I can't strictly label this as part of my Blu-ray reviews because it's actually a dual format box set with all the episodes in the now defunct HD-DVD format on one side of each disc and standard definition on the other side of each disc. As I wait patiently, or not, for Paramount to get their corporate ass in gear and release all the episodes on Blu-Ray, then watching this first season in standard definition will have to do. Luckily enough, when HD-DVD lost the hi-definition format war to Blu-Ray, the set was picked up for a very reasonable price and I was still curious enough to find out what had been done to the series after I saw a very impressive cinema showing of The Menagerie in HD.
When I first heard about the intention to spruce the series up and replace the model effects sequences and planets with CGI I did have nightmares of the George Lucas-like revisionism that so patently angered the fans of his original Star Wars trilogy when he decided, amongst other atrocities, to muck about with the Han/Greedo shoot-out. No fear, the episodes have been treated with due care and no editorial mucking about has been done. Even in standard definition, the restoration is seen to be very impressive, perhaps too impressive at times, and detail now popping out of the screen includes uniform seams, obvious layers of make-up and distracting facial details that you've never been able to see before. Slightly disarming at times, along with the series affectation to shoot all the close ups of the female co-stars and guests as if the lens is smeared in vaseline and a very obvious drop in quality where scenes have had effects, like phaser shots for example, added to them optically or dissolves between scenes. Sharpness is reduced at these moments and it is obvious on screen.
Other than the instances mentioned above you will be impressed by the quality of the picture. The colour, such an integral part of the original Star Trek's attractiveness as well as adding to its retro-camp appeal, is vivid and lush; contrast and blacks are solid and actually show off the stylised lighting on the series to its best where you'll notice how much the director of photography used blocks of shadow and light to accentuate sets and light faces in a very evocative way too. The other major change is, of course, the replacement of the original spaceship and planet model footage and the sprucing up of various matte paintings with CGI. It works remarkably well in most instances, especially where the animators have added in new moves or given us little surprises, with only a handful of shots looking slightly unconvincing just through lighting and detail not working well enough. The planets have never looked as good or as realistic as this, the energy barrier in 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' is stunning, the Murasaki 312 is properly a quasar like phenomenon in 'The Galileo Seven' and the Botany Bay is given some gorgeous moves in 'The Space Seed'. Many effects sequences are vastly improved or added to and some are not but overall they don't devalue or destroy the actual episode itself. They enhance.
Sonically, the episodes are remixed into 5.1 and before the purists out there start to decry about this I suggest you listen first. The remixing is handled very well indeed, much of the soundfield is steered towards the front and centre of the mix with some very subtle effects remaining for the rear. The opening title music was completely re-recorded for this remastering exercise and sounds terrific and the sound effects of the Enterprise swooshing across the screen are impressive as they whip across the front of the soundfield and disappear behind you in the rear speakers.
As for the episodes themselves, they remain what they are. Even though, as you cast your gaze back to this first series, they are littered with ethnic minority tokenism, sexism, unintentional hilarity (Janice Rand's hair and soft focus pouting), cheap production values and the now obvious Shatnerisms and some outrageous turns from guest stars. The core values remain, despite the philosophy of the series being akin to the then US Foreign Policy, and the human stories are always entertaining and thought provoking. If I had to list my favourites from this first year then tales such as The Devil In The Dark, City On The Edge Of Forever, Space Seed, This Side Of Paradise, Balance Of Terror, The Galileo Seven, and Arena are the ones I'd always return to. Perfect slices of a pop cultural phenomenon, brimming with nostalgia for most of us but, most importantly, now looking good enough to get a new audience addicted too. Just in time for the new movie in May 2009.
Supplements on the DVD side of the set range in quality:
- The Birth of a Timeless Legacy (24 min., SD) – A look at the origins and development of the series, from its two pilot episodes to its many budgetary and production problems. Shatner, Nimoy, and other cast members are interviewed, along with vintage clips of Gene Roddenberry.
- Reflections on Spock (12 min., SD) – Leonard Nimoy reminisces about his famous character, and the controversy that surrounded his "I Am Not Spock" memoir.
- Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner (11 min., SD) – Recorded in 2003 (prior to his current stint on 'Boston Legal'), this interview finds Shatner discussing his passion for raising horses. There's not much relevant to 'Star Trek', or particularly interesting for that matter, in this piece.
- To Boldly Go… Season 1 (19 min., SD) – Nimoy, Shatner, other cast members, guest stars, and show producers look back on key episodes of the first season, including 'The Naked Time', 'Arena', and 'Space Seed'. Production difficulties are once again covered, as well as the actors' approaches to their characters.
- Sci Fi Visionaries (17 min., SD) – A tribute to the quality of the show's writing, and the potency of its science fiction concepts.
- Preview Trailers (times vary, all SD) – On the DVD side of every disc, each episode contains its original TV trailer. The footage is generally in very poor condition.
- Spacelift: Transporting Trek into the 21st Century (20 min., SD) – An overview of the Remastering process, from telecine transfer to digital cleanup, coloring, re-recording of the theme song (clips from this circulated on YouTube earlier this year), and of course the new visual effects. Altogether pretty fascinating.
- Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Memories (14 min., SD) – Supporting actor Blackburn is seen in a great many 'Trek' episodes as the dialogue-less ship navigator Lt. Hadley, as well as numerous other non-speaking roles including crew members, Red Shirts, crowd extras, and costumed aliens (he was the Gorn!). In this interview, the actor shares his remembrances of the production and his 8mm home movies shot on the set.
- Kiss 'N Tell: Romance in the 23rd Century (17 min., SD) * – An amusing look at the progression of Capt. Kirk's overactive love life. Shatner jokes around about the hardship of kissing so many beautiful women. Romance storylines for Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Chekov, Scotty, and Uhura are also highlighted.
- Trekker Connections (4 min., SD) * – A pointless trivia game in the vein of "6 Degrees of…" The feature isn't even interactive. Lame.
- Star Trek Online Game Preview (3 min., SD) – Equally lame, an extended commercial for the multi-player online role-playing game.
- Star Trek: Beyond the Final Frontier (90 min, SD) – This History Channel documentary was originally aired in conjunction with a massive 'Star Trek' memorabilia auction. The piece affords many associated with the franchise an opportunity to reflect on 40 years of 'Trek', though for some reason absolutely no one seems to remember the animated series from the '70s. We also get a close look at many terrific props and models used in the various series and movies. This is an enjoyable feature, but it should be mentioned that it focuses more on the 'Next Generation' years than it does 'The Original Series'.
The packaging is Paramount's usual self-indulgence and tucks the discs inside a hunk of plastic that quite frankly is rather ugly. The episodes are presented in air-date order but there is a guide to running them in production order too. What does baffle me is that all 79 episodes have now been spruced up, are in HD, and yet no UK broadcaster has bothered to purchase them and show them. This would be ideal content for BBC HD. And Paramount aren't exactly rushing to release them all on the Blu-Ray format.
STAR TREK - THE ORIGINAL SERIES HD-DVD/DVD Combo (Paramount Home Entertainment - Region 2 - PHE9384 - Released 19th November 2007 - Cert PG )