Robert Wise was moviemaking royalty. He was the director of The Day The Earth Stood Still, West Side Story and The Sound of Music, as well as the editor of Citizen Kane. One project, however, vexed him as few had — Star Trek: The Motion Picture, his big return to science fiction.
As can be expected, the film was a major tentpole production for Paramount, it had a specific release date in 1979, and, come hell or high water, it was going to get there. The big problem is that the inflexible completion date, along with a budget that didn’t accommodate the ambitious plans for the intended movie, wound up producing a movie spectacular that wasn’t as spectacular as the film makers hoped. Production sketches revealed just how far afield the result skewed from the vision.
When we spoke to Michael Matessino in regard to our feature about John Williams, it was impossible not to ask him about this very subject. Matessino was the restoration supervisor for the “Director’s Edition” DVD project, and got to work closely with Robert Wise to finally, boldly go where the original cut failed.
You were directly involved with the “Director’s Edition” of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and that was Robert Wise’s last project. What was it like to step into that role of facilitating his ability to “correct” something he had such difficulty getting straightened out for so many years?
It was a joy beyond description to work with Bob on Star Trek. It took years for me to get him to even talk about it, and then the real fun was spending much of 1999 watching the film many times with him, going over all the original storyboards and memos, and creating the list of everything he wanted to do. This happened while we were waiting for Paramount to give us the go-ahead.
Unfortunately, by the time we did, Bob had had an injury and was on medication that prevented him from spending every day back on the lot where he’d cut Citizen Kane (that what I was really going for!), but he came as much as he could and fortunately we had everything already mapped out. After the film was finished, Paramount needed to delay the release for a while, but it worked out because by that time Bob had improved tremendously and enjoyed the heck out of the reaction and felt really vindicated that he got back the one he felt got away.
What projects are you currently involved with?
As usual, I’m not really at liberty to discuss the titles currently in the works, but I have some very large scale projects going on right now for the various soundtrack labels. I’m also working on a memorial concert for the 9/11 10th anniversary and the upcoming Jerry Goldsmith concert with the American Youth Symphony Orchestra, which is on March 13.
Robert Wise passed away in 2005, but he was able to finally complete the project that had been a source of great disappointment for many years. We are the beneficiaries of his work, as well as the work of Michael Matessino and David Fein, who make it their careers to protect all aspects of film for generations to come.