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new book on first STAR TREK movie from 1979


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#1 KH Martin

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Posted 19 December 2014 - 07:45 PM

Not specifically focused on cinematography, this book RETURN TO TOMORROW (not available from Amazon, you have to go direct to creaturefeatures.com) covers STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE about as completely as you could possibly imagine. There are several sections where DP Richard Kline weighs in on things (all interviews are from 1979 and 1980), as well as VFX guy/dp Sam Nicholson. Tons of stuff from Robert Wise, John Dykstra ... there are sixty folks interviewed in the 670+ page book. Not going to give any details away (have to write up a review first), but they only printed a 1000 copies, so I have a feeling it is going to turn scarce pretty soon. Almost TOO detailed in terms of vfx tech, if you can believe that, but man, one of the best 'tale of a train wreck production' books I have ever read. And they did some really good factchecking too -- I only found one or two errors, and those are really just people remembering the wrong names.


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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 December 2014 - 09:01 PM

I placed an advanced order for this book back in JULY and still haven't got my copy yet, they keep saying any week now.

 

I heard that it's all based on original interviews, which is perhaps too bad, it's nice to re-interview whoever you can because there are some things people will talk about later that they won't in the middle of the experience.

 

I've wondered if I should get Richard Kline to sit down with me and watch the movie so I can pick his brain, unfortunately I think I'd end up taking several hours of his time.

 

I just re-read "Chekov's Enterprise", which was Walter Koenig's funny diary during the production.

 

What I find interesting when reading about big studio productions of the 1970's or even earlier is the difference in the size of the workforce, the number of shooting days, and the complexity and number of set-ups expected.  Back then, it was not uncommon for a big movie to mainly be shot with a single camera and crew, a B-camera rarely employed, with a pretty small second unit sometimes (Bond films not counted), whereas today a big Hollywood movie might have three camera crews on set and multiple units working independently, which is an awful lot of cameras.


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#3 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 20 December 2014 - 01:08 AM

I've wondered if I should get Richard Kline to sit down with me and watch the movie so I can pick his brain, unfortunately I think I'd end up taking several hours of his time.

I think this would make an awesome web series or even a regular podcast for the Friends of the ASC. I bet it would encourage a lot of people to sign up.

As for the crew size thing, it seems to me that most modern Hollywood tentpole films basically consist of multiple large set pieces with stunts, extras, special fx, and vfx, combined with a glossy quick-cut commercial aesthetic of many complex, showy camera setups in exotic far-flung locations, so it's not surprising that more cameras crews and multiple units are the order of the day. When you add to that the tendency to cover scenes in a dozen shorter cuts that might have formerly been done in three setups, and many of those requiring some kind of vfx, it's like making a huge 2-3hr commercial. Smaller studio and indie films like the ones Roger Deakins usually shoots still seem to follow the traditional single camera shooting style.
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#4 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 20 December 2014 - 11:19 AM

Back then, it was not uncommon for a big movie to mainly be shot with a single camera and crew, a B-camera rarely employed, with a pretty small second unit sometimes (Bond films not counted), whereas today a big Hollywood movie might have three camera crews on set and multiple units working independently, which is an awful lot of cameras.

 

I had no idea even big Hollywood films had become that disjointed.  It must make for a lot of confusion, no?  Seems like there would be a lot more chaos & less structure, creating all sorts of different power dynamics.


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#5 KH Martin

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Posted 20 December 2014 - 08:07 PM

Kline was interviewed on the director's cut DVD edition of the movie and seemed to be pretty clear on things, even 20+ years on. His lack of prep time on the show had to have really hurt, and I think a lot of the problems on the bridge set might have been circumvented or dealt with more adroitly had he been able to do a regular round of tests. I know that the lights behind the buttons kept causing the buttons to melt, so they lowered them by like 75%, and therefore had to lower set lighting so the buttons would show up. Then you've got dim super8 projectors (why didn't they have Elmo Xenon units if they had to use rp film?) for the little screens, which means flagging a lot of light and keeping set lighting down to keep them from washing out, too. Then you've got the EXTREME use of diopters to carry focus, and while that works an awful lot of the time, when it doesn't work, it really creates eye-ache (I think maybe it works best with hard light, HINDENBURG and even ANDROMEDA STRAIN seem to use it more successfully by far.) And his letting the production designer build in so much light that came from below creates a questionable aesthetic when dealing with aging actors.

