Thursday, May 27, 2004

The DVD version returns a few scenes not in the release version, especially those that explain the reactions to the death of a young cadet in the engine room (a sequence that Meyer admits he stole whole from a Horatio Hornblower movie.) The DVD returns scenes trimmed for time in the release version that shows the cadet was Scotty's nephew. If DVDs have done anything, it's to show how often studios subvert their films and the filmmakers with decisions that distort their own movie, ostensibly to save a few bucks.

Nicholas Meyer's commentary adds textures, references and ruminations. It is also enlightening about another irony, or tension. Meyer is in apparent conflict with Gene Roddenberry's concept of Star Trek, although some of his ideas are just different, and some involve questionable interpretations of Roddenberry's vision. But as Jung points out, we are energetic beings, and energy is produced by difference.

Michael Okuda's subtitled commentary is quite informative. The subtle warfare between Meyer and Roddenberry is evident here and there: Meyer goes out of his way to criticize the decorative screen in Spock's quarters (like the director of the recent Nemesis, he felt constrained by everything he couldn't control, like the Star Trek characters and the art team etc., and poured his creativity into the new characters and new costume designs for the bad guys). Okuda mentions that the screen depicts the Vulcan motto invented by Roddenberry: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination, something that Meyer doesn't mention.

Okuda's commentaries provide delightful insights into how he and the other behind the scenes creators build the physical world of Star Trek, both with originality and with understated relationships to other movies and TV. Their creative recycling is fun to hear about: in this film, they used a San Francisco skyline painting from The Towering Inferno, and as oxygen tanks, what had been the model for a space ship based on Werner von Braun's design, for the 1955 movie, "Conquest of Space."

Star Trek art and crafts people did this kind of thing in the series as well, partly to save on budget. Meyer mentions that the tight budget on this film required and inspired a lot of creativity, and only limited them a few times from showing what they wanted to show.

The DVD looks great. Meyer changed the Starfleet uniforms, and they'd always looked an odd shade of maroon on the movie screen, but on the DVD they are crisper, though still variable in color. In the Spock's funeral sequence they are brilliant red. Like the death scene, this scene is beautifully framed.

This movie was also the screen debut for Kirstie Alley, playing a Vulcan/Romulan command officer. She would be playing her signature role on "Cheers" when the sequel was shot, and they couldn't afford her any longer anyway. A lot of people like her in this role, and she does have some good moments; overall however I prefer Robin Curtis, who plays the character in Star Trek III. Bibi Besch was excellent as Dr. Carol Marcus, Kirk's ex-love and the scientist who develops the Genesis wave. With her mature beauty and aura of intelligence, this classically trained actor was believable as both.

Harve Bennett deserves credit as the reigning intelligence of this film, functioning as originator, negotiator, editor, placater, ringmaster, etc. (He is also taken to task in Nichele Nichol's book for being insensitive, devious and tone deaf when it comes to certain aspects of Star Trek.) The serendipity that resulted in a film that seems carefully planned could not have happened without the real intelligence, care and particular contributions of the people involved: producers, director, actors, art and crafts people, the effects work which was still being reinvented for every new picture, etc.

Star Trek's explorations were originally based on the "many worlds" theory, that suggested by sheer probability there were many worlds in the universe inhabited by intelligent beings. This movie particularly exemplifies my Many Hands Theory of Star Trek's successes: Talented people, inspired by a common vision (which they all see from different perspectives perhaps) and by working together. .. It's also the key to the mystery.


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