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Bryan Young

Bryan Young

Posted: May 28, 2009 12:23 PM

Looking Back at the Original Star Trek Motion Pictures


"You know what six movies average out to be really good? The first six Star Trek movies!" --Phillip J. Fry,

Ever since the release of the most recent Star Trek motion picture a couple of weeks ago, the original adventures of the crew of the USS Enterprise have been occupying more and more space in my mind. I had forgotten how big of a Star Trek fan I was (as opposed to my first and truest love, Star Wars) and this new movie had rekindled that fire that had almost winked out deep inside me. I'd seen all of the movies as a kid (the ones I was alive and conscious for, anyway) and once again about five or six years ago on a binge of Star Trek films I'd undertaken because I wanted to make sure all of the films were, indeed, better than the last couple of Next Generation-centric films.

Aside from repeated viewings of Star Treks II and VI (my two personal favorites) I'd only seen each only a small handful of times. I'd recently seen the first season of The Original Series on Blu-ray and was once more ready to dive in and watch the continuing adventures of the Enterprise crew on the silver screen. And since I can't see them on the silver screen, what better way than to watch them in all of their high definition glory in the Blu-ray format?

There are a couple of things I'd like to put aside. I'm not going to talk much about Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. I think those movies have their place in this collection and I was grateful to see them again. The first film in the series has been described before as '2001 in the Star Trek universe, only more boring.' And I can see the similarities there, but we'll simply take that film for what it is. As for the Final Frontier, let's just say the film has its moments but overall it's just 90 minutes of Shatner hamming it up in a faux-philosophical western. (Sort of like The Matrix, except Star Trek V is way better.)

What I'd really like to talk about is the cultural impact Star Trek II-IV and Star Trek VI had and how the world we lived in the 80s shaped what those stories were.

The central trilogy of Star Trek films, starting with The Wrath of Khan (which looks breathtaking in this new hi-def remaster) and ending with The Voyage Home, told a linear story that begins with Admiral Kirk and his crew taking the Enterprise on a leisurely training mission that ends in disaster when they have to do mortal battle with Khan Noonien Singh. It soon sees the death and resurrection of Spock and the destruction of the original USS Enterprise. Escaping on a Klingon warship, the Enterprise crew manages to realize that they need to save the world by traveling back in time to rescue a species from extinction and then come home and face the consequences of their gross insubordination.

While the middle act of these films is poorly regarded, the story arc averages out to be quite a thrilling adventure that keeps you on the edge of your seat and, if you're my age and had parents willing to take you to Star Trek movies, keeps you swimming in a sea of fond memories.

The thing Star Trek does better than most anything is enable you to hold a mirror up to your culture and show you its deepest -- oftentimes hidden -- flaws. As the last good Star Trek films made before the fall of the Soviet Union, it's fascinating to see a look back at those prejudices refracted through Star Trek's fictional future taking a look at our past (or present, when the films were released.) Obviously the prejudice against Klingons was a reflection of the prejudice of the Soviet Union and the Klingons were hated and feared by both the crew and the audience.

There is also a gentle naivety present in the portrayal of the 80s in Star Trek IV. According to a this film, we lived in a world that was dark and unforgiving (allowing the extinction of a species) but naive and optimistic (keeping a Russian prisoner like Chekov on a nuclear ship for questioning and then letting him escape so easily, then making sure he got proper medical treatment when he hurt himself in his escape attempt.) For the most part, I think that still holds true, but hasn't been as apparent to me as when watching these adventures of Star Trek.

At it's best, that's what Star Trek is for.

The most interesting in allegory, however, is Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the first good Star Trek film to be released after the end of the Cold War. This film begins with the untimely destruction of Praxis, a world key to the Klingon Empire in keeping up their war with the Federation. Needing to negotiate terms of a truce with the Federation, they request James T. Kirk, the most renowned of star ship captains, to greet them. But Kirk has spent a lifetime fighting and hating the Klingons (they even killed his son in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) and he's forced to put aside those feelings because the Klingons are simply no longer the enemy.

Though Star Trek VI is perhaps one of the most thrilling and action-packed of the original Star Trek motion pictures, it is also the most poignant as far as the forced change of attitude and politics in the Star Trek universe. The Evil Empire had fallen and we had to adjust to the new status quo every bit as much as the former enemy did. Sure, there would be a few holdouts (*cough* General Chang *cough*), but overall the universe would be a better place.

At the end of the day, though, the set of original Trek DVDs is well worth your time and money. There is literally an ocean of bonus material that I've slowly been wading through. There's so much there that you could spend weeks exploring everything. There are commentaries, BD-Live features, behind the scenes, additional documentaries, and even more material than you could shake a fist at. Perhaps the most interesting bonus feature is on the bonus 7th disc in the set, entitled "The Captain's Summit". Filmed exclusively for this box set, the summit is a roundtable discussion about Star Trek, past and present, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. The four present at the summit? William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes. They laughed a lot and so did I.

This feature alone is worth buying this Blu-ray version of the set for.

Bryan Young is the producer of Killer at Large and writes about comics and other geeky stuff daily at Big Shiny Robot!