We switch to Vulcan where Spock, now retired from Starfleet, is undergoing the final rite in the Kolinahr discipline - the Vulcan ritual designed to purge any last traces of emotion. Spock refuses to accept Kolinahr at the last second - he is sensing incredibly powerful telepathic images from space, and they have triggered something within him. He leaves to pursue the images.
Meanwhile, Admiral Kirk arrives at Starfleet Headquarters for a meeting with Admiral Nogura. It's two and a half years after the end of the Enterprise's five year mission of exploration and Kirk is now an Admiral stuck in a desk job; the Enterprise is in the last stages of an eighteen month redesign and refit under her new Captain, Willard Decker. Kirk argues Nogura into giving him the Enterprise back, claiming that his familiarity with the ship and its crew make him the only choice for the mission to intercept the cloud. Despite the objections of Decker, Kirk assumes command and heads out of orbit after the arrival of some final crew members. One is McCoy, drafted back into the service against his wishes, the other Lieutenant Ilea - a Deltan who was once romantically involved with Decker.
Unfortunately, Kirk's bull-headedness quickly lands the Enterprise in trouble. He orders Scotty to use the warp drive before it is ready, resulting in a wormhole that nearly destroys the ship - only quick thinking by Decker saves them. Kirk must face up to the fact that he may not be what he once was...
The arrival of Spock helps matters; he has been monitoring the ship's transmissions and has solved the problems of the malfunctioning warp drive, allowing them to head out of the system and intercept the cloud in deep space.
As they reach the cloud it fires on the Enterprise, nearly destroying it, but some quick thinking by Spock lets them to communicate their peaceful intent and they are allowed to proceed into the cloud. In the centre they find a colossal vessel, tens of kilometres long. A probe from the ship abducts Ilea, returning an almost perfect copy in her place which is designed to act as a probe to investigate the ship and its crew. The Ilea-probe announces that it was sent by V'Ger, which is heading to Earth in order to find its creator.
As the alien ship draws closer to Earth Spock takes matters into his own hands. He steals a space suit and heads into the vessel's interior. He finds that the ship has been travelling through our galaxy for centuries, amassing colossal amounts of data by absorbing ships and even entire planets and storing perfect replicas within itself. Spock discovers an image of a planet of living machines - V'Gers home world. V'Ger is not a ship at all, but a living machine. Its knowledge spans the universe, and it is desperate to know what else there might be to learn.
As V'Ger approaches Earth the Ilea-probe announces that the carbon based life on the planet is interfering with its creator and preventing contact. It announces its intention to wipe out all life on the planet. Kirk plays a bluff, claiming that he knows why the creator will not respond but that he will only reveal this information to V'Ger directly. V'Ger allows this, bringing the Enterprise deep within itself. Kirk, McCoy, Spock and Decker head out with the Ilea-probe to meet V'Ger.
They find an old Earth space probe - Voyager 6, which fell into a black hole centuries ago. Voyager emerged across the galaxy where it was found by the machine planet. They built the huge vessel to allow Voyager to fulfil its functioning - learn everything which is learnable and return the information to the creator.
Kirk attempts to prove that Humans are V'Gers creator by sending a binary radio message ordering Voyager to transmit its information, but it burns out its radio circuit to prevent reception. V'Ger is determined that it will physically meld itself with a Human being in order to create a new life form which is capable of accessing higher levels of being.
Decker volunteers, and links himself directly to V'Gers computer brain. As Kirk and his officers retreat back to their ship Decker is transformed into a colossal pillar of light which rapidly consumes the entire bulk of V'Ger, leaving the Enterprise floating in orbit alone.
Back on the Enterprise, Spock speculates that they have witnessed the birth of a new life form - and possibly a future stage in their own evolution. Kirk lists Ilea and Decker as "missing", and orders the ship to head out of orbit to look for new adventures.
However, I think the film does have more going for it than most people claim. Many elements of post TOS Trek are established here - the opening music, the bumpy headed look of the Klingons, the refit Constitution and Klingon battlecruiser design, the Starfleet facilities in San Francisco, the orbital office structure, etc.. Although the effects are not a fitting substitute for plot, there is much to commend - photon torpedoes have never looked so fearsome as when the Klingons open up in the first couple of minutes of this film. Kirk and Scotty's flyby of the Enterprise is one of the most beautiful special effects scenes in cinema history, and V'Ger itself is awesome. And for the first and only time ever we get to see almost an entire ships crew assembled in one place, a scene which also makes it very clear that aliens are indeed not an unusual component of a Starfleet crew.
Ultimately, the film is disappointing. There are nuggets of gold in there, but you have to wade through a lot to find them. Had they cut thirty minutes or so out of it, it would have been a better film.
The result is the same basic film - the re-edit has sped up the pacing by trimming some scenes down by a matter of seconds rather than removing whole sequences. So we still have the beautiful introduction to the Enterprise, the penetration of the V'Ger cloud, the flyover of V'Ger itself, etc. As a result this will still disappoint fans who are looking for a straight action movie. TMP is about ideas, not phaser fights.
For those who thought the original version of TMP was good but flawed, many of those flaws are now gone. I couldn't give you an exhaustive list of the changes, but here are some of the more notable ones :
The overture now has one of Trek's standard 'flying through the starfield' effects on it. The opening and closing titles have been completely re-worked.
The visual display on Epsilon IX has been re-done to remove the computer's explanation of what is happening. This unfortunately removes the canonicity of the name 'Amar' for one of the Klingon ships.
There are new effects shots of Spock on Vulcan. These correct poor FX in the original movie and remove the prominent moons which were visible, thus fixing a contradiction with Spock's claim in TOS that Vulcan has no moon.
There are new shots of Kirk's air tram approaching Starfleet command which emphasise the contrast between Vulcan and the bright and breezy Earth.
Several shots of Kirk and Scotty's approach to the Enterprise have been cleaned up.
Kirk's gathering of the crew for a briefing on the situation has two small changes; first, the guy on Epsilon IX now says that the V'Ger cloud is over 2 AU in diameter, instead of 82. Second, when the station is destroyed Kirk only orders the viewer turned off once instead of twice.
There scene of the exploding asteroid has been replaced with a new and much superior CGI shot.
There is a new exterior shot of the second V'Ger plasma ball attacking the Enterprise and vanishing at the last second.
The penetration of the V'Ger cloud is somewhat shortened.
An exterior shot shows a plasma ball approaching the Enterprise and launching the plasma probe onto the bridge.
There are exterior shots showing the exterior of V'Ger as it arrives at Earth, and as it fires the large plasma weapons into Earth orbit. This shot shows about one half of the whole of V'Ger, giving us a good idea of its shape.
There are several new shots of V'Ger's interior as the Enterprise approaches the brain complex, including scenes of V'Ger creating a 'bridge' between itself and the ship for Kirk and co. to walk across.
The big flare up of light which consumes V'Ger as it merges with Decker now shows a brief outline of the whole of the machine, again giving us a solid idea of its shape.
Many sound effects have been added or replaced. This is a fun one, because many of the background noises now sound a lot more TOS-like, which gives the movie more of a link to its roots. The firing of the Klingon photon torpedoes now sounds even more awesome, and the Enterprise's photon torpedo launch now sounds almost as powerful.
It's hard to tell for sure, but there are several moments when I think extra background activity has been added, such as work bees around the Enterprise or extras in the air tram station.
Overall, the new sequences work very smoothly alongside the original material - I didn't get the strong feelings of discontinuity between old and new material that I got watching the special edition of Star Wars, for example. The movie is still somewhat long and languid, but it feels a little faster paced than before.
The special features are also impressive. The previous releases of Trek movies on DVD have been very poor in this regard, with virtually nothing to titillate the fans. I can only hope that this release is successful enough to prompt a new set of releases. The movie itself has a commentary track which includes Robert Wise, Doug Trumbull, John Dykstra, Jerry Goldsmith and Stephen Collins. At one point Stephen Collins recollects how he and Persis Khambatta had to stand on a turntable in front of the brightest light that could be found for the transformation scene at the climax of the movie; indeed it was so bright that sunburn was a real danger, and they had to close their eyes whilst their back was to the camera to avoid being blinded!
For the more technical minded fans there is a text commentary by Michael Okuda. His insights are fascinating - for instance we all know that Mark Okrand created a real Klingon language, but did we know that Scotty actor James Doohan created the Vulcan and Klingon dialogue in this movie and that Okrand based his language on those sounds? And did you know that the background of the engineering set had miniature components with children standing next to them, used to make the room look much deeper than it really was?
Another section includes some of the early artwork from the movie; many of the sketches are very poor quality, but they do offer an interesting backdrop to what actually ended up on the screen. There are also sixteen alternate scenes from various versions of the movie, including some footage shot for the famous "memory wall" sequence. There are several short documentaries, including one about the abortive "Star Trek : Phase II" series which shows footage of Xon and the new engine room of the Enterprise. Three trailers and eight TV commercials for the original TMP are included, as is a trailer for the new "Enterprise" series.
The reworking of the Motion Picture alone makes this DVD a good deal, but when you throw in the extras this is a must buy for any dedicated Star Trek fan. Go out and buy it now!