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STAR TREK: ORIGINAL SERIES
Season One: Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols
Creator:  Gene Roddenberry
Audio:  DTS HD 7.1
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  1460 Minutes
Release Date: 
April 28, 2009

“Space…the final frontier.”

Shows ****

For Trekkies, the world is a wonderful place.  Some of us have spent our entire lives basking in the glow of creator Gene Roddenberry’s original sci-fi vision, and the many wonderful fruits that have blossomed from that first seed over the last several decades.  From television to film and back again, from novels and comic books to conventions and outright fandemonium, Star Trek has enthralled us with its adventures, filled us with its sense of wonder and optimism, and filled our imaginations with all the possibilities our futures might hold for us.

Sometimes it seems like the family tree for Star Trek goes back a long way, but every once in a while, it’s definitely worth it to trace the roots back and take that proverbial trip back in time and remember how it all started.  Now, there’s no better way to do just that than with Paramount’s new and utterly incredible Blu-ray release of The Original Series: Season One.  This terrific seven disc box set boasts all 29 first year episodes in broadcast order, with newly remastered DTS HD 7.1 soundtracks and a bevy of extra features...more on those further down.

From the beginning, Star Trek would show television audiences a vision of science fiction never quite seen before.  From a simple premise of a starship and crew on a five year mission of exploration would come a weekly foray into the unfamiliar with a group of people who soon became VERY familiar to fans. 

There was Captain James T. Kirk (Shatner), the brave leader, the first officer Mr. Spock (Nimoy), a Vulcan who prized logic over emotion, and the medical officer Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Kelley), a man whose gruff exterior never fully masked his kindly heart.  Then there was chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Doohan), communications officer Lt. Uhura (Nichols), and navigator Ensign Sulu (Takei).  This crew was unlike what audiences were used to seeing:  sexually and racially diverse and interacting in a time when skin color or sex was finally overlooked just the way Dr. King had envisioned.

And unlike many shows starting out, Star Trek didn’t seem to take long to find its footing.  Even later incarnations of Trek seemed to take a year or so to really come together, but the first season of the original series is peppered with some of the best individual episodes to ever come out of the Trek universe.  Who could ever forget good Kirk battling evil Kirk in “The Enemy Within”, featuring the introduction of Spock’s Vulcan neck pinch?  Or “The Naked Time”, where the crew loses control and even Spock’s unemotional façade crumbles?  How about the introduction of a once and future nemesis for Kirk named Khan (Ricardo Montalban) in “Space Seed” or the wild, unleashed fantasy of “Shore Leave”?

Two episodes in particular deserve mention, because they are my all time favorites:  the original series’ only two part episode “The Menagerie”, which incorporated footage from the original failed pilot “The Cage”.  In it, Spock commits an unthinkable mutiny in a chance to save his former commander Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter), now an invalid.  Spock’s future and very life hang in the balance as his trial examines the history of Pike and a strange planet that had been declared off limits by the Federation.  Over the course of the two parts, we learn the back story, and realize why Spock risked everything to return his former commander to that forbidden world.  It was a masterful way of turning a solid original pilot into something more…as always, Gene Roddenberry always found ways to move his visions into the future.

But the one standout episode in the entire history of all incarnations of Star Trek is the award winning “The City on the Edge of Forever”.  In it, an accidentally drugged and crazed McCoy beams down to a planet and finds a gateway to Earth’s past, where he does SOMETHING to alter the course of human history and thus threaten the existence of the Enterprise and her crew.  Spock and Kirk are forced to go back to depression era America ahead of McCoy and try to figure out what he does that changes the future and stop him. 

It turns out to involve a remarkable woman, Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), who may have been the one woman in the scope of Star Trek to be really perfect for Kirk.  But when Spock pieces together the entire puzzle of the historical revision, it leads the captain to the most difficult and heartbreaking choice he’ll ever have to make.  I don’t mind saying when I first saw this episode as a kid, it brought me to tears.  Even now, it still has that effect.  Science fiction has rarely seen so high an apex.

These two episodes in particular really sum up everything that made Star Trek such a great show.  The premises were futuristic, yet grounded in very real substances that even we in the past could grasp, appreciate, and understand.  The stories were based in fantasy, yet steeped in pure human truths.  The tone was optimistic; it laid out for us a future to look forward to not because of technological advancements, but because of great leaps forward in the spirit of mankind.  Most of all, the crew was peopled with characters we could identify with and love, and as a result, their experiences became our experiences.

The show would run for two more years, going from time slot to time slot until the networks decided to pull the plug.  But as history would show, that was hardly the end of Star Trek.  A fan base would continue to grow from syndicated reruns until overwhelming popularity necessitated the resurrection of the Enterprise for more adventures on the silver screen.

