Time can really change a film or TV show's reputation. What was once considered great can be safely elevated to "classic" status after a decade or more, while stories deeply rooted in current fads and technology turn sour like old milk. Sometimes things aren't clearly good or bad...but it seems as if they just arrived at the wrong time, so it takes a little longer to appreciate what was originally ignored. Now don't get me wrong: I'm not about to endorse Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005) as a forgotten gem, because at least half of this short-lived series simply doesn't live up to what came before it. Former Trek productions like The Original Series and Next Generation continue to thrill and amaze fans of all ages (especially during their shift to high definition), yet Enterprise is usually singled out as dead weight.
Rick Berman and Brannon Braga's prequel to The Original Series originally felt like the logical extension of a popular franchise that had, quite frankly, burnt itself out during the Trek-saturated 1990s. Originally conceived as a completely different approach to the Trek universe, Berman and Braga's show aimed for stories that could only exist in this uncharted era. Writers had difficulty living up to their expectations, so the co-creators tirelessly rewrote most of the scripts. Production began mere weeks after Voyager wrapped, robbing exhausted crew members of a much-needed break. Constant studio interference led to creative differences, mostly at the hands of executives who didn't understand Trek in the least. Yet somehow, despite all of the production roadblocks, Season One of Enterprise managed to squeeze out a handful of terrific episodes, including a classic pilot. Sure, there are a few less impressive episodes in the bunch, but most Trek incarnations don't reach their full potential before the second or third year.
This leads us to Season Two of Enterprise, which continued to struggle with familiar shortcomings during the first dozen or so episodes. At the studio's insistence, the series continued to favor "adventure-of-the-week" outings instead of serialized storytelling; while this approach might seem acceptable for a show built around exploring strange new worlds, most casual fans dismissed Enterprise for walking on crutches. Luckily, momentum shifted near Season Two's halfway point and quickly picked up steam with a game-changing finale, using a catastrophic event to kick-start the improved final two seasons before its unfortunate cancellation. Slightly more character-driven and smoother than the first year, Season Two of Enterprise isn't perfect television...but more often than not, it's better than you remember.
Our original review of Paramount's Season Two DVD collection was authored by former DVD Talk writer Holly Ordway...and while it reads like she downright hated most of it, I'd have probably agreed with her at the time. Having just come off the promising but squandered premise of Voyager, most fans were just growing a little weary and frustrated with familiar stories that, while tolerable on a week-by-week basis, didn't feel like they were headed anywhere. Yet the passage of time---and, of course, the understanding of what went on behind the curtain---allows us to be more lenient on a series that effectively killed off the franchise's small-screen presence for eight years and counting. Before that, we enjoyed nearly two straight decades of Trek on TV, with several installments managing to overlap along the way.
For now, Enterprise makes a second leap to Blu-ray with this new six-disc set, serving up all 25 Season Two episodes with another terrific collection of supplements. Episode highlights include "Carbon Creek" (a tale of Vulcan life on Earth circa 1957), "Minefield" (a booby trap leads to first contact with the Romulans), "Singularity" (the crew goes a little insane after encountering a black hole), "Vanishing Point" (trouble with early transporter technology), "Stigma" (T'Pol's contraction of a virus threatens her life and career), "Future Tense" (the crew makes a startling discovery on a derelict vessel), "Regeneration" (a one-off dip into the Borg well), "First Flight" (memories of Archer's early years as a pilot) and "The Expanse" (the season-ending cliffhanger and beginning of Enterprise's 9/11 proxy). Less impressive outings are here as well (including "A Night in Sickbay" and "Precious Cargo, two candidates for "worst Trek episode"), but the good clearly outweighs the bad. Season Two's complete roster is listed below.
Complete List of Season Two Episode Summaries (via Wikipedia)
Much like Season One, CBS has done a fairly good job preparing Enterprise for high definition home video. Though again, the result isn't as game-changing as TNG's impressive road to Blu-ray, there's a relatively clear improvement across the board and much of it enhances several of the core episodes. No brand new masters have been created but Enterprise still looks quite good in 1080p, the audio is clearly more dynamic and, once again, the quality of the retrospective bonus features simply can't be overstated. Like every other Trek collection it's an expensive undertaking but, in almost every respect, worth the price of admission for established fans of the popular franchise. Let's see what's in here, shall we?
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this second season of Enterprise looks good with a few nagging reservations. Of course, it wasn't redone from the ground up like CBS' monumental restoration effort for The Next Generation: Enterprise was ready for HD right from the start, though obviously there were technical limitations in 2001 that no longer exist. Enterprise is still a fine-looking series for the most part, but anyone used to the massive improvements on the TNG Blu-Rays might be a little disappointed. Image detail and textures occasionally pop and the series' production design has its share of strengths, but there's a slight softness to many sequences that videophiles might not be able to ignore. Overall, it's more consistent than Season One and clearly several notches above standard definition, even though it can't measure up to the best-looking Trek on Blu-ray. At the very least, it's still quite watchable.
