Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One (US - BD)
Gabe boldly goes where many men have gone before, but in high definition...
We’ll start things rightly, and I’ll admit I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to all things Star Trek. I’ve seen all the movies, and used to watch The Next Generation during its original run, but I’m mostly unclear on the specifics of what makes the franchise so undyingly enduring. Fans of the series and franchise need to know right off the bat that I’m going to actually critique the first season of the original series here (even if briefly), not just kiss up to it because it’s old, or dismiss it because it’s dated. Thankfully research is pretty easy. I have many friends that might be considered Trekkies, or Trekkers, or people that happen to enjoy the franchise but would prefer not to be identified by a popular culture tag, and they’ve offered their assistance in the matter. One prepared a list of the episodes I should pay the closest attention to (thanks Jena), another grabbed his reference compendium book (thanks Blake), while another gave me some funny web videos to watch (thanks Hal). More importantly they watched some episodes with me, and gave me some pointers.
It seems that many of my assumptions concerning Star Trek really only refer to the films and the post- Next Generation shows. The most mistakenly applied assumption is that Star Trek is somehow comparable to Star Wars. The comparisons between the extended universes are fair enough, but comparing the original film trilogy and original television series proves pretty futile. More to the fact, as a Star Wars fan (a pretty big one, I like the prequels and cartoons) the differences between the franchises are what make Star Trek: The Original Series interesting enough to pursue.
The biggest surprise is that Star Trek is a surprisingly un-serialized series. There are a few plot elements that carry over, but for the most part the episodes are standalone, unlike the Star Wars series, which is all about emulating classic Saturday morning serials. Early Star Trek doesn’t define its universe and players as specifically as Star Wars either, and it lacks the operatic overtones. The original series has more in common with the dime store sci-fi novels of the ‘50s than the silver screen adventures of Buck Rogers. I’m sure this was common knowledge for fans, but it comes as a bit of a revelation to me.
But the series is not totally bereft of swashbuckling either, which is both a point of joy and contention. The action heaviest episodes are chewy with cheesy goodness, bad alien costumes, and all the stuff that makes Mystery Science Theater 3000 what it is, but they’re also exhausting. Naturally I assumed the best episodes would mix the cheesy and more serious elements, but I shockingly find the more pointedly dramatic and purposefully comedic episodes the most enjoyable. The plots are hit and miss all over the place, but the old-fashioned acting (which is often mistaken for ‘bad’ acting), and the witty banter is pretty solid throughout even the less entertaining episodes. I’m actually quite smitten with some of the dialogue and the fashion in which it is read, which is often only a few steps removed from straight-ahead screwball comedy. The ongoing issue outside of the inconsistency is the series runtime. Every episode in this collection could handsomely fill a thirty-minute episode, but everything is stretched to an awkward and often boring hour.
There are too many episodes here for me to tire you all with my thoughts on everything, so I’ll just knock it down to the episodes that really did it for me. ‘Mudd’s Women’ is successfully purposefully funny, exacts the feel of the era’s best trash sci-fi novellas, and features a positively wonderful performance from Roger C. Carmel. ‘Balance of Terror’ is interesting outside of its universe expanding aspects for its Das Boot, or Enemy Below like space/naval battle (one of my favourite elements of the film series). ‘Shore Leave’ is a hallucinatory mess of oddness, and is going to be hard to forget, even considering some of the other seemingly drug addled episodes. I admit that ‘Space Seed’ is most likeable as the prequel to Wrath of Kahn, but even if the film hadn’t been made I imagine this solid chuck of pulpy storytelling and virile acting would stand ahead of the pack (despite some of the worst stunt doubles I’ve ever seen on screen). The best episode considering all factors (script, direction, acting, production values, place in the greater canon) is pretty clearly ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’, which holds up remarkably well despite the low budget and melodramatic nature.
