“Space…The Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its 5-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before!”
Star Trek: The Original Series finally makes it to high definition. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been waiting for this day for what seems like centuries. They’re here. One of the best features about this set is the multi-angle option. Remember how we were promised all of this control way back when DVD’s first hit the market? We got the same promises when Blu-ray arrived, and we weren’t going to hold our breath. Hey, I still have a red, yellow, blue, and green button on my Blu-ray remote. What are they ever going to be good for? Anyway, we finally have a use for the angle button. You can use it to toggle between the new digital f/x Paramount recently created for the show, or you can watch the original f/x if you’d rather. With that button you now have the ability to toggle between the two. Through the use of branching technology you can go between them as often as you like and never stop the show. I will warn you, however, that many of these shots occur so quickly that the second delay in transition might not allow you to see the entire segment. It also does not change while the video is in pause. It’s one of the best new features out there and perhaps the best reason to upgrade your recent purchase of season one to the Blu-ray release.
Paramount was bold indeed when they undertook the remaster project of the original series. Not only did they clean up the prints, but they took the decidedly risky option of redoing most of the f/x shots from the original prints. We all know just how cheesy the old work looked when compared to today’s computer abilities. You could see a box around spacecraft that allowed the obvious cutout to maneuver through a cardboard star field. There were often mix-ups where phaser shots would be used for photon torpedo commands and the opposite. The planets often utilized matte paintings that look somewhat ridiculous now. We forgave these flaws with a complete understanding of the limitations the crew had at the time. While Star Trek showed us computers that were remarkably similar to the PC’s we use today, down to the floppy drives of our own yesteryear, the use of computers to create f/x was still many years away. So Paramount decided to “fix” these “flaws” and make much of the show look like it might have had it been produced today. It was a serious risk because of the extreme possessiveness fans have for these kinds of shows. Just ask George Lucas how much fans like their sci-fi tinkered with. The project encompassed a few years, and the results are quite attractive. But how do they stand up for the fans?
I have heard very little complaint about these efforts. Most of the shots appear to be identical in scope to the originals, and with a few exceptions don’t appear to detract from the rest of the show. It helps that the restoration process itself has made even the original material look quite fresh, but more about that in the video portion of this review. I have to say I was about as skeptical as anyone when I first heard of this enormous undertaking. I knew that if they didn’t get the right people, there would be too much of a temptation to show off. I’m glad to report that every shot is respectful and not as overpowering as it could have been. There is a lot of respect paid to the source material, and the f/x appear to blend in almost seamlessly. You might even find yourself unsure if a shot is new or old, particularly planet-side additions. There was more than one occasion I had to dust off my old laserdisc collection and make some side by side comparisons. To me, those moments of uncertainty said more about the project than anything else. Imagine if we had gotten some George Lucas wannabe on this project. There would have been so much effort spent to dazzle us that the simplicity, and yet genius of these episodes would have been lost. I’m happy to report the results are something I think Roddenberry himself would have approved of. And now you can have your cake and eat it too with the toggle option I described earlier. So, what’s not to love?
Let’s go back to where it all began. Back to a day before television executives did what the combined forces of the Romulans and Klingons couldn’t do: end that five year mission. As you watch through these first episodes you’ll literally see the series transform from the early sets, props, and designs of the first pilot toward the Star Trek that would finally fit as comfortably as a custom tailored uniform. The show was finding its feet. If you’re a fan, and honestly, who isn’t, none of this is new to you, except now you can relive those days through the modern technology of high definition. If you’re not a fan, now is your chance to start at the beginning and catch up to the rest of us. With the new film on the horizon and the hopes of more than one generation of fans on the line, what better time than now? What better format than Blu-ray? Let’s play a little game I like to call: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
The Man Trap: If anyone was wondering about how good an actor DeForest Kelley was, they need look no further than this episode.
Mudd’s Women: Alas, if only we could have had more than two Mudd episodes. Who couldn’t love that charming space con artist?
The Enemy Within: Sure, Shatner had a tendency to overact, but he really does a great job of selling the two Kirks here.
The Menagerie: What a great way to get some use out of the original pilot.
Balance Of Terror: This claustrophobic Run Silent Run Deep knockoff was some of the best drama Trek ever delivered.
Errand Of Mercy: Tons of Trek lore here including the Organian Treaty.
The Galileo Seven: It’s here that the Spock and McCoy relationship really hits its stride.
Arena: This is one of my favorite episodes. I know the Gorn really looked bad, but there’s something about the show that has always stood out for me.
Space Seed: One word: Kahnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!
The Devil In The Dark: OK, this is my wife’s favorite. “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer”, classic.
City On The Edge Of Forever: Ellison never stops complaining, and I hate the guy, but was there ever a more dramatic and emotional episode? One of the best episodes of Trek in all of its incarnations.
What Are Little Girls Made Of: Just what are little girls made of, anyway?
The Squire Of Gothos: I’m constantly asked how I could love Q but hate this guy. There’s been speculation this is the Q Continuum. God, I hope not. Campbell just annoys the crap out of me. Sorry.
The Return Of The Archons: This was, unfortunately, the first show I ever saw in color. It aired the night we bought our first color television. I didn’t get it then. I don’t get it now. Get it?
A Taste Of Armageddon: Prime Directive? We don’t need no stinkin’ Prime Directive.
Miri: What in the heck are those kids yelling, anyway? Bonk? Is this Batman?
