A funny thing happened to Star Trek: Enterprise on its way to cancellation in 2005: it actually started getting great. Seasons One and Two certainly had their moments, including a handful of exceptional stand-alone episodes and a likable cast, but most fans simply didn't care for Enterprise at first because it didn't bring much new to the table. They'd been slathered with Trek pretty much non-stop since The Next Generation's 1987 premiere, so anyone paying close attention would probably be less patient than someone entirely new to the franchise. In any case, Enterprise had dug something of a hole for itself during the first two years, so sweeping changes were obviously in order for UPN's flagship series.
Season Two ended with a bang as Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and crew headed into The Delphic Expanse, a massive area of uncharted space, in pursuit of alien terrorists who killed 7,000,000 citizens of Earth. Season Three represents their search for the truth, as well as their desire to understand how and why an unknown race would carry out such an attack, in an obvious parallel to America's response to 9/11. This was a bold and controversial move that, regardless of any negative public opinion, fit in perfectly with Star Trek's ability as a franchise to serve up social commentary with the sci-fi drama. Ethics are ignored, lines are crossed and the stakes are raised as the crew's mission changes from "exploration" to "revenge". Like it or not, the serialized approach created much more compelling TV.
Part of this new direction was due to demands from the studio: despite Enterprise consistently earning the highest ratings on UPN, the show's higher budget ensured that expectations weren't proportionately met. Higher-ups wanted to see a more action-oriented product, especially in the wake of 9/11's aftermath when more aggressive, revenge-driven shows like 24 were growing in popularity. Relatively new writer/producer Manny Coto was brought on board; a lifelong Trek fan, Coto's work on previous shows like Odyssey 5 impressed Enterprise co-creator Brannon Braga enough for a job interview and a quick hire. Coto's contributions to the show proved invaluable, at least enough to eventually pave the way for a fourth and final year where he was promoted to showrunner. It was still "too little, too late", but the end result of this shift in direction was a two-season run of more serialized sci-fi that obviously improved on what came before.
The improvements can be seen almost immediately as Season Three of Enterprise takes shape: though members of the writing team have since admitted to making up certain plot elements as they went along (not surprising, given the major changes going on behind the scenes), it's still a focused and accessible arc that's pretty easy to get sucked into. Highlights include season opener "The Xindi" (our crew encounters strange physics anomalies as they delve into The Expanse), "Impulse" (trouble for The Vulcans, including T'Pol, as it's discovered that the protective compound Trellium-D is harmful to their minds),
"Twilight" (another anomaly directly affects Archer's memory, enough so that 12 years pass in an alternate version of Enterprise's future), "Doctor's Orders" (Phlox is in temporary command), "Damage" (the crew struggles to find a functioning warp coil, while T'Pol develops an addiction to Trellium-D and its mind-altering affects), "E2" (in subspace, the crew runs into their descendants from an alternate timeline) and much more. From start to finish, it's a more consistently engaging batch of episodes that, more often than not, will keep you coming back for more.
Of course, not all episodes hit the mark; Season Three of Enterprise is still a show in transition and, in certain cases, can't help but tread water as it finds its new voice. The two easy low points of this season are "Extinction" and "Exile": the former finds Archer, Malcolm Reed and Ensign Sato devolving into mutants after their exposure to an alien virus. Meanwhile, the latter is a "Beauty and the Beast"-inspired tale where a 400-year-old telepathic alien agrees to help the crew if Ensign Sato remains with him while he works. At times, both episodes manage to keep the Xindi arc moving along, but they ultimately spin their wheels or just suffer from sloppy writing and acting. Oddly enough, both episodes were directed by Trek veterans LeVar Burton (Geordi LaForge from TNG) and Roxann Dawson (B'Elanna Torres from Voyager), but their other contributions to the series---and franchise as a whole---absolve them of any serious wrongdoing.
Much like Seasons One and Two, CBS has done a fairly good job preparing Enterprise for high definition home video. Though again, the result isn't quite as game-changing as TNG's impressive road to Blu-ray, there's a fairly definitive 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.
