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Paramount Home Video presents
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.”
DVD ReviewThe DVD Review is by Matt Peterson.
What can be said about Star Trek that isn't repetitive? When Gene Roddenberry’s strange, wonderful “wagon train to the stars” showed up on NBC, it was the beginning of a legend. As I sit here trying to conjugate my thoughts about the most influential pop culture phenomenon toemanate from the vacuum tubes of 1960s television sets, I find it difficult not to merely repeat old conclusions. Though I grew up on Picard, with Kirk mixed in via reruns, do not fear: I have seen every Original Series episode, and have great admiration for it. Chances are you are not completely unfamiliar with the exploits of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and crew. Consequently, this review will not be a rehash of episode synopses and evaluations; for such information, look to dOc’s previous reviews of Paramount’s single disc Original Series releases.
Instead, I will endeavor to address what makes Star Trek stand out—the characteristics and effects that have endured. This analysis will be split between the three seasons slated to be released before the end of the year. I see a clear breakdown into three areas of importance: character development, technology and science fiction storytelling. Before we get too far out into the cosmos, let’s begin with the basics: the characters and deep-rooted relationships that quickly formulated during Star Trek’s landmark first season, creating a group of unforgettable human beings, and even one Vulcan, who voyaged each week to thrill us with adventure, imagination, and to teach us something about ourselves.
Forget about Kirk’s affinity for torn shirts and clinging, beehived Yeomans. Put aside McCoy's Southern charm and Vulcan-directed insults, effortlessly deflected by Spock, who frequently takes such comments as compliments. These three men create a triad of friendship that is immediately apparent on screen. Each of these individuals personify an important aspect of humanity: Kirk is a combination of the fallible hero and the swaggering Horatio Hornblower, commanding with authority, respect and the proper amount of humility; his trusted confidant Spock is the logical one, constantly battling his human half, looking for the peace and mental discipline provided by his sacred Vulcan precepts; Doctor McCoy is a man of science and biting criticism, but his care and warmth for both Kirk and Spock are undying. Joining this group are Sulu, Uhura and Scotty, whose diverse ethnic backgrounds make a clear, positive statement about the future of race relations.
Against these beacons of humanity are the numerous adversaries of the good ship Enterprise. As with the main crew, Roddenberry's clear intention was to pick one aspect of humanity and manifest it in an alien race, providing a commentary on our own faults and strengths. The Klingons, first seen in Errand of Mercy, personify our barbarism and thirst for violence. This is done with a sense of honor and occasionally, deception; the Romulans, introduced in Balance of Terror, are the isolationists. They too are bestowed with a sense of duty and honor, though they represent the violent, emotional half of their Vulcan ancestors; Khan of Space Seed is the superhuman dictator—a genetically enhanced Napoleon that represents our will to rule and the danger of science unchecked; The Squire of Gothos is our childish, immature self, engrossed in selfish pursuits with no regard for others' needs or desires. Star Trek is at its best an essay on humanity, partially revealed in its characters, and later, in its plotlines. These subtexts arrived at a time in the nation's history when war and uncertainty were the policy of choice.
How does the Original Series stack up to the new series? Well, in my opinion, it stands alone. I for one think it’s unfair to compare it to new incarnations of Trek. It contains everything Star Trek stands for and is simply superb science fiction. It’s hard for me to be impartial about grading such a force; it is a television show, yes, but it’s something special to me, and hopefully, its lessons will continue to resonate back from its fictional future, and throughout the years to come.
Here is a breakdown of the 29 classic episodes included on this set, which are presented in original broadcast order:
Disc One: The Man Trap, Charlie X, Where No Man Has Gone Before
Disc Two: The Naked Time, The Enemy Within, Mudd’s Women
Disc Three: What Are Little Girls Made Of?, Miri, Dagger of the Mind
Disc Four: The Corbomite Maneuver, The Menagerie Part I, The Menagerie Part II
Disc Five: The Conscience of the King, Balance of Terror, Shore Leave
Disc Six: The Galileo Seven, The Squire of Gothos, Arena
Disc Seven: Tomorrow is Yesterday, Court Martial, The Return of the Archons
Disc Eight: Space Seed, A Taste of Armageddon, This Side of Paradise
Disc Nine: The Devil in the Dark, Errand of Mercy, The Alternative Factor
Disc Ten: City on the Edge of Forever, Operation--Annihilate!, Special Features
Mark Zimmer adds:
This new version of season one takes the dangerous step of upgrading the special effects sequences. That can easily be a problem, but those in charge of this endeavor have managed to do it both respectfully and with restraint and taste. The most obvious difference is in the view of the planets; from the beginning it feels like the Enterprise is circling something that looks real. The ships themselves are upgraded in terms of being more realistic looking, but care has been taken not to modernize them or change them into something different; at most we see them at different angles not possible in the original versions. Happily, the transporter effects are as cheesy as ever, with the beloved twinkling lights. That updating also extends to the main theme, which is carefully re-recorded to exactly match the original versions, but with a more open texture that is an update without being a significant change. Strict purists may object, but on the whole the work is very satisfactorily done and will please most viewers.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Paramount takes the novel step of pushing the HD DVD format by offering this upgrade only as a combo package of the standard DVD and the HD DVD discs; even if you don't have an HD DVD player now, this set is future-proofed (assuming you think that HD DVD will survive the HD format war—and even if it doesn't, you still have the SD versions). Does it translate well to HD? The answer is, absolutely, yes. The original series was shot on film, and while the original effects might not have held up to such close scrutiny, the reworked effects aren't a problem (other than a few stray shots, such as one in Where No Man Has Gone Before where the Enterprise still looks like a toy in one brief shot).
The main improvement is the color saturation and differentiation, which at times is just gorgeous. This was an early color television program (when it first aired, I saw it in black & white), and it thus placed very heavy emphasis on primary colors. In particular, wild gel lighting is seen often, giving unnatural and bright color to the otherwise drab sets. The colors come across with dazzling clarity, with the reds in particular being eye-popping without suffering from the usual video or chroma noise in the process. Many shots seem rather softened, possibly due to video filtering, but there's still reasonably good grain structure so it still looks film-like for the most part, even though there isn't quite the crispest clarity one might have wanted. Although Captain Kirk's skin tones seem a little reddish, others seem normal so that appears to just be how his makeup was designed. Skin texture and drops of sweat have nice clarity, as does the velour of the uniforms. Edge enhancement is present but only in very mild form, and one has to look hard to spot it, so casual viewers will in all likelihood never notice it. The picture is definitely worth the upgrade, and the SD DVD side looks pretty nice as well, though it has the expected aliasing issues and inability to handle the color that the HD side manages with aplomb. The grade would be even higher if the filtering had been a bit more controlled.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The disc defaults to a TrueHD track, which is very nice for those with capability to handle it. The track is clean and has a solid dynamic range. Dialogue is very much still in the center, with the music and the effects being the only use of the other speakers. The swoosh of the Enterprise in the main titles seems mixed a bit loud, but one can hardly blame the disc producers for wanting to be a little flashy. It really gives a feeling of motion if you're a bit close to the surrounds.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
29 TV Spots/Teasers
7 Feature/Episode commentaries by story editor/writer D.C. Fontana, Star Trek expert Bjo Trimble, writer David Gerrold, authors Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Harry Knowles, executive producer Harve Bennett; video effects producers David Rossi, Michael Okuda and De
While prior releases of this series have been somewhat skimpy on the extras, this prestige set offers a nice selection while picking up the most substantial extras from the previous Season One release. Exclusive to the HD DVD sides are seven "Starfleet Access" features, which serve as side-by-side picture commentaries that are accessible by clicking when an icon appears on the screen. These feature authorities talking about the original series, the upgraded visual effects producers hold forth proudly on their new work, and a few guest stars and minor role players offer their recollections; alas there are no commentaries from the surviving principal cast. These are generally quite informative, however, and provide plenty of interesting data and the comparisons of the old and new effects are fascinating. The episodes featuring these commentaries are Where No Man Has Gone Before, both parts of The Menagerie, Balance of Terror, The Galileo Seven, Space Seed and Errand of Mercy. Why the most famous episode, City on the Edge of Forever didn't merit one is unclear, though it may have had something to do with not wanting to be sued by Harlan Ellison.
The tenth disc also includes several HD documentaries and featurettes. Spacelift: Transporting Trek into the 21st Century (20m:06s), which takes a look at the most important changes in the effects and music, as well as providing particular attention to going back to the original camera negatives and cleaning up dirt and damage. Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest (13m:20s) features prominent extra Billy Blackburn, who has plenty of anecdotes and also some rare color home movie footage that's included here. There's preview of the Star Trek Massive Multiplayer Online game, which supposedly is directed towards casual fans and gameplayers. There's an amusing interactive inspection of the ship, allowing you to get a guided tour of the Enterprise, including such areas as the bridge, the weapons systems (which allows you to fire the photon torpedoes—you know you always wanted to), the engines, the shuttle area, etc. It includes such geeky material as the fact the range on the photon torpedoes is about 750,000 kilometers.
There are still more features, annoyingly placed only on the SD side (Spacelift, Billy Blackburn and the game preview are also repeated on the SD sides), which necessitates sitting through a lot of copyright notices and slow animated menus (though the latter can be skipped with the Next Chapter key). The new materials are headed up by Beyond the Final Frontier (1h:29m:58s), a television program hosted by Nimoy that takes a look back with many of the actors while also looking at the franchise as it continued through movies and the sequel series. That's set against the Paramount auction of Trek memorabilia, lending an air of sadness to the proceedings. Kiss 'n' Tell: Romance in the 23rd Century (8m:34s) takes a tongue-in-cheek look at Captain Kirk's many romantic conquests across the galaxies. Shatner's pretty funny, if a bit hoarse in this. Trekker Connections is a cute little 'Six Degrees of' game that quizzes the viewer on connections between various guest stars and principal actors (3m:57s).
The most significant featurettes from the prior season one DVD release are included here as well. Birth of a Timeless Legacy (24m:14s) on the second disc features Shatner, Nimoy, Roddenberry, Doohan and others regarding the making of the several pilots, and the conversion of the unusuable first pilot The Cage into the usable The Menagerie. However, The Cage itself is not here (unless it's an Easter Egg I haven't been able to find), so hang onto your Original Series—Volume 40. Reflections on Spock (12m:13s) features Nimoy in philosophical mood in 2003, discussing the appeal of the character, his problematic book I Am Not Spock, and his struggle to direct the third Star Trek movie. Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner (10m:28s) will be of interest to horse fans only, as Shatner is interested only in talking about his competitive equines. To Boldly Go (18m:59s) is a solid though brief overview of the first season in typical clips-plus-talking heads format. The talented sci-fi authors who were recruited to make the series memorable are covered in Sci-fi Visionaries (16m:39s). Each SD episode also includes the preview trailer for the next one (why this couldn't be included on the HD side as well, I can't imagine).
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsParamount finally offers commentaries on its classic Trek episodes, as well a few new materials in addition to those previously seen on the season one set. Not only are the special effects souped up, that's done with care and taste, and the original film is substantially spruced up. The picture is often eye-poppingly excellent, and those who held out on the original season one package should be very happy to pick up this one.
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