Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The novelization and the DVD

In her first Star Trek movie novelization, J.M. Dillard adds some character moments and subplots to the film story, and closes some holes in how the Star Trek universe works that the on-screen version leaves gaping open, to the chagrin of perfectionist fans. The most prominent example here is the Great Barrier. If every starship that tried to penetrate it before has failed, how did the Enterprise succeed? Was it the sheer faith of Sybok? But if that was the reason, how could the Klingon ship also get through it?

That's not really explained in the film version, but in Dillard's novel, it turns out that Sybok has worked for years to design a new shield configuration, specifically to penetrate the Great Barrier. Though in the movie and the book, Scotty has been unaffected by Sybok and so rescues the trinity from the brig, the novel departs from the film by having Sybok convert Scotty soon afterwards (the pain he resurrects is familiar to readers of her novelization of Star Trek II, and now to viewers of the DVD version that restores previously shorn footage, for it is the death of his nephew when Khan attacked the Enterprise.) Healed and released of this pain, Scotty gratefully accedes to Sybok's orders to reconfigure the Enterprise shields to his specifications.

But what about the Klingons? In the course of presenting a neat subplot of intrigue aboard the Klingon ship, Dillard reveals that the change in the Enterprise shields was noticed, studied and duplicated (partly because the Sybok-sodden Enterprise crew was lax in maintaining defensive protocols.)

The novel also fills out the final reception with the Klingons, shows Sybok's pain-clearing efforts to leave permanent good effects, and provides hope that the rededicated representatives on Nimbus III will return to really turn it into a planet of galactic peace.

The DVD contains some intimate footage of Shatner talking very articulately about some surprisingly strong beliefs that involve nature and the sacred, filmed just as the movie itself was going into production. (This was probably meant to be the first of many such moments, but the omnivorous time and energy eater of feature filmmaking likely soon made that impossible.) The documentary retrospective on the film is interesting, and the two additional short films, one on "cosmic thoughts" and the other on environment, are very good.

The commentary track by William and Lizabeth Shatner (his daughter, who followed the production and wrote a book on it) is pleasant and occasionally insightful, but what Shatner writes in his Movie Memories book on the experience of making this movie is perhaps more informative and evocative (I haven't read Lizabeth's book.) That Paramount didn't spring for CGI to fix up the film as they did for Robert Wise and Star Trek I remains disappointing, but aside from that, this is a generous DVD package.

Maybe you'll come away feeling as I did, that this was a better film than I remembered, perhaps made better in our perception partly by the aesthetic distance of the intervening time. It's especially satisfying as part of the saga and the film series, for the addition of William Shatner's vision as director as well as an actor in complete command of the fascinating character he created.

No comments: