Late-night 4K Trek

Last night I did something I haven’t done in awhile; I had a half-hour or so before going to bed and decided to unpack my 4K Star Trek movies set and watch a bit of both Star Trek: TMP and Wrath of Khan. You know, load up the disc, drop into the film at pretty much random points, see how it holds up in 4K: not something I ever do, really- I much prefer to just sit down and watch the whole film. But it was late, and I’m not sure when I’m ever going to get around to these films.

(I’ve bought quite a few discs in the recent sales, far too many, to be honest, and the ‘to-watch-list’ is getting quite ridiculous now).

So for Star Trek:TMP I found myself watching the scenes after the Enterprise leaves Drydock: when it slips into the wormhole, the verbal sparks between Kirk and Decker after, Spock arriving… drawn into the film for longer than I’d intended, I stuck around for the Enterprise first encountering the V’ger Cloud just so I could wallow in some Trumbull effects and Goldsmith music. Its good for the soul.

General consensus has it that Wrath of Khan is the best of all the Star Trek movies, but I prefer The Motion Picture. It feels more… serious, mythic, a sense of Big Ideas. Of course Wrath of Khan wasn’t helped by TMP’s perceived failures, and while it does improve on some things (the character beats for Kirk, Spock and McCoy feel more akin to the TV show,. and they get plenty of screen time together) it does suffer from such a reduced sense of scale and ambition that some of the sets compare poorly to tv-fodder like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Anyhow, when I popped Khan into the player I watched the part when the Enterprise departs Spacedock (quelle deja-vu!) and up to Reliant’s first attack on the Enterprise. 

I enjoyed it more than I expected to. I figure its one of the best things about Trek- the shows variety. Looking back on the 1960s three seasons, the show was quite different, episode by episode. The Motion Picture is like more highbrow episodes like The Cage or City on the Edge of Forever, and Wrath of Khan is more, well, Doomsday Machine. Oddly, Doomsday Machine is one of my favourite episodes, the one I’ve watched more times than any other, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that Khan should be my favourite of the films. Well that’s just me being more contrary again I guess.

The Motion Picture is such a 1970s film. Its rather lovely, all the costumes (well, maybe we could do without those security dudes) and the sense of the film being ‘a motion picture’ at a time when that actually meant something. Wrath of Khan is very much a 1980s picture: its funny how films were already sliding into being marketable properties, perhaps more entertainment than art-form. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but I was getting tired when I switched off the television. I just had a weird feeling of something seismic happening between the two films, which I hadn’t noticed before, something that’s still happening today.  

When my head finally hit the pillow upstairs, I found sleep didn’t come easy. Instead I was thinking back to 1982, when Khan came out, that wonderful year of Poltergeist, Tron, Conan The Barbarian, The Thing, E.T., Blade Runner,  First Blood, Creepshow, Firefox, The Dark Crystal…the bastard children of George Lucas’ Star Wars, of five years before, Hollywood finally thinking it had figured it out. The irony being, its still trying to figure it out, but we just don’t have wonderful years like that anymore.

3 thoughts on “Late-night 4K Trek

  1. Great post! I also appreciate the scope and ideas of The Motion Picture. And man, those “Trumbull effects” are glorious. It really feels like a 1970s sci-fi film, doesn’t it? I like Wrath of Khan too, but it’s a different kind of film, as you say. More action-focused and better characterizations of the main Enterprise crew. Yet it feels smaller in scope and depth. At least we have Ricardo Montalban as Khan clearly enjoying himself chewing the scenery!

  2. Matthew McKinnon

    I watched TMP all the way through – I’d been wishing for this release for some time, so it seemed the appropriate and respectful thing to do. I haven’t watched 2 or 3 yet.

    I can’t help thinking the change of tone between TMP and its first sequel was the right thing to do: no-one really ‘wanted’ TMP at the time. The epic, grandiose and slightly lugubrious feel was a big leap for fans of the show. And for casual viewers Star Wars had shifted SF into action movie territory, so hard-SF ideas weren’t really fashionable.

    As much as I love TMP for its strangeness and beauty – and I really do love it – can you really conceive of an ongoing series of films like that? It’d be hard to find an audience for them – I think even Trekkers might have lost interest a bit. I’m content that it exists as a weird artefact in isolation.

    I think the scale of 2 & 3 is fine in many ways. It’s a shame they both have such cheap-looking sets and production design [especially 3, though 2 isn’t great either], but that’s balanced by the excellent visual effects and music. It works.

    [Also a shame the whole thing descended into sitcom territory with 4, but I’m fine ignoring that one now. The story ends at the conclusion of 3 as far as I’m concerned].

    1. Agh, as if I wasn’t feeling guilty enough regards dipping into 4K STMP. Well, hopefully I’ll be able to find a night over Christmas when I can settle down and watch it properly throughout.

      In a perfect alternate universe, there’s a version of WOK that uses the same lighting, sets and costumes as TMP but with Khan and the action stuff thrown in. That’d be the perfect Star Trek for me.

      You are of course correct regards TMP finding an audience, and I think its no coincidence that my ever-growing appreciation for the film over the years perhaps reflects how much faster/noisier/emptier of ideas sci-fi movies and blockbusters in general have increasingly become. Part of it is the pacing and editing of films now, as nervous as they are regards keeping viewers attention- possibly why Villeneuve’s films appeal to me so much with their often glacial pacing.

      I’m with you regards #4: I doubt I’ll ever even watch the 4K copy in my set.

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