Warp Speed Backward

Star Trek, as a franchise, soldiers forward on impulse engines: The latest series, UPN's Enterprise, is less a prequel to the original series than it is one more tepid remake in the image of Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, great birds of the galaxy with clipped wings. Despite its ratings success, Enterprise, after only a handful of episodes, feels exhausted, worn out; with its decent cast (Scott Bakula as Kirk-lite, a Vulcan hottie more sarcastic than logical) and inconsistent sense of historical continuity, it's boldly going where every Trek series has gone before, again and again. And work has begun on a 10th installment in the film series, featuring the cast of The Next Generation; all but the most die-hard fanatics, who sleep on beds made of Tribbles and down glass after glass of Romulan ale, care, especially after the humdrum fiasco that was Insurrection. What was once a show as visionary as it was campy has become just another film-studio license--a plush toy with a hefty price tag, a baseball cap and a coffee mug. Just this morning, the mailman delivered two more Paramount-approved books, one a thin, $16 paperback trinket titled Starship Spotter for "the class of 2383." The inner dork dies a little more.

Which leaves the veteran Trek fan, weaned on the initial three years of the U.S.S. Enterprise's five-year mission, little to cling to; the proprietors of Trek, who've pronounced their disdain for the original series, have no interest in keeping us around. But this week offers a long-awaited reward for veterans: the DVD release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture The Director's Edition, retooled by none other than Robert Wise, who told the Dallas Observer earlier this year that film, his next-to-last, remained the only one in his filmography with which he was dissatisfied. (This is the man who edited Citizen Kane and directed, among so many others, The Sound of Music and West Side Story.) Rushed into release by Paramount, the return of Kirk, Spock and McCoy always felt bloated and unfinished--Star Trek: A Space Odyssey, without the stoner's dazzle. Wise never had time to tweak the final product: Special effects, by Doug Trumbull and John Dykstra, and Jerry Goldsmith's score were being completed days before the film's debut in December 1979, and what wasn't there was as obvious as what was. As a result, ST:TMP felt as cold as Leonard Nimoy's Spock and as overwrought as Bill Shatner's acting.

To the rescue came David C. Fein, Michael Matessino and the other visionaries at the Los Angeles-based Foundation Imagining, who, using original storyboards and Wise's estimable guidance, have gone in and literally repaired the damage. They've not only trimmed and added scenes when necessary (using footage from the '79 film and '83 TV version), but added impressive and yet unobtrusive computer-generated effects to flesh out static scenes, including those in the wormhole and within the V'ger probe, and upped the volume until, at last, the movie looks and feels alive. Choppy edits and sloppy effects have been repaired; the scene on Vulcan seems to pulsate, and no longer do we feel like Shatner's staring at a blue screen.

The double-disc set comes with plenty of extras: three documentaries (including one about the aborted Phase II series), some 16 deleted and additional scenes, the Orson Welles-narrated TV commercials for ST:TMP, original storyboards and commentaries by Wise, Dykstra, Trumbull and others. But the 136-minute-long film makes the disc a keeper: It drags in spots (there's still no way to repair a screenplay) and looks drab in others (them's still some groovy space pajamas), but what Fein and colleagues have created is still a dazzling monument to Wise and Trek, a special edition that neither betrays nor belittles its predecessor.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky