Star Trek: The Director’s Edition
The 1970s were an interesting time for “Star Trek.” The TV series ended in June 1969 after three years on NBC where it struggled for ratings. The show’s devoted fanbase had successfully lobbied NBC for a third year after they canceled the show in 1968, but this time it was finally over. “Star Trek” soon entered syndication, the long-standing practice of offering reruns of network TV shows to local stations to air at their choosing.
Soon, that devoted audience began to grow into a rabid cult following, and “Star Trek” found success that had eluded it during its run on NBC. There were rumors of “Star Trek” returning to TV amid its newfound popularity. There was a Saturday morning cartoon spin-off of the original series which brought back much of the cast and creative team, but it only ran for 22 episodes.
Flash-forward to Summer 1977 and “Star Wars” becoming the biggest thing that had ever happened to movies. Quickly, every studio was trying to scramble to get a piece of the huge revenue “Star Wars” created for 20th Century Fox. Allegedly, one day in a board room at Paramount Pictures they were all wondering what they could do to cash in on the craze when a new executive raised the question “don’t we own Star Trek?”
The program had become a part of the longtime studio when Lucille Ball’s production company Desilu was sold to them due to financial difficulty. Desilu’s difficulty came from how expensive “Star Trek” was to make, versus how much profit it would provide. Lucy believed in the concept and insisted the show keep being made. Long story short if you like “Star Trek” thank Lucy.
Quickly, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was rushed into production. Work had begun on a new Trek TV series called “Phase 2” which was to be for a new TV network Paramount was planning, but that was abandoned and some of the material already set for that show were ported over to the big screen debut. Oscar-winning director Robert Wise was brought in to helm the film, with a December 1979 release date locked the production was a bit of a mess. The film went over budget and had too little time to be finished.
It was so rushed that Wise flew with the finished film print to the movie’s preview in Washington, D.C. in a seat next to him, with the film still wet from the laboratory. The movie opened to mixed reviews and enthusiasm, but did make enough money to warrant a sequel and would secure the future of the franchise. Wise, however, was largely dissatisfied with the experience. Feeling that he never got the chance to finish the movie.
20 years after “The Motion Picture” premiered and “Star Trek” was doing quite well in movies and new TV projects, Wise approached Paramount and asked if he could finish it. Paramount agreed and in 2000 onto DVD came “Star Trek: The Motion Picture — The Director’s Edition.” Wise worked with a team at the studio to find every scrap of film in the vaults and reassemble it into a shape that was closer to what he always wanted.
The advent of computer effects meant it was easy and affordable to fix certain shots and put in things that couldn’t be done due to cost and time. The Director’s Edition was received with great praise and Wise was at long last happy with the movie. Though the director would sadly pass away in 2005, it was felt that The Director’s Edition was an improvement, but it still wasn’t quite the full cinematic experience.
That is, until this past April. The team that worked with Wise 22 years ago came back to the film to create a top to bottom, intensive restoration of his vision in 4K Ultra High Definition resolution. Every single element of 35mm film related to the movie was located and scanned in 4K resolution. Using computers, soft effects shots made with an optical printer were now able to be combined digitally from their 35mm negatives. Giving much sharper clarity and definition.
The most astounding thing about this new version of Wise’s vision is that those 22-year-old CGI computer files still existed. Using people far smarter than I, those files were imported to modern graphics computers and re-rendered into 4K. The results premiered last April on Paramount+, the streaming service, and last week were released to home video on UHD Blu-ray. The results are truly staggering, and whereas 20 years ago it felt like a vision of what Robert Wise always had in mind, it now feels, at long last, like a completed movie.
It’s exciting, both as someone very concerned about film preservation and restoration and as someone who although I don’t think of myself as a Trekkie, I do enjoy “Star Trek” and have a model of the Enterprise on my desk. It’s also a great way to honor a truly great director, Wise after all was behind both “West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music,” by giving his vision a truly completed form for the first time.
Thought I watched the film on Paramount Plus in April, I’m very excited to get my hands on the UHD blu-ray of the movie. Why? Because streaming 4K video is a bit throttled compared to a disc. Streaming online at an average bitrate of 36 megabits per second to a UHD blu-ray’s 98 megabits per second. Call me old fashioned, but it’s a win for physical media. See you next week.