Klingon Commander in the opening.
  • The color grading is definitely better. The uniforms are less drab; the colors are still very understated, but you can tell the senior officers’ uniforms are pale blue rather than gray. And the bridge scenes look much brighter than before. The bridge was lit relatively dimly so the film loops behind the monitors would be visible, so the colors were drab in the original DE’s bridge scenes even though they were brighter in other scenes. Now, that’s been fixed, though there’s still a quality to the light and shading in the bridge scenes that lets you tell it wasn’t intrinsically as bright as elsewhere.
  • More than the sets or VFX, what I noticed most were the nuances in the actors’ performances. TMP has a reputation as a dry, passionless film, but the actors seemed more expressive this time around.
  • They finally fixed the officer’s lounge windows!! The private conversation between Kirk, McCoy, and the Kolinahr-cold Spock was meant to take place in the lounge seen in miniature when Spock’s shuttle docks, but they didn’t have the budget to build it full-scale, so they built a makeshift lounge out of leftover pieces of the rec deck set, which didn’t make much structural sense. The original DE at least put a CGI nacelle in the windows, matching how it would look from the rec deck, but the set doesn’t fit within the rec deck. TMP designer Andrew Probert did a sketch reconciling the two lounges, but the “windows” in the lounge scene had to be handwaved as viewscreens, which is how I referred to them in Ex Machina. (More here.) But the new DE finally, finally replaces those damn square windows with the correct lounge background! Kirk’s and McCoy’s profiles get a little blurry when they move in front of it, but I don’t care, since it’s so great that they finally fixed this problem after 43 years. And nobody seems to have remarked on it so far as I’ve seen, so it was a delightful surprise.
  • I’m not sure it really sank in before how much Robert Wise tells a non-verbal love story between Decker and the Ilia probe in the climactic sequence in the Voyager 6 chamber, just by focusing the camera on them as they stare meaningfully at each other while the expository dialogue goes on in the background. The directing has to do all the work to set up why Decker chooses to join with V’Ger/Ilia, since the originally scripted exposition about Decker’s interest in spirituality and higher planes of being was cut out. The way it’s staged, it’s as if Decker is communing with V’Ger through the Ilia probe, the two/three of them coming to a wordless understanding that leads to his climactic act.
  • When I realized that, I realized something else: The Borg Queen is to the Borg as the Ilia probe is to V’Ger. I mean, in-story they’re opposites; the probe is more like a drone, subordinate to V’Ger rather than dominant like the Queen. But in narrative terms, as roles and storytelling devices, they serve the same purpose, to provide the audience with an anthropomorphic spokesbeing for an impersonal superintelligence.
  • There oughtta be a law against streaming services automatically shrinking the end credits by default. They should all do what Netflix does and give us a choice whether we want that or not.

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  1. April 17, 2022 at 7:26 am

    I’ll most likely check it out, but it’s hard for me to process tinkered-with editions of films I’m so intimately familiar with. It’s kind of jarring when my brain expects to see something or hear a familiar piece of dialogue, and then it’s something new or alternate. Still, a lot of people wanted this, so I’m glad they got it.

    • April 17, 2022 at 8:13 am

      The TMP Director’s Edition didn’t make needless changes. Remember, TMP was rushed into theaters unfinished. It was the only film in Robert Wise’s long career that didn’t get released the way he wanted it, and he asked Paramount to let him complete the edit and replace the rough cut while it was still in theaters, but they wouldn’t pay for it. So essentially the version we had for the first 22 years was the wrong version, an unfinished cut that never would’ve seen the light of day if they hadn’t been trapped by an inflexible release date.

      The 2001 Director’s Edition was made with Wise’s guidance, using notes and materials from the time to complete the edit as closely as possible to the way it was originally intended in 1979. While the unfinished and temporary FX shots were created or replaced with CGI, every effort was made to approximate how they would have looked using 1979 techniques, right down to obtaining samples of the original film stock and scanning its grain into the CGI images. It was approached more as a work of film restoration than an update of the sort George Lucas made to the Star Wars films.

      So the DE was basically the version of the film Wise had wanted in the first place, the only version that had the director’s endorsement. But it was only released in standard-definition video. It wasn’t until now that the DE team was finally able to get it upgraded to HD, and in the process they completely redid the color grading and sound mix (both of which were rushed and inadequate in the theatrical release, and not fully corrected in the original DE) and made subtle tweaks to the CG effects. It’s essentially the same film as the 2001 Director’s Edition, just much better-looking.

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