With Star Trek: the Original Series - Season 1 now on Blu-ray, and seasons 2 and 3 sure to follow, the long wait for the definitive 1080p presentation of Star Trek: TOS is nearly over. In sum, it has never looked or sounded better, and for the first time, viewers have the option of seamlessly branching between the original and enhanced visual effects. For the reasons detailed below, this release is an essential DVD Talk Collector's Series purchase for fans of classic sci-fi.|
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 version 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 1, four truly shine:
- Episode 14, "Balance of Terror" (12/15/66) (directed by Vincent McEveety and written by Paul Schneider) - The USS Enterprise must intercept a Romulan Bird of Prey fitted with a powerful plasma weapon and cloaking device that's destroyed a series of Earth outposts before the Romulan ship can slip across the Neutral Zone. Borrowing from the conventions of submarine warfare films, this episode is also notable for introducing actor Mark Lenard who plays the Romulan captain here, but who returns to play other roles, most notably that of Spock's father in several subsequent episodes and movies.
- Episode 22, "Space Seed" (2/16/67) (directed by Marc Daniels and written by Gene L. Coon and Carey Wilber) - The USS Enterprise discovers a derelict Earth vessel in deep space with a cryogenically-frozen crew of 20th Century genetically-altered super-humans led by the tyrant Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán). Once revived, Khan tries to take over the Enterprise. Khan appears again in the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
- Episode 25, "The Devil in the Dark" (6/15/67) (directed by Joseph Pevney and written by Gene L. Coon) - Kirk and Spock hunt down a creature that's been killing miners, but find their anthropocentric prejudices tested.
- Episode 28, "The City on the Edge of Forever" (3/6/67) (directed by Joseph Pevney and written by Harlan Ellison) - Kirk and Spock must follow a delusional McCoy through a time portal to 1930's New York City to prevent him from unintentionally changing history. The ending of this episode was uniquely downbeat for Star Trek.
|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, Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish.
Features from the 2007 HD DVD release which didn't make it onto this Blu-ray release include the Five Collector Data Cards which directed viewers to which episodes and features are on which discs, the Star Trek Online Game Preview, the Trekker Connections menu-navigation game, the Starfleet Access trivia for the episode "The Galileo Seven", and most disappointingly, the 90-minute Star Trek: Beyond the Final Frontier History Channel documentary hosted by Leonard Nimoy.
- Starfleet Access - trivia provided via onscreen text and short video clips that run currently with six of the episodes ("Where No Man Has Gone Before", "The Menagerie, Part 1",
"The Menagerie, Part 2", "Balance of Terror", "Space Seed", and "Errand of Mercy".
- Interactive Enterprise Inspection (HD) - a visual and audio tour of the functionality of elements of the starship Enterprise's hull.
- Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Memories (HD 13 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.
- Spacelift: Transporting Trek into the 21st Century (HD 20 min.) - interviews with the team that updated the special effects and remastered the series for re-release, and demonstrations of their work. The remastering included cleaning up the image, adding new special effects, and rerecording the score.
- Birth of a Timeless Legacy (SD 24 min.) - archival interviews with principal actors and producers of the series including series creator Gene Roddenberry, producer Robert Justman, and actors Bill Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.
- Reflections on Spock (SD 12 min.) - Leonard Nimoy reminisces about his role and the controversy and misunderstanding engendered by the title of his memoir I am Not Spock.
- Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner (SD 11 min.) - principally about Bill & Elizabeth Shatner's love of horses and competitive equestrian sports.
- Too Boldly Go . . . Season One (SD 19 min.) - a comprehensive retrospective of the first season with special emphasis on "Naked Time," the two-part "Menagerie," "Bad Seed," "Squire of Gothos," and "City on the Edge of Forever."
- Sci-Fi Visionaries (SD 16 min.) - Producer Robert Justman and story editor Dorothy C. Fontana reflect on their efforts to commission scripts from renowned sci-fi writers.
- Kiss 'n' Tell: Romance in the 23rd Century (SD 8 min.) - a mix of clips and interviews about the many love interests of Kirk, and the occasional romantic interests of the other characters, particularly Spock in "This Side of Paradise."
- Star Trek Next Voyage previews - the original promo spots that appeared at the end of Star Trek: TOS episodes.
- BD-Live - the only extra unique to this and future Star Trek Blu-ray releases is the BD-Live online portal which is designed to offer a diverse and expanding collection of photo galleries, data bases, video clips, games and other features.
What a great pleasure it is to have the first season of the essential original Star Trek series on Blu-ray for the first time. 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 release. They are offered for reference purposes only and do not accurately reflect the HD image quality available on this release.
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