Review: Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection features best presentation of films yet

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

More than providing better transfers, new bonus materials or exclusive content, the new six-movie, seven-disc Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection set exists, seemingly exclusively, to test fan resolve. Like the myriad Star Wars DVDs (not to mention the standard-definition Trek sets) before it, this Blu-ray box set offers some modest upgrades, expanded extras and alternative material that is sure to delight folks who simply cannot get enough of the series.

But for many, the decision to upgrade may ultimately come down to whether they want what's included instead of or merely as an addenudum to what they already own or have invested in, making this a desirable but arguably inessential addition to the existing wealth of Trek material available for fans and collectors.

Currently, two sets of Trek movies are available on Blu-ray: this Original Motion Picture Collection, featuring all six of the Original Series cast movies, and the Motion Picture Trilogy, which only includes parts II, III and IV. In addition to including the other three Original Series movies, the OMPC features exclusive bonus materials on a seventh disc that are unavailable anywhere else, which makes the larger collection a preferable one for completists and more dedicated fans—even if the inclusion of Star Trek V lowers the cinematic quality of the entire collection because of its stunning awfulness.

That said, as a person who was always mystified by how awful previous transfers of the films have looked, ST: OMPC boasts the best presentation of the films themselves to date, which makes this a must-have—for yours truly, at least. Boasting digitally remastered picture and sound and a fully restored print of The Wrath of Khan, the discs truly make the Enterprise and its crew sparkle as never before. But again, this improvement is largely appreciable in the context of the DVD versions of the films, which were often dim and even out of focus; Paramount's track record with high-definition transfers is inconsistent thus far, and while these movies look pretty terrific, they don't quite match the clarity of transfers on more recent theatrical releases. (In other words, dial back your expectations when this fails to live up to the look of the Transformers Blu-ray and you'll still feel rewarded.)

Additionally, as is almost always the case, high-definition presentation unfortunately highlights technical shortcomings in the special effects of older films; in one case, for example, the overall image is so vivid that a starship almost disappears against a planetary background plate. This is less a criticism than an observation for any potential newcomers to the film series, but it's worth noting that some of the special effects look better than others specifically in high definition—which is perhaps why Paramount waited too long to properly remaster these movies.

Also of significant importance is the version of each film that was included in the set: Specifically, this collection features only theatrical versions of all of the films, so neither of the extended or director's cuts of The Motion Picture nor Wrath of Khan are included, which may make little difference to some, but given the available space on Blu-ray discs, it seems curious (except as a calculated marketing decision) to offer only one version of films that have two or more. This means that the four or so minutes of material added to Khan are gone, as are the beefed-up special effects that were added to TMP for the 2001 director's cut.

What this decision also means is that the commentary tracks on the extended and director's cuts of those films have been excised. While films III through VI all include their original commentaries, Robert Wise's insights about TMP and Nicholas Meyer's original thoughts about Wrath of Khan are gone, instead replaced by tracks featuring Trek experts like Michael and Denise Okuda (on the first film) and Meyer with Manny Coto (on the second). Additionally, the text commentaries, the saving grace of the series' dullest moments thanks to Mike and Denise Okuda's encyclopedic knowledge of the series, were removed from all of the films, which means that the hour you spend watching Kirk and company advance toward the Enterprise in TMP will be bereft of the couple's irreverent and terrifically entertaining insights.

In place of those text commentaries is a "Library Computer" feature, in which every on-screen object is cataloged as the film plays. The difference between this and the text commentaries is that the commentaries provided specific, relevant information, whereas the Library Computer merely offers optional background information that an uninformed viewer wouldn't be able to navigate to find specifically important details. This is essentially a triumph of more information over better information, so while it's welcome as another thing to explore, it doesn't fill in for the absence of the text commentaries by a long shot.

Except for the text and audio commentaries specifically listed above, most of the extras available on previous DVDs are included here, which means that fans will still have access to them even if they ultimately use this set as a catch-all for their Trek collections. At the same time, the producers have included new commentaries on every film, as well as created all-new bonus materials that give a little extra perspective on each film without necessarily expanding either its universe or that of the canon as a whole. Participants in these commentaries include: Mike and Denise Okuda (TMP), Nicholas Meyer and Manny Coto (Wrath of Khan), Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor (Search for Spock), Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (The Voyage Home), Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens (The Voyage Home) and Larry Nemecek and Ira Steven Behr (The Undiscovered Country).

Meanwhile, the bonus materials include featurettes like "The Longest Trek," which details The Motion Picture's serpentine journey to the silver screen; a "Star Trek Reunion" of four fans who were enlisted as extras during an all-hands meeting in TMP; "Composing Genesis," a conversation with James Horner about the score for Wrath of Khan; "Spock: The Early Years," an interview with one of the actors who played young Spock in The Search for Spock; "The Three Picture Saga," a look at the unlikely but unforgettable "trilogy" that emerged from Star Treks II, III and IV; archival footage of James Doohan receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; and "To Be or Not to Be," a look back at the odd, indelible relationship between Klingons and Shakespeare via a production of Hamlet translated into Klingon.

Finally, there's disc seven, which is for all intents and purposes the centerpiece of the set's new bonus materials. "The Captain's Summit" is a 70-minute retrospective hosted by Whoopi Goldberg featuring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes, during which the four iconic stars discuss their memories and experiences working on and dealing with Star Trek. This may or may not come as a surprise to many, but it turns out that Shatner is an attention-grabbing megalomaniac: He interrupts almost every question and answer between Goldberg and anyone, offering either an insight he thinks is more important or a "witticism" that undermines the emotional weight of a real answer.

While the most shocking revelation to come from the session may be that Shatner has never watched a single episode of The Next Generation, in the context of his behavior with these other humble and introspective cast members it may qualify as a compliment for the folks who took over the reins of the Enterprise in subsequent series. (And for the record, I say this as a fan who prefers the Original Series and their movies to any of the franchise's later incarnations.)

Ultimately, whether this set is a genuine treasure trove, a tricked-out improvement on previous home video releases or just the latest in a long line of incomplete collections is up to the individual fan. Without question, the presentation of the films themselves is enormously improved, and the new commentaries and extras celebrate the decades of fandom the series has enjoyed, even if they don't necessarily provide significant new insights into the series or its installments. But without, say, a singular visionary coordinating and controlling the future of the Trek franchise, it seems as if the Blu-ray producers recognize that they have a captive audience in Trek fans and are only too willing to take advantage of that, over and over again, without providing them a definitive collection that will replace all others.

As it stands, Original Motion Picture Collection nevertheless qualifies as the best-ever presentation of the movies themselves, and it features a wealth of extras that would otherwise stagger any genre fan eager to explore the universe of their favorite franchise. But while there is unquestionably much here to recommend that will replace and improve upon previous editions, it's nevertheless best to remember that this set mostly goes where previous ones have gone before—which means that it's unlikely this will qualify as collector's final frontier—either as Paramount's last chance to cash in on these films, or purely as a satisfactory summary of the series' considerable, eclectic and lasting charms.