5/19/09 Edition
Revisiting The Final Frontier
STAR TREK Movie Voyages Arrive on Blu-Ray

Over the years, Paramount has likely released more Star Trek episodes and its respective cinematic voyages on home video than any other property in their library (and who could blame them, based on the enduring popularity of the series). On laserdisc and DVD, every film was released at least twice, driving collectors to the point where some owned multiple copies of the same movie. In fact, there may be some of you out there wondering what could possibly follow from a new edition of these movies that we haven't seen before.

Paramount’s answer is plenty, at least if you have a high-definition Blu-Ray player. The studio’s new STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE COLLECTION brings the original Enterprise crew’s six movies to Blu-Ray for the first time in varied but generally satisfying new AVC-encoded transfers, Dolby TrueHD soundtracks, and with an array of new and older supplements alike.

Certainly the high-definition experience does plenty to restore the cinematic grandeur of Robert Wise’s STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (***, 132 mins., 1979, G), an entertaining but flawed picture that nevertheless remains the most “cinematic” of all the big-screen adventures, graced by an all-time classic score by Jerry Goldsmith that remains unparalleled in the series for its majestic scope and unforgettable themes.

Plagued by production woes -- from a budget that went spiraling out-of-control, to the involvement of several special effects companies (one of which was in seriously over its head), and a Christmas '79 release date that was mandated by the studio -- it's a wonder that TMP ever became the box-office success that it did.

Its relatively straightforward story -- of a seemingly extraterrestrial "cloud" destroying everything that comes in its path as it approaches Earth -- recalls several episodes of the original series (including "The Doomsday Machine" and "The Changeling"), with Captain Kirk and crew setting out to explore the unknown "being" and stop it from destroying life as we know it.

What distinguishes the film from its small-screen counterparts is the lavish visual treatment the movie receives from director Robert Wise, cinematographer Richard Kline, the special effects wizardry of Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra (among others), and of course, Goldsmith's marvelous score, which provides more dramatic and emotional presence than anything in the actual script -- itself culled from what was supposed to be the pilot for a second, abandoned "Star Trek" TV series.

Although I hadn't been born when the original series aired on NBC, I still grew up with the show through the magic of syndicated re-runs. When I was old enough to see ST-TMP, I was captivated by the images and Goldsmith's music the first time I saw the movie on home video in 1982, just a few months before "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" was released to theaters. After 30 minutes or so, however, I remember becoming just a bit bored by the film and its elaborate, though seemingly endless, parade of special effects -- a sentiment echoed by the general consensus of critics and fans at the time.

Set against the backdrop of the movie are sterile "dramatic" moments, with only a few notable exchanges between our beloved original crew making one feel at home. The movie's bland secondary characters -- Stephen Collins' Decker and Persis Khambatta's Ilia -- give each other puppy-dog glances, but they're never developed enough so that we care about them.

What's left that truly does work (aside from Goldsmith's soundtrack) is Spock's rediscovery of his human side as he attempts to probe V'Ger -- the little lost space vestibule trying to find its creator -- and the interplay between Kirk, McCoy, and our favorite Vulcan as they decide how to save civilization once again in the face of insurmountable odds.

Add in a few classic Shatner-isms ("V'Ger! V-O-Y-A-G-E-R. Voyager!"), and you have a lukewarm but still undeniably compelling film that manages to get by simply on the basis of its sheer look and scope.

There have been numerous attempts to “fix” TMP’s pacing and restore character elements to the film -- first in ABC’s network TV broadcast, which restored 12 minutes of footage, and later in Robert Wise’s “Director’s Edition” DVD, which offered most of those added sequences while trimming some of the fat from the theatrical print. Wise also approved extensive new special effects for that version as well, though I’m told that some work has to be done in order to bring the “Director’s Edition” up to speed for a high-definition release. (That being said, don’t be surprised if we see the longer TMP in HD in the near future, perhaps by the time the new “Star Trek” sequel comes about).

For those reasons, Paramount has only included the original theatrical cut of “The Motion Picture” on Blu-Ray in a transfer that is unquestionably the finest the movie has ever received on home video. Superior in every facet to its prior DVD editions (including the “Director’s Edition”), Paramount has served up a nicely-hued, finely detailed BD presentation here that only seems to offer a bit of noise-reduction (something that will be most visible on excessively large screens). With the movie’s visuals being its most significant asset (in addition to the score), it goes without saying HD does more for TMP than any of the other pictures in the series, and for those of us who might’ve missed seeing the film theatrically, it’s a revelation indeed. The Dolby TrueHD audio is likewise strong, well representing its original multi-track, late ‘70s Dolby mix. 

Extras are a bit of a mixed bag on the Blu-Ray platter. Because the movie only contains the theatrical edit, that means the Director’s Edition DVD commentary has been excised, and that comes as a major disappointment. That track included interviews with Goldsmith, Wise (who rightly praised Jerry's score throughout), Stephen Collins, Douglas Trumbull, and John Dykstra, offering a fair assessment of the film's turbulent, rushed production and new re-editing.