Now that the franchise is being reborn with a new movie giving us the origins of this incredible crew, it's a perfect time to go back to the original series and reminisce about how it all began:  a ship, a captain, a Vulcan, a doctor, a crew, a five year mission, and the enduring spirit and creativity of a man named Gene.  This primary season of the original series is an everlasting testament to his vision.

NOTE:  The episodes are organized according to original airdate, but are numbered according to the way they were filmed and originally presented to be aired…the pilot episode for example, was actually the third one aired instead of the first!

Video ***1/2

Seriously, I'm so thrilled with these high definition presentations of this classic show, I'm tempted to forgo any minor flaw and give it the full four star recommendation.  For starters, these episodes have been meticulously remastered, bringing back the beautiful colors and textures and contrast like we haven't seen in forty years.  Plus, you have a choice of watching the shows as they aired or with the new cleaned up special effects.  I wasn't sure how I would feel about that, but you can toggle back and forth between them with your angle button while you watch for some fascinating comparisons.  And speaking as a die-hard Trekkie, I have to admit...I prefer the new effects.  They are radiant in HD, and not intrusive; the Enterprise still looks like the Enterprise, but now you get a better feel of her in space rather than the dozen or so stock shots we had to watch week after week.  Not to mention, the planets are no longer vague balls of glowing color, but have detail, and space itself has never looked so clean and beautiful.

The shows are generally clean and free of debris or aging artifacts...this is the best I've ever seen the original series look.  But there are one or two issues I have to point out...occasionally, grain is noticeable, particularly in shots that were 'blown up' for a closer look; you can start to see the texture in the film stock.  There are a few images that look a little less clean and a few colors here and there that are not as well contained, but honestly, these are minor faults and highly forgivable.  If you're like me, your reaction is going to be one of absolute thrill and joy at how this seminal series looks on Blu-ray.

Audio ***1/2

The audio has gotten some work, too...from original mono tracks, we now get DTS HD in 7.1 channels.  And they are a pleasure.  For starters, the theme music sounds more full and lush than ever.  Okay, I confess, at first, I wasn't aware that they re-recorded Alexander Courage's famed theme, but that's a testament to how close they kept to the original score and arrangement.  It sounds like it always did, just better, bigger, and more full.

Most stretches aren't demanding, and the dialogue sound clear, but very forward and center.  At other times, the .1 channel keeps the Enterprise and her frequent bridge-rocking explosions sounding deep and strong, and the rear channels give the engines and travel effects a little more depth and dynamism.  Very enjoyable!

Features ****

There are a plethora of extras, spread out over the course of the 7 Blu-ray discs., although all discs contain the original preview trailers for the TV airings.  Pop in Disc One, and you'll get the HD remastered documentary "Spacelift"; which chronicles the restoration, music recording and updated effects processes, plus a "Starfleet Access" feature for the episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before".  This is a way to watch the episode with picture-in-picture to deliver extra trivia, interviews with associates including Star Trek Encyclopedia authors Michael and Denise Okuda, and descriptions of how and why certain effect shots were updated.  You'll also find the full theatrical trailer for the reboot film Star Trek...very cool.

Disc Two only has the preview trailers, but moving on to the third disc, you get the documentary "Reflections on Spock", a most interesting interview with Leonard Nimoy, plus "Starfleet Access" to both parts of "The Menagerie".  The special effects discussions are interesting...I never noticed, for example, that at the beginning when the Enterprise crew arrive at the starbase, it's day, but in the next shot of them meeting Captain Christopher Pike, it's already dark.  Now it's more fluid and continuous...nice job, all!

Disc Four focuses a good interview on William Shatner, who discusses his "Life Beyond Trek", and there's a "Starfleet Access" to "Balance of Terror".  On the fifth disc, you get a retrospective documentary on the first season entitled "To Boldly Go", while Disc Six boasts "Starfleet Access" for "Space Seed" (the episode that introduced Ricardo Montalban as the inimitable Khan), along with a very cool interactive tour of the Enterprise which brings you closer to the ship and with more detail than ever before.  There is also the documentary "Sci-Fi Visionaries"; a look at some of the writers who helped make the show a classic.

Finally, on the last disc, you get "Starfleet Access" to "Errand of Mercy", along with Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest, which is a nice collection of home movies and memories from the series, and a documentary called "Kiss and Tell" about the romantic aspects of the show.

One complaint, however...well, two.  One, was it necessary to make this a seven disc set with all the extra available room Blu-ray has?  And two, related to one...the spindle casings leave a lot to be desired.  Almost every time I've opened the case, I've had a loose disc fall out.  Come on, now.

Summary:

Star Trek boldly went where no TV show went before in its first season, and as a result, it brought fans some of the best material science fiction has ever had to offer.  This amazing Blu-ray set is a revelation in more ways than one...it gives even the most devoted fan a chance to experience this groundbreaking show as though they were seeing it for the first time.  High recommendation.

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