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Paramount Studios presents
"Welcome aboard Voyager."
DVD ReviewAs The Next Generation signed off in 1994, Paramount wanted a replacement to accompany the already successful Deep Space Nine. Two Star Trek shows running simultaneously worked before, and there was no reason to believe such a formula would falter. Voyager was a noble attempt to bring Star Trek back to its roots. Instead of being stranded on a space station and waiting for the adventure to come to us, we were back delving deep into the cosmos, returning to the original mantra of seeking out new life and new civilizations. Instead of being close to home, Voyager is the ultimate intergalactic road show, taking place 75,000 light years from Federation space. Voyager is alone in the Delta Quadrant, and its crew must work together to get home. This is a fine, simple premise with some real potential that showed through in the first season, but ultimately the execution needed some work. The series started in January of 1995, resulting in an abbreviated run of 15 episodes, as opposed to the usual 26.
This time, there is no Enterprise, but a state of the art, Intrepid-class vessel (with all that fancy new bioneural circuitry) and a crew of new characters who ultimately end up being alternate versions of the characters we have come to know and love from the previous series. The most prominent and groundbreaking of this new crew is, of course, the strong willed Captain Kathryn Janeway, the first female captain to head a Trek series. She is played with the correct blend of intensity and emotional delicacy by Kate Mulgrew; her character eventually becomes a mother to the crew. Due to the circumstances, a closer relationship between herself and her crew does not only develop, but is required. Sterile distance is no longer a luxury she can afford.
Other crew members make up an interesting, traditionally multi-racial ensemble. First officer Chakotay (Robert Bletran) is a tattooed, honorable, and deeply religious Native American whose former allegiance to the Maquis, a band of outlaws who fight the Cardassians, must be abandoned to become a proper leader. Fellow Maquis companion B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson), half human/half Klingon, is a spirited, angry, yet brilliant engineer; Tuvok (Tim Russ) is the logical Vulcan security chief, acting as Janeway's moral compass; Harry Kim is the naïve young Operations officer, eager to please; Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), a gifted pilot, is a former inmate on a forced quest to redeem himself; Neelix (Ethan Phillips) is the crew's Talaxian morale officer and cook, widely considered to be the Jar-Jar Binks of Star Trek; Kes (Jennifer Lien) is his Ocampa companion, who has powerful, yet undeveloped telepathic abilities. Last, but not least, is the Doctor (the wonderful Robert Picardo), an emergency holographic medical program who is forced to serve as doctor full time, complete with a terrible bedside manner and a plethora of dry, witty humor. A minor crew member who becomes a major player is Seska (Martha Hackett), a cold, calculated Bajoran Maquis officer. These are all skilled actors to varying degrees, who initially face some natural discomfort with their characters. It takes time for things to jell.
In the opener, Caretaker, Janeway and crew is sent to track down a Maquis ship that disappeared in the Badlands, a treacherous plasma field riddled with storms. During the investigation, a wave whisks Voyager to the Delta Quadrant, where it is discovered the Maquis ship succumbed to the same fate. They have been transported by the Caretaker, a powerful alien explorer who lives on a giant array, capable of transporting vessels across vast distances. The Caretaker protects the Ocampa, a passive, subterranean race on a nearby planet, from the Kazon, a brutal, savage group of thugs bent on procuring whatever resources and power can be had. The alien is searching the galaxy for a mate. Before the Caretaker dies, he must procreate so another can protect his precious Ocampa from the Kazon. In the end, Janeway is forced to protect the innocent by destroying the array, preventing its power from falling into the hands of the Kazon, but ultimately stranding Voyager.
This is really one of Trek's greatest pilot episodes. There is great drama here, created not only by the taxing situation, but by the tension between the Federation and Maquis personnel, which plays into future episodes. However, I've always found the way Janeway strands Voyager to be very hard to swallow. She clearly violates the Federation credo of non-interference (the Prime Directive), justifying it by stating they are already involved, and cannot turn back. As State of Flux can attest, some on the crew feel the same way. Nevertheless, I'll buy it for the sake of the show's concept, but it is not the best way to start, especially when two episodes later, Janeway is preaching the merits of the very Directive she violated.
New enemies appear immediately. Established in the premiere episode, the Kazon are a force to be reckoned with. Appearing to be mutated Klingons who seem to wash their hair in garbage, this race causes a host of trouble for Janeway and crew, returning in State of Flux. The Kazon provides the first glimmer of some of the questionable alien costume design seen throughout the first season. Later, the Vidiians, more interesting nemeses, appear in Phage and Faces. These aliens are a group of humanoids ravaged by a disease that forces them to rob organs and tissues from other beings to replace their own decaying body parts. It doesn't look pretty, but makes for chilling storytelling.