Fans will need to retain that DVD to hear it, along with three featurettes that likewise have not been retained for the Blu-Ray: the 12-minute look at the aborted “Star Trek: Phase II” TV revival, the 30-minute “A Bold New Enterprise” documentary on the film’s production, and a close examination of the “Director’s Edition” DVD production. While I can understand the latter’s lack of inclusion, why the former two extras weren’t included is a bit of a puzzle (perhaps they’re being saved for a later Blu-Ray release). Also absent is the test footage from the “Memory Wall” sequence and Michael Okuda’s text commentary, though the latter has been reworked as a “Library Computer” on-screen text index.

Debuting on the Blu-Ray release are a pair of brief new HD featurettes: “The Longest Trek,” which spotlights the genesis of the script’s creation, and “Special Star Trek Reunion,” which interviews several Trekkies who discuss their cameo roles in the sequence where Kirk debriefs the crew on V’Ger’s appearance. There’s also a brief “Starfleet Academy: The Mystery Behind V’Ger” segment, two trailers (both in HD) and TV spots, and 12 minutes of deleted scenes (in 16:9 standard-def) as well.

The most welcome new addition is a fine commentary track with Trek experts Michael and Denise Okuda, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Daren Dochterman, which sprinkles insight into the making of the film and its legacy. It’s not as anecdote-rich as the Director’s Edition commentary but it’s a breezy, enjoyable track that fans should enjoy.

Though “The Motion Picture” was a huge hit, fans and critics were, by and large, disappointed by it.

STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (****, 112 mins., 1982, PG), then, is undoubtedly the reason why Star Trek is still alive and kicking in the 21st century. Trading in the evocative visuals and stilted story of "The Motion Picture" for a more exciting, action-packed, and far more human tale that -- as director Nicholas Meyer explains in his commentary -- touches upon old age, death, heroism, tragedy and triumph, “The Wrath of Khan” has basically become an iconic film of the early ‘80s, and not just for Star Trek die-hards.

The movie needs no introduction for most viewers, except to say that it was the film that really got the cinematic series going, providing a strong, character-oriented story with terrific special effects, a sweeping score by James Horner (that placed him firmly on the map), a swift pace, and a phenomenal performance by Ricardo Montalban that remains a highlight of the sci-fi/fantasy genre, even two decades following its release.

No matter how many times I see the picture, I always get a huge charge out of Montalban's performance as Khan, the vengeance-seeking bad guy who was banished by Captain Kirk back in an episode of the old TV series, "Space Seed." Unlike so many cardboard movie villains, Montalban brings this deranged and yet oddly sympathetic villain totally, completely to life, providing Kirk and the Star Trek universe itself with their most formidable nemesis (I still don't believe that the Borg matches him, if only because there's nothing more chilling than a villain every bit as human as his heroic counterpart). The scenes in which he spars with Kirk are charged with so much emotion that I often find myself re-running them because they're so marvelously executed in terms of writing, direction, and -- of course -- performance.

The most amazing thing about the movie -- which has been impressively brought to Blu-Ray in Paramount’s “Original Motion Picture Collection” -- is that Khan and Kirk never meet on-screen. Credited screenwriter Jack B. Sowards had written a confrontation between the two prior to one of the story's magnificent space battles, but it was dropped over budgetary concerns. A shame, because while “Khan” works splendidly as is, it would have been fascinating to see Montalban and Bill Shatner go at it man-to-man!       

Paramount’s Blu-Ray of “Star Trek II” was restored from its original negative (the only one of the six to receive such treatment), meaning once again that only the theatrical version, and not the expanded Director’s Cut, is offered here. That being said, the few additions to Meyer’s longer version (identical to ABC’s mid ‘80s network TV airing) aren’t earth-shattering, and the BD’s fresh 1080p transfer is crisp and highly satisfying, while still showing some imperfections in the source material at times. As with TMP, the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is immeasurably satisfying.

Extras are both new and reprieved from the prior DVD, with only Michael Okuda’s text commentary having been dropped from its predecessor (once again, it’s been “remixed” in the form of the “Library Computer” feature).

Among the more interesting carry-overs is the Director’s Edition DVD commentary from Nick Meyer that features all kinds of trivia and information that Trekkies are going to love. Certainly he covers the production of the film in far greater detail than the same DVD’s 30-minute documentary (also returning here) which offers interviews with Meyer, producer Harve Bennett, Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Montalban, but is often tedious and dry, marred by close-ups of the participants staring directly into the camera. After a few minutes, viewers may find themselves looking away from the screen while Bennett's eyes are permanently transfixed on them! There's also no discussion of the casting of Kirstie Alley or Merritt Butrick (or anyone else, for that matter), no talk about other deleted scenes, of which there are many. It's still an acceptable presentation for viewers new to the movie, but certainly isn't as comprehensive or detailed as I would have liked.

