Back to the Future

Robert Wise finishes Star Trek: The Motion Picture--22 years later

When the idea of restoring ST:TMP was suggested by filmmakers David C. Fein and Michael Matessino two years ago, Wise was at first resistant. The two finally convinced him to approach Paramount about completing his movie, and the studio agreed, but only for home-video release. Wise then began working with producer Fein, restoration supervisor Matessino, visual-effects supervisor Daren Dochterman, and Foundation Imaging, the special effects company responsible for the look of the Star Trek: Voyager series. It would take five months for the filmmakers to, at long last, "find the movie's flow," as Fein says.

Fein doesn't like to use the words "fixing" or "restoring" when talking about the project; instead, he says, it's a "celebration of the film" and "a continuation of where the first team finished." As far as he's concerned, ST:TMP simply had the longest preview screening in the history of film, and the forthcoming DVD edition is a result of decades' worth of accrued criticism. Even then, he insists, nothing has been done to the film that wasn't supposed to have been done to it in 1979--meaning the filmmakers haven't gone in and digitally added new characters or altered the plot as George Lucas did for the so-called special editions of the Star Wars films. In fact, most of the alterations to Trek came straight from the original storyboards and production memos, which were found among Wise's archives at the University of Southern California.

"I was very adamant that we don't try anything that was not out of the realm of possibility in 1979," says Dochterman. "But that was one of the most fun parts of this project--the archeology."

This is illogical: Capt. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and director Robert Wise on the unhappy set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
This is illogical: Capt. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and director Robert Wise on the unhappy set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

"It was not simply saying, 'Now we can work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 2000,'" Matessino adds. "It was, 'How do we get into the mindset that it's 1979 and we have two months' more work on Star Trek?'"

Despite myriad Internet reports to the contrary, the "new" ST:TMP will not feature a great deal of previously unseen footage (including the infamous "memory wall" Kirk-Spock spacewalk sequence that takes place inside V'ger). Most of the additions are taken from the additional 12 minutes' worth of footage put back in the film when it aired on ABC in the '80s, including a handful of Kirk-Spock scenes Nimoy and Shatner proposed during production to humanize the chilly tale. Scenes have actually been trimmed (especially those containing repetitive dialogue, such as those moments when crew members point out what we've already seen), and much of what has been added are additional special-effects shots (an astonishingly "lifelike" computer-generated Enterprise has been created for some key sequences) and a new sound mix (some of which restores effects familiar to fans of the original series) that Fein insists makes the film far more "intense." Indeed, after the new cut was screened for the ratings board, the original G rating was upped to a PG.

"There is very little in this version that had not come from an original storyboard," Fein says. "This was not us going, 'How can we reinvent the wheel?' We're going back to the original storyboards and turning those ideas into reality. Bob Wise is not a supporter of revisionist history. It's not a matter of revising the picture; this is not an alternate version...But if people sit down and watch this version and say, 'I don't remember it being this good,' I will be thrilled."

Nimoy is not among those anxiously awaiting the DVD, if only because he resolved his own issues when ABC aired the film with his excised suggestions restored. Any ill will he had toward the franchise in 1979 was exorcised during the filming of subsequent Trek films, two of which he directed.

"If I had anything to prove, I think I did it a long time ago," Nimoy insists. "This is really about Bob Wise. It's not about me or Bill Shatner or any of us."

For Wise, it was necessary to step back in time, if only because he needed "closure," a term often used by Nimoy, Fein, and Wise himself. He has retired from filmmaking, and is content that at long last, all 40 of his films look, sound, and feel just as he intended.

"When I did West Side Story, we screened it for the cast and crew before we took it to the Midwest for a couple of sneak previews," he recalls. "I'll never forget, Sam Goldwyn and his wife were there, and Mrs. Goldwyn said to me after the showing, 'The minute I sat down in the theater, I wasn't in that theater. I was in that film, all the way through it.' That's the greatest compliment you can pay any film. It grabs the audience from the very beginning and never lets them go. They forget they're looking at a film. That's what you try for. And I've finally done that with Star Trek."

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