In 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture first transported audiences back to the world of Captain Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. In doing so, it re-launched a franchise — five more films featuring the TOS crew as well as multiple spin-offs and films — and brought life back to the fandom. David C. Fein, the man behind the upcoming Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition, was one such fan.
“I grew up on the classic TV show,” Fein told StarTrek.com during an interview. “I was living in New York City, and I had to be home at 6:00 PM every single night in order to see Star Trek. I grew up on classic Star Trek. It became a major part of who I am.”
I learned so much about [it], watching that and growing up to learn everything I possibly could about it,” he continued. “What was always important is that the story mattered first.”
Fein first joined the franchise 22 years ago, when he — along with director Robert Wise — released the Director's Cut of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. “The film had never been finished, originally. It was rushed into theaters because of various marketing arrangements that had been made, and promises of the movie opening when it needed to open. Whatever could be assembled was assembled and put into theaters. That was so rushed. There were so many problems with the film, and even the point of the film was missing.”
Fein had asked Wise for years if they could go back and release a director's cut of the film. “He had some apprehension, especially because he wasn't as familiar with Star Trek, even at the time, and relied on the actors and everybody else. But he understood that collaborating with us, with me and my team, would really make the difference of being able to finish the film. So we finished the film with 100 new visual effects shots, and it took about 1,000 edits, just to tighten the film, to get it to work back then.”
The film was re-released on DVD to mass success, but as the 40th anniversary of the film began to approach, Fein considered going back to his project. “My focus was to finish the film, not necessarily where it was going to be released. In finishing the film, the focus was using every tool within the ability of today, to focus on telling the story and finishing the story the best it could possibly be.” With that in mind, Fein set about remastering the director's cut, now titled Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition.
“Most restorations are we want to make a 40-year-old film look great for a 40-year-old film. That wasn't the goal. When I was speaking to Robert Wise over the years, we learned about HDR, which is a better contrast that was in film, and learned so much more about where audio was going. He absolutely pushed me to always use every tool available and focus on the story. That's what happened this time,” Fein continued. “So the sound mix, which is a theatrical Dolby sound mix, is fantastic. It carries the story forward. In cleaning up the film and going back to the original camera negative, which absolutely blew my expectations away, I never realized how blurry many of the effect shots were just because of the rush to get them out. There was such a loss of quality. To be able to go back, even for the shots that previously existed and reassemble them from the different layers of effect elements, brought tears to my eyes. It was so beautiful.”
Restoring the film brought unexpected surprises as they began the process. “The day we brought back the effects team that we had previously… We wanted to bring back those people who had the experience of building the work originally. And the first thing we had to do was bring back the team, which the majority did return, which is wonderful mojo. It was great. We rebuilt the Enterprise. We brought that up there because there's so many little details you never saw in the ship, but I wanted to make sure that our digital version was exact. So we had all of that reference.”
“Then we upgraded it again because now we're going from a postage stamp to a theater screen, to a giant screen,” Fein added. “And everything had to hold up. So the first thing we had to do was build the team back and then we had to start working on those effects. But at the same time, we had to go back to the studio and get the scan of the film, the negative of the film.”
Another challenge was working on the sound, which led to a fantastic discovery for Fein and his team. They discovered the original ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) for the film that they previously had not access to, which meant a piece of Star Trek history was being unearthed as they remastered the film. This also led to a heartfelt moment for Fein.
“Bob was directing the actors,” Fein said, getting emotional as he spoke about his friend, who passed away in 2005. “To hear him saying, ‘Okay, now let's do it again.’ But this way was magic. There have been just such a few times that I feel like he was standing behind me or telling me, ‘We need to do this. We need to do that.’ It was so precious that I just had to love it. And that was one of many things.”
For fans of the film, Fein also has another big surprise he revealed during the interview. “There's a deleted scene that we wanted to have back 20 years ago,” he said. “This was Ilia and Scotty and Decker in engineering. We found some of the footage 20 years ago, but there was no audio, so there was really no point in showing the scene. But it's three or four scenes that people have wanted to see forever. So we re-transferred that footage… and we found out that Bob looped the dialogue for the scene. Now that scene's going to be included in the physical media release and others, because he looped a few. And we found other key scenes that are just fantastic.”
Fein also teased “there's new dialogue from the actors in the background here and there, that you've never heard before that you're going to be surprised about.”
“Classic Star Trek didn't have the money for visual effects,” Fein later said as we discussed The Original Series. “Flash to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and there's so much spectacle, so much spectacle. But it always remained about the people. And that's what's precious.”
Fein finds the focus on characters — particularly Jim Kirk — to be what helps make The Motion Picture — The Director’s Edition such a strong film.
“One of the things that I've always said about The Director's Edition from when we originally cut it even to now, is that we found our captain,” he said. “When you watch the original theatrical [edition], he's really angry. I never felt that he was really the character of Kirk that he was supposed to be. Even Bob didn't feel that it was right, but it was what we had to do to get the story together. So through editing, we were able to make him more human and more Kirk-like. If you pay attention to the story as it flows now, where I say it's compelling, I love how he's alone. He gets the Enterprise back, but he's not feeling overly secure.”
“McCoy comes. He calls McCoy back, and he gets a little more confident,” Fein added. “And then Spock shows up, and you see the joy on his face, like ‘I never thought Spock would be here. Spock's here.’ And it's such a story about the people, them coming together, to face this amazing entity that's coming.”
“Imagine just the thrill and the fact that this boldly went where no movie or series went before. And it launched everything. Even though it's still about the people,” Fein concluded, as we discussed Trek being a story-driven franchise. “It still remains about the people. Because after all, it's the human adventure, which is just beginning.”
As a gift to fans, Fein has also created phone backgrounds and desktop wallpapers featuring the remastered version of Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition art. You can download them here to share your love of the final frontier, and of the human adventure that makes it so special.