Meyer's commentary, meanwhile, is fascinating when he talks about working with Shatner (who he says delivered better takes the more he did them) and Montalban ("less is more"), as well as coping with the film's modest budget. He rarely ruffles any feathers, nor talks at length about his complaints over the ending that was changed without his consent, but aside from sporadic moments of self-congratulation, Meyer's talk is candid and quite interesting.

For the Blu-Ray there’s also a new, secondary commentary with Meyer and Trek veteran Manny Coto, which dissects other aspects of the production and compliments Meyer’s original talk nicely (with some natural repetition along the way).

Other, older featurettes examine the production design and ILM's work on the film. This fascinating latter segment includes interviews with the ILM staffers who wisely decided to have the FX on the film fall somewhere between the evocative visual design of TMP and the simpler effects of the original series.

An even longer featurette profiles a pair of authors who wrote Khan-inspired books, which is OK for real die-hards (if not blatantly self-promotional), but why not use this space to include other deleted scenes -- such as Kirk and Spock's exchange about Saavik's half-Romulan nature and other alternate takes from the TV version. Other returning DVD extras include storyboards, the trailer in HD, and some ten minutes of promotional interviews with Shatner, Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and Montalban shot in 1982, shortly before the film's release.

New to the Blu-Ray disc are several HD featurettes, including “Composing Genesis,” a 10-minute interview with James Horner where the composer discusses hanging out with Jerry Goldsmith during the scoring of TMP, how Harve Bennett wanted him to use music from the TV show and TMP while Meyer wanted original, “seafaring” themes; and his concept of using the Kirk-Spock friendship as the driving force for the entire score. It’s a short but nice featurette paying proper tribute to Horner, whose musical abilities graced the second and third films, giving both pictures an emotional center that was sadly absent from Michael Giacchino’s recent score for the new “Star Trek” movie.

There’s also a segment on collecting Trek “relics,” another short “Starfleet Academy” segment, and last but not least, a tribute to Ricardo Montalban from Nicholas Meyer that’s marred by awkward camera work. 

The widespread success of "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan" led Paramount suits to immediately put another sequel in motion. Of course, that film's door-so-wide-open epilogue wasn't exactly ambiguous -- Meyer's original ending had been "re-tooled" by the studio into a virtual advertisement for a third big-screen adventure.

With Leonard Nimoy taking over the directorial reigns, STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (***, 105 mins., 1984, PG) was put into production and released in June of 1984.

Immediately picking up where its predecessor left off, "Search For Spock" shows the Enterprise crew battered and torn from their battle with Khan, one that left the Enterprise in shambles and Spock dead (well, sort of). Soon, however, Dr. McCoy begins showing signs of a ghostly, post-traumatic stress disorder -- as in, speaking like Spock and telling Kirk that he's possibly still out there, somewhere.

Meanwhile, the Klingons -- lead by the ruthless Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) -- have learned of the Genesis Planet and quickly engage in a race against the clock to seize its power. Kirk and Co. commandeer the Enterprise against Starfleet's wishes, and take off not to stop the Klingons but rather try and find whatever of Spock remains on the quarantined planet.

Written by producer Harve Bennett, “The Search For Spock” is the middle part of what turned into the only true story arc among all Star Trek cinematic adventures (indeed, Paramount has issued Parts II-IV separately as a lower-cost “Star Trek: The Motion Picture Trilogy” Blu-Ray release).

As such, it's the only film in the three-film trilogy that doesn't quite exist on its own merits: it bridges the gap between the more thrilling II and the rousing IV, advances the plot, and does so in an unremarkable but effective enough manner. It doesn't quite get a chance to breathe and is strictly workmanlike in execution (partially due to its multiple, claustrophobic sets, and also in its weird casting of Lloyd and John Larroquette as Klingons), but it nevertheless gets the job done and has a particularly satisfying ending that paved the way for the lighter and more energetic "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home."

Paramount’s Blu-Ray disc of “Star Trek III” again showcases the film in HD for the first time courtesy of a respectable AVC encoded transfer. There appears to be some filtering or noise reduction employed throughout, yet a decent amount of grain can still be seen and overall the presentation is an appreciable improvement on the prior DVD, as is the Dolby TrueHD audio.

Extras again include a few new additions: a commentary from Trek vets Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor, three new HD featurettes (a look at ILM’s work on the film; an examination of Trek’s involvement with the Science Fiction Museum Hall of Fame; and “Spock: The Early Years”), another Starfleet Academy primer and the “Library Computer” feature from Michael Okuda, replacing his original DVD text commentary.

Numerous returnees from the prior DVD include an informative group audio commentary from Nimoy, Bennett, Robin "Saavik" Curtis, and cinematographer Charles Correll. Nimoy is unsurprisingly candid and enlightening when talking about the film, particularly when he discusses how he talked Paramount executives into letting him direct the picture. Bennett explains his "task master" role in the series, Correll talks about the challenges involved with filming entirely on studio sets, and Curtis basically praises the cast for accepting her into the fold (while Curtis seems to be an extremely nice person, one still can't help but lament the absence of Kirstie Alley in the role here).

