Star Trek is the most popular franchise in movie and television history, so it makes sense that it's been treated well in high definition. Two of the five Trek TV series are currently in the middle of a successful Blu-ray campaign, including a complete overhaul of The Next Generation and an honest look back at the underrated Enterprise. Of course, Star Trek's flagship series was already released on Blu-ray to rave reviews back in 2009, and the upcoming release of Into Darkness will only fuel more interest in the three-season series that started it all. Paramount has taken this opportunity to release Origins, a five-episode collection of original series episodes that cherry-picks a few notable first appearances of Trek regulars.
"The Cage" served as Trek's original pilot, although it was initially rejected and didn't actually air until two decades after the series was cancelled. It can also be found on the Season Three Blu-ray set. Starring Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike, this episode also introduces Leonard Nimoy as Spock and, among other Trek regulars, the Enterprise itself. Notably different in tone, this pilot finds Pike trapped by telepathic aliens as the crew tries to save him. Not Trek's finest hour, but still fun to watch.
"Where No Man Has Gone Before" was the second (and obviously approved) pilot and, like the next two episodes, can be found on the Season One Blu-ray set. Many familiar faces make their debut here, including Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) and Lieutenant Sulu (George Takei, or "that guy who shares funny stuff with your parents on Facebook"). Oddly enough, it aired as the third episode of the first season, so established new characters like Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley) do not make an appearance here.
"Space Seed" raises the bar much higher: not only is it one of the best classic Trek episodes, but it's also noteworthy as the first appearance of the cunning "perfect soldier" Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban, who would return for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Filled with memorable performances, a terrific story and plenty of action, it's probably my pick for the best overall episode in this collection.
"Errand Of Mercy" first introduces us to the Klingons, who would become one of the main antagonists (and later allies) of Starfleet. Budget constraints meant that the Klingons couldn't have the elaborate appearance as seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Next Generation and beyond...and their race also didn't have a layered mythology yet, so the Klingons aren't as compelling in their early appearances. But this is still a decent episode for the most part, though not without a few plot holes along the way.
"The Trouble With Tribbles" has the least noticeable tie-in with both recent Trek films, but this Season Two episode is a fan favorite adventure that, if nothing else, depicts a lighter tone than the other four (and it's also the only one featuring Paval Chekov, played by Walter Koenig). Plus, it's got a great bar fight between the Enterprise crew and the Klingons, which is always a welcome distraction.
So, five good-to-classic episodes of TOS that look and sound great, all on one disc? What's the catch? Well, only the newer CGI enhanced versions are included, for starters. First created for the Blu-ray season sets, they feature updated effects like the ones seen in this comparison video. While the season sets present viewers with both options, Origins abandons the original versions with no explanation or even an acknowledgement. Kinda defeats the purpose of "seeing where it all began", doesn't it?
Video & Audio Quality
Aside from the "CGI only" complaint (see above), this video presentation won't disappoint in the least. These episodes appear identical to those found on the respective Blu-ray season sets, featuring terrific 1080p transfers that preserve the series' original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Image detail is excellent, shadow detail and black levels are strong, color reproduction is faithfully vivid, compression artifacts are absent and a natural layer of film grain has been preserved. Those who have yet to see any classic Trek in high definition will be thrilled with how good these episodes look...and while the Blu-ray season sets are almost five years old already (!), the technical presentation of these episodes holds up quite well.
DISCLAIMER: These promotional images are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
The audio is equally impressive...but unlike the video, it also includes the original Dolby Digital mono mixes. The default audio, of course, is DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio, which sounds like overkill considering the source material. But it's actually a tasteful remix that doesn't distract at all, adding a pleasing ambiance to "indoor" sequences and strong channel separation on many occasions. The music even gets a nice boost, too. Either way, it's nice to have a choice...and speaking of which, we also get French, German and Japanese dubs, as well as optional SDH captions and an identical set of foreign subtitles.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The smooth menu designs make navigation a breeze, though at least half a dozen Trek
trailers, warning screens and logos must be bypassed beforehand. This one-disc release is housed in a silly eco-friendly keepcase with attractive double-sided artwork. No slipcover or inserts are included, though an episode list is printed on the inside cover. The disc itself appears to be locked for Region A playback only.
Nothing except for short Episode Introductions
(+/- 1 minute each) by Rod Roddenberry, who offers brief observations before each episode begins. Pretty basic stuff here, but it might help newbies. On two occasions he also plugs Into Darkness
, just in case you weren't sure about this being a quick cash-in.
Origins is, at best, a basic primer for any new Trek fan that's unfamiliar with the franchise's early years. These five episodes introduce some of the prominent characters also seen during the J.J. Abrams films, including Christopher Pike, Kirk, Spock, Khan, the Klingons and many more. Unfortunately, only the "remastered CG effects" versions of each episode are included here, which kind of defeats the purpose of having an "old school" collection like this. On top of that, the TOS Blu-ray season sets can easily be found for $40-$50 apiece, which include many more (and, in some cases, better) episodes, both versions of each one and, of course, plenty of terrific bonus features to boot. Still, if you're an extremely casual or new fan just looking for a quick fix, Origins may be worth a weekend spin at the very most. Rent It.
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.