DISCLAIMER: This review's screen captures are from promotional sources and do not represent Blu-Ray's 1080p resolution.
The audio is also fairly consistent, as this DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio presentation is as dynamic, robust and satisfying as you'd expect from a relatively new series. Obviously there wasn't any major remixing done here, but those expecting a courtesy bump to 7.1 like TNG might be disappointed at the lack of extra effort. But I'm 100% satisfied with what we get here: it represents a faithful translation of the original audio, presented in lossless format and featuring crisp dialogue, strong channel separation and a decent amount of LFE on many occasions. I'd imagine that most long-time Trek fans will agree.
Additional Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 dubs are provided in German, Spanish, Italian, French and Japanese. Optional subtitles are provided in English (SDH), German, Spanish, French, Japanese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish. Sadly, no Klingon or Ferengi are included, but what can you do?
Packaging, Presentation & Menu Design
Seen above, the dynamic menu interface is attractive, simple and smooth. Each episode is divided into more than half a dozen chapter stops, though no sub-menus are present. No obvious layer changes were detected during playback and these discs are unlocked for region-free viewing. Similar to TNG, this six-disc collection is housed in a multi-hubbed keepcase with a handsome embossed slipcover and no inserts. A condensed list of episodes and bonus features has been printed on the interior packaging artwork.
Much like The Next Generation
, CBS (specifically, the team of Roger Lay, Jr. and Robert Meyer Burnett) has pulled out all the stops to assemble a highly entertaining and informative collection of supplements exclusive to this Blu-Ray release. They're divided neatly across all six discs; a basic rundown has already been presented above, but a slightly more detailed description of each one can be seen below.
Undoubtedly, the main attraction is "Uncharted Territory", a new three-part retrospective documentary. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, this excellent feature offers plenty of candid comments from key cast and crew members including Brannon Braga, Rick Berman, Scott Bakula, John Billingsley and Jeffrey Combs. Much like Season One's retrospective, it's painfully honest every step of the way, making very few excuses for the series' early shortcomings and balancing "what was" with "what could have been". From writer fatigue to fan response and Enterprise's acceleration into the superior third and fourth seasons, the interviews are balanced nicely with appropriate clips and occasional glimpses behind the curtain. This may not change your mind about the season's low points, but it'll definitely help you appreciate the massive amount of work and dedication that was poured into each and every episode.
Of equal interest is "In Conversation: The First Crew", a new roundtable interview with Brannon Braga and all seven Enterprise crew members. Running just over 90 minutes, it offers another honest look back at everything that made the series great...and not-so-great. Each crew member is given an opportunity to clear the air on a variety of topics, from their personal likes and dislike to on-set experiences, fan interaction, relations with each other and much more. Those experiencing Enterprise for the first time on Blu-ray may not get as much out of this as someone who's followed it for a decade, but it's a terrific supplement that, again, will make you appreciate Enterprise's contributions to the Trek franchise as a whole. Much like "Uncharted Territory", it'll also make you wish that things went a little differently.
Bridging the gap between new and archived supplements is a collection of Audio Commentaries; three are new to this collection ("Carbon Creek", "Regeneration" and "First Flight"), while the other four ("Dead Stop" and "Stigma" [text only], along with original commentaries for "Regeneration" and "First Flight" [text only]) have been ported over from the 2005 DVD release. Please note that both text commentaries are by Trek mainstays Michael and Denise Okuda, while the new and old audio commentaries feature the likes of actor John Billingsley, The Okudas and producer Michael Sussman, as well as writers Chris Black and Phyllis Strong. Though I didn't listen to some of these sessions in their entirety, what I heard was just as entertaining, honest and forthcoming as the previous supplements without overlapping very much.
The remaining extras have been recycled from the DVD release, but they're still worth a mention. These vintage supplements include Deleted Scene(s) during "Minefield", "A Night in Sickbay", "Dawn", "Stigma", "Cease Fire" and "The Expanse"; a brief Season Two Promo; separate Archival Interviews with Brannon Braga, Rick Berman, Jolene Blalock, and Scott Bakula; three "NX-01 File" cast featurettes; and an assortment of "Archival Mission Log" behind-the-scenes featurettes. Overall, it's an entertaining and highly informative mixture of supplements that new and old fans should really enjoy digging through.
Enterprise was not a best-loved Trek series during its original four-year run, but those willing to give it a second chance should enjoy what it brings to the table. Like most outings of Trek thus far, the first two years have their share of missteps along with a few classic episodes; what's more, though, is that you can begin to see momentum build during the back half of this second season. Very good things are in store for Enterprise during its final two years, so that's all the more reason to get reacquainted with the series on Blu-ray. CBS' six-disc collection still isn't the game-changer that TNG continues to be, but the top-notch supplements add a great deal of support to the whole package. Overall, it's a solid effort that Trek fans should enjoy, but the high sticker price might keep some away. Firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.