Behind-the-scenes featurettes include “Captain’s Log,” a Making Of that sports interviews with Nimoy, Bennett, Shatner, Curtis, and Christopher Lloyd among others. While this is pretty much another talking head featurette, at least it's not quite as dry as the one produced for "The Wrath of Khan," and Bennett doesn't stare right into the camera again.

Other, shorter featurettes touch upon ILM's special effects on the film ("Space Docks and Birds of Prey"), the Klingon language (with linguist Marc Okrand), costumes, and a technical account of NASA's own "Genesis Planet" terraforming (don't venture here unless you're a real sci-fi junkie!). Storyboards, photos, and the very brief theatrical trailer (which resembles a TV spot) round out the disc.

While I've always been an admirer of “Star Trek III,” I doubt there are many Trekkies who feel this is the best of the series. It is what it is, and includes several strong scenes mixed in with a straightforward plot and stage-bound atmosphere.

With Nimoy having gained experience behind the lens, "Star Trek IV" would arrive two years later and prove to be an overwhelming commercial and critical hit -- by and large considered one of the finest sequels ever made.

To complete the solemn story arc of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and "Star Trek III: The Search For Spock," director Leonard Nimoy and producer Harve Bennett wisely decided to “have a little fun” with STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (****, 118 mins., 1986, PG).

All Paramount execs mandated was that the movie was a time travel picture -- the rest was entirely up to the filmmakers, who ultimately collaborated with "Khan" auteur Nicholas Meyer in fashioning a clever, upbeat sci-fi adventure that remains the most successful of the Trek sequels.

After quickly wrapping up plot fragments left over from the preceding two films, the Enterprise crew heads back to Earth in the Klingon Bird of Prey -- only to find out that an unknown, alien entity is threatening all life back home. The probe's only method of communication is in the song of humpback whales, who are extinct in the 23rd century. Naturally, Kirk and Spock opt to time-travel to 1986 San Francisco in order to find a living specimen to bring back to the future, but with Spock's resurrected brain not quite functioning yet at 100% and the crew in "fish out of water" territory, the comedic situations are exploited even more than the dramatic possibilities.

There has always been a divergence among Star Trek fans on “The Voyage Home,” which is none too surprising since the movie is still the only series entry (with the current exception of J.J. Abrams’ new “Star Trek”) to find breakthrough success at the box-office with mainstream viewers. Various Trekkies have disregarded the movie as frivolous and dumb, sometimes as if it's an insult to the series itself. Others -- and there are far more of them -- recall it being one of the few Star Trek films, outside of "Khan," that they even remember seeing.

As a fan of the original series, I have always felt that “The Voyage Home” showcases Star Trek at its best. Without a heavy, IV is light as a feather and freed from the formula that has plagued many series entries, while the cast, looking as relaxed as ever, seemed invigorated by the sheer scope of the movie, breaking out of the claustrophobic, set-bound trappings of the previous installment. The movie's script, ultimately co-credited to Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes but apparently rewritten completely by Bennett and Meyer, works equally as a comedy and a sci-fi fantasy, with the interplay between Nimoy and Shatner being utterly priceless, despite the obviousness of some of the gags. Even after some 23 years, it's still easy to see why the movie was as popular as it was, grossing over $110 million domestically in '86 dollars (it's the only sequel in the series to pass the $100 million mark).

Paramount's Blu-Ray disc boasts a clean new HD transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio; some purists have objected that the transfer is over-processed and too glossy, yet despite the use of some noise reduction, it’s still colorful and superior to any prior DVD edition of the picture. Leonard Rosenman’s festive (and often unnecessarily derided) Oscar-nominated score, meanwhile, gets an added kick from the “high-res” audio that TrueHD affords.

“Star Trek IV”’s two-disc DVD edition was one of the best in terms of its supplements, and the BD offers all of its original extras, along with several new additions.

Chief among those is a new commentary from current “Star Trek” screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who watch the film from a fan perspective and lend their insight into the film’s strengths. New HD featurettes include “Pavel Chekov's Screen Moments,” interviewing Walter Koenig, plus “The Three-Picture Saga” (new interviews with Harve Bennett, Nicholas Meyer, the usual Trek scholars and producer Ralph Winter), “Star Trek For a Cause” and yet another short Starfleet Academy primer.

Ported over from the two-disc DVD is a commentary by Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner, together for the first time on a commentary track. No, they don't make too many critical comments (and there's not much discussion on the development of the project, or the reports that Catherine Hicks' part was once intended for Eddie Murphy!), but it's nevertheless a congenial talk that fans should enjoy.

An additional Making Of, "Future's Past: A Look Back," includes interviews with Shatner, Nimoy, Bennett, Meyer, Catherine Hicks, and co-producers Ralph Winter and Kirk Thatcher. There aren't a lot of stories revealed here that fans won't already know (and it isn't overly critical, much like the preceding documentaries), but it's an accessible featurette just the same, and far better than the dry, talking head interviews on the “Wrath of Khan” documentary. Some production footage is nicely interwoven in the segment, and is also included on the companion featurettes "On Location" and "Dallies Deconstruction."

