“Space…The Final Frontier. These are the continuing voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its ongoing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before!”
From the moment of the first UHD releases, I have had a wish list of films I wanted to see in 4K. Most of them have finally reached my home theater video shelf, but there remain a few elusive titles that I am still waiting for. Paramount is doing a great job, but two of my most wished for UHD franchises happen to be The Godfather films and the original Star Trek films. I’m still waiting for The Godfather, but the Star Trek wait is somewhat over. I say somewhat because this new release from Paramount contains those first four films. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is eventually going to be released with upgraded f/x and a few other upgrades. But the original version of the film is included with the trilogy of The Wrath Of Kahn, The Search For Spock, and The Voyage Home.
After its shortened three-year run, it looked like Star Trek was dead and gone. A very short-lived animation series was the first attempt to carry on. Before long it too was a thing of the past. Then something rather amazing happened. Star Trek found a home in syndication. The local television markets aired the shows in a somewhat edited form, and they were rewarded with record breaking local ratings. It didn’t take long before Paramount saw the possibilities. By the mid 1970’s there were plans to bring the original crew back for a new television series. The development name for this show was Star Trek: Phase Two. Scripts were written, sets were designed and constructed, and all of the original cast except for Nimoy were on board. A new Vulcan science officer named Xon was added to the cast. The idea was that the new Star Trek would anchor a proposed Paramount Television Network. The network idea fell through, and Star Trek was in limbo. Then George Lucas came along with his space opera, Star Wars. Fans were lining up for blocks to see the epic adventure. Science fiction had proven itself at the box office, and Star Trek was back on, this time as a major motion picture. Gene Roddenberry was back in the producer seat, and veteran director Robert Wise was at the helm. On December 7th, 1979, I was in the Fox North theaters with seven friends from 10:00 AM until after 10:00 PM for an endless marathon of…
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
“Just a moment, Captain, sir. I’ll explain what happened. Your revered Admiral Nogura invoked a little-known, seldom-used “reserve activation clause.” In simpler language, Captain, they DRAFTED me!”
While the film wasn’t very good, I managed to watch it eight times that first day. We dominated that front row, eating popcorn and candy all day long. It was not the film we all hoped for, but it was Star Trek, and it had been a long time since we’d seen it brand new. Star Trek had arrived once again. But the film was seriously flawed. I’ve spoken to Robert Wise about the movie, and he was quite bitter decades later. He blamed constant rewrites and Shatner’s prima dona attitude for the failure. Viewed by many as a remake of the episode The Changeling, the characters were stiff, and there was far too much admiring of spaceships motionless in space. The chemistry between the characters appeared to be lacking. Star Trek was in danger of going dark once and for all.
A giant powerful cloud is working its way across the galaxy leaving a wake of destruction in its path. The newly refit Enterprise is the only ship close enough to intercept it before it can reach Earth. Captain Decker (Collins) is prepared to take his new ship into the breach when his command is usurped by Admiral Kirk (Shatner) who has bullied Starfleet Command into giving him his old ship back. Along the way they encounter a Vulcan shuttlecraft containing Spock, who has decided to rejoin Starfleet after turning down the high honor of Kolinahr. When the Enterprise does encounter the threat, they are surprised to learn that it’s not seeking out Earth, but rather returning home.
But the term failure is a relative one in Hollywood. An $82 million take on a $35 million budget isn’t all that bad, particularly in 1979. It would take a couple of years, but the call was heard. Star Trek deserved a second chance.
“You told me how envious you were and how much you hoped you’d find a way to get a starship command again. Well, sir, it looks like you found a way.”
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
“He tasks me. He tasks me and I shall have him! I’ll chase him ’round the moons of Nibia and ’round the Antares Maelstrom and ’round Perdition’s flames before I give him up!”
Along came Nicholas Meyer and Harve Bennett. Meyer decided that the films needed to go back to the roots of what made Star Trek so beloved. It was time to return to the series, but not just to retool an episode and throw some new f/x on top. Bennett looked over all 79 episodes and decided to bring back one of Kirk’s best nemeses, Khan. Meyer concentrated his efforts on building the bonds of character back into the franchise. This was not going to be a film about spaceships. This was a film about people who worked inside of those spaceships. Word leaked out that Spock was to die in the film. Meyer decided to allow the rumors to work for him. A scene was added to the film’s introduction containing a simulation, the infamous Kobayashi Maru, or no-win scenario. The famous Enterprise crew is now training Starfleet cadets. In the simulation Spock is killed. It was Meyer’s hope that fans would mistake this for the rumored demise of Spock.
All of the fun and games come to an end when Khan (Montalban) hijacks a ship and comes looking for Kirk. The two engage in Trek’s best battle to date. They match wits. All the while Kirk must deal with encountering an old flame, Carol Marcus (Besch) and the son, David (Buttrick) he never knew he had. It doesn’t help that most of the crew is manned by a group of cadets on their first training mission. The crew must sacrifice their lives, if necessary, to keep Khan from possessing a project called Genesis. It’s a terraforming device that can rip a planet’s ecosystem apart and transplant a new one over the old. In the end it’s Spock (Nimoy) who must make the ultimate sacrifice.
“We are gathered here today to pay final respects to our honored dead. But it should be noted that this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world; a world that our beloved comrade gave his life to protect and nourish. He did not feel this sacrifice a vain or empty one, and we will not debate his profound wisdom at these proceedings. Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most … human.”
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984)
“There aren’t gonna be any damned permits! How can you get a permit to do a damned illegal thing?”
There were rumors all over the place that Nimoy was only willing to do the second film under the condition that Spock be killed. The news was so prevalent that he’s spent decades trying to convince even studio execs that it wasn’t true. The rumors nearly cost him a chance at directing this film. What a loss to the fans that would have been.
