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Why Star Trek: The Motion Picture's Horrifying Transporter Accident May Be The Director's Edition's Most Important Scene

Star Trek: The Motion Picture Director’s Edition changed a lot about the original film. And for many, it vastly improved upon that original project, which was rushed to theaters in an incomplete state (and we have it pretty low on our Trek movies ranking list). Many of the improvements remove “bad laughs” and update the visual effects. One of them, however, turned an already upsetting transporter accident into straight-up nightmare fuel by making a horrifying tweak to the sound. Ironically, it also may be the most important scene of the Director’s Edition, and the reason for that may not be so clear to viewers right away.

CinemaBlend had the pleasure of speaking with producer David C. Fein about the latest 4K edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture Director’s Edition, and I, of course, needed some answers about the changes made to the transporter scene. Fein noted that during his discussions with director Robert Wise, it was decided that the scene needed to be more powerful but also have another purpose. The producer explained that it was part of sending a message to the audience that the director’s cut was a different movie from the original: 

We wanted to also tell people this was a better film and a different film, a mature film. And we realized that the G rating that they gave, time had changed from a G just being something that wasn’t as harsh for audiences, to G [means a] kids film. And we knew that if I was able to send the film back in for re-rating, it would and it could get a PG. And that would spark people’s interest in the film and [they'd be] like, ‘What could possibly have been done to that film at the time to gain a PG rating.’

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a lot of things, but few would accuse it of being a movie that’s full of frightening moments and scares that raise a rating (it did almost feature a fist fight between Captain Kirk and Jesus, though). Of course, the one scene that features the gruesome and unimaginable death, thanks to a malfunction in a refitted transporter, goes a long way.

For those who don’t remember, Science Officer Commander Sonak and a female officer became stuck midway through and are briefly seen in a deformed state. Viewers don’t see much else but hear a frightening and almost otherworldly guttural gasp. David Fein talked about instructing the updated scream for the Director’s Cut, and what it needed to sound in order for the rating to be changed:

I’ll tell you exactly what I told my sound department… ’It should definitely be a nails on a chalkboard level of tension,’ but I also said, ‘Imagine if you were in the most horrible pain of your life and you needed to scream just to get it out, but you had no way, no orifice, to even scream. What would it sound like if, finally, you could make some sound, what would that sound be?' It’s funny, I talk about it, and the hairs on the back of my neck still stand up… So I said to the sound department, ‘We’re not G. You really want to make people nervous from this, and you need to scare them to the point of really making it the realistic fear of what was happening. Because it really is one of the most horrible deaths in the history of Star Trek, but it also got us a PG rating.

When it comes down to it, the transporter accident might truly be the most important scene in Star Trek: The Motion Picture Director’s Cut. Had it not been for the rating change, some of the franchise's fans might not have even given the movie a second look and assumed they had their fill of Trek villain V’Ger. Now, we’re blessed with a finished and re-edited version of the movie that elevates it to the level of respect it should’ve had if Robert Wise (who is the force behind amazing films like haunted house movie The Haunting) was able to properly do everything he needed the first time around. 

Of course, all of the work on the transporter accident would’ve gone to waste had the director’s cut not removed Captain Kirk’s reaction to it. In the original cut, Kirk responded to the accident with a shocked face and said, “Oh my god,” which became a “bad laugh” with audiences and completely killed the tension of the accident. Kirk’s reaction was edited to appear more solemn in regard to what he'd just witnessed, a move that definitely helps the scene more than it hurts it. It’s a great show of one of the many changes made and helps to exemplify why this director’s cut so important to the Star Trek franchise. 

The 4K remaster of Star Trek: The Motion Picture Director’s Edition is now available non Blu-ray (opens in new tab) and can be streamed if you have a Paramount+ subscription. Watch it now for the horrific transporter accident, or check out The Next Generation to see some of the WTF moments that keep us up at night.

Mick Joest
Content Producer

Mick likes good television, but also reality television. He grew up on Star Wars, DC, Marvel, and pro wrestling and loves to discuss and dissect most of it. He’s been writing online for over a decade and never dreamed he’d be in the position he is today.