The Motion Picture Review – High definition with enough high stock to go bold

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10 years after the cancellation of the original Star Trek TV show in 1969, creator Gene Roddenberry’s mission was to find ways to get a film version, aided by the growing fan base of reruns and a warp speed boost through the colossal success of Star Wars. The end result was 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, now re-released in a 4K restoration, directed by veteran all-rounder Robert Wise, with Douglas Trumbull on special effects. This is the Director’s Edition, first authorized by Wise in 2001: it brightens and clarifies the effects, enriches the sound mix, adds minor explanatory and ambient scenes, and emphasizes the leisurely visionary grandeur that Wise was aiming for.

At the time of original publication, I was troubled by the Enterprise crew’s goofy new uniforms: the men’s tunics are elongated down at the waist to form a completely ridiculous triangular flap over the crotch area. And living in the eternal TV present, I was secretly shocked at how much older the main characters suddenly looked, all hair grayer and more fluffed up insecurely. By that first film, the Star Trek concept had evolved into something more ambitious and Kubrickian, with plenty of andante space sequences and an entire pre-credits “overture,” just dark starry space to a muted orchestral theme. I missed the TV show’s cartoonish narrative and original signature tune, but the doors still go fshhhht-fshhhht and the dialogue scenes between Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) still have that wonderful theatrical resonance and serio-comic verve, Shatner’s DRAMATIC way of SPEAKING, often-taking-a-breath-to-a-great-EMPHASIS, is still a delight. Only now do I see that Spock and Kirk’s relationship has a Jeeves/Wooster drollery about it.

The setting is 10 years after the original show and Kirk, now an admiral, demands to be put back in command of the refitted USS Enterprise as it is the only starship capable of hyper intercepting a destructive alien cloud formation -Evolved intelligence at its center en route to planet Earth: a sinister entity that seems to call itself “V’Ger”. Kirk’s autocratic ranks to take command enrage current Captain Decker (Stephen Collins), whose competence and loyalty Kirk nonetheless respects.

Kirk rounds up the old gang for his new Enterprise outing, the most important of which is of course the stone Spock who – in one outrageously entertaining and over-the-top scene – has had to abandon the “Kolinahr” ceremony on his home planet, where he is forever on emotions would do without. But his human side wouldn’t allow it. There’s also a new crew member: Lieutenant Ilia of planet Delta IV, played by Indian star Persis Khambatta, a mysterious and elegant shaved-head character who once had a relationship with Decker on her home planet, and it’s quickly revealed Decker still is very much in love with her. (Deltans are said to be more attractive than other humans, and can only serve aboard Starfleet ships if they have passed “celibate floss” – one could hardly imagine a more appealing thing.)

All of this will have important ramifications when a probe from V’Ger enters Ilia’s body, effectively making her her avatar, but with Ilia’s own memory and consciousness still intact somewhere within her. It’s a bit over the top, but well worth seeing with flourishes of exotic inventions: I’m sorry that Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura isn’t given more prominence, but I love the ‘Giant’s Causeway’ of stepping stones leading from the Enterprise to the center of the alien leads.

• Star Trek: The Motion Picture hits UK cinemas August 19 and streams in Australia on Binge and Stan.

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