When the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series was released on HD-DVD in November 2007, nobody could have expected that it would take nearly two years to see the second season finally released in high definition. Following the demise of the HD-DVD format, Paramount took its time before finally embracing Blu-ray. Now though the wait is over. With the first season released on Blu-ray back in April, season two released in September, and the final season to follow in December, all is right with the world for fans of this classic series.
Star Trek was not the first science-fiction television series about a crew of intrepid space explorers (Rocky Jones, Space Ranger proceeded it by 12 years), nor was it even the most popular such television series of its day (Lost in Space had twice the viewers), but in the years since, Star Trek has eclipsed every sci-fi show that came before and influenced every one that came after.
Though Star Trek was conceived as a grand space opera re-imagining of NBC's popular western frontier show Wagon Train, it was always more about the personal relationships of the characters than it was about adventure, or futuristic technology and aliens. The USS Enterprise was captained by James Kirk, a brash, romantic, adventurer, modeled on C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower. The initial idea for the show was that Kirk's most important friendship would be with chief engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, played by Irish-Canadian actor James Doohan. However, because the creators could not justify having the chief engineer on the bridge enough, it was decided to make the Vulcan first officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) Kirk's closest confidant. Midway through the first season, chief medical officer Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelly) was elevated to star billing as well when it was noted that his humane sentimentality was a useful foil for Spock's cold logic.
Though the show aired during the Cold War, series creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned a noble future in which the Earth was harmoniously united under a single world government, and he sought to reflect this in his crew. In addition to the American mid-west captain and southern doctor, Scottish engineer, and alien first officer, the principal characters included African communications officer Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Asian helmsman Sulu (George Takei), and beginning in season two, Russian navigator Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig).
Through the fiction of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry offered dire warnings about the current state of human affairs, and hope for a better future. Star Trek posited that the Earth had suffered a horrible Third World War in the 1990s that nearly destroyed all mankind, and that it was the folly of this war that finally united all humanity. In the future posited by Roddenberry, everyone's basic needs are satisfied, money has lost its value, and racial and gender equality (or at least what passes for gender equality to the writers and creators of the show, themselves steeped in the culture of 1960's America) have been achieved.
Star Trek pioneered many of the devices that became ubiquitous in subsequent sci-fi shows and movies: matter transporters, energy-absorbing electromagnetic shields, hand-held wireless communicators and PDAs, cloaking devices, computer speech synthesis, networked computers, laser surgery, and automated self-destruction devices, to name a few.
Among the many fine episodes provided in Season 2, four stand out:
"Amok Time" (9/15/67) (directed by Joseph Pevney and written by Theodore Sturgeon) - Spock's façade of logic comes crashing down when he's gripped by an overpowering Vulcan mating drive that compels the Enterprise to go to his homeworld of Vulcan. On Vulcan, Kirk is forced to fight Spock to the death. Many of the best quotes from Trek come from this episode.
"Mirror, Mirror" (11/06/67) (directed by Marc Daniels and written by Jerome Bixby) - A transporter mishap transposes Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura with their vicious counterparts from an alternative reality. The four must make their way back to their own reality before they're exposed. The concept of mirror universes was carried forward in subsequent Trek series, and in other sci-fi series such as Stargate SG-1.
"The Doomsday Machine" (11/20/67) (directed by Marc Daniels and written by Norman Spinrad) - After losing his own starship and crew to a planet-killing automated dreadnought, a crazed Commodore Decker (William Windon) usurps command of the Enterprise to fight on.
"The Trouble with Tribbles" (12/29/67) (directed by Joseph Pevney and written by David Gerrold) - Though more weighted toward comedy than the series as a whole, The Trouble with Tribbles proved to be an especially popular episode. Tribbles, a species of frurry puff-balls with a voracious appetite and a dizzingly rapid and expansive reproduction cycle infest the Enterprise. Tribbles return again in episodes of Star Trek: the Animated Series and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Both of these later episodes are also included in the extras.
The weakest episodes of season two were those that fixated too closely on our 20th century. When the crew of the Enterprise was not traveling back in time as they did in Assignment Earth, they were visiting planets that epitomized aspects of 20th century history. In A Piece of the Action, the Enterprise visits a planet modeled on prohibition era gangland Chicago. In Patterns of Force the model is Nazi Germany. For Bread and Circuses, the writers go further back in our history to feature a society modeled on the Roman Empire. Though any one of these episodes might have been passable on its own, the collective effect especially when amplified by similar episodes in the other seasons was diminishing. Instead of being a forward-focused series about the grand possibilities that space exploration and technology could provide, the series was occasionally an unimaginative, backward-looking, action-adventure yarn.
|Unrestored Original|| Restored|
In addition to utilizing the visual and audio restoration undertaken for the 2007 and 2008 DVD re-releases, this release, for the first time, offers the option to seamlessly branch between the original visual effects and the new CGI effects. Though the thought of tinkering with the original effects may be initially disconcerting to some ardent fans, the result is respectful to the original.
Form follows function in the slim, no-nonsense Blu-ray case which is approximately equivalent in size to the ubiquitous 5-disc Blade Runner Blu-ray release, or to two standard DVD cases. The 7 Blu-ray discs are housed on hinged trays, with episode and extras text appearing on the inside of the case cover through the transparent blue plastic. A superfluous cardboard slipcover is also provided.
The Blu-ray menus are similarly functional with none of the lengthy and problematic menus that plagued prior Star Trek releases.
Remastered in their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the episodes shine. Colors are vibrant with accurate flesh tones and deep blacks. Focus, contrast, and detail are significantly improved over prior DVD releases, and are comparable with the visually stunning HD DVD release from 2007.
Originally shot on film, the series benefits greatly from the increased resolution provided by the 1080p VC-1 high definition transfer. Whole new levels of detail are visible from variations in Nimoy's makeup to loose threads on uniforms. This is not to say that the image is perfect, some scratches and dirt made it through the restoration, but it looks vastly better than it ever did on DVD.
Audio is presented in 7.1 DTS HD Master-Audio. The original English mono and French and Spanish mono dubs are also available. Like the picture, the audio for the series has been remastered and has never sounded better. Dialogue is crisp and distinct from score and effects. This mix trumps the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix offered on the HD DVD release from 2007 by utilizing the rear surrounds to convincingly handle ambient noise.
Optional subtitles are offered in English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish.
- Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Features Part 2 (HD, 12 min.) recollections and personal 8mm behind-the-scenes films of a supporting player who appeared in nearly every episode of the original series, frequently as Lt. Hadley but also as red shirts and costumed roles such as the white rabbit and Gorn Captain, and as DeForest Kelly's stand-in.
- Optional Episode Audio Commentary for "The Trouble with Tribbles" with writer David Gerrold.
- "More Tribbles, More Troubles" (HD, 24 min.) - Complete episode from Star Trek: The Animated Series with optional commentary by writer David Gerrold.
- "Trials and Tribble-ations" (HD, 45 min.) - Complete episode from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine which blends material from the original Star Trek episode The Trouble with Tribbles with new material featuring the Deep Space Nine cast.
- "Trials and Tribulations": Uniting Two Legends (SD, 17 min.) - The first of two behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of this Deep Space Nine episode with emphasis on the actors and writers.
- "Trials and Tribulations": An Historic Endeavor (SD, 17 min.) - The second of two behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of this Deep Space Nine episode with emphasis on the production elements.
- Star Trek: TOS on Blu-ray (HD, 10 min.) - An interview with the production staff responsible for the new effects and re-mastering.
- Too Boldly Go . . . Season Two (SD, 19 min.) - a retrospective of the second season with emphasis on "The Trouble with Tribbles," "Mirror, Mirror," the introduction of Walter Koenig, and the development of the backstory for Spock's Vulcan heritage.
- Life Beyond Trek: Leonard Nimoy (SD, 12 min.) - principally about Nimoy's personal and professional interest in photography.
- Kirk, Spock & McCoy: Star Trek's Great Trio (SD, 7 min.) - explores the strong bonds between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.
- Star Trek's Divine Diva: Nichelle Nichols: (SD, 13 min.) - Nichols' reminiscences about her career, especially her memories about Star Trek.
- Designing the Final Frontier (SD, 22 min.) - a look at the set and prop designs by Matt Jefferies' art department.
- Writer's Notebook: D.C. Fontana (SD, 7 min.) - Dorothy Catherine "D.C." Fontana recalls her experiences as series writer and story editor.
- Star Trek's Favorite Moments (SD, 17 min.) - memories of favorite original Trek episodes from fans and actors, crew, and producers of subsequent Trek series.
- Star Trek Next Voyage previews.
- BD-Live content includes a diverse and expanding collection of photo galleries, data bases, video clips, games and other features.
- Mobile Blu content includes short features on Writing Spock, Creating Chekov, Listening to the Actors, and Spock's Mother.
What a great pleasure it is to finally see the second season of the essential original Star Trek series in high-definition. CBS and Paramount have done an outstanding job. Though some budget-minded fans may wish to wait for the eventual complete series release, most should be ready to buy now, safe in the knowledge that there will be no need to upgrade again, at least till something better than Blu-ray comes along for the home video market.
N.B.: Images used in this review are in standard definition, from the 2007 DVD release of the first season. They are offered for reference purposes only and do not accurately reflect the HD image quality available on this release.