Release Date(s)2001-2002 (March 26, 2013)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A+
It’s been a few years now since Star Trek: Enterprise went off the air, but I have to say I still miss it. Yeah, the show was flawed. Yes, for most of its four seasons it failed to fully embrace its own premise. And yes, it’s certainly true that the series never truly reached its full potential. But I still say it was the best idea for a Trek series since The Next Generation. And I’ve come to realize that it’s arguably my favorite Trek since The Original Series.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, I love Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the 23rd and 24th centuries as much as the next Trekker. But somewhere along the way, I think I stopped believing it was possible. We live in a time now when people can’t even agree on evolution and climate change, and large parts of the population think spending more money on NASA is government pork and waste. So how in the world are we ever going to get to the point of zooming around at warp drive in Barcaloungers honoring the Prime Directive? It just seems a bit far-fetched to me sitting here in the 21st century. Ultimately, that’s what appealed to me so much about the idea of a prequel to The Original Series. Here was a chance to show how humans more like we are today, flaws and all, did the heavy lifting necessary to build Roddenberry’s future. Here was a chance to show how we get from astronauts and cosmonauts to the likes of Kirk and Spock.
That was the idea at least. Of course, what we got instead – at least for the first couple of seasons – were recycled Voyager plots, a Pon Farr episode and guest appearances by the Borg and the Ferengi. But still, when Enterprise finally starting hitting on all cylinders, it was very good indeed. I’ve reviewed Enterprise on DVD previously (click here for my thoughts on Season One), so rather than talk about the episodes and the characters, I’m going to focus this review instead on what makes this Blu-ray set special and worth adding to your collection. And believe me, if you’re a fan of the series, it’s well worth adding to your collection.
For starters, Enterprise was the first Trek series produced and broadcast in high-definition video (and in widescreen to boot). The show’s first three seasons were shot on 35mm film. Visual effects were rendered at 480p/16x9 for most of Seasons One and Two (then 720p resolution for Season Three and full 1080p for Season Four) and upconverted to save time and money (keep in mind, the use of digital technology was still relatively new in TV in 2001, and the tools were not as powerful as they are today). The show’s final production masters were finished at 1080p resolution, though I believe the first broadcast run on UPN was at 720p. In any case, those 1080p masters are what you see here on CBS’ new Blu-rays (though with some additional color timing tweaks). The quality of the image is good, and certainly a far cry better than the previous DVD releases. However, it should be noted that the image here is not as good looking as 1080p masters created today. It’s a little soft from time to time, blacks aren’t quite as deep nor colors quite as vibrant as you might expect. There’s occasional aliasing visible in the upconverted 720 effects shots. And you’ll see visible edge enhancement from time to time – something that was still quite common in post production back in 2001. The irony is that while Enterprise was the first series produced for high-def, it doesn’t look quite as good as the new Original Series or Next Generation “remastered” efforts today. What you see on these BDs is what passed for state of the art TV HD back in 2001. So the video experience here is good, and much improved over the DVD, but still far from perfect. The audio fares better, presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1. The mixes aren’t quite as dynamic or immersive as modern 5.1 or 7.1, but they’re still comparable to the other Trek series on Blu-ray. And again, the audio experience you’re getting here is better than the previous DVDs and broadcast – just not quite as much better as you might be expecting.
[Editor’s Note – After watching a sampling of additional episodes throughout the season, I’ve actually raised the Video grade for this review from a B- to a full B. It now seems the pilot, Broken Bow, has slightly degraded video quality compared to the rest of the season. Listening to the documentary on the set, I believe I know why. Director James Conway says that they didn’t know whether the show was going to be broadcast 4x3 or 16x9 until literally days before it aired on UPN. It was shot with the idea that it could be both, but when the official word finally came down from the network, they had to go back in shot by shot in post and reframe for 16x9. That means they digitally magnified the image and reframed… which means a reduction in resolution from the original master. That’s why everything in Broken Bow looks a little softer and a little more digitally processed than the rest of the series. After that, other than the odd bluescreen shot here and there, the regular episodes look much better – much more film-like, more detailed – even the visual effects. It’s still not quite up to the “remastered” quality of TOS and TNG, but it’s not far off. So if you were hesitating to buy this set after reading my original A/V comments above… rest assured it’s not an issue. ]
Still, here’s where Star Trek: Enterprise on Blu-ray is leaps and bounds ahead of the other Trek series on Blu-ray – the extras! The first thing you should know is that every single bonus feature from the Season One DVD release has carried over here – every featurette, every audio and text commentary, the gag reel, deleted scenes and the Easter egg featurettes. Even the Best Buy-exclusive bonus disc featurette is here. That means that you can safely sell your DVD set to buffer the BD upgrade cost if you’d care to.
