Friday, November 20, 2009

Boldly Going, on Blu-ray and DVD

Director J.J. Abrams and the creative team behind the latest "Star Trek" movie did something very smart when they decided to reboot that quintessential, sci-fi-geek franchise: they made it more like "Star Wars."

"I always think of it as, 'Star Trek' is beautiful classical music and 'Star Wars' is rock 'n' roll, and it felt like 'Star Trek' needed a little more rock 'n' roll to connect to a modern audience," explains screenwriter and executive producer Alex Kurtzman during a featurette on the new "Star Trek" release, which arrives today as a single DVD ($29.99), a two-disc DVD ($39.99) and a three-disc Blu-ray set ($39.99).

Well, mission accomplished, boys. This Kirk-meets-Spock origin story delivers just as much kinetic, zippy fun in the home-video format as it did in theaters this summer. And yes, for all those concerned Trekkers out there, it does pay homage to the many sagas inspired by the Starship Enterprise. It just does so in a way that keeps all the beaming-up accessible to non-fans -- you know, those people who think "Live long and prosper" is a slogan from a Kaiser Permanente commercial.

Speaking of living long, viewers may need to do so if they want to have enough time to watch all the extras on the Blu-ray edition of "Star Trek." The most robust of the three versions (the single-disc comes with no special features, while the two-disc contains the commentary track, gag reel and only one featurette), the Blu-ray collection immerses its audience in the experience of creating the eleventh "Trek," taking us to the sets (news flash: the engine room of the Enterprise is actually a Budweiser plant in Van Nuys, Calif.,) the make-up room and even the studio where a massive orchestra recorded Michael Giacchino's swelling score.

The extensive featurettes uncover practically every exquisite detail involved in the production, in ways that skew toward the technical (prepare to learn all about how the warp nacelles on the revamped Enterprise work) and, occasionally, the comical. (The sight of millions of latex Spock ears, laid out on a table like freshly baked Christmas cookies, made me giggle.) I also got a kick out of "Button Acting 101," a look at how the actors approach the task of operating all the spaceship equipment with which they are (allegedly) intimately familiar. Anton Yelchin -- who plays Pavel Chekov, portrayed in the original series by Walter Koenig -- went straight to the source for guidance on his button-pushing choices: "I asked Walter if he knew what he was doing, and he was like, 'No. I sort of just picked colors based on my mood. Like, I'd hit the blue button when I was feeling sad.'"

In addition to the featurettes, the Blu-ray also boasts nine deleted scenes, including the original opening scene that depicts the birth of Spock, as well as -- like the two-disc DVD -- a silly, six-minute gag reel and an often engaging commentary track from Abrams, writers Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and producers Bryan Burk and Damon Lindelof. Both also come with a digital copy of the movie that can be uploaded to mobile devices.

Sure, there are moments when the extras get a little too reverent. Everyone -- including Abrams and Chris Pine, who plays Kirk in the movie -- appears to be contractually obligated to refer to William Shatner as "Mr. Shatner." And, if you believe the words of his cast and crew, J.J. Abrams deserves an Academy Award, the National Medal of Honor and possibly a Nobel Prize for being the most creative, collaborative and generally nicest director to ever grace this planet, or any other.

Then again, you can't blame them for bowing at the guy's feet. He not only created what easily stands as the giddiest of 2009's summer blockbusters, he actually gave birth to a "Star Trek" that even the least nerdy among us can happily embrace. In my book, that's pretty close to a major motion-picture miracle.