Complete List of Season Three Episode Summaries (via Wikipedia)
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this third season of Enterprise looks great with few reservations. Of course, this series 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 the early 2000s 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 can be quite crisp and the series' production design has its share of strengths; in fact, "Exile" (episode 6) was the first of the franchise to be broadcast in HD. Overall, it's more consistent than the first two seasons (especially since much of the CGI was rendered in 720p from here on out, as opposed to 480p) and clearly several notches above standard definition, even though it can't quite measure up to the best-looking Trek currently available on Blu-ray. All things considered, it's still a strong effort that earns high marks.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image 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 recent television 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. Nonetheless, I'm still 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 die-hard Trekkies will agree that Enterprise sounds terrific on Blu-ray, even if there wasn't much room for improvement.
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.
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. This promotional information been repurposed above for your convenience.
Much like TNG
, CBS (specifically, Roger Lay, Jr. and Robert Meyer Burnett) has managed to assemble another entertaining and informative collection of supplements exclusive to this release. Some are 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.
The main supplement is the three-part retrospective documentary "In A Time of War" (89 minutes total), which provides a nice overview of Season Three's themes and the direction of Enterprise as a whole. Featured participants include series creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga; actors Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock, John Billingsley, Anthony Montgomery, Dominic Keating, Connor Trinneer; producers Phyllis Strong, Mike Sussman, David Goodman, Chris Black, Manny Coto; story editor Andre Bormanis; visual effects artists Dan Curry, Ronald B. Moore and many others. Though it varies in focus from start to finish, topics of discussion include Season Three's comparisons with 9/11, the season-long Xindi arc, network relations, regrets, weaker episodes, working with new recruit Manny Coto, cast relationships with the producers, budget constraints, CG effects and the day-to-day struggle of taking the struggling series into bold new territory.
Also new to this release is "Temporal Cold War: Declassified" (20:17), a like-minded retrospective featurette that briefly summarizes the TCW concept and its integration into Season Three. More than anything else, though, it serves as a platform for Brannon Braga to comment about its inception and his memories of what worked and what didn't. Actors Matt Winston (Crewman Daniels) and John Fleck (Silik the Suliban) are also on hand, and their retrospective comments are also a highlight. Topics include day-to-day experiences, the makeup process, reflections on the series and more.
Rounding out the 2013 bonus features are five newly-recorded Audio Commentaries for "Impulse", "North Star", "Silimitude", "The Forgotten" and "Countdown" featuring participants from the documentaries including David Livingston, David A. Goodman, Chris Black, Manny Coto, Connor Trinneer and Andre Bormanis. These are all worth a listen for die-hard fans of the series, as they contain the same level of honesty and frankness as the other new supplements.
The remaining extras have been recycled from the DVD release, but they're still worth a mention. These vintage supplements include Deleted Scene(s) taken from "Silimitude", "Chosen Realm" and "E2"; a half dozen Text or Audio Commentaries; and another nice assortment of "Archival Mission Log" behind-the-scenes featurettes, which are all scattered across this six-disc collection. While there's less variety here than we got on past season releases, it's still a highly entertaining and informative mixture of bonus features that new and old fans should really enjoy digging through. Except for the audio commentaries, all extras also include optional subtitles in the languages listed in the A/V section.
It's been a real treat getting acquainted with Star Trek: Enterprise on Blu-ray for the first time; especially now that the four-season series has picked up steam. This season-long "Xindi" arc sharply divided fans the first time around, both for its newly serialized ambitions and the "too soon?" nature of its post-9/11 commentary. In hindsight, this marks an interesting turn for a show that never quite got a fair shake the first time around, which makes it all the more enjoyable to dig through in high definition. CBS' six-disc collection offers up yet another multi-layered supporting effort, including a tighter A/V presentation and even more fascinating retrospective bonus features. Unless you're patiently waiting for the forthcoming complete series package, there's no reason why Trek fans shouldn't pick this one up. Highly 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.