But here’s the exciting thing: There’s a ton of new material included here! To start with, special edition producers Roger Lay, Jr. and Robert Meyer Burnett have created a 90-minute, HD documentary on the development and launch of the series. Let me say that again: There’s a 90-minute documentary on the first season of Enterprise here! It’s called To Boldly Go: Launching Enterprise and it’s split into three parts – Part 1: Countdown, Part 2: Boarding the NX-01 and Part 3: First Flight. Lots of cast members are interviewed, as are the show’s creators and producers, and many of the crew. There’s a ton of cool stuff covered here (more on that in a minute). Other new BD features include 4 new audio commentary tracks (on Broken Bow with Brannon Braga, James L. Conway, Connor Trinneer, Dominic Keating and Dan Curry; on Silent Enemy with Andre Bormanis and Dan Curry; on Shadows of P’Jem with Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong; and Shuttlepod One with Brannon Braga, David Livingston, Connor Trinneer and Dominic Keating), a previously unseen episode of On the Set featuring a look at the making of the Enterprise episode Vox Sola, and a trio vintage “presentation” videos (a Cast Introduction, a Network Presentation and a Syndication Presentation). Finally, there’s an hour-long HD video called In Conversation: Rich Berman and Brannon Braga, in which the pair simply sits together and talks about their memories of the show, their original ideas for it and how it all played out.
Between the 90-minute documentary and the Berman and Braga discussion, so many of the questions I’ve always had about the show as a fan were answered. For one thing, I always wondered why Berman and Braga didn’t wait a year after the end of Voyager to launch Enterprise. The reason is that UPN and Paramount absolutely demanded that the show start right away. That leads another question I’ve had: Why did the show feel so much like bad Voyager in its first season? The reason is that the writers on the show – many of whom worked on Voyager – were just burnt out. They needed a break to recharge creatively and didn’t get it. And Braga had real trouble assembling a writing team for the series. Many veteran Trek writers had moved on to other work, and almost all of the writing team assembled for Enterprise’s first season left by Season Two. Why the Temporal Cold War plot? Turns out UPN wasn’t happy about the show being a prequel to The Original Series and they demanded a 24th Century element. So Braga pulled in an idea he’d had for another series involving a Temporal Cold War. Why the lousy theme song? Turns out Berman and Braga were trying to get the rights to use U2’s Beautiful Day, but the band wouldn’t let them use it. Then they wanted Diane Warren and Russell Watson to write a new song for the show, but they ended up recycling an old one. Here’s another question I’ve had: In the show’s fourth season, William Shatner and Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens pitched a cool idea for a Kirk episode in which you would have learned that Kirk and Archer accidentally created the Mirror Universe! It never happened, and fans were left wondering why. Turns out Shatner’s agent asked for way too much money – enough that it would have consumed much of the series’ budget for the year. So it never went anywhere. Berman and Braga talk about the change of leadership at Paramount and UPN during the show’s run that left them with virtually no one at either the studio or the network who understood or even cared about Star Trek. (Berman tells of one meeting with the studio heads where the story of the Season Two episode Minefield was pitched, involving the crew walking out on the hull of the NX-01, and they had to explain to the studio chief what a “hull” was. Yikes!) And here’s something I never knew: Berman and Braga’s original idea for Enterprise was that the entire first season would have taken place on Earth, depicting the construction of the NX-01 – the last episode of the season would have seen its launch – and there would have been a whole movement of fearful humans on Earth that were against the idea of Starfleet going out into space to interact with aliens and who were trying to prevent the ship’s mission. How cool and interesting could that have been? But UPN and Paramount hated the idea, so it had to be scrapped. So many of the things that have long puzzled me about Enterprise are made clear in these special features – it’s truly an unexpected gift as a fan of the series to be able to have all this material and see it and absorb it all.
The simple fact is, CBS has given Enterprise far more love and care here on this Blu-ray set than it ever got when it was on the air. Best of all, Producer Roger Lay, Jr. has assured me that they’re cooking up lots more amazing new bonus material for Seasons Two, Three and Four. He actually asked me recently for a list of ideas on the kinds of things I’d like to see as a fan of the show. As you might imagine, I had no problem coming up with suggestions. His reply: “Based on what you’re writing and suggesting you’ll love what we’re planning.”
Oh hell yeah.
I’ll tell you, my respect (and gratitude) for Roger and Rob’s efforts is immense. Trek fans the world over owe them – and everyone at CBS and CBS Digital – a huge debt of thanks for their work on Enterprise and The Next Generation on BD. What a great time to be a Trekker!
Are you