Episodes that weren’t particularly incredible, but which I found entertaining because now I get a lot of pop culture jokes I didn’t get before include ‘The Corbomite Maneuver’ (little Clint Howard is another plus), ‘The Enemy Within’ (the alien dog helps), ‘The Menagerie’, ‘What Little Girls are Made Of’, and ‘Arena’ ( Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey!).
I have misgivings concerning the release of ‘60s television shows on Blu-ray disc. Apparently Star Trek was shot on 35mm film, so there is room for an enhancement in definition from DVD. A direct comparison to the first season one DVDs, the ones found in the clam-shell cases, reveals a definitively superior clean-up, a big increase in colour saturation, and sharper contrast. These transfers are a definite improvement, but I’m not sure standard definition couldn’t handle things just as well.
Colour has been a crucial element for science fiction and fantasy filmmaking since it was made available, but being a student of Italian B-cinema I can’t help but compare the cinematography to that of Mario Bava’s sci-fi and fantasy work, specifically Hercules and the Haunted World and Planet of the Vampires. The colour design in Star Trek was pushed to unnatural levels in an attempt to make the ever more common colour television set worth the cash. High definition video actually reproduces these almost maddeningly bright primary colours accurately, which were likely dulled to normal looking when the episodes first aired on early tube sets. These solidly represented, and frankly gorgeous hues are the reason to re-watch the series on Blu-ray, not the increased detail, which I still think is no sharper than many DVD transfers.
Sometimes an increase in definition is a problem. Watch in amazement as the mini-golf course like sets wiggle when the actors brush against them, and witness the glue holding Spock’s ear extensions to his face. In this case the suspension of disbelief probably won’t be shattered with the more clear representation of unrealistic elements ( Star Trek is pretty unrealistic altogether), but some viewers may find themselves unfortunately fixated on such things. The less than consistent focus is a bit of a contention when the sharpness is increased as well. Some of the really early episodes (especially the first episode, which airs second on the collection) are a bit grainy, and show some minor print damage, but clarity and noise is a very rare problem. I may find it all a bit silly, and may not totally subscribe to the need of HD over SD, but I am still quite impressed.
I can admit I was wrong in assuming that high definition video would be entirely unneeded, but my assumptions concerning the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 were right on the money. There’s no reason for the enhancement. Even a stereo mix would be a little funny. That said, overall the track is respectful of the show’s humble origins, and incredibly clean and consistent, which is really all fans could ask for. The rear and stereo channels come to life occasionally when aboard the Enterprise bridge set, concerning the hum and beeps of the ship, or the roar of the alarm. These moments are surprisingly immersive without garnering too much overt attention (though the ping sound gets a little annoying at times). Still, the extra channel work is mostly devoted to the revamped space shots, which are pretty few and far between. Another solid sampling comes from the bomb drops towards the beginning of ‘The Arena’, which are repetitive in their design (every bomb sounds exactly the same), but dynamic in their range of volume, and motion.
The score has been largely re-mastered, and the titles have been entirely re-orchestrated and re-recorded, so the music fits well into the modern surround mix, even if the other audio isn’t always right. The making-of featurette tells us that the original Shatner narration was found and slathered over the top of the new music. Personally I think it sounds bad, flat and bizarrely mousy.
Every disc in the collection features previews for the episodes contained within, and the first disc features a trailer for the new J.J. Abrams movie (in HD). Some episodes (‘Where No Man has Gone Before’, ‘The Menagerie’, ‘Balance of Terror’, ‘Space Seed’, ‘Errand of Mercy’) feature ‘Starfleet Access’ abilities— a series of pop-up factoids that let us in on some of the factoids concerning the technology aboard the Enterprise, the canon narrative and the universe’s planets and aliens.
Disc two features ‘Spacelift: Transporting Trek into the 21st Century’ ( 20:00 HD) covers the process of taking the original film negative and making a hi-def transfer. The process includes using automated computer systems, and more hands on programming to delete imperfections, and upping the contrast. Part of the re-mastering included creating the new digital effects, and without once mentioning the Special Edition releases of the Star Wars Trilogy, the responsible parties talk about the process. Fans will probably respect the new effects, which are in-keeping with the original anachronistic effects. There are a split screen and before and after comparisons throughout which are greatly appreciated. The featurette also includes behind the scenes footage of the re-recording of the title music.
