The Bottom Line
Star Trek: The Motion Picture 4K Blu-ray Review
When Star Trek unceremoniously ended its run of three TV seasons in 1969, it was with a sense of surprise that its loyal fan base not only remained but flourished thanks to re-runs in syndication. Despite a short-lived animated series, by the mid-1970s Star Trek could no longer be ignored, and another series to be called Star Trek: Phase II was commissioned by Paramount Television. While that show would have seen Kirk, Spock, and the crew of the Enterprise completely replaced, the massive success of Star Wars in 1977 gave Paramount the impetus to change course and return the franchise (and the Enterprise) in a big-budget feature-length film, which became known rather unimaginatively as Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Bringing together the entire crew of the original series, The Motion Picture sees James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise reunited in a bid to stop an unknown, hostile energy source from wreaking havoc across the universe, which will destroy Earth in the process.
While some fans have traditionally derided the slow pace of the film (sometimes harshly referred to as The Motionless Picture), it would appear that opinions towards the film have softened in the last few years. While it doesn't match the thrills of Wrath of Khan or the approachability of The Voyage Home, it successfully captures the tone and 'essence' of the TV series better than any of the other feature films, offers a satisfying reunification of the original crew, while continuing to ask (and sometimes answering) some of the big questions which Star Trek has always been known for.
Of note is this 4K release offers the original theatrical release of the film and not the generally preferred Director's Edition. Initially finalized in standard definition back in 2001, the elements were woefully out of date by the time the franchise hit Blu-ray in 2009, let alone in 2021 with Ultra HD. However, in great news, Paramount has announced they've greenlit a full 4K director's edition under the same restoration team of David C. Fein, Mike Matessino, and Daren R. Dochterman, who worked with the now-deceased Director Robert Wise. It is expected that the film will have a short exclusivity on the Paramount Plus streaming service before hitting physical UHD and BD discs later in the year.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with H.265 compression and finished with a Dolby Vision pass, in addition to a base HDR-10 layer.
Following a renewed push by Paramount Pictures to restore and exploit its sizeable back catalog for 4K, the studio has finally turned its attention to one of the crew jewels in their vaults. Owing to the age of the film, coupled with the analog origins of its still impressive visual effects, which were all reflected in the previous Blu-ray release of The Motion Picture, I'd be willing to take a bet that far and away this required more care and attention of any of the Star Trek feature films - although you won't see much evidence of that in the final product.
The Motion Picture enjoys a spectacular 4K restoration that turns back the ravages the time, presenting it in a quality that surpasses the original theatrical presentation. The image is clear and detailed, free of the film artifacts that littered every single frame in previous presentations, with glorious color balance and a fine grain structure.
Overall, this is a stunning achievement that will delight fans and will provide an excellent basis for the upcoming director's edition version of the film. I eagerly look forward to how that might better some of the problematic effects shots.
The main audio track here is a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, at 24 bits.
Originally released to theatres with a Dolby stereo track, Star Trek: The Motion Picture saw a full 5.1 remix undertaken for its 2001 DVD premiere, which was finessed into a 7.1. remix for the 2009 Blu-ray version. This 4K release repurposes the latter mix, which proves itself to be more than capable in 2021.
It's a suitably active mix, with quite a bit of surround activity. The fidelity of some of the sound effects is a little dated (I suspect that a lot of the effects from the original series were recycled), but without betraying the original mix, little could be done to improve this. Bass usage is very frequent and underscores the action with some suitably punchy activity. Jerry Goldsmith provides a fine score, one whose grandeur helps elevate the production values from the original series.
Overall, a fairly pleasing mix, which walks a fine line between respecting the original soundtrack and updating it for the HD generation.
Unfortunately, unlike the U.S. release, Paramount has not included a copy of the standard Blu-ray in the Australian release, which means all the video-based features are completely missing in action. This is a super disappointing trend that shows no sign of abating.
At the very least, though, the 4K disc does include the previous audio commentary featuring Michael & Denise Okuda, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, and Daren Dochterman, alongside a newly assembled isolated score which presents Jerry Goldsmith's amazing score matched to the visuals.
The Motion Picture is often ignored in favor of its more popular or accessible sequels, but to me best exemplifies Star Trek, despite its varied flaws.