I’m down in Dallas visiting my parents. Since my dad & I always liked watching Star Trek together, when we were in a video shop down here I bought a copy of the director’s edition DVD of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (ST:TMP) used for eight bucks. Now I know that ST:TMP is the most boring of all the Star Trek films. But the extras looked very interesting. Because of my work, I’m interested in how Star Trek went from a cult item to a major film franchise.
Anyhow, here’s my assessment of the director’s edition DVD. First off, CGI SUCKS! When I bought the DVD I did not know that the Star Trek guys, just like Star Wars guys, went back and “improved” their old special effects with computerized enhancements. When I am president of the world this will be a capital offense. OK. Sure. The effects look more”realistic” — whatever that means. But they lose all personality and taste, instead turning into generic muck. Sure the Photoshop® created backdrop of the futuristic San Francisco (home of Star Fleet HQ) may look more “real” than the old matte painting, meaning it looks more like a photograph. But it also sucks dead donkey dicks. One of the extras has all these smug CGI effects “artists” commenting on how they improved upon the old effects. It’s disgusting. You cannot compare the effects created by real sweating human beings with real objects to guys who sit in front of computer screens clicking their mouses all day. Give me a plastic shuttle craft model supported by piano wire in front of a painted sky over some generic CGI crap any day of the week.
So the thing I always think about whenever I watch Star Trek is the way the various alien characters represent the producers’ ideas about various cultures. The Klingons are quite obviously the Cold War era Soviets. The Romulans seem to be the Chinese. The Vulcans, I’m convinced, represent Japanese style Zen Buddhism. The Japanese as a country, by the way, were represented in the 80′s by the Borg. They all look alike, act as a group, and try to assimilate everybody.
Anyhow, in the beginning of ST:TMP we see Mr. Spock about to complete his Vulcan training which will remove all traces of emotion once and for all. But he refuses to accept his transmission certficate when he feels a presence calling him from outer space. You can look the film up on imdb to find out the rest of the plot. But in the end, Spock finds that the real truth lies not in getting rid of his emotions, but in embracing them.
Now Gene Roddenberry didn’t really get Buddhism at all. But it’s pretty evident he read a lot of books about it. He even got married in a Buddhist ceremony in Japan. I’d venture a wild guess the books he read about Zen were mainly the works of DT Suzuki and Alan Watts. In those books he must certainly have encountered the Buddhist idea of suppressing emotions. But, having never really experienced what that means, he had no way to envision it but to imagine that getting rid of emotions would turn a person into something like a robot.
It doesn’t. But it’s very hard to explain this matter. It may be the use of the word “emotion” itself that creates confusion. It’s a natural reaction to laugh and cry. But we tend to abuse our natural reactions by manipulating them with thought, turning them into what we call emotions. We hang on to our happiness and sadness far longer than is healthy. We long for happiness and fear sadness, thus missing out on most of our lives which are neither very happy nor very sad. We crave those emotional highs and lows.
When we avoid this “emotional abuse” our lives become much more stable and comfortable. I’ve never met a single Zen practitioner who turned into the kind of steely cold alien Mr. Spock is at the beginning of ST:TMP.
Whatever. Anyway, back to the DVD review. Even though the CGI enhancements SUCK ASS the ST:TMP DVD is pretty cool for the extras. You get a few brief clips from the “lost” Star Trek series, Star Trek: Phase II, which never made it into production. Looks like they were gonna use the old mini-skirt uniforms and everything. Hubba-hubba. Too bad they ditched that idea for the futuristic pyjamas everyone wears in the movie. I haven’t taken a look at the deleted scenes, but it’s hard to imaagine this film was once even longer than it is now. The one documentary does show you a few of the original special effects sequences before they were “improved.” In every case the originals are far superior. They should give you an option to watch the unimproved versions. The new sound mix is much cleaner and clearer, so I’ll forgive that, although the music is way too loud in relation to the dialogue. I had to turn the sound up each time someone was speaking and down for each musical bombast.
All in all, though, I enjoyed this release, even if just for the chance to complain about it.
ADDENDUM: See, I know big words! Actually, that’s probably spelled wrong. Anyway, I took a look at the extras on the DVD and discovered that all of the unenhanced special effects scenes are on there as extras under the category of “deleted scenes.” So when I’m president of the world I will take this into consideration and possibly go easy on the producers of this disc.