Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Blu-Ray Review : Star Trek The Original Series Season 3


Released by CBS/Paramount Home Entertainment

Reviewed for by Bill Williams

6 discs, MSRP $118.99

ISBN # 1415752575

Date of release: December 15, 2009


It goes without saying that the third season of the original STAR TREK series was the most troubled season of the series' run. Any series that sees its budget slashed, its stories dumbed down, its plugs of social issues almost constantly on display, a change in producers, and its demotion to the Friday night death slot means that something's definitely wrong. Add to it that Gene Roddenberry was dissatisfied with the fact that NBC refused to listen to his concerns and his reduced capacity on the series (by his own choice), and you've got a recipe for disaster. The fans wanted the series to return, and they got it, but the cost was extremely high as a result. There would be no fourth season, no additional episodes, and the series ending with a whimper and not with a bang.

That's not to say that the third season didn't have its share of fairly decent episodes. With segments such as "The Enterprise Incident", "The Tholian Web", and "Spectre of the Gun", TREK could have had the same kind of quality throughout the season. But too many bad episodes and poor ratings killed the season - not to mention the series - and put the nail in the coffin. But as the saying goes, death in science fiction is not always permanent, and STAR TREK's cancellation was only the beginning of what was to come over the next four decades.

There's no need for me to rehash everything I've previously said about this season, except to say that the final 24 episodes of STAR TREK have returned in this new six-disc Blu-ray collection, both in their original broadcast versions and in the recent remastered editions, along with three versions of the original pilot episode "The Cage". The set breakdown is as follows:

Disc 1: Spock's Brain / The Enterprise Incident / The Paradise Syndrome / And the Children Shall Lead / Is There in Truth No Beauty? / preview trailers

Disc 2: Spectre of the Gun / Day of the Dove / For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky / The Tholian Web / Plato's Stepchildren / preview trailers

Disc 3: Wink of an Eye / The Empath / Elaan of Troyius / Whom Gods Destroy / Let That Be Your Last Battlefield / preview trailers

Disc 4: The Mark of Gideon / That Which Survives / The Lights of Zetar / Requiem for Methuselah / The Way to Eden / preview trailers

Disc 5: The Cloud Minders / The Savage Curtain / All Our Yesterdays / Turnabout Intruder / preview trailers / special features

Disc 6: The Cage (2001 restored version / 2008 remastered version / 1986 extended version) / special features

Technobabble of a Different Kind:

So let's cut to the chase. How does the final season of STAR TREK look and sound on Blu-ray? Absolutely awesome! Like its two previous counterparts, this third set is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio and shadow-boxed for the Blu-ray set, and is presented in English Dolby 7.1 DTS-HD Master audio. The sound just blows you away in this new mix! English, Spanish, and French 2.0 mono sound are also included on the set, which gives you up to eight different ways of viewing each episode. English, Spanish, and French subtitles are also included in the set.

Packaging and Menus:

The packaging for this third season set is similar to the previous two sets, with the discs themselves hubbed in a six-disc Blu-ray flipper case. The packaging cover is, appropriately enough, blue, with the science insignia represented this time out. On the inside of the cover, the set's listing is provided for you so you can skip to your favorite episode or extras. Also included are flyers for the STAR TREK feature films and series on Blu-ray, and a flyer for the upcoming STAR TREK Online MMORPG (where you can get an exclusive STAR TREK II admiral's uniform for your character).

Menu access is also the same as from the previous two sets, with a simple Enterprise-style interface that can take you through the episodes on each disc, choosing from the original broadcast versions or the remastered versions, the various sound mixes, subtitles, and bonus features (on Discs 5 and 6, which I'll get to shortly). Having both versions of the episodes on the same set, you can toggle between the two versions while watching the episodes - although I noticed on my Playstation 3 system that when I toggled between the versions, it would start the episode all over again. I don't know if this is deliberate on the PS3 or if I'm simply not toggling the remote correctly. Oh well, this is not a biggie for me.

