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Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy DVD Review

Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy

May 26, 2009

Director: Nicholas Meyer, Leonard Nimoy,
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Merritt Butrick, Kirstie Alley, Ricardo Montalban, Christopher Lloyd, Mark Lenard, Robin Curtis, Catherine Hicks, Jane Wyatt, Majel Barrett,

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DVD Review

To coincide with J.J. Abrams rebooting of the Star Trek franchise, Paramount has re-released Star Trek II through IV in a box set with brand new extras that are geared towards new fans generated from the latest film. These three films were already given the deluxe treatment with extras geared towards Trekkies so for them this set is not worth purchasing.

People tend to forget how much was riding on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). The first one was considered by Trekkies and everyone else to be a big bore and not really indicative of the television series. The powers that be wanted to make sure that the next film would not repeat the previous one’s mistakes. So, they dusted off a classic villain from the show and gave James T. Kirk (Shatner) a decidedly personal stake in this new mission.

Khan Noonien Singh (Montalban) manages to escape the desolate planet prison that Kirk banished him and his crew to and decides to exact revenge on his most hated enemy. So, he kidnaps two key crew members from the U.S.S. Reliant and steals Project Genesis, a device that will take a lifeless planet and bring it violently back to life. An old ex-flame and the son (Butrick) that resulted from their brief union send out a distress call which Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise intercepts, unaware that Khan has set a trap for them.

There’s a reason why The Wrath of Khan is considered the best film in the series: it pits the Enterprise crew against a truly formidable opponent, features thrilling spacecraft battles, and has an incredibly moving finale. The veteran cast from the show inhabits their roles with the ease and confidence that comes from years of practice.

Even better, we get to see who can overact more, William Shatner or Ricardo Montalban, as they take turns chewing up the scenery with melodramatic gusto. Part of the enjoyment that comes from this film is watching these two go at it. Director Nicholas Meyer keeps things moving at a decent pace but knows when to let things breath for nice, character-driven moments that provide important motivations for future actions later on in the film. These moments also enrich the already beloved characters.

After the shocking death of Spock (Nimoy) in The Wrath of Khan, the fan backlash was immense and so the filmmakers found a way to bring this beloved character back in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984). Kirk and his crew are still mourning the death of their crew member and are heading home while his son and Lieutenant Saavik (Curtis) are exploring the planet that Project Genesis created. Meanwhile, Klingon Commander Kruge (Lloyd) has acquired data about Genesis and wants to harness its power.

If things weren’t bad enough, Dr. McCoy (Kelley) appears to be losing his mind, Scotty (Doohan) has been assigned to a new starship, and the Enterprise is going to be permanently mothballed. Spock’s father (Lenard) meets with Kirk and implores him to go to Planet Genesis, retrieve Spock’s body and bring it back to Vulcan, thereby defying strict Starfleet orders. Naturally, it’s not going to be that easy and those pesky Klingons stir up trouble once again.

If The Wrath of Khan is a good ol’ fashion dogfight, then The Search for Spock is a quest to find an old friend. DeForest Kelley has a blast playing McCoy who has elements of Spock’s personality running around in his brain thanks to a prior Vulcan mind-meld done just before he died. The predominant theme of this film is friendship and loyalty. Kirk and his bridge crew become fugitives for their fellow crew member and friend, Spock.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) completes a three-film story arc and is the most accessible one of the series as it features broad comedy and takes place mostly on contemporary Earth. Starfleet debates the actions of Kirk and his crew in The Search for Spock with the Klingons claiming that the Enterprise captain is a murderer. Spock has been resurrected and the crew of the Enterprise head back to Earth to face the music. However, a mysterious alien probe is heading towards Earth, threatening to destroy the planet. Kirk and company figure out a way to travel back in time to 1986 and find a solution on Earth to the dilemma in their own time.

After the life and death melodrama of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, the mood is lightened considerably in The Voyage Home as we get to see the Enterprise crew interact with our world. Much of the film’s humour is derived from the inevitable culture clash as Spock learns some of our curse words, Scotty deals with our antiquated computers and Kirk finds romance with Gillian (Hicks), a woman who works at a local aquarium and may have the solution to the problem in the future.

