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Star Trek: Enterprise - Season Four

Paramount // Unrated // April 29, 2014
List Price: $129.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted April 15, 2014 | E-mail the Author

From 2001-2005, Star Trek: Enterprise's slow and inevitable path to cancellation took a number of unpredictable turns. Like pretty much every other Trek series, the show's first season was its weakest...although, in my opinion, Enterprise offered the best pilot episode of the bunch. Things improved during the show's second season, yet continuing network interference and other production difficulties didn't make things easy for the cast and crew. We were treated to several of the strongest episodes to date (as well as some of the worst), but Enterprise still seemed to flounder without a true identity. Season Three shook things up considerably, ushering in a more serialized format that, like it or not, finally gave fans more meat to chew on. It wasn't a perfect run of episodes, of course: some of the dots never quite connected and, on many occasions, writers relied too much on in medias res to grab our attention. But warts and all, this was a definite step in the right direction...even if the season-ending cliffhanger led to two of the least essential episodes imaginable.

Two-part opener "Storm Front" may not be Season Four's worst outing; it just feels like a desperate detour that came at the wrong time. Our crew had just returned from the season-long Xindi War, so this immediate trip back to WWII-ravaged Earth---as part of an alternate history, mind you---just felt like a stab in the dark when fans really needed a breather. The only plus side (and the sole reason for this two-parter's existence, I suspect) was the conclusion of Enterprise's "Temporal Cold War" subplot, an element initially demanded by the network that never really fired on all cylinders. New showrunner Manny Coto, brought on as a writer and co-producer during Season Three, felt that the Temporal Cold War needed to be written out once and for all, a decision that streamlined the series' focus during this final run of episodes.

The bulk of Season Four uses a "mini-arc" formula that splits the difference between Season One and Two's wandering approach and Season Three's intense serialized format. Interestingly enough, this decision was made due to budget cuts: Enterprise's creative team had been sensing the show's cancellation for quite some time and, unwilling to cut corners, were able to maximize their production materials by using them for two and three-episode chunks. This approach gives Enterprise a streamlined cinematic feel that's not as daunting as Season Three, resulting in higher replay value and, more often than not, a substantial degree of variety from start to finish. Season Four is also remembered as a valentine to die-hard Trek followers (especially the original series), as it attempts to lay the groundwork for stories and characters that were still more than a century away. Of course, some might view this approach as cheap fan service...but under the circumstances, Manny Coto and company deserve all the credit in the world for simply not going through the motions.

Highlights from these two and three-episode stories include the introduction of Dr. Arik Soong (Brent Spiner), great-grandfather of Data and Lore's creator from The Next Generation, during the sequence of "Borderlands", "Cold Station 12" and "The Augments". There's also a terrific Vulcan origin story during "The Forge", "Awakening" and "Kir'shara" where the relationship between T'Pol and Captain Archer (who unexpectedly carries the soul of an ancient Vulcan religious leader) is deepened. The welcome presence of Commander Shran (rumored to join the Enterprise crew if the show continued) livens up an Andorian/Tellarite/Romulan conflict during "Babel One", "United" and "The Aenar", while the one-two punch of "Affliction" and "Divergence" attempts to explain the Klingon's appearance during TOS. Of course, there's the undeniable appeal of "In A Mirror, Darkly", the two-part "Inception mirror universe" adventure that serves up a rebuilt TOS Enterprise set, a Gorn brawl and all the over-the-top villainous acting you can handle. Finally, the potent combination of "Demons" and "Terra Prime" is strong enough to be the series' de facto finale, especially considering what we actually got.

I'd be doing the one-shot episodes a disservice by skipping them, since they prove that these stories don't only work in extended form. "Home" is Season Four's true beginning, a T'Pol-centric episode that explores her family relationship and sets up the Vulcan arc later on. "Daedalus" is a series highlight: it features a terrific performance by Bill Cobbs as transporter inventor Dr. Emory Erickson, who deceives the crew into helping him locate his lost son. "Observer Effect", which directly follows "Daedalus", is equal parts drama and mystery when Trip and Hoshi contract a deadly virus. These shorter adventures do contain elements that advance Season Four, but the format helps to change its rhythm a little.

Since I've named almost every episode of Season Four as a highlight (save for the two-part "Storm Front"), the remaining offender is series finale "These Are The Voyages...", the infamous bait-and-switch story that suggests the Enterprise crew was just a replication. Framed around TNG Season Seven episode "The Pegasus", it also features guest appearances by notably older Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis as Commander Riker and Counselor Troi. I'll admit that since the dust has settled since 2005, watching such a knowingly despised episode reveals that...well, it's not entirely a disaster. Don't get me wrong: "These Are The Voyages..." just doesn't work as a series finale in its current form...but like "Storm Front", it's more of a victim of bad placement. It's actually a fine idea for a one-off episode that, within the confines of Season Four, feels like a slap in the face of a series that had finally found its own identity. Either way, Enterprise is long dead (as is Trek on TV since 2005), but the bulk of Season Four ranks alongside some of the franchise's very best years.