The Extras:

Aside from the preview trailers, which are included on the first five discs of the set, the remaining extras can be found on Discs 5 and 6 of the set. The majority of the extras - "Life Beyond Trek: Walter Koenig", "Chief Engineer's Log", "Memoir from Mr. Sulu", "Captain's Log: Bob Justman", the final segment of "Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Memories", "To Boldly Go: Season Three", "Collectible Trek", and "STAR TREK's Impact" - have been ported from the previous third season box set releases, so read my previous reviews in the archives to get my thoughts on those extras. Let's look instead at what's newly included on this set.

Perhaps the most important extra on, and the centerpiece of, this set is the unaired alternate version of "Where No Man Has Gone Before", complete with lost footage and music, different main and end title credits, and a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-style act arrangement, and presented for the first time in an official capacity on Disc 6 with a text introduction about the pilot‘s history. As with the other episodes, this version of "Where No Man" is presented in full-frame shadow-box format and Dolby 2.0 sound, but the quality is quite clear. This is a find indeed! Thanks to a German film collector who acquired a 35mm print of the pilot, CBS/Paramount Home Entertainment oversaw the transfer of the print to HD video by Magic Picture Home Entertainment GmbH before it was transported overseas to the United States this past September for color correction and frame-by-frame dirt removal (there are some age-related scratches, however). I first read about this alternate version in Allan Asherman's "The STAR TREK Compendium", and for a long time this alternate cut of "Where No Man" was in the Smithsonian Institution. Twenty years ago I came across this pilot film on an underground VHS tape at a comics store, and the quality was pretty decent, but nothing like this - and this was years before the advent of eBay and YouTube! Now this lost gem has been given to us in an official capacity - and all I can say is thank you, CBS and Paramount! And an equally huge thank you to that German film collector, wherever you are!

Also included on Disc 6 are three new features filmed at this year's ComicCon International 2009 panels. First up is "The Anthropology of STAR TREK" (4:14), in which host Daryl Frazetti about how the franchise focuses as a cultural mirror and teacher to our society. Where else can you see information about the development of a Klingon musical keyboard? While some products are off-beat, others are more intriguing and beneficial to people. Next is "The World of Rod Roddenberry" (7:14), introduced by David Gerrold (of "Tribbles" fame) and featuring Gene Roddenberry‘s son talking about maintaining his father‘s legacy through the various products, character development, and merchandising. Roddenberry also talks about a new red shirt-style diving suit, how he enjoyed the recent STAR TREK feature film, and about his company's new comic book project "Days Missing". Finally we have a 19-minute segment focusing on the ComicCon coverage, hosted by Gerrold, in which he meets various cast members and guest stars from the various series - including Celeste Yarnell, Chase ("Leeta") Masterson (who still looks so good that I can only quote WWE star Ron Simmons: "DAMN!"), and Lawrence Montaigne (Decius from "Balance of Terror" and Stonn from "Amok Time" and "Of Gods and Men") - and lets his inner geek hang out with thousands of other fans, including Texas‘ secretary of state Warren Christopher. We have footage of who knows how many Klingons, Vulcans, Orions, Andorians, and Starfleet officers all hanging out in costume. We see Gerrold checking out numerous merchandising sales, including the limited edition colognes and the largest scale replica of the original Enterprise, and giving thanks to the fans for their support. We also get footage of Nana Visitor, Robert Picardo and Nichelle Nichols talking from FedCon XVIII in Germany.

In addition, four Easter eggs are included on the set, which are easy to locate. First up, on Disc 1 is a two-minute clip with writer Marc Scott Zicree introducing Mike and Denise Okuda, David Rossi, and David Gerrold and discussing the creation of the CGI effects for the various third season episodes, starting with "The Enterprise Incident". On Disc 2 the panel discusses the CGI effects for "The Tholian Web" and the development of the budget-saving "bottle shows" for the series. Disc 3 features the panel's discussion of "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" and the CGI creation of the hangar deck sequence. Finally, on Disc 4 we see the panel talking about "Requiem for Methuselah" and the CGI design for Flint's castle, which took nearly a month to design. These remaining Easter eggs run a minute and a half apiece. (If there are any other Easter eggs hidden on the set in the same way that they were done for the Season 2 Blu-ray set, I'm unaware of them as of this writing.) As if that weren't enough, at the start of Disc 1 are trailers for the first ten STAR TREK feature films on Blu-ray and the forthcoming STAR TREK Online MMORPG.