Naturally, there's plenty of material on the special effects ("From Outer Space to the Ocean," "The Bird of Prey"), with the usual storyboards and production stills thrown in for good measure, but the big surprises come in the additional materials Paramount has included here. Especially enlightening are a 13-minute tribute to the late Mark Lenard, who played Sarek, and a fun piece called "Kirk's Women," which features comments from Catherine Hicks and several female guest stars of the original series, reflecting on their work with Shatner. It's a lot of fun, as are the interviews with Shatner, Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley shot on the set in 1986. Additional segments look at time travel, "A Vulcan Primer," "The Language of Whales," the movie's sound design, a tribute to Gene Roddenberry, and are topped off by the original trailer in HD, containing James Horner's music from the preceding sequels -- indicating in the process how those themes would have clashed with IV's lighter tone.

“Star Trek IV” is still fun and thoroughly inspired -- right down to Rosenman's jubilant and unorthodox (for the series) score -- and likely to entertain all except the most die-hard Trek curmudgeons.

I can only imagine that if William Shatner's STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (**½, 107 mins., 1989, PG) happened to be the main topic of contention on a college debate team, whatever side is selected to defend the movie would have a far greater challenge on their hands than the group that simply has to attack it.

This is a movie, after all, that's basically been the punching bag out of some 11 Star Trek big-screen features. Until “Star Trek: Nemesis,” it was the least successful of the Star Trek films, and even now, it's reviled in many circles as being the silliest, least significant effort of the entire series.

The detractors can still produce a viable argument as to why they dislike the film, but I guess I have to plead guilty: even though it's certainly a little rough around the edges, I like this movie. Not only is the picture not entirely deserving of its bad rep, I'd also gladly sit through "The Final Frontier" again than any of the “Next Generation” features (with the sole exception of "Star Trek: First Contact").

Following on the massive mainstream success of "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” producer Harve Bennett and director William Shatner had a tough task at hand. Although Shatner concocted a story about the Enterprise crew heading out to the far reaches of the galaxy in an attempt to find God -- a relatively heavy story for a Star Trek film -- it's clear that the studio wanted to retain the colorful humor that proved so successful in "The Voyage Home." Having to mix the humorous with the deep subject matter clearly wasn't going to be easy, and indeed, writer David Loughery's final screenplay shows the difficulty in striking the right balance the filmmakers faced.

Loughery's story follows Spock's renegade half-brother, Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill), and his crusade to find "Shaka-Ri," the supposedly-mythical Garden of Eden in the deep reaches of space. In order to cross the "Great Barrier," Sybok steals the Enterprise from Kirk, Spock and McCoy, who are seen taking a vacation at Yosemite in the movie's opening moments. The meaning of family, the topic of false prophets, and even the nature of religion's existence in the known universe are interspersed by a few comical gags and a subplot involving a freewheeling Klingon commander.

The somewhat rambling nature of the story, plus Shatner's relative inexperience behind the camera (clearly, Bill was no Leonard Nimoy), resulted in a movie that, at least, is nowhere near as polished as its predecessors. The gags range from slapstick (yep, Scotty walking into a beam) to silly, while there are subplots -- from Sybok's hostages to the Klingon angle -- that never really pay off. Laurence Luckinbill's colorful performance would have been more effective on the stage (where the actor was most at home) than on-screen, where he seems just a little over-the-top throughout (Shatner should have had him take it down a notch or two).

Sure, "The Final Frontier" has its issues, but not all of them were director Shatner's fault, as the movie was almost fatally sabotaged by Bran Ferren's visual effects. Since ILM was occupied with work on multiple movies for the summer of 1989 ("Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and "The Abyss" for starters), the decision was made to go with Ferren and his company to provide the F/X. As documented in Shatner's "Star Trek: Movie Memories" book and elsewhere, Ferren had a decent budget at his disposal but completely failed to deliver the necessary goods -- most of his effects entail the Enterprise flying through pools of oil that look like run-off you'd routinely find on the side of a highway. Shatner's originally conceived ending -- involving Kirk running from monstrous creations from hell -- also bit the dust, since executives refused to spend the money needed on his admittedly elaborate climax. What results in the finished film seems hurried and incomplete, but the powers-at-be opted to deep-six any re-shoots, not wanting to spend additional time or money on their tentpole June release. With all of those problems, then, it's no surprise that "The Final Frontier" didn't live up to its financial expectations.

That said, “Star Trek V” is a movie that does have some wonderful moments in it -- namely, the scenes involving Kirk, Spock and McCoy. While many fans either love or hate the "row, row, row your boat" sequence, I find it to be one of the oddly more poignant scenes in all the Trek movies. With the supporting cast relegated back to its strictly secondary nature, Shatner and Loughery at least enable the classic trio of heroes to take the stage in scenes that have as much to do with their relationship as friends and, indeed, family as they do with the plot. And sure, the Sybok element is a bit goofy, but there are also some terrific moments when the gang does probe some of the mysteries of the universe and the human heart -- especially when Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are confronted by Sybok with their own past pain.