The Naked Time: Spock’s gotta stop cryin’. Who really wants to see a half naked Sulu, I mean, really. I do like Uhura’s reply when Sulu calls her a fair maiden.
Dagger Of The Mind: Kirk gets the chair. It does have the very first mind meld, though.
Where No Man Has Gone Before: Get a load of those eyes.
Operation: Annihilate: Man, those bat-like creatures are ugly.
The Alternative Factor: If the Biblical Lazarus looked like that, we’d have had one less miracle in the Good Book.
Each episode of the series is presented in its original broadcast full frame format. You do get yourself a full 1080p image here. I was disappointed to see that the codec was VC-1, which I find vastly inferior to AVC?MPEG-4. The bit rate seldom rises above 16 mbps. Certainly it’s better than anything we’ve seen, but is it the best we can see? I’m not sure. Don’t let that keep you from buying this set. It might not be the best it can be, but it is VERY good. Anyway, the restoration is a pretty sweet piece of work. Colors jump out like they never have before. I noticed details that I’ve been missing for over 40 years. I’ve seen these episodes hundreds of times, and I couldn’t help feeling like I was actually seeing them for the first time. Reds were particularly blazing for the first time ever. The new f/x shots blended in perfectly and exhibited an appropriate picture quality. The f/x were clear and clean, but yet made to look like the original film stock. Gone are some of the print flaws from earlier releases. The transfers are very clean. If for no other reason, you need to see Star Trek in a form that was never possible before even in first run broadcast. These episodes leap at you at warp speed.
The DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track is an awesome upgrade here. Again the key is that it does not impose itself as a distraction. The surround mix is negligible enough to fit in with what we remember while adding more on the dynamic side rather than any kind of aggressive mix. When the ship appears for the menu screen, you’ll hear sub response that I just never connected with the original show. The dialog has been obviously enhanced by the new mix with good results. The iconic incidental music is better than ever before. You get everything you’re used to, but better, in this audio presentation.
This 7 disc contains a few extras to be found spread throughout. You get the original “next week on Star Trek” promos that were packaged with the episodes on laser. These are not remastered, so if you want to see what a truly remarkable job was done here, just check out these promos and compare. All of the HD-DVD extras were ported over and nothing more.
Starfleet Access: Some of the episodes allow you to access a control panel during your viewing experience. You can access “Starfleet Databanks” on various items you’re watching. The Space Seed version connects it quite nicely to The Wrath Of Kahn.
Spacelift – Transporting Trek Into The 21st Century: (HD) This 20 minute feature deals with the restoration process. It’s a wonderfully detailed look at how it was all done with respect and consciousness of the original segments and Roddenberry’s intent. It’s right from the people who participated in the upgrades.
Reflections On Spock: (SD) Nimoy talks about Spock as a character and how he has evolved and affected his life. It only runs 12 minutes, but Nimoy is quite compelling here.
Life Beyond Trek – William Shatner: (SD) Shatner is… well, Shatner here. It runs about 10 minutes and never really explores any new ground. I’ll warn ya that Shat’s ego is firmly intact.
To Boldly Go – Season One: (SD) What makes this 19 minute season one retrospective so nice is the inclusion of the show’s guest stars. It’s a typical run down of the year.
The Birth Of A Timeless Legacy: It’s a nice nearly half hour piece and includes some great moments with the cast. You won’t likely learn anything here, but it’s a wonderful ride down memory lane. Roddenberry’s vintage clips are pretty sweet.
Interactive Enterprise Inspection: (HD) Remember that old Technical Manual we all owned? You hop aboard a shuttle and explore various parts of the ship. It’s interactive. You can select a part of The Enterprise and hear some info about that part of the ship. It’s a junior engineer course on The Enterprise.
Sci-Fi Visionaries: This 17 minute feature looks at the well respected science fiction writers who worked on the show. Folks like Harlan Ellison (who complained so much about the gig, I’m glad they didn’t include footage of him here) and Theodore Sturgeon are discussed.
Billy Blackburn’s Treasure Chest – Rare Home Movies And Special Memories Part 1: That’s a long name. Billy was for Star Trek what in baseball you’d call a utility player. He appeared in many episodes in a variety of roles, usually not speaking. He often could be found at the helm when Chekhov or Sulu needed a break. He wore monster masks and often appeared as background aliens in many episodes. During his time on the set he took a lot of 16mm footage that supplies some rather nice moments for fans. You get to see costume and makeup tests, because Billy was also the test dummy for the show.
Kiss ‘N’ Tell – Romance In The 23rd Century: We know Kirk was good with the babes. In case you didn’t, here’s an 8 minute reminder.
BD-Live: You can download some really awesome stuff. You really want a BD-Live capable machine for this set.
The march is on. Trek is definitely back. The first six theatrical films are soon on their way to Blu-ray. The new film opens in just days from this writing. There is already talk of a sequel and a new television series in the wings. My insider information at Paramount tells me there are discussions about giving The Next Generation the same treatment we’ve gotten here. There are some obstacles, particularly with the way the first season was shot. There’s even a chance that those episodes could find their way to widescreen if they undergo that treatment. It’s all speculation right now, but for the first time in a few years it looks like the sky’s the limit once again, and Star Trek is on the rise. Picking up your copy of this Blu-ray set can only help bring these other possibilities to life. So, do you think this looks like a good year for Trek fans? “Those are pretty good odds.”