After Meyer got the franchise back on solid footing, it was placed in good hands for the next two films. No one really believed that Spock would stay dead. It was awfully suspicious that the camera lingered on Spock’s torpedo tube coffin sitting there on the lush Genesis Planet. And who better to lead the search than Spock’s old friend Leonard Nimoy. The film would feature Shatner’s best-ever performance as Kirk in the scene where he mind melds with Sarek. This was the friendship film that was always at the heart of Star Trek. Just how far would these friends go to help each other?
As the Enterprise limps home from its near fatal encounter with Khan, McCoy is acting rather strangely. He appears to be haunted by the ghost of the late Mr. Spock. As the crew prepares to disembark, they get even more bad news. The ship will be decommissioned and put in mothballs. The crew will all be reassigned. But as the days wear on Kirk realizes there is something very wrong with McCoy. Through Spock’s father Sarek (Lenard) Kirk finds out that Spock placed his “katra”, or soul, inside of McCoy. The only way to rescue his friend’s sanity is to take him to Vulcan so that the katra can be removed and placed safely with the essence of Spock’s ancestors. Since the Federation wasn’t going to need the Enterprise any longer, Kirk and the gang decide to take it off their hands. But things get worse when the crew discovers Klingons at the Genesis planet. They’ve destroyed the survey ship that was monitoring the planet, stranding Saavik and David on the planet below, where they’ve discovered a Vulcan child who just might be Spock. Kirk’s gotta kick some Klingon butt, rescue the scientists, and get Spock and McCoy to Vulcan.
The film has one of the most moving scenes in all of Star Trek when The Enterprise is destroyed. Christopher Lloyd, previously known for comedic characters, did an outstanding job as the Klingon Captain, Kruge. Also look for another comedian, John Larroquette, as one of the Klingon crew. Overall the film was another strong effort. The take was a solid $76 million off an $11 million budget.
“Gentlemen, your work today has been outstanding, and I intend to recommend you all for promotion … in whatever fleet we end up serving.”
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
“No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.”
Nimoy returned for the double duty of playing Spock and directing the fourth film in the franchise. It was hard work, because this time Spock would be in the entire film. For one reason or another, this would become one of the most-loved films in the franchise.
On the way back from Vulcan to Earth in the stolen Klingon Bird of Prey, the Enterprise crew receives an urgent message from Starfleet Command. It seems a probe with extraordinary power is causing havoc on the planet. It is destroying the atmosphere. The only information Starfleet has been able to get is an odd sound the probe appears to be repeating. Spock identifies the language as that of an extinct species of humpback whales. The crew hypothesizes that the probe is attempting to communicate with the species. The only solution is to find someone to answer. The only place to get them is in Earth’s past. The crew venture into the past and recover a pair of whales from an attraction in San Francisco. With the help of whale biologist Gillian Taylor (Hicks), the crew manages to save the Earth … once again. Kirk’s punishment for stealing and destroying the Enterprise is a reduction in rank back to captain and immediate assignment as commander of the newly built Enterprise.
“Your use of language has altered since our arrival. It is currently laced with, shall we say, more colorful metaphors, ‘double dumb-ass on you’ and so forth.”
Each film is presented in its original aspect ratio. All sport brand new ultra-high-definition transfers and now appear in full 4K quality. Unfortunately, we can’t talk about the video quality here without bringing up the controversial subject of DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) once again. There is ample evidence that there has been some scrubbing on these transfers. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some wonderful things to talk about here. It just means that the video will not be as true to the theatrical release as many of us would like it to be. Even if we could agree that removing the grain is a good thing, which we can’t. You need to understand that the DNR process is not a perfect one. When you remove some of that “noise” you change certain aspects of the film itself. Backgrounds lose some sharpness and focus. This was particularly evident on many scenes in Star Trek II. Look at how bad the backgrounds look in the Botany Bay. I propose that it is a matter of maintaining the integrity of the original filmmaker’s intent. Enough, for now, about DNR. There is no question that the films have never looked better insofar as detail and sharpness. In fact the detail works against much of the early f/x work. You’ll notice line shimmers and box outlines on ships. Colors are the real winner here. I’ve never seen any of these films look so bright and colorful before. Contrast is another huge standout. When you have such white craft against the blackness of space, it’s a real opportunity to show off a good contrast presentation, or to reveal a bad one. Fortunately, this one excels in that area as well. Black levels are superb. II was the only film restored here, and the definition allows you to pick up on a lot of print specs and artifacts. There are several scenes that carry an almost unforgivable amount of dirt. Even II with its restoration shows a little dirt in the Genesis Tape. So, like the Dickens quote tells us, this presentation is most definitely the best of times along with the worst of times. It’s a package deal, and we either take it or leave it. The good does outweigh the bad here, and I wasn’t sufficiently annoyed with the flaws to avoid the set. I can only hope for a future release that restores all of the films and includes a transfer more faithful to the original film element.
The DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track is an awesome upgrade here. Again the key is that it does not impose itself as a distraction. The surround mix is negligible enough to fit in with what we remember while adding more on the dynamic side rather than any kind of aggressive mix. You’ll hear sub response that I just never connected with the original films. The dialog has been obviously enhanced by the new mix with good results. The iconic incidental music is better than ever before. You get everything you’re used to, but better, in this audio presentation.
All of the Blu-ray features are imported here, but only the film lives on the UHD disc.
Getting these four films on UHD Blu-ray in ultra high definition is a start. There are still six more to go. Flaws and all, this is a nice set to have. The DNR issue existed in the Blu-ray release and remains here. With the glossy new Chris Pine films, I know they want these to match somehow. There’s a temptation to improve the content along with the presentation. It’s the nature of the beast. “I know engineers. They love to change things.”