The Yosemite scenes are terrifically shot by Andrew Laszlo, and rounding out the action is Jerry Goldsmith's score. With Goldsmith's triumphant "Motion Picture" theme returning for the first time since TMP (along with a reprisal of his Klingon Theme), the composer serves up a beautiful, stirring score that ranks right up there with the best of the entire series: it's majestic and moving, clearly an inspired effort for Goldsmith and still one of my favorites of the late '80s.

“The Final Frontier” may be the least of the original cast movies, but it's nevertheless an ambitious one that's hard not to admire simply because of what Shatner and Co. were attempting here. The massive nature of the story -- does God exist, and if so, where? -- is balanced by small, intimate scenes with Kirk, Spock and McCoy, and it's that very aspect that I find compelling and entertaining in spite of the film's problems.

Boasting a superior HD transfer to “The Voyage Home,” Paramount’s AVC Blu-Ray encode of “The Final Frontier” is quite pleasing, as is the Dolby TrueHD audio. Both the visual and audio presentation are superior to the two-disc Director’s Edition DVD, while again Paramount has served up a mix of both new and older extras, even though these supplements aren't nearly as compelling as the goodies on the four discs that preceded it.

For newly produced extras, Paramount here serves up just a few additions: two HD featurettes (one a tribute to James Doohan, another looking at Trek honoring NASA), one more brief Starfleet Academy primer, and a fresh commentary track with Michael and Denise Okuda, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Daren Dochterman, who discuss the film’s production and various bits of trivia without being overly harsh about its shortcomings.

The rest of the supplements have been carried over from the prior two-disc DVD, including Shatner’s audio commentary and numerous featurettes.

Although Shatner has previously ranted about the trouble he encountered in post-production, he's markedly quiet about that aspect of the movie in his commentary track. Recorded with his daughter Liz (who wrote "William Shatner's Personal Account of the Making of Star Trek V," a book that still sits on my shelf), this is a disappointing talk that's dominated by a lot of dead air. More often than not, Liz prompts her father to discuss various subjects, but Shatner seems unwilling to open up on the juicier aspects of making the film (perhaps a concession to getting this DVD out there in the first place), and what they do talk about has been discussed elsewhere in greater detail.

Also brought onboard are numerous featurettes from the preceding DVD. These include a solid overview of the production, "The Journey," sporting new interviews with Shatner, Loughery, and Harve Bennett. While the tone of the piece is not especially candid, at least there's some discussion of what went wrong behind-the-scenes, though the speakers seem overly concerned about not burning any bridges (does Bran Ferren have dirt on them?).

Additional documentaries include a profile of the two actors who essayed the Klingons (cute, but not necessarily worth 13 minutes); an excellent profile of veteran Trek production designer Herman Zimmerman; an amusing 15-minute interview with Shatner culled from the shooting of the film; a fluffy look at Trek's pro-environmental messages; and a terrifically amusing pitch by Bennett to the Paramount sales team (from 1989) about marketing the sequel.

Most interesting to fans, and the most revealing element of these older extras, are the make-up tests of the "Rockman" Shatner wanted to include at the end of the movie. Though Shatner shoots down the suit that was constructed, I didn't think it looked that bad in the footage screened here, though because the studio only allotted enough money for one suit to be made (Shatner needed a dozen in order to shoot his original climax), it was never used.

Additional make-up tests, special effect mock-ups, stills, storyboards, trailers and TV spots, and a wonderfully vintage press conference (from mid-December, 1988) round out the disc, along with four brief deleted scenes. Running under a total time of five minutes, these are culled from a workprint and are basically extensions of scenes in the finished film.

All in all, this is a fine Blu-Ray presentation of the fifth Trek film. Though the supplements aren't as in-depth or candid as one might hope, the improved BD transfer, the effects test footage and the more vintage extras (the press conference, Shatner's original interview) make it, overall, a worthwhile trip back to a "Final Frontier" that's fun in spite of its flaws. Check it out.

After “Star Trek V” met with declining revenues at the box-office, the powers-at-be decided that the sixth sojourn for the original Enterprise crew would be its last.

Nicholas Meyer returned to co-write and direct STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (***, 113 mins., 1991, PG), a film that received a wealth of positive reviews when it was initially released, performed solidly at the box-office, and was produced to coincide with the 25th Anniversary of Trek itself.

Yet in spite of the film’s many positive aspects, it still comes across -- at least in my eyes -- as an efficient yet somewhat uninspired adventure that's generally entertaining and only a bit pretentious.

This time out, Captain Kirk, Spock and the gang are tabbed for one last mission: to escort a Klingon emissary to a Federation meeting where a peace treaty is to be signed. Of course, something goes seriously awry when the ambassador is assassinated and civility in the galaxy is threatened by the possibility of a full-blown war. It's up to Kirk, Spock and McCoy -- who are convicted for his murder and imprisoned on a snowy planet on the fringes of the universe -- to save the day and stabilize the situation.

