Written by Musgo Del Jefe
What an intimidating task. Star Trek is the franchise by which all other franchises are measured. Since Star Trek: The Original Series debuted in 1966, there's been five other series and ten movies (with the eleventh in production). That doesn't even take into account the number of books, games, comics, theme park rides, college courses and conventions that this series launched. The Star Trek franchise has always been on the cutting edge of technology – making their product available on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD and now HD-DVD, ahead of other competitors. This new package is impressive but it's expensive too. Does it "boldly go" where no previous release has gone before?
In the interest of full disclosure, I first caught Star Trek during syndication runs of the original series in the ‘70s. It was a Sunday night staple for me on our local CBS station. It laid the groundwork for my future fandom of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. I've been a casual fan of all the succeeding TV series and the films. But I've always moved forward with the series, rarely taking time to revisit the past. This release let me take a look at the series through eyes that have seen the characters and themes age 40 years.
What strikes me most is how little "sci-fi" that most of the Season One episodes are in this "sci-fi" series. Or should I say, how little "space" is involved in this "space drama." I think that's the core strength of any successful drama – the characters take precedence over the setting. This first season is not merely a "Monster Of The Week" show. That type of show is only as good as the "Monster/Alien" and as this show devolved into that towards the end of Season Three, it lost its heart.
Many of the Season One episodes have the feel of Twilight Zone episodes, a series that ended in 1964. The idea of a Twilight Zone series with a dramatic thread connecting the episodes isn't far from set-up of the series. The series has one static setting, The Enterprise, each week and a fluid setting, whatever planet they are exploring. That consistency of characters interacting with new characters allows a depth that true anthology series can't approach.
In "The Naked Time", we see all the elements come together effectively. The crew is set to pick up scientists from a planet that is about to explode. The exploding planet sets a time constraint on the episode. The scientists are found dead on the planet but crewman Joe carelessly becomes contaminated on the planet with a strange liquid (a plot device that The X-Files would lift directly from this series). Once back aboard the Enterprise, Joe acts irrationally and after infecting Lt. Sulu and other crewmembers, he is relegated to sickbay. One of the infected crewmembers, Lt. Keven Reilly declares himself the Captain and storms the Engineering room, locks everyone else out and starts pushing buttons randomly.
The dramatic line is perfectly paced. As more of the crew is becoming infected and acting irrationally, the deadline before the planet explodes is speeding up. The ship is caught in the gravitational pull of the planet, the planet is going to explode in 15 minutes but the engines have been turned off and need 30 minutes to restart. The infection serves a metaphorical purpose also. It causes the infected person to show their hidden personality and to not be in control of their emotions. For the younger crewmembers, it illustrates the older generations fear of the Baby Boomers generation in the 60s. For our two lead characters, Capt. Kirk and Spock, we see a bittersweet side to them. Spock cries because he cannot tell his mother he loves her. Kirk expresses his sorrow about his love life, exclaiming that the only "female" in his like is the Enterprise.
Dr. McCoy is able to form an antidote to cure everyone but there's still the matter of the exploding planet. The crew attempts an unproven procedure to restart the engine. At the last second, the engine is started and the crew saved. But the result is a time warp taking the crew 71 hours back in time. So, not only has the crew solved the problem of escaping an exploding planet, but this development of time warp opens story possibilities for future episodes.
This is where the series is at its best. In "The Enemy Within", it's a time constraint of escaping a freezing planet and Kirk is the typical Twilight Zone innocent character accused of heinous behavior that he didn't commit. Shatner's narration as Capt. Kirk makes his Captain’s Log entries is a perfect Rod Serling to the show. Much like another Desilu production, The Untouchables, the narration consistently sets us in time/date/location at the beginning of the show and summarizes our situation as a scene break throughout the show.
This new release is a HD DVD Combo Format. This means you get both HD and regular DVD versions of the episodes and some of the extra features are in DVD format. There are special deluxe HD features that delve deeper into 7 of the key episodes and an Interactive tour of the Enterprise on HD. The best of the over 80 minutes of featurettes is "The Birth Of A Timeless Legacy" that compares the two pilot episodes (not included here) and the development of the core crew characters.
I must balance all this goodness with just a small wet blanket (at least for some of you). These episodes are remastered and in the vernacular of the day, they are "enhanced". At first glance, these are the best looking Star Trek: TOS episodes I have ever seen. Even in their first runs through syndication, I remember grainy prints with scratches. These feature crisp colors and contrast.
I'm not sure that the other changes stay within the style of the original series. The Enterprise effect shots have been redone along with all space SPFX shots. Planets now look more realistic and phasers have a more powerful looking blast. In "Tomorrow's Yesterday", the slingshot around the Sun is so well done that it looks like an effect from a current film and seems out of place with the acting and scenery in the rest of the show. As does the rerecording of the theme. The other musical cues sound great, but the recreation of the opening theme with a crisp track of Shatner's narration seems awkward at best and doesn't bring me back to those days of staying up to watch it in syndication on Sunday nights.
If the HD-DVD format is around to stay, then this will be a benchmark for everyone's HD-DVD collection. If there's another format after Blu-Ray (still awaiting a Star Trek release) and HD-DVD, you can be sure that Star Trek will be exploring those strange new worlds. I enjoyed revisiting Star Trek's past as much as I know I'll enjoy the next movie. If you haven't had time to enjoy this series lately, you'll find a lot to like about Season One. Brilliant pieces like "Space Seed" and the best episode of the series, "The City On The Edge Of Forever" make this a worthy addition to the Star Trek franchise.