We finally have it. The monstrous 10-disc Star Trek Season One Combo Format HD-DVD set. On the surface it’s a beauty: a clear outer plastic shell reminiscent of the previous DVD box set opens to reveal a smaller cardboard box housing the discs in a clear plastic case, along with five plastic “cheat sheets” printed with each disc’s contents. Classy. Yet despite how “cool” this set looks sitting on a shelf, it’s hard not to judge the total package without the format war implications weighing heavily on the mind. First of all, many high-definition home video and Star Trek fans balked at the ludicrous $217.99 original retail price, with some even convinced the price was for the entire series, not just a single season. Paramount heard the cries and lowered the price to $194.99, but that’s still well above comparable high-definition box sets scaled accordingly.
Star Trek sets have always carried a premium, no doubt due to licensing fees and other variables. In this case the bank-breaking price could have been avoided by simply using fewer discs! As a Combo Format release, each and every disc in this set includes standard-definition episodes, and in some cases special features, on the flip side. Isn’t the point of high definition to increase disc space so we can utilize fewer discs? Apparently not to Paramount and CBS, because from a consumers perspective, forcing more HD-DVD hardware sales was more important than reaching a large segment of high-definition adopters unable to spend what will eventually amount to a small fortune to own the entire series in high definition.
Still, anyone with an interest in the original Star Trek series deserves to own this re-mastering because frankly, the show has never looked better. An extensive restoration began with the tattered original film prints which were scanned frame-by-frame into a computer and then thoroughly cleaned to remove cracks, dirt, and other unwelcome blemishes. In addition, the colors were considerably brightened resulting in more saturated colors adding a lot of pop to the picture. This restoration is clearly evident on the 1080p AVC-MPEG-4 encoded 1.33:1 high definition transfer and the 480p standard DVD side, with the high definition picture clearly sharper and deeper, but not by much. Remember, regardless of the cleaning, this is an old show shot on a television budget so it doesn’t compare to today’s big-budget extravaganzas.
Some purists feel Paramount and CBS went too far with restoration in rebuilding almost all the exterior Enterprise shots in CGI, tweaking matte paintings, adding lasers and even adding a new cargo bay door to the underside of the ship. Analogies have been drawn to George Lucas’ bastardization of the Star Wars trilogy by not knowing when to say when with all his “tweaks.” Unlike Mr. Lucas’ approach of “technology first, story and nostalgia second,” the teams at Paramount have respected the source material and built the CGI elements to match the “feel” of the show. Yes, there are some new perspective shots of the Enterprise for added effect. At the same time, all the ships have been animated to move and act like the original models. They’re also designed to look like a clean version of the models, not modernized. Even purists should be proud of the effort and end result in making this series match Roddenberry’s original vision, right down to including the 1.33:1 cropped versions of the effects shots in every episode.
The most unlikely restoration is that of Alexander Courage’s timeless score, re-recorded from scratch by the exact same size orchestra employed to originally bring it to life. Hearing this score blast in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless audio is a real treat for the ears. It sounds dead-on accurate, yet is fuller and more alive than the original recording ever was. The final front to rear Enterprise shot made my head turn. Stepping up to lossless audio benefits episodes as well with remarkably crystal clear dialogue and the occasional effective strong use of directional surrounds when appropriate.
The special features included in this set are a combination of previously released material from the standard DVD, Best Buy exclusive disc, and History Channel documentary, as well as all-new material optimized for high definition. The standard definition collection are all housed on side “B” of disc 10 as follows:
- The Birth of a Timeless Legacy
- Reflections on Spock
- Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner
- To Boldly Goâ€¦Season One
- Sci-Fi Visionaries
- Kiss & Tell: Romance in the 24th Century
- Trek Connections
- Episode Preview Trailers
- Star Trek: Beyond the Final Frontier (History Channel)
High-definition special features available on almost every episode include Data Bookmarks (re: standard bookmarking with a Trekified name) and a picture-in-picture feature, Starfleet Access. With the click of a button, viewers can open up a split-screen image when available with the showing running on the left and interviews, information, etc. displaying on the right. This effect nearly fills a 16×9 screen which is a creative way to expand upon the original 1.33:1 image. The supplemental information is broken down into science, technology, personal files and genesis, i.e. creating the new CGI effects. There are so many intricacies of the show and restoration spoken about by numerous experts that the material is almost overwhelming to take in.
Starfleet Access is available on the following episodes:
- Where No Man Has Gone Before
- The Menagerie, Part 1
- The Menagerie, Part 2
- Balance of Terror
- The Galileo Seven
- Space Seed
- Errand of Mercy
The remaining special features are placed on side “A” hidden underneath additional date for the final episode, Annihilate. I had to explore quite a bit and even back out to the new CGI transporter pre-menu screen to look around for them.
Spacelift: Transporting Trek into the 21st Century (20:06) is an in-depth look at the painstaking process of restoring Star Trek. It delves deep into the why and how Paramount tinkered with history. This should be the first stop for angry purists as I guarantee it’ll ease their nerves a bit. The real gem buried near the end is an uninterrupted front row seat of the entire re-recording of the opening score.
More relevant for hardcore Star Trek fans is Billy Blackburn’s Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Memories (13:20). Billy is like the utility infielder of the Star Trek universe, stepping into an assortment of oddball roles and creature costumes when called upon. Much of this short featurette revolves around current-day Billy reminiscing from a plush chair. There are several minutes of home video snippets he snapped from the sets sure tickle Trek fans’ nostalgia bones.
The next high definition special feature is an Interactive Enterprise Inspection with or without an informational Data Track. In short, viewers board a shuttle and exit the new CGI Enterprise’s hangar bay, circle the ship up-close, then hover in place away from the ship. From here, any one of the following ship’s areas can be visited: Shuttlecraft Control Room, Starting Coordinates, Shuttle Hangar Deck, Bridge, Phaser Banks/Photon Torpedoes, Impulse Engines, Warp Nacelles, Main Sensor/Navigational Deflector, Ion Pod, Intercoolers, or Equipment Bay Doors. The load times on an HD-XA2 were approximately only 2-3 seconds, so it didn’t take long at all to peruse the entire ship. The inspection is moderately fun, but would work better if the viewer had complete control over steering the shuttle around the ship themselves.
Rounding out the special features is Perpetual Entertainment’s Star Trek Online MMO Game Preview (3:20), a brief glimpse (re: advertisement) for the upcoming 2008 massive multiplayer online game. It’s not my cup of tea, but Trek fans will get a clean view of some of the worlds they’ll be visiting.
In the end, I’m incredibly torn on this first Star Trek appearance on high-definition home video. It’s so close to perfection, yet the obvious anti-Blu-ray decision to make it a Combo Format release detracts from the pure high-definition package in terms of content placement/navigation, number of discs and absurd pricing. I’m not advocating Blu-ray in any respect, as I remain 100 percent format-neutral. But even with the HD-DVD exclusive announcement, Paramount could have released a separate HD-DVD-only set on fewer discs for fewer dollars. Instead, many prospective buyers will be crossing their fingers, toes and everything in between hoping retailers run some equally absurd holiday sales. Because again, anyone with an interest in the original Star Trek series deserves to own this re-mastered Season One.
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- Score: 9