 

After getting through this monster volume, I looked at about half the movie last night and it was almost with fresh eyes and ears -- which is a pretty heavy trip given I've seen this a LOT of times (glutton for punishment I guess.)


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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 December 2014 - 08:14 PM

 

I had no idea even big Hollywood films had become that disjointed.  It must make for a lot of confusion, no?  Seems like there would be a lot more chaos & less structure, creating all sorts of different power dynamics.

 

Maybe, just depends on how good the line producer is in terms of making sure that everyone is on the same page in terms of the director's needs.

 

What bothers me more is that it all can seem less personal with that many people involved.  "Vertigo", for example, was a big-budget Hollywood film of the late 1950's and yet I suspect that the atmosphere on set was a lot more like a modern independent film in terms of the number of people walking around on the shooting day (no doubt, a lot of riggers and whatnot were common back then.)


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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 January 2015 - 02:53 PM

The new book on the production of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" is great, I'm just past the halfway point when post begins. Robert Wise comes off very well, a real pro.
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#8 KH Martin

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Posted 23 January 2015 - 08:59 PM

I wish we could meld this thread and the one you did way back when http://www.cinematog...showtopic=39257

together so we could discuss the issues from there in context with the new info. I mean, now we know why so many of the matte paintings look so lousy, plus we have TONS more info on just about every other aspect of the production.

 

My review was supposed to be like 750 words, but my rough cut was 2500! Taking forever to cut a lot of the 'trek devotee' aspects out and focus on the filmmaker-related stuff. 

 

Has also re-sparked my interest in PLANET OF THE TITANS, which was the TREK feature that Phil Kaufman intended to make in 1977. Paramount cancelled it the same month STAR WARS came out, even though they had Ken Adam as production desginer, Ralph McQuarrie as concept artist, Derek Meddings for miniatures and Jordan Belson (!!!!) for opticals. Mcquarrie's art is actually kinda feeble compared with the Adam sketches of their Enterprise, but it would have been something very different from what we got -- Kaufman intended to have Toshiro Mifune as a Klingon captain!


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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 January 2015 - 11:59 PM

I finished the book two weeks ago, couldn't put it down.  The original Cinefex articles are a great companion piece to this book.

 

A couple of years ago, the complete Jerry Goldsmith score came out on CD from LaLaLands Records, including the unused Spacedock music that Goldsmith rewrote after Wise rejected it for lacking a big theme, ala John Williams.  I hadn't realized how many short connective pieces of music on the expanded score were written by Alexander Courage and Fred Steiner using Goldsmith themes and motifs, in Goldsmith's style.  The liner notes explained what was repeated in this new book about Wise wanting a full-blown Enterprise theme rather than the short motif that Goldsmith had written.

 

Actually the original version is quite lovely, it just doesn't build to a peak because it keeps teasing at a theme that never arrives, so I can understand why Wise wanted him to go back and revise it, despite the lack of time.  In the book, Goldsmith talked about the huge number of short recording sessions for the film since they had to do the score piecemeal before so much of the visual effects were delivered.  But it also allowed Goldsmith to really shine, entire sections of the movie are pretty much carried by his score with no sound effects.

 

I also am a big fan of Richard Kline and it was nice to read about his effort along with Wise to do as much of the climax with V'Ger using a physical set and lighting gags rather than rely completely on a post-created setting as Trumbull was suggesting, though I can understand why Trumbull suggested that, they were all struggling to visualize what V'Ger was exactly.  That crane-up over the set perimeter to reveal Voyager 6 at the bottom of a bowl-shaped set was quite spectacular.  And it's hard to imagine today doing all of that interactive lighting work using 100 ASA film in anamorphic.

 

I have mixed feelings about so much of the movie because while on the one hand, I think that the V'Ger flyover work by Trumbull and Dykstra are quite beautiful in a sort of abstract art way, very atypical for most science fiction films other than "2001", that section of the movie has very little narrative or dramatic thrust to it, it's like someone hit the breaks on the story.  I mean, when you think about it, that half-hour of footage of floating through V'Ger is just there to tell you how big V'Ger is and that the Enterprise flies through it.  You don't need a half-hour to make that story point. In retrospect, it probably should have been all shot at double-speed from what they picked, or each shot should have been trimmed to half its length.  Then they would have had some running time for actual character conflict or a better subplot.