One of the show's primary flaws is its redundant "will they get home this time?" tease that pops up in multiple episodes. There may be a great story surrounding the potential to get home, but ultimately, we know it won't happen. If it did, well, the series would end. Ironically, the episodes with the potential of an early homecoming are among the strongest of the first season. In Eye of the Needle—probably my favorite episode of the season—Ensign Kim discovers a tiny wormhole that leads to the Alpha Quadrant, hoping to use it to transmit messages home. They contact a Romulan on the other side who is initially reluctant to help. Eventually, Torres devises a plan to beam the crew through the small intergalactic tunnel, but disappointment is the tone of the day. Prime Factors brings Janeway and crew to a hedonistic planet that has technology that can transport Voyager 40,000 light years. However, their laws forbid the sharing of their equipment. Janeway must stick to her principles and accept their laws, but some of the crew do not agree and take action. Both of these episodes have great tension, emotion and power, exploring morality and family.
When episodes explore ideas that are central to the human experience, Trek sees its most impactful entries. Unfortunately, some of Voyager's early efforts at doing so vary in quality. Emanations attempts to explore the notion of euthanasia and the afterlife, utilizing the crew as the potentially debunking "voice of science," which has frequently clashed with religious teachings throughout Earth's history. There is more than meets the eye, though. Later, Jetrel establishes itself as one of the season's best. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, this entry is a poignant meditation on war, guilt, forgiveness, and the effects of weapons of mass destruction. Neelix is forced to face Jetrel (the superb James Sloyan), the man who created the weapon that killed his family some 15 years prior.
Other episodes, such as The Cloud harken back to the original series' encounters with strange, new life. Time and Again and Parallax give us those great time-travel induced headaches. "Whodunnit?" mysteries abound in Ex Post Facto and States of Flux. We even get a holodeck-gone-wild episode in the very first season with the funny Heroes and Demons, showcasing the show's best actor, Robert Picardo as the Doctor (who struggles with a name early on). Those pesky holodecks are always causing some kind of trouble. Most of these first attempts come off as rather average and retread some old material, but there are some gems to be found. As always, it usually takes a few seasons for a Trek series to pick up steam, and this is no exception.
Regardless of its slow start, this is very enjoyable, entertaining science fiction. It is, after all, Star Trek, and is quite a bit better than most of the drudge seen on television. It is also better than the ill-fated Enterprise, which has gradually decayed into an orgy of sex and violence. Ultimately, Voyager's strength lies in the ever present vulnerability of the crew's situation, and the character conflicts that initially appear. Sometimes, they bond over a game of pool (not billiards), and sometimes through great trials. Eventually, the series improved and had a strong run. Of course, we won't get into that now. You'll have to wait for my future reviews!
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The image is on par with previous Trek boxsets. Blacks are solid and contrast is good. Darkly lit scenes can get a bit grainy at times, but this is not distracting. The show's bold colors are well captured, and the VFX sequences don't suffer from as many motion "jaggies" as before. At times, the image can appear soft, as can some of the on screen credits. This is a minor issue, though. Overall, this image is wonderful, far surpassing any previous presentation.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 surround tracks are very engaging, opening up the soundstage and dynamic range drastically. Musical score and ambient effects, including the bass heavy drone of the starship's systems, filter into the surrounds nicely. Directional effects make themselves known during action sequences and starship flyovers, with a bit more channel separation than previous sets. Still, I think these mixes could be more dynamic, but it's great to finally hear Voyager shoot on screen from the left surround as it flies through a solar flare in the opening credits. For posterity, the original 2.0 stereo surround tracks are included, but you'll want to go with the 5.1 mixes.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 129 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: unknown keepcase
Extras Review: Clearly, Paramount has tried to put more effort into the extras for Season One, for two reasons. First of all, Voyager is not considered to be the very best Trek, so I'm sure they are not expecting sales to be as high as the previous series. Second, Paramount is unwisely charging the same price for this abbreviated 15-episode season as any of the other sets—at that price, it's going to be a tough sell. Due to these setbacks, an appealing presentation must be made, and that means more extras.