Once again, CBS has done a fairly good job preparing Enterprise for high definition home video. Obviously, the result isn't quite as game-changing as The Next Generation's impressive road to Blu-ray, but there's a definite improvement across the board and much of it will enhance your enjoyment of the season as a whole. 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 new and vintage 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 fourth and final season of Enterprise looks terrific from start to finish. One word of warning: much like the first three seasons, these Blu-rays have been sourced from the same masters as the original 2005 DVDs. Yet, in direct comparison to the first three seasons, the results are typically more pleasing overall. The reason is that, due to budget constraints this time around, the fourth season was shot on HD video; naturally, the transition of this content to Blu-ray was a much smoother process. Of course, a full TNG-style restoration of the first three seasons' filmed elements would yield even better results...but for now, I'm just happy that we've gotten at least one excellent looking season of Enterprise on Blu-ray. Overall image detail and textures are solid, black levels are consistent, colors appear accurate and no flagrant digital issues could be spotted along the way. Make no mistake about it: Enterprise definitely looks a little different this time around...but in this case, different happens to be better.

DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.

The audio remains consistently good overall, as this DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio presentation is as dynamic and robust 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 visuals are 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.

Bonus Features

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. Most 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.

Once again, the main attraction is a newly-produced retrospective documentary about this fourth and final year, entitled "Before Her Time: Decommissioning Enterprise" (118 minutes). This excellent production is divided into four equal segments: "New Voices", "Memorable Voyages", "Final Approach" and "End of an Era". Many participants return from previous seasons, including executive producer Manny Coto, series creators Rick Berman & Brannon Braga, producer Mike Sussman, co-producers Andre Bormanis, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Fan Club magazine editor Larry Nemecek, consultants Michael & Denise Okuda, episode directors David Livingston & James L. Conway, and actors Scott Bakula, Linda Park, John Billingsley, Jolene Blalock, Connor Trinneer, Jeffrey Combs, Dom Keating and Anthony Montgomery.

Assorted topics include establishing a link to TOS, the "mini-arc" approach, changes behind the scenes, reading "the writing on the wall", Vulcan origins, the WWII setting, fruit baskets and budget cuts, amortizing sets, mirror universes, Dr. Soong, rebuilding the original Enterprise sets, Trip & T'Pol's relationship, network troubles, the dreaded Friday night timeslot, keeping up with the Nielsens, "Save Enterprise" rallies, the controversial finale, Rick Berman's contributions to Trek, fan empowerment, "the 18-year stretch", saying goodbye and, of course, looking at Trek's uncertain future on TV. Like previous installments, the tone tends to wander a bit as some of the themes lack a specific focus, but the overall honesty and candidness on display make up for any structural shortcomings. Without a doubt, this is a solid end to a teriffic run of retrospective documentaries for the series and, for die-hard fans, worth watching more than once.

Also of great interest is "In Conversation: Writing Star Trek: Enterprise" (90 minutes), a newly-produced roundtable discussion with seven of the series' chief writing contributors including David A. Goodman & Brannon Braga (who share moderating duties), Andre Bormanis, Mike Sussman, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Chris Black, and Phyllis Strong. This is a relatively engaging and well-rounded discussion, especially since the series' entire run is touched upon due to the range of participants involved. Topics include their first experiences with Trek writing (TNG, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterrprise), diverse writing backgrounds, the Season Three cliffhanger, public scrutiny, pacing changes, Season One struggles, challenges of the job, Brannon's departure during Season Four, Marvel and Disney shows/movies (!), potential Season Five ideas, standing in the shadow of TOS, and the philosophy of Gene Roddenberry. Season Four showrunner Manny Coto was originally set to participate, but unfortunately had a prior commitment to 24's upcoming relaunch.

Rounding out the 2013 bonus features are six newly-recorded Audio Commentaries during "The Forge", "Observer Effect", "United", "In A Mirror, Darkly: Part 1", "Demons" and "Terra Prime" featuring participants from the documentaries including Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Mike & Denise Okuda, James L. Conway, Mike Sussman, David Livingston, Connor Trinneer and Dominic Keating. 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. There's a certain (and expected) amount of overlap from the other new bonus features, but these all have a more engaging atmosphere than those produced back in 2005. On a related note, we also get two new extras for the episode "Home": an Extended Scene featuring the first meeting between T'Pol's two suitors (presented in HD with rough, on-set audio) and the Original Ending taken from an early script.

The remaining bonus features have all been ported over from the 2005 DVD release, but they're definitely worth another mention. These recycled supplements include two Deleted Scenes, a half dozen Text or Audio Commentaries and another broad assortment of "Archival Mission Log" behind-the-scenes featurettes, which are all scattered across this six-disc collection. While there's a little 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 have fun digging through. Except for the audio commentaries, all new and old bonus features include optional subtitles in the languages listed in the A/V section.

As mentioned in my review for Season One (released just over a year ago), this was my first run through Enterprise and it's been an interesting ride. Like most other Trek installments, the first two seasons took a little while to get going but picked up nicely, especially during Season Three's year-long Xindi conflict and the condensed mini-arcs of this fourth and final season. CBS has once again delivered an excellent Blu-ray package: although the lack of new masters is still unfortunate, it's much less evident this time around due to the show's budget-friendly switch to HD video. As always, the bonus features are extremely well done and remain a definite selling point. From top to bottom, this fourth season represents the best Enterprise to date and is undoubtedly worth the price of admission. Very 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.

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