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Star Trek: The Original Series DVD review

Boldly going … again

For Star Trek fans, patience it turns out can definitely be a virtue. The five-year mission of the starship Enterprise was to seek out new life and new civilizations. The current five-year mission of Paramount Home Entertainment is to test the patience of fans for the same time period before reissuing the original first season of the “Star Trek” series in one boxed set.

When Star Trek: The Original Series was first released on DVD back in 1999, the DVD market was just out of space dock. The market for DVDs was indeed a strange new world. The even stranger world of Hollywood executives had trouble calculating what to charge, how important bonus materials were, or how best to release TV shows. Using flawed logic, Paramount Home Entertainment decided to release the entire Star Trek series on 40 DVDs. Each DVD contained two episodes; the only extras were trailers for those episodes. With each disc costing about $20 each it would have cost your average basement-dwelling Trekkie about $800 to claim the bragging rights to the entire series on DVD.

Since then, full-season boxed sets have become the industry standard for TV-to-DVD releases, and the top-selling sets have are now loaded with bonus materials. Now after a long five voyage, patient Trek fans are finally getting the boxed set that always seemed the logical solution.

Star Trek: The Original Series – The Complete First Season was recently released by Paramount Home Entertainment in an eight-disc boxed set with all 29 episodes from the show’s debut season, 1966-1967. The second season was just released last week and the third – and final – season will hit the stores Dec. 14.

The suggested retail price for each set is $130, but many stores and online vendors will be selling them for $90 to $100 each. So after a five-year wait you can now bring home the entire first season for less than half of what you would have paid.

The complete first season also features more than three hours of bonus materials in including interviews with members of the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes documentaries, and featurettes about popular characters. Several episodes include optional trivia-subtitle tracks.

Almost 40 years after the original pilot episode of Star Trek went into the production, the show reminds us of what a well-crafted show it was despite the limited budget and go-go boots. Creator Gene Roddenberry’s central theme that mankind would eventually work out its many troubles is a key reason the show still has legs.

The show truly broke many television taboos with a multiethnic crew working together as they sought out new life and new civilizations. At a time when few black actors were seen on television in roles other than servants, Nichelle Nichols was playing the self-assured Lt. Uhura, a vital part of the Enterprise’s bridge crew.

The 29 episodes featured in the first set highlight plots from such famed science-fiction authors as Harlan Ellison (“The City on the Edge of Forever”) and D.C. Fontana (“This Side of Paradise”). They also offer the first chance to see a real live Romulan in “Balance of Terror” and the introduction of actor Ricardo Montalban’s superman Khan in “Space Seed.”

Episodes often revolved around the need to understand beings that appeared to be different from humans. In “Devil in the Dark,” a monstrous creature seemingly made of molten lava turned out to be merely a mother protecting its young. In such episodes as “Balance of Terror,” “The Corbomite Maneuver” and “Arena,” Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) matches wits with starship captains from adversarial races and learns to respect his enemies even when he must find ways to defeat them.

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Roddenberry was most famous for using science fiction as a springboard to discuss topical issues or examine the human condition. Several episodes, including “Charlie X,” “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and “The Squire of Gothos,” show the dangers of uncontrolled power. Another, “A Taste of Armageddon,” examines a society that has sanitized the concept of war to the degree that it no longer respects the sanctity of life. “Dagger of the Mind” examines the ethics of rehabilitating criminals by altering their minds.

In terms of video and sound quality, these DVDs have been mastered from the same digital source material as the previous DVD releases. That’s not to say that there isn’t a slight improvement here. The result, on virtually every episode, is a crisp and vibrant picture, with terrific contrast and lush, accurate colors. The video isn’t reference quality certainly, especially given the age of these episodes. You’ll still see grain, along with occasional bits of dust and scratches on the film, particularly during effects shots. Having compared several episodes now between the new set and the previous releases, I’m noticed a very slightly improved clarity on the new discs.

Since these are again the same masters used for the previous discs, the audio for all of these episodes is available in re-mixed Dolby Digital 5.1. The original mono tracks have been digitally extrapolated to create a three-dimensional sound environment for home theater. The result is very good ambience, panning and surround play. Perhaps the best thing about the audio on these discs is that all of the mechanical tape hiss present in the original analog masters has been eliminated, along with production artifacts like bad music and sound effects edits.

The first-season DVD set is supplemented by 80 minutes of featurettes incorporating 2003-04 interviews with Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, other cast members, and producers, and some 1988 footage of Gene Roddenberry. The longest (24 minutes) featurette, “The Birth of a Timeless Legacy,” examines the two pilot episodes and the development of the crew. Slightly shorter are “To Boldly Go… Season One,” which highlights key episodes, and “Sci-Fi Visionaries,” which discusses the series’ great science fiction writers (most famously in “The City of the Edge of Forever”).

Shatner shows off his love of horses in “Life Beyond Trek,” and, more interestingly, Nimoy debunks various rumors in “Reflections of Spock.” As they’ve done for many of the feature-film special editions, Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda provide a pop-up text commentary on four of the episodes filled with history, trivia, and dry wit. It’s the first commentary of any kind for a Star Trek TV show, but an audio commentary is still overdue.

Considering the wealth of information available about the “Trek” phenomenon, the decision to limit the extras to a few reminiscing documentaries leaves the collection decidedly less than definitive. After a five-year wait, I had expected Paramount to also offer deleted footage, the well known blooper reels, vintage interview clips from the 60s, original on-set footage, and original production design artwork. Perhaps in another five years.

As far as packaging goes you will have no problem picking this release out among your other boxed DVD sets. The discs fit into a book-like holder with a slipcase, which in turn slides into a gold plastic shell that snaps open and closed. There’s also an insert booklet with episode summaries, a list of the extras and brief notes about Starfleet Command and the Romulans.

Star Trek is notable for having created its own elaborate history of the future, which together with its themes, best stories and strongest characters add up to a modern mythology that still endures today. If you’re a fan and were patient enough not to buy the first round of Star Trek DVDs, this set is definitely worth exploring. In making that purchasing decision you may want to reflect on the words of Spock from the episode “Amok Time” when he says “After a time, you may find that ‘having’ is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as ‘wanting.’ It is not logical, but it is often true.

By John Bugailiskis

Product Details

  • Starring: William Shatner,
  • Encoding: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. This DVD will probably NOT be viewable in other countries. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Format: Color, Closed-captioned, Box set, Dolby
  • Audio Encoding: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
  • Rated: NR
  • Studio: Paramount Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: August 31, 2004
  • DVD Features:
    • Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
    • All 29 first-run episodes on eight discs: The Man Trap, Charlie X, Where No Man Has Gone Before, The Naked Time, The Enemy Within, Mudd’s Women, What Are Little Girls Made Of? Miri, Dagger of the Mind, The Corbomite Maneuver, The Menagerie Part I, The Menagerie Part II, The Conscience of the King, Balance of Terror, Shore Leave, The Galileo Seven, The Squire of Gothos, Arena, Tomorrow is Yesterday, Court Martial, The Return of the Archons, Space Seed, A Taste of Armageddon, This Side of Paradise, The Devil in the Dark, Errand of Mercy, The Alternative Factor, The City on the Edge of Forever, Operation: Annihilate!
    • Text commentary by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda on Where No Man Has Gone Before, The Menagerie Part I, The Menagerie Part II, The Conscience of the King o The Birth of a Timeless Legacy
    • Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner
    • To Boldly Go… Season One
    • Reflections on Spock
    • Sci-Fi Visionaries
    • Number of discs: 8
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