 

I'm glad in one way that the movie isn't what science fiction today has become ever since "Star Wars", which is basically an action genre set in the future, not a genre of far-reaching and mind-bending ideas, or a commentary of social issues masked by a futuristic setting.  On the other hand, the script is a bit limp, it doesn't really delve deeply into its ideas of artificial intelligence and the possibility of human evolution intersecting with machine evolution.  And as for human dramatic tension, that was better done in the original TV scripts for "Star Trek" that the movie stole from, episodes like "The Immunity Syndrome" or "The Changeling".

 

As the book says, the movie is interesting in some way as one of the last big studio movies made by technicians and artisans who trained in the classic studio era, combining that talent with a younger generation represented by the team under Trumbull and Dykstra.

 

On a side note, I grabbed frames of every split-diopter set-up in the movie -- I counted over 70!


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#10 Zac Fettig

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 01:06 PM

Robert Wise comes off very well, a real pro.

 

Well, he did win 2 Best Director Oscars. ;)


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#11 KH Martin

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Posted 18 March 2015 - 06:49 PM

Well, ICG did run my review of the book, but it isn't online, just in the print edition of the March issue. I've reread the book a couple of times now, while watching the blu-ray and reading a few other sources, and there are some fx parts that still seem very unclear to me.


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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 March 2015 - 07:36 PM

It's funny how the book pointed out a mistake in one of my favorite shots, when the Enterprise clears the drydock, I love how all the lights of the drydock are reflected over the surface of the Enterprise just as it leaves frame, something that only happened because the two models were shot together and Trumbull went with the reflective paint job on the Enterprise... but an vfx person points out that for some reason, the black silhouette shape of the Enterprise stand on the off-camera side of the model is matting out the stars and the drydock, which is a bad mistake that is hard to un-see once it is pointed out to you, my eyes were always on the side of the Enterprise as the reflections pass along its surface.


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#13 Mark Dunn

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Posted 19 March 2015 - 04:31 AM

Aargh! I sort of wish you hadn't mentioned it. It's on screen for 15 quite long seconds.

A couple of seconds in the high angle at 1:28 then at 1:37.


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#14 KH Martin

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Posted 19 March 2015 - 07:06 PM

They fixed that for the DVD director's cut released back in 2001, but that version adds plenty of other problems, like a lame new sound mix, a fireball in space (well, in a wormhole in space) and some uninspired new ship shots. Even though it had a really important scene not in the theatrical (the Spock tear scene), I gave my copy away when I bought the theatrical blu-ray.

 

Y'know, I never noticed it in the looking-down shot ... probably because I'm in heaven over that snorkel lens view of the nacelle, which is among my faves in any space movie.


Edited by KH Martin, 19 March 2015 - 07:08 PM.

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#15 Mark Dunn

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Posted 20 March 2015 - 05:27 AM

OT, my jaw dropped recently when I tried to watch an episode (I think it was 'The Tholian Web') on one of our new digital channels, It was cropped to widescreen and had dreadful new smearovision opticals of the Enterprise. Awful


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#16 KH Martin

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Posted 20 March 2015 - 07:25 PM

I haven't been able to watch more than a few minutes of any eps with the redone fx. The ship stuff seems closer to imagery from the old cartoon series than the live-action show. I did see a couple of nice matte paintings, but it all seems like a lot of change for no gain (or actually a net loss.) Personally, I really like the original shots, even the ones with bad matte lines, because you can tell it is a physical object up there, and there's a real nice sense of that big model overflowing the taking camera's perspective during flybys. The CG stuff doesn't seem to be able to deal with that 'feel' either.

 

Same people (CBS Digital) did about half of the Next Generation blu-ray redo VFX (they did every second season I think), but I haven't seen any of those yet, though there is a lot more positive feedback on that work. Most of that is just recompositing original film elements digitally, they only had to recreate anew for animation type effects like forcefields and phasers.


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#17 Scott Pickering

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Posted 21 March 2015 - 09:17 PM

I have all the Blu Rays of the original series and the Next Gen. I don't like CG spaceships either compared to models. CG never looks real to me. The effects on the Next Gen series went back to the original film negs and recomposited them for HD. Looks great. No complaints with what they did there. Models still look great in HD.


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