Each disc is also BD-Live enabled and Mobile-Blu enabled, with additional features for your iPhone and iPod Touch (the hot new Christmas gadget this season that my daughter wants!). On the BD-Live front you get cast, character, and production crew biographies; exclusive interviews with the Okudas, David Rossi, and David Gerrold; videos from the Creation Entertainment convention in Las Vegas, Comic-Con, and FedCon; photo galleries from Comic-Con and FedCon; and trailers to other CBS/Paramount series on DVD.

Caveats and Concerns:

With a lot of content included on this third and final set, there's a bit that was left off or never made an official release to begin with. For starters, as with the previous two sets, the "Red Shirt Logs" are not included on the main set itself as of this writing. However, given that the "Red Shirt Logs" were included in the BD-Live sections on the first two sets, it's probably likely that they'll be included as a BD-Live exclusive down the road. In the meantime, it might not be a bad idea to hold onto the seventh disc of the 2004 season box set for those features (along with the final discs from the first and second season 2004 box sets) as well

STILL missing in action are the 1988-89 restored version of "The Cage" that was issued only on VHS (which was a pretty decent remaster until the 2001 restoration effort). In any event, hold onto those discs and the VHS in order to have all of the various releases (check out my article in the TrekWeb archives on the various versions of "The Cage"). Also still missing in action are the two direct-to-video documentaries, "William Shatner's STAR TREK Memories" and "Inside STAR TREK: The Real Story", which have never seen a DVD or Blu-ray release to begin with. Nor are the legendary blooper reels or vintage 1960's promos for the series (there's at least seven or eight of them out there that I know of).

For that matter, there's vintage outtake footage from "The Cage" that was shown a number of years back on a documentary special about Jeffrey Hunter, along with equally vintage outtakes and series commercials that are on YouTube if you know where to look - that would have been nice to see in an official capacity. Finally, while having the original 1960's preview trailers are a nice touch, I would have liked to see the trailers to the recent remastered versions as well. And with a lot of extras out there, they could have seen fit to take advantage of the storage capabilities Blu-ray has and expanded this set to a seventh disc like its previous two releases this year.

Final Thoughts:

This has been quite a year for STAR TREK where Blu-ray has been concerned! We've gotten the first two seasons of the Original Series, all of the Original Series-crew and NEXT GENERATION feature films, J.J. Abrams' blockbuster film just last month, and now the third and final season of the Original Series to round out the year. With crisp, solid transfers, 7.1 sound mixes, and a good mix of newly produced and vintage segments, it's a good conclusion to TREK's first Blu year. (Not to mention having the first-ever release of the alternate "Where No Man Has Gone Before"!)

What will 2010 bring us? It's anybody's ballgame. My guess is that either the animated series or ENTERPRISE are good Blu-ray candidates, since the animated series was taken from film (if the inclusion of "More Tribbles, More Troubles" on the Season 2 set is any indicator), and since ENT was shot in HD to begin with, so either series would make for a wonderful Blu-ray release. As for THE NEXT GENERATION, DEEP SPACE NINE, or VOYAGER, they need some serious work. TNG is, unfortunately, the one series that has not held up well in terms of visual effects and would need to be completely rebuilt from the ground up. Likewise for DS9 (given the inclusion of "Trials and Tribble-ations" on the recent Season 2 set, it's good for DVD but not quite up to snuff for Blu-ray) and VOYAGER. Straight 480p up-converts won't cut it where 1080p is concerned. Whatever CBS/Paramount decides to run with, let's hope that they give the fans the same high-quality commitment on Blu-ray that they've given to the Original Series and all of the films this year.

Rating: 4/5 stars