The Voyage Home is just a flat-out entertaining film with a definite message about preserving the environment. It is definitely the lightest in tone of all the Star Trek films – a bone of contention amongst Trekkies – but this is a nice change of pace and is what makes it stand out from the others in the series.

Special Features:

If you already own the special editions of these films that were released a few years ago, you may not want to buy this new set as none of the extras are carried over and The Wrath of Khan is only presented in its theatrical version and not the Director’s Cut.

The new extras on The Wrath of Khan DVD include an audio commentary by director Nicholas Meyer and Star Trek: Enterprise producer Manny Coto. Meyer admits that he knew nothing about Star Trek when he accepted the job. He says that Kirk and his crew reminded him of the famous Horatio Hornblower novels and how the Enterprise reminded him of a submarine. Meyer cites authors Jules Verne and H.G. Wells as influences. Coto does a good job of asking Meyer the right questions and keeps him talking.

“Starfleet Academy Scisec Brief 002: Mystery Behind Ceti Alpha VI” is a mock Starfleet training film that explains the background of the planet that Khan was banished to.

“Collecting Star Trek’s Movie Relics” takes a look at some of the more memorable props from some of the Star Trek films with clips that show which film they are featured.

“James Horner: Composing Genesis” features an interview with the film’s composer. He talks about how Jerry Goldsmith’s work on the first film influenced him. Horner talks about his approach to scoring The Wrath of Khan including specific musical cues.

Finally, there is “A Tribute to Ricardo Montalban” which features a fine celebration to the late great actor by Meyer.

The new extras on The Search for Spock DVD include an audio commentary by former Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine staffers Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor. They were huge fans of the original series and reminisce about seeing this film for the first time on the big screen. They talk about how The Search for Spock takes place right after The Wrath of Khan and starts off with a melancholic vibe. They also talk about the depiction of the Klingons and how it influenced their depiction in later shows.

“Starfleet Academy Scisec Brief 003: Mystery Behind the Vulcan Katra Transfer” gives the lowdown on this rare practice, how it is performed, and what happens.

Star Trek and the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame” features screenwriter Harve Bennett talking about how he got the gig to write for the Star Trek films. He wasn’t a fan of the show or the first film but told the studio that he could do a better job. He also talks about Star Trek’s place in science fiction.

“Industrial Light & Magic: the Visual Effects of Star Trek” examines how the visual effects for the Star Trek films were done. Some of the artists who worked on them talk about certain memorable examples.

“Spock: The Early Years” features an interview with Stephen Manley who played Spock at 17 in the film. He talks about how he was cast and shares some of his experiences working on the film.

Finally, the new extras featured on The Voyage Home DVD include an audio commentary by Star Trek (2009) screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. They approach this film from the fan perspective, talking about when they first saw it. Orci and Kurtzman discuss the informal trilogy of The Wrath of Khan through to The Voyage Home and the notion that this film is a “message picture.” They also talk about how the threat in this film comes from the unknown but is really man. They analyze this film from a screenwriting perspective – i.e. story structure, themes, and so on.

“Starfleet Academy Scisec Brief 004: The Whale Probe” is a brief explanation of the mysterious alien probe from The Voyage Home.

Star Trek for a Cause” takes a look at the film’s environmental message. Greenpeace representatives talk about how commercial whaling is depleting the Earth’s population of whales.

Star Trek: Three Picture Saga” examines the dramatic arc of these three films. It was an accidental trilogy but a sense of continuity was established. Various key crew members talk about their involvement in these films.

“Pavel Chekov’s Screen Moments” features actor Walter Koenig talking about the significance of his character in The Voyage Home and how he actually got to do things in this one. He shares some of his memories working on it and is quite candid about what he had to (or didn’t do) in the other films.

While all of these new extras are nice, they are definitely geared towards new fans and not to Trekkies. If you already own these films on the previous released special editions then it really isn’t worth double-dipping.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 80%

Website: http://www.startrek.com/

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