Packaging also plays into the appeal of the product, and Paramount has designed a unique and attractive layout. The discs are contained on clear, neon orange plastic disc trays which are bound together like pages of a book, similar to the interior of the DS9 sets. This "book" is encased by two clear plastic pieces that slide on the top and bottom, covering the discs with a round label image of Voyager on the front, and an episode guide on the back. It's a simple, effective design that I like quite a bit.
Contained on disc five, there are a few more features than previous sets, and they are all video-based featurettes. I still think they could come up with something a bit more creative than the standard interview pieces, such as interactive guides and especially commentaries.
Braving the Unknown: Season One (10m:50s) gives us information on the show's conception through a series of recent and archival interviews with creators Rick Berman, Michael Piller, and Jeri Taylor. These are all Trek alums who were bold enough to take great risks with a new series, and had to battle executives the entire way. Consider the premise: A lone starship is stranded 75 years from home, and must find its way back. Nothing is familiar. There are no Cardassians, no Klingons, no Ferengi. An entirely new chapter must be written. For clone-hungry execs, this is a gamble. Ultimately, the creators wanted to recreate the sense of the unknown that Gene Roddenberry faced in the original series.
Voyager Time Capsule: Kathryn Janeway (15m:15s) features actress Kate Mulgrew discussing how she got the role of Star Trek's first female captain, and her experience throughout the show's seven year run. There are both current and archival interviews included, along with Mulgrew's actual audition tape. She is a charming woman who takes the time to promote her current stage work, in which she plays the late Katherine Hepburn.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Voyager is the fact that Caretaker began filming with a different actress in the captain's chair. The First Captain: Bujold (8m:41s) shows us what could have been. French Canadian Genevieve Bujold first won the role of Janeway, but left the show only after a day and a half of filming. It has never been quite clear why this occurred, but it seemed to be a mutual decision between the actress and the producers. Creator Rick Berman discusses this event very carefully, not revealing too much information. The real icing on the cake is the inclusion of actual scenes from Caretaker with Bujold in the distinctive uniform. These clips reveal an actress who looks uncomfortable and out of place. Her performance is quite unnatural, devoid of all the sensitivity and warmth Mulgrew so deftly brought to the character. After seeing this, it becomes clear how perfect Mulgrew was for the role. Good call, producers.
Cast Reflections: Season One (8m:42s) includes archival interviews with cast members discussing not only their roles, but the outpouring of fan support that arrived at their doorstep even before the show premiered.
Supervising producer David Livingston takes us On Location with the Kazons (5m:38s) in the California desert, shot in 1994. He gives us a tour of the set and discusses some of the challenges of shooting on location. Behind-the-scenes footage from Caretaker and an interview with veteran director Winrich Kolbe makes this an engaging piece.
VFX head honcho Dan Curry takes us through the always impressive visuals in Red Alert: Visual Effects Season One (10m:34s). We get to see the five-foot "hero" model of Voyager (before CGI starships came into the picture), how some explosion effects were created and some early CG work. Interviews are from 1994 and 2003.
In Launching Voyager on the Web (6m:07s), web designer Marc Wade discusses how an interactive website created during the early days of the internet helped launch the show. He also discusses Star Trek's evolution on the web, including the many incarnations of startrek.com.
Screenwriter and Science Consultant Andre Bormanis explains the science behind the science fiction in Real Science with Andre Bormanis (9m:02s). He delves into wormholes, time travel, and the fictional radiation the crew frequently encounters.
A photo gallery of 40 images is included, showcasing images of cast and crew from throughout the first season.
Finally, I found four "Hidden Files," similar to the files found on the DS9 sets. These are very brief interviews with cast and crew members discussing favorite moments, episodes, or observations. Some of these are kind of interesting, including a piece on Kate Mulgrew's hairstyle, which had to be changed at the request of executives in the middle of shooting the first episode, resulting in expensive re-shoots. Hmm...not sure if an engaging concept is worth the money, but a hairstyle that ends up costing more than the VFX—go for it!
These are good quality extras that trump some previous sets, but are not as creative and innovative as they could be.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsVoyager is decent Trek, but will go down as one of the weaker series of the franchise. The show got off to a rocky start, but had a bold premise and characters with potential. Despite some weaknesses, this is still very engaging and enjoyable science fiction that I had a great time revisiting. Paramount continues to provide a stellar presentation, featuring topnotch A/V quality and some unique packaging. However, the somewhat uninspired extra content, its mere 15-episode run and a high price point is going to make this set appealing only to the most diehard fans. Still, if you find it at a good price, this is an easy recommendation.
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