Working with a modest budget, Meyer does a good job exploiting his strong suit (clever dialogue) and creating a plot that's more Agatha Christie-like than the usual Trek adventure. Christopher Plummer does a superb job chewing up the scenery as the heavy, but I wish the movie had given the original cast more of a proper send-off than this story gives them.

Certainly "The Undiscovered Country" is fine for what it is, but it doesn't aspire to be seemingly anything more than a better-than-average, more elaborate episode of the show itself. The movie's now-dated political allegory -- with the Klingons obviously representing the Russians in the waning days of the Cold War -- is obvious and Meyer's use of Shakespearean quotes seems heavy-handed, especially for a Star Trek film. More over, there's no real sense of closure at the end of the movie, no real goodbye for a crew that had made its way through three TV seasons and some six features (I don't count a series of on-screen signatures as being a sufficient end). Other disappointments are Cliff Eidelman's overly brooding score (which tries too hard to be different), and a few weak supporting performances (Kim Cattrall's turn as the Vulcan-who-would-be-Saavik is especially underwhelming).

On the other hand, the old stand-bys -- from Shatner to Nimoy and DeForest Kelley -- are all relaxed and fit right into their classic parts, while the effects by ILM make up for the Bran Ferren disaster of "Star Trek V."

For “The Undiscovered Country,” Paramount has opted to only include the film’s theatrical version here on Blu-Ray. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is excellent, as is the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, but the lack of the expanded version (with its altered, so-called “Scooby-Doo” ending) makes you suspect that another series of “Director’s Edition” Star Trek Blu-Rays are on the docket for a future release.

For the Blu-Ray disc Paramount offers viewers the same extras as its prior DVD as well as a group of additions. Among the new features is an enjoyable commentary from veteran Trek writers/producers Larry Nemecek and Ira Steven Behr, two new HD featurettes (“Tom Morga: Alien Stuntman,” “To Be or Not to Be: Klingons and Shakespeare”), and one last Starfleet Academy primer.

Ported over from the original DVD are Meyer and producer Denny Martin Flynn’s original commentary, a “Making Of” featurette plus a handful of shorter (5-10 mins.) featurettes that look at the development of the story, the production, and the final day of shooting. A longer 15-minute segment nicely pays tribute to DeForest Kelley, and there's a short prop tour available for interested fans. Original trailers in HD and storyboards round out another strong presentation from Paramount.

THE ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE COLLECTION is topped off by a seventh bonus disc featuring the 70-minute “Captain’s Summit,” an all-new conversation between William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes, as moderated by Whoopi Goldberg.

This marvelous, highly entertaining discussion is presented in HD and is packed with laughs and genuine emotion, from Shatner’s admission that he still hasn’t seen an episode of “The Next Generation,” to the terrible costumes and the legacy of Star Trek itself. The chemistry between all four actors is irresistible, Whoopi does a good job moderating and the result is a terrific cap on a package that may not be entirely complete (we’ll leave the omissions for the next group of Blu-Rays), but should certainly satisfy most Trek fans until another, more definitive edition comes down the road.

New & Coming Soon on Blu-Ray

A BUG'S LIFE (***½, 95 mins., 1998, G; Disney): Sumptuous Disney Blu-Ray presentation of the Pixar-Disney box-office smash boasts one of the most gorgeous, flawless transfers you'll ever see, along with a superior collection of supplements.

The 1998 movie, which marked another technical achievement for Pixar and director John Lasseter, is slightly more simplistic than their “Toy Story” pictures and is geared a bit more towards young children, but the film nevertheless has appealing characters and a bounty of visual riches that are spectacular to behold.

New intros from Lasseter, a filmmaker roundtable discussion, and animated sequences from the original treatment are exclusive to the Blu-Ray disc, while copious extras also abound from the original DVD: a production team commentary plus all the pre-production material and storyboards you'd ever want to glance at, to test footage and abandoned concepts, touching upon all aspects of the movie's production. The short “Geri’s Game,” additional outtakes and other goodies are also on-hand, though Randy Newman’s isolated score track has not been retained.

“A Bug’s Life” was shot in digital Cinemascope, so the fully digital transfer here in AVC-encoded 1080p is simply spectacular. Colors, details, and the overall clarity of the image are flawless on every front, making this a sure-fire demo disc for its picture content.

TRUE ROMANCE (**½, 121 mins., 1993, Unrated; Warner): Regular readers know I’m not a huge aficionado of Quentin Tarantino, yet I do have a small soft spot for this violent, uneven and offbeat 1993 thriller which Tarantino scripted. However, under the direction of Tony Scott, “True Romance” feels like a combination of a typical Tarantino outing with a more polished studio picture, and the offbeat supporting cast (Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken) does a fine job supporting The Q Man’s of a runaway couple (Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette) trying to make off with a suitcase of stolen mob property. Warner’s Blu-Ray disc looks a little over-processed with digital noise reduction but it’s still satisfying overall, while a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack supports one of Hans Zimmer’s more memorable scores from the early ‘90s. Numerous extras from the prior DVD include three commentaries and additional scene-specific comments, deleted and extended scenes, an alternate ending, the trailer, photo gallery, and vintage 1993 featurette. 

FALLING DOWN (**, 112 mins., 1992, R; Warner): Michael Douglas gives an admirable performance in this superficial 1992 Joel Schumacher thriller, which would love to be a treatise on the inherent rage of the white American male circa 1992 but comes off more as a glib updating of “Death Wish” instead. Warner’s Blu-Ray presentation of “Falling Down” marks the first Special Edition of the film (a corresponding DVD is also due out with the same extras), and boasts a clean, effective 1080p transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio. Extras include a new commentary track with Douglas and Schumacher, a conversation with the star, and the original trailer.

ANACONDA (**½, 89 mins., 1997, PG-13; Sony): Enjoyable creature feature finds a film crew heading deep into the Amazon to document a lost civilization, only to run into a charismatic guide who has an agenda of his own: namely, finding an elusive, giant Anaconda that’s a whopper of a man-eater!

“Anaconda” sounds like every bad Sci-Fi Channel original movie, and indeed it has inspired a group of low-rent sequels (read below). Yet the 1997 film is an entertaining slice of guilty pleasure genre fun -- thanks almost entirely to its cast. Jon Voight hams it up to a level even Jonas Hodges would be proud of as the local hunter who knows all about the big snake, while Jennifer Lopez -- back before she completely became a diva -- is fine as the reluctant heroine (and documentary film director!) who joins forces with Ice Cube in taking the creature down. Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer, and Eric Stoltz co-star in director Louis Llosa’s monster flick (which took in nearly $65 million at the box-office), which gets an additional charge out of Bill Butler’s cinematography and Randy Edelman’s decent score. “Anaconda” is no “Jaws” but it’s fun for the minor-league frightfest that it is, and the cast gives it an additional, enduring appeal.

Sony’s Blu-Ray disc boasts a fine AVC encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD sound. Both the audio and visual elements are excellent, but extras are non-existent.

Sony also has yet another direct-to-video “Anaconda” sequel due out shortly on DVD: ANACONDAS: TRAIL OF BLOOD (88 mins., 2009, R), starring Crystal Allen and John Rhys-Davies, which is a follow-up to the 2008 direct-to-video “Anaconda III: The Offering,” boasting more small-screen oriented F/X and formulaic action. It’s pretty typical mediocre stuff all the way, and even David Hasselhoff (who starred with Allen in the prior installment) was smart enough to bypass it. That said, Sony’s DVD does include a perfectly acceptable 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

SKY CRAWLERS (**, 121 mins., 2008, PG-13; Sony): Disappointing anime from “Ghost in the Shell” director Mamoru Oshi is set in an undefined future (but looks an awful lot like a British WWII movie), where young pilots dubbed the “Kildren” fight vivid aerial battles in the skies above and ponder the meaning of their existence on the ground below. Oshi’s film isn’t nearly as exciting as you might anticipate given the subject matter, with the action sequences bogged down by an awful lot of chatter. The sound design by Skywalker Sound’s Randy Thom and Tom Myers is effective (and ranks as the Blu-Ray disc’s strongest asset in Dolby TrueHD), yet the movie is pretty tepid, and reportedly bombed in theaters in its native Japan. The BD disc also includes a solid AVC encoded transfer with featurettes on the animation and sound design.

FAST COMPANY (**½, 93 mins., 1979, R; Blue Underground): Little-screened 1979 effort from David Cronenberg gets its due in a terrific new HD presentation courtesy of Blue Underground. The subject matter, examining a big-time car racing team and its problems on and off the circuit, is certainly atypical for the director, but Cronenberg devotees will appreciate the fact that “Fast Company” is not only in circulation at long last (due to a distribution problem) but that the movie looks terrific: the 1080p transfer (1.85) is top-notch for an “undiscovered” film, while DTS Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks comprise the spry audio offerings. Extras include commentary from Cronenberg, interviews with stars John Saxon and William Smith, a conversation with cinematographer Mark Irwin, the trailer, and two other, early films (“Stereo” and “Crimes of the Future”) from the director.

POWDER BLUE (*½, 106 mins., 2007, R; Image): Tepid ensemble drama follows four miserable folks in L.A. (cancer-stricken hitman Ray Liotta; stripper Jessica Biel; grieving ex-priest Forest Whitaker; and basket case Eddie Redmayne) in a movie that would love to be “Crash” but fails pretty much across the board -- except when Biel shows up topless, in a role that generated the actress a fair amount of publicity during production. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, that press didn’t extend back to the movie itself, which rightly has gone straight to video. Image’s Blu-Ray disc includes a fine 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound, a Making Of featurette, photo gallery, the trailer, and commentary from writer-director Timothy Linh Bui.

NEXT TIME: TERMINATOR SALVATION and More! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address.  Cheers everyone!

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