Disc two features only the previews and a montage of all the updated digital effects set to a techno song (03:40, simply highlight the red light on the main menu).
Disc three features ‘Reflections on Spock’ (12:00). The incredibly lucid Leonard Nimoy talks sweetly about his most famous character (seriously, I can only think of one other major role for the guy of the top of my head), and the post-show era (his books, the movies, etc).
Disc four features ‘Life Beyond The Trek’ (10:10)—a look at William Shatner’s post Star Trek life. The main concern is with the Shat’s love of horses and horse riding, which he speaks about in an uncomfortable sort of sexual manner. I’m just sayin’.
Disc five features ‘To Boldly Go… Season One’ (19:00), a retrospective look at the series’ first season, and ‘The Birth of a Timeless Legacy’ (24:00), a more general look at the early production. In the first featurette Nimoy, Shatner, Tekei, Ricardo Montalban and producers Robert Justman and Robert Black run through the season, touching briefly on episodes ‘Man Trap’, ‘Naked Time’, ‘The Arena’, ‘The Devil in the Dark’, ‘The Menagerie’, ‘Space Seed’, ‘The Squire of Gothos’, and ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’. There are some good behind the scenes stories and such, but these sections may have worked even better in the form of PiP option during the episodes. In the second featurette Roddenberry, Shatner, Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, Tekei, Black and Justman talk about the show’s first pilot, the long road to the eventual series pick-up, some behind the scenes on the second pilot, and a few character specific things, including Spock’s make-up, and the race of some of the actors.
Disc six features ‘Sci-Fi Visionaries’ (16:30) and is concerned with the series’ storytelling, and the writers that brought it to life. Issues covered include the more famous era sci-fi writers that wrote early episodes, some of the loose rules set forth, and the basic inspiration for certain episodes. Special focus is placed upon ‘Shore Leave’ and ‘The Naked Time’ (which were both written by Robert Black), ‘Balance of Terror’ (Paul Schneider), and ‘City on the Edge of Forever’ (by Harlan Ellison). Disc six also features a new HD interactive look at the Enterprise. There are eleven top menus to explore, each with several sub-menus, so it takes some time to absorb.
The set’s final disc houses two more featurettes, starting with ‘Billy Blackburn’s Treasure Chest’ (13:20 HD). Blackburn was a bit player on the original series, playing stand-ins, doubles, and monsters. In the featurette he walks us through his role on-set, offers up some memories of the series, and shows off some of his Super-8 behind the scenes home movies. Billy’s commentary isn’t fascinating, but the home movies are a cool addition. Also aboard the final disc is ‘Kiss N Tell: Romance in the 23rd Century’ (08:30), a good natured look at the often silly treatment of love in the series.
I’m sure there are very few fans that will honestly care what I think about the quality of the show. That’s why they’re called fans. They know very well beyond my comprehension the value of the series. I’m just here to say I enjoyed myself, and after a few months off can’t wait to jump back in for season two. The need for the series in high definition and DTS-HD Master Audio is still questionable, but these discs come as close as possible to proving me wrong in my initial assumption. Obviously this is as good as the series has or can look and sound, the only question is that of need. Do you need to see the source material pushed this far, or are you okay with the less incredible DVDs? I can only pass the knowledge, I cannot offer any definitive answer.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 28th April 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono French, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish
Extras: Previews, Starfleet Access Options, Interactive Look at the Enterprise, Spacelift: Transporting Trek into the 21st Century, Reflections on Spock, Life Beyond The Trek, To Boldly Go…Season One, Sci-Fi Visionaries, Billy Blackburn’s Treasure Chest, N Tell: Romance in the 23rd Century
Easter Egg: No
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Jill Ireland, Frank Overton, DeForest Kelley
Genre: Adventure and Sci-Fi
Length: 1460 minutes
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