Sometimes this job is so hard. I mean, think of it, trying to say something new about a TV series that has been around since 1966 with movies, spin off series, books, merchandise and people writing about it for over forty years! Fortunately the series is Star Trek, in its original guise, the oft touted 'Wagon Train of the stars', a forward thinking, action yarn that occasionally had something meaningful to say. So when you look at it that way, the job may be hard at times, but the work is so worth it.
Gene Roddenberry's opus actually had quite a tough time of it in the early years; of course there have been a thousand tellings of the way the program came to be, and no one needs to hear my own interpretation of it, save to say that while the setting was idyllic, behind the scenes things were very different; indeed the facts of Roddenberry's enlightened thinking in giving positions of power to women while simultaneously dressing them in skimpy see-through clothing and Shatner acting the huge star even though he was an oik, would make for a fascinating show all by themselves. On American TV in the mid sixties, there was nothing quite like it and it wasn't handled as well as it could have been; the slightly more adult direction that Roddenberry wanted (see The Cage, the original pilot) was actually taken from him (after all, getting a series made is better then not, yes?) and successive producers each trying to put their stamp on the show, culminating with Fred Freiberger, served to drive the series into a parody of it's former self (Spock's Brain, need I say more). However, it was syndication that saved the show, having it piped into every home in America and selling it all over the world suddenly had the vision behind the show seen by a huge audience. This was not a kids show, or being aimed fairly and squarely at them (at least in the beginning), but with credible and plausible story ideas, a believable science to its fiction and above all an ethic to its characters and ideals, Star Trek's appeal became universal, so whilst its fan base is sometimes ridiculed, there is no denying their spirit and it is largely due to them that the franchise has conquered the world.
It is interesting to note that whilst it is now commonplace to refer to the Enterprise crew as seven (a number replicated in successive series') being Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura, this original series really concentrated on the relationships between the Captain, First officer and Doctor; all the other crew members, whilst always given credits, and on the very rare occasion (in the case of Scott at least) given significant story parts, were little more than background characters. It is this interpersonal relationship between the three main characters that was the backbone of the series; oh the stories themselves were ostensibly science fiction, and when done at its best highlighted some terrific and horrific premises, but it was the characterisation that brought the humanity and therefore the road into the world, that made it so eminently watchable. The combination of headstrong captain, logical first officer and everyman doctor meant that any situation could be assessed from any angle, even within scenes. Yes they are comrades in arms and abide by the order of ranks, yet there is that deep seated friendship that stretches beyond the Federation into brotherhood. This wouldn't be fully developed until much later into the franchise but the roots are right here in this first season.
And what a season it was, comprising of twenty nine episodes (thirty if you count the original pilot) with some startling stories at both ends of the spectrum. Over and above the rocky road to the screen the first few episodes were pretty awful and I'm sure in today's climate the series wouldn't have made it, even with the cleverly interspersed stronger stories. But as the series drove on writers, actors and producers began to get the feel of where the show was going and crucially what the show was about. Rodenberry's vision of a brighter future, of a humanity free of prejudice and fear, seeking out new life and civilizations was certainly a break from the norm (the fact that it was shot in bright colour also showed an amount of forward thinking) and since it was so 'out there' it enabled the creative team to tackle issues that other shows would never have dared. The heavier issues wouldn't come until later seasons but, once again, this first season is no slouch, proving that the ideas were already forming. Whether it be dabbling in genetics, futility of war, the loneliness of command, consequences of actions or just plain cold war, the writers of Trek were not afraid to shine the light upon ourselves through the guise of the show, and that is what makes for the best science fiction.
Of course the show itself is no stranger to DVD, having been released and re-released many, many times over, the latest of which was on HD DVD. For that latter release the 2006 re-mastering and all new visual effects were the selling point. Basically, Paramount went back to the original camera negatives and painstakingly digitised and cleaned up every episode using the most advanced tools to date; the result is remarkable. But, they also went one step further and augmented the show with all new CGI effects substituting for the effects used in the original series; that's every exterior shot of the Enterprise, a few matt shots and several other tweaks here (a phaser beam) and there (Gorn's blinking eyes). The thinking was to bring the show in line with how it was meant to look had the technology and budget existed. The results are amazing, rather than being technologically superior and standing out like a sore thumb the makers have tried to keep the feel and crucially the look of the show, and I for one think they have succeeded. Seeing the Enterprise as a solid object orbiting real looking worlds is terrific, in fact all exterior shots, including star fields, nebula and ship interactions are incredibly well realised.
So, is this set just another double dip, or something above the HD DVD version already out there? Well, the Blu-ray does have a few advantages, principally the inclusion of the original effects, thus should you take particular exception to the CGI you can choose to watch the show as it was originally aired, this, of course, is fantastic news for avid (rabid?) fans everywhere, though it does come with a caveat, more on which later . The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track has now been replaced with a DTS-HD MA 7.1 track, again more later, and also included is the original mono sound track, another fan pleaser. Most, but surprisingly, not all of the extra content has been ported over and in its stead there is some new material, you will, however, need a profile 2.0 player to access it all. All this and a retail price lower than when the HD DVD originally came out. I'll save my summation for the verdict, but I think you may be able to see which way I'm leaning. Let's move onto the discs themselves.
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