Perhaps the least-remembered run of Gene Roddenberry's landmark franchise, Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-74) was partially responsible for keeping the cancelled original series' memory afloat before The Motion Picture arrived later in the decade. Most of the original Enterprise crew returned to voice their animated counterparts (with the exception of Walter Koenig, whose "Ensign Chekov" didn't appear due to budget restrictions), and key members of the original writing team (including David Gerrold, Samuel Peeples, D.C. Fontana, and Paul Schneider) were able to get on board due to a loophole in the 1973 Writer's Guild strike. Essentially a spiritual continuation of Roddenberry's original production in almost every regard, The Animated Series even managed to snag a Daytime Emmy for "Outstanding Entertainment Children's Series"...even though it wasn't aimed directly at kids.
For casual Trek fans unfamiliar with The Animated Series (especially those born after 1973), watching it now for the first time will likely be a baffling experience...at first. Produced by Filmation (He-Man, She-Ra, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids), the show's stiff, limited animation---combined with the vocal presence of familiar Star Trek voices---make it resemble more of a modern fan-made project than a forward-thinking Saturday morning staple. It bears such a strong resemblance to TOS in all but its medium that the the initial change is jarring, and it'll likely take a few episodes for new fans to make the adjustment. The show's stylish backgrounds, on the other hand, represent The Animated Series' secret weapon: its ability to create imaginative alien landscapes for pennies on the live-action dollar, giving many of its episodes the added luxury of creative backdrops and captivating creatures. Equally impressive is the voice acting: it's immediately comfortable and familiar, with several regulars even earning overtime by voicing multiple supporting characters (James "Scotty" Doohan, for example, supplied more than 50!).
But all things considered, The Animated Series also carries over one element from the original show: the ratio of great ("Yesteryear", "The Time Trap", "The Survivor") to not-so-great episodes ("The Jihad", "Eye of the Beholder") is still pretty shaky, and even the thickest rose-colored glasses can't disguise some of its biggest missteps. Luckily, it more than survives as a whole: it's aged a little better than TOS in certain respects...and while The Animated Series never quite reaches the 1967 show's considerable heights, its continuing status as the neglected younger brother gives it an undeniable charm. The simple fact that it kept Star Trek in the public eye for a few more years earns it a place in the history books, so anyone who has yet to experience it should definitely seek this one out.
Though limited to just 22 episodes during its brief two-season run (one-and-a-half?), there's some great material here and Paramount's Blu-ray package improves upon their 2006 DVD set in almost every regard. Featuring a strong A/V presentation, slick packaging, and a few recycled extras, it's good treatment for an underrated series.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Star Trek: The Animated Series looks to have been sourced from the same master as Paramount's respectable 2006 DVD set. The usual "courtesy bump" improvements are here: better color reproduction, smoother lines, better contrast and shadow detail, and the more refined presence of natural film grain instead of an ever-so-slightly processed "video" appearance. But this obviously isn't a night-and-day upgrade, and the series' limited animation style doesn't exactly lend itself to a demo-worthy picture (aside from the imaginative landscapes, which really look great). Dirt and debris are very minimal, while the improved bitrate and encoding ensure that compression issues and banding are either extremely rare or completely absent.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
The bump to DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (compared to the DVD's Dolby 5.1 track) also yields a few improvements, from fidelity to overall depth. Channel separation is evident at times but this isn't an overcooked, fake-sounding remix; rear channels are mostly reserved for occasional music cues and atmospheric effects. A more purist-friendly Dolby 2.0 mono track (192 kbps) is included, as well as DD 2.0 dubs in German, French, and Italian. Optional subtitles are also available in English (SDH), German, French, Italian, and Dutch. I'm not sure why Spanish was excluded.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The smooth and stylish interface looks great, even though several trailers, warning screens, and logos must be dealt with beforehand. This three-disc set (6-8 episodes per disc) arrives in a hinged keepcase with double-sided artwork with an episode list. Also included separately is a collection of 22 Art Cards
for each of the episodes (some are seen above); illustrated by artist Juan Ortiz, these were first available as prints beginning in September 2013
. Both the keepcase and art card package are tucked inside a standard-sized slipbox with colorful themed artwork.
The extras are recycled from Paramount's 2006 DVD set
; these include "Drawn to the Final Frontier: The Making of Star Trek: The Animated Series"
(24:31), a few "What's the Star Trek Connection?"
trivia blurbs (7:17), the text-based "Show History"
synopsis, and Text or Audio Commentaries
for "More Tribbles, More Troubles", "Yesteryear", "The Eye of the Beholder", "Bem", ""How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth", and "The Counter-Clock Incident". Unfortunately, two items from the DVD set are missing: a storyboard gallery for "The Infinite Vulcan" and a booklet.
Though usually dismissed as a afterthought (or forgotten entirely), Star Trek: The Animated Series is an important part of the franchise's resurrection between the 1966 series and the later movies. Featuring most of the Enterprise crew voicing their characters plus members of the original series' writing and production team, it's an imaginative collection of episodes with less constraints than the live-action material. Of course, it also suffers the moderate hit-to-miss ratio of classic Star Trek as far as writing quality goes (and the limited animation can be a turn-off at first), but die-hard Trekkies should enjoy themselves. Paramount's Blu-ray collection offers just a modest upgrade from the 2006 DVD set; the A/V presentation obviously gets a decent boost and the packaging is terrific, but the extras are a half-step down. Recommended for established fans and curious newcomers alike; others should 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.