From the lofty heights of The Wrath of Khan to the abysmal depths of The Final Frontier, Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection spans an entire galaxy of quality, but to only look at the films on that level is to miss something truly special. The recently released Blu-ray set features all six theatrical adventures of the original crew of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701 & NCC-1701-A), and provides an incredible look at a fictional universe.
Featuring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and George Takei, the movies sought to expand the world of Star Trek and helped Paramount capitalize on the renewed interest in science fiction George Lucas created with Star Wars in 1977. It was an incredibly successful move as the films helped rejuvenate the universe of Star Trek and led to four more TV series and four movies with the cast of The Next Generation.
There are actually two different ways to consider the six films the original crew starred in — taken separately one can pick apart each film, identify what worked and what didn't, and mourn almost the entire idea that was The Final Frontier; or, one can look at them as a whole, as the continuing adventures of a group of co-workers who became something more over time. Sure, some of the nefarious plots they foiled were less interesting than others, but perhaps that was the fault of the villain and not the producers.
All foolishness aside, sitting down to watch six Star Trek movies over the course of two or three days gives the semi-casual viewer a very different impression of the series than they would have gotten going to the theater every few years between 1979, when Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out, and 1991, when Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was released. Watched consecutively one can quickly notice when a bit character in one movie appears again in another, thereby adding a greater sense of continuity to the Star Trek universe.
Watching the films in this fashion certainly allows for the glossing over of weaknesses in the series. For instance, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, an inordinate amount of time is spent on incredibly slow, incredibly long tracking shots, first of the Enterprise and then of V'ger. If one is only watching this first film in the series, there's almost a sense of being cheated out of something more interesting, more spectacular. However, if one is watching all the films in relatively rapid succession, the amount of time spent on the establishing shots in the first movie is much more acceptable.
There is a noticeable ebb and flow to the series when the films are watched back-to-back. While the first film establishes the return of the franchise and catches us up on the characters, things really get going with the second, The Wrath of Khan. By far, Khan is the franchise's high-water mark and really sets the stage for the other four movies that follow. Without Spock dying in the incredible, emotional ending to Khan, there can be no Search for Spock, and without that no court-martial in The Voyage Home and Kirk and the Enterprise wouldn't have been selected to accompany the Klingon delegation in The Undiscovered Country.
Not only is Khan a great movie which builds on the original television series, it has emotional depth and breadth, action, and good for the time effects, it is the axis around which the rest of the series turns. For me, that makes Khan the best of the films, even if there is a sizable contingent of the Trek community who prefers The Voyage Home.
Another amazing thing one gets a sense of watching the films back-to-back are the incredible actors and name talent (either known then or known later) playing roles in the film. Everyone knows Ricardo Montalban plays Khan, and that Kirstie Alley appears in the same film as Lt. Saavik (one of the big mistakes in the franchise is not getting her to reprise the role in the next two films, where it was given to Robin Curtis instead). What about Christian Slater and Kurtwood Smith being in The Undiscovered Country (Christopher Plummer and Kim Cattrall are more obvious in it)? Or Christopher Lloyd and John Larroquette being in The Search for Spock?
The new Blu-ray release, as one would expect, features an incredible amount of bonus content, including over 12 hours worth that has appeared elsewhere before. There is also over two-and-a-half hours worth of new behind-the-scenes and footage and real-life stories relating to the franchise included. Additionally, each film contain the a "Library Computer" which can play in the film giving the viewer extra facts about the characters, ships, etc.
Those bonus features pale in comparison to what exists on the seventh disc in the set. The seventh disc features something called "The Captains' Summit" and has, for the first time ever, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, and Jonathan Frakes sitting down and chatting with one another and moderator Whoopi Goldberg. For 70 minutes these Star Trek people tell stories of their time on set, their time after set, what led them to the franchise, and what they think about it all now.
Sometimes the actors get some facts wrong (Shatner initially states that he appeared in six movies, not seven), but that is less important than the incredible stories the actors tell. Of the numerable fascinating topics covered is the fact that Khan — and Spock's death — began filming without any idea that the character would be brought back later. Unfortunately, "The Captains' Summit" is that is only 70 minutes, watching it unfold one wants it to be at least twice that length.
All of the films have been remastered in high definition for this release, but apparently only Khan has been "fully restored." However, Khan doesn't look substantially better than any of the other releases, in fact, it is — not remarkably — The Undiscovered Country, which was made in 1991, that looks the sharpest visually. It is only the original film that truly shows its age in areas beyond its special effects, clothing, and hair.
The original film is grainy in ways that seem more a product of its age than the intent of the director, Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951). Other films also exhibit flecks of dirt or other imperfections from time to time, but none are terribly distracting. The audio also gets better as the films progress, indicating an improvement in effects more than anything else, but the mix is a good one across the entire series.
Whether or not one is a fan of science fiction in general and of Star Trek in particular, the amount of influence the Trek universe has had on our world is undeniable. Watching the new Blu-ray release of the films and seeing the incredible amounts of accompanying material, that becomes more than clear. It is true that taken separately some of the films are disappointing, but taken together they represent a cultural force and a view of the universe to which we can only aspire.