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DVD ReviewThis fall marks the first time since 1987 that Stark Trek fans aren't able to savor new episodes chronicling various exploits from deep within the labyrinth of Gene Roddenberry's creation. Failing to arouse much passion with its fan base, and passing by virtually unnoticed among non-Trekkies, Star Trek: Enterprise received the axe from UPN last spring after airing a meager (in franchise terms) 98 episodes. I can't pretend that there's any sorrow in my heart over this turn of events, since my viewing of Enterprise was sporadic at best during its initial run.
This prequel series, chronicling the journeys of Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) started out on very shaky ground during the first two seasons. However, Season Three made significant improvements with its season-long story arc concerning Earth's potential demise at the hands of the Xindi. Ending, in typical Trek fashion, with a cliffhanger, the third season left Archer having mysteriously traveled back in time to 1944 New York. At the beginning of Star Trek: Enterprise—The Complete Fourth Season, Archer's crew on the Enterprise NX-01 also travels back to 1944 and, while hovering above Earth, learns that the Nazis are in the process of winning World War II and have successfully invaded America. Not realizing his crew is flying in the skies above, Archer must escape the Nazis, who are in cahoots with a mysterious alien species. It turns out that a "temporal cold war" has gone hot and the only way for Earth to win this larger conflict is by defeating the aliens' leader, Vosk (Jack Gwaltney), before he can elude them.
If you're beginning to think that there just might be a few potential paradoxes created by this storyline, you're correct. With the arrival of new show runner Manny Coto, however, the transition out of the alternate, Nazi-dominated past is fairly smooth. The writing explains the logistics of this plot twist with enough plausibility to make it seem believable, but I still have a hard time accepting that the xenophobic Nazis would team up with a group of bizarre looking aliens, and the drama of Archer and crew is not especially compelling in these two episodes, titled Storm Front, Part I and Part II. Some of the special effects don't look very good either, with the CGI shots of a Nazi-controlled White House feeling more like video game graphics than elements in a science-fiction TV show.
In truth, the fourth season really begins in the third episode, Home. Having saved Earth, Archer returns home and is celebrated as a hero by all, including his ex-love Captain Erika Hernandez (Ada Maris). However, Archer is disturbed by the events from the preceding season, such as his decision to raid a ship and to torture an alien for vital information, and struggles to come to terms with his role as a military officer. Meanwhile, the sultry Vulcan T'Pol (Jolene Blalock) returns to her home planet with fellow officer "Trip" Tucker (Connor Trinneer), only to discover that her mother disapproves of their blossoming relationship. T'Pol and Trip's relationship is compromised even further when her fiancée Koss (Michael Reilly Burke) demands that they marry prior to her returning to Enterprise. Reluctantly, T'Pol accepts Koss' proposal, since it is the only way to protect her mother's financial future.
Despite a slow beginning, Season Four is actually the best in Enterprise's short run—though that's not saying too much. Comprised of various story arcs that run two or three episodes, the storylines offer greater character depth than in previous years. The Forge, Awakening, and Kir'Shara combine for an arc that finds Archer and his crew attempting to uncover a conspiracy on Vulcan. After a bomb kills Admiral Forrest (Vaughn Armstrong), Archer and T'Pol investigate a fervent Vulcan sect, the Syrannites, but find that things aren't quite as simple as one would expect. The three episodes combine to deliver an interesting exploration of Vulcan culture than anything that's come before. There's also a rather intense story arc involving the Romulans, beginning in Babel One, when an unknown spaceship attacks Enterprise and the diplomatic delegates of the Andorian and Tellarite species in an effort to prevent a looming peace agreement.
Each story arc is enjoyable, though few delve too deeply into moral issues like the Trek shows of old. It seems evident that the cast and crew realized this would be their last season and made a conscientious effort to have fun and send the Enterprise off with a swan song filled with excitement and good humor. I must cop to the fact that much of this season eludes me, since a great deal of it is devoted to referencing Trek mythology. For example, In a Mirror Darkly, Part I and Part II take place in the "mirror universe." Archer and his crew exist as brutal savages. This alternate crew discovers the futuristic Starship Defiant, one that would have been used during the time of Captain Kirk. Now Captain Archer and his scheming crew, with a T'Pol that betrays her comrades and a Hoshi (Linda Park) with designs of her own, have access to superior technology and are virtually unstoppable as Archer seeks to eradicate the Empire of corrupt politicians.
Truth be told, these episodes are not particularly engaging on an intellectual or emotional level for me. The mirror universe seems to be employed more for the pleasure of fanboys and the show's writers, with T'Pol and Hoshi suited in new uniforms to expose their midriffs and the whole cast eventually donning the original Star Trek costumes. Writer Mike Sussman seems more content winking to his audience than with actually telling a unique story (as evident by the fact that the show exists entirely in the mirror universe and doesn't connect with the rest of the series at all). However, the cast puts a good foot forward at all turns and succeeds in selling the alternate episodes. While Bakula might be hamming it up a bit as the evil Archer, his work during the rest of the season is far more restrained. He makes an impressive turn in Bound, where Archer is given three Orion slaves by a sleazy businessman. The three women are curvaceous, green-skinned delights who succeed in seducing all the men on board, except for Trip.
If there is an overriding human drama that epitomizes this season, the relationship between T'Pol and Trip must be it. I wasn't entirely sold on the performances by Trinneer and Blalock before, but both of them seem to have a better sense of their characters now. In Demons and Terra Prime, the conflicted lovers find that a xenophobic activist, Paxton (Peter Weller), has combined their DNA to create a clone. Paxton's intentions are to frighten humans with this alleged perversion of humanity, and prompt them to break off all contact with aliens, but Archer and his crew are resolved to forge forward with Earth's commitment to an intergalactic society. At the end of Terra Prime, each character's drama is wrapped up well, with T'Pol and Trip finding a mutual peace with one another, and the episode makes for an almost perfect ending to the series. Almost, because, technically, there's still one more episode left, These Are the Voyages.... If you're unaware of the controversy that erupted over this finale, I shall not spoil the horror of watching it. Pathetically tying the story of Jonathan Archer in with the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew, even a marginal fan like me can clearly see how atrocious and insulting this episode is to faithful Trekkies.
Star Trek: Enterprise—The Complete Fourth Season does show that it's time for Trekkies to accept that the franchise needs a break. A few weeks ago I saw the first season of the new Battlestar Gallactica, and its innovative documentary style, combined with intelligent insights into theology and human morality, indicate a new breed of science-fiction has emerged. The style of Star Trek seems stiff in comparison, with conventional camera techniques and a continuation of storylines that have been around for nearly 20 years. Gene Roddenberry's universe has been good to its fans, but all good things must come to an end.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Each episode is shown in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen. Filmed in HD-video, the episodes come off quite nicely on DVD and have impressive detail, colors, and depth. Contrast and blacks also look good and the difference between CGI shots and live-action footage is less apparent than in the previous season sets.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Each episode is available in either Dolby Stereo 2.0 surround sound or Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The Dolby Digital tracks sound very good, with lots of separation and directionality engaging the various channels during action scenes. Dialogue is always audible and the overall presentation of the episodes is quite crisp.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 176 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Star Trek DVD Seasons, MacGyver: The Complete Fourth Season DVD, The 4400: The Complete First Season DVD, The Borg Invasion
3 Deleted Scenes
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Tim Gaskill, Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Judith Reeves-Stevens, Mike Sussman
The majority of the extras can be found on Disc 6, but there are some episode-specific supplements. For Storm Front, Part I there is one deleted scene (02m:37s) with some nice jokes about Orson Welles and a quiet moment between Archer and one of the resistance leaders. The Aenar also contains a deleted scene (00m:45s), which shows the Romulans in the face of defeat. The third and final deleted scene is from In a Mirror Darkly, Part II (02m:19s) and features more of Archer's speech to his troops. None of these scenes are essential to stories, so they were wisely cut out.
Other episode-centric features include audio and text commentaries. On The Forge, Trek veterans Michael and Denise Okuda provide a text commentary, which they also do on In a Mirror Darkly, Part II and These are the Voyages..., with information about the episodes and tons of references to other series. Like in their previous efforts, they seem to point out some obvious facts and offer only some occasional insight about the various episode productions. Writer Mike Sussman and startrek.com editorial director Tom Gaskill provide audio commentaries on Through a Mirror Darkly, Part I and Part II. They talk about difficulties in the production and different ideas about using the "mirror universe." Nothing discussed is too in-depth, but they still record a pleasant commentary. Gaskill also teams up with screenwriters Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens for an audio commentary on Terra Prime. The three strike an amiable, conversational tone and sprinkle in some discussion about the themes of the episode, also. None of the commentaries is exceptional, but they're all enjoyable.
On Disc 6, there is a collection of featurettes and documentaries. Enterprise Moments (16m:22s) contains interviews with Scott Bakula, Connor Trinneer, Manny Coto, and others who discuss the last season of the show. Coto explains his difficulty resolving the Season Three cliffhanger and the ideas behind doing various story arcs throughout the fourth season. All of the participants here seem to have enjoyed their work on the show and display a real appreciation for the fans. Inside "The Mirror" Episodes (15m:41s) discusses the various ideas tossed around for the two episodes, as well as continuity problems. Manny Coto claims the original intention was to bring William Shatner back, though I'll leave it Trekkies to decide whether that was a good idea or not. Much attention is paid here to recreating the original sets, along with all the various problems that entails.
Enterprise Secrets (05m:41s) takes a look on the set of the final scene of the final episode. The cast and crew are joking around and seem to be a nice bunch, though the featurette is too brief to learn much of anything. Following that is Visual Effects Magic (13m:25s), which shows animatics and final shots of the various CGI shots in the show. They discuss the evolution of CGI characters during their four season run and how to make visual effects involving previous series remain true to the source, while not appearing dated. This is a nice, concise look at the art of visual effects. Another featurette, That's a Wrap (08m:59s), takes us through the show's wrap party, with various cast and crew members discussing what it means to them, showing a nice sense of family. The final featurette is Links to the Legacy (04m:25s), with the Reeves-Stevens' discussing the various links they made to other series in the realm of Trek.
Rounding out the special features are Enterprise Outtakes (02m:15s), a Photo Gallery, and trailers for Star Trek DVD Seasons, MacGyver: The Complete Fourth Season DVD, The 4400: The Complete First Season DVD, and The Borg Invasion.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsStar Trek: Enterprise—The Complete Fourth Season ends a long run for the brainchild of Gene Roddenberry. This DVD set serves the show well, with excellent audio and picture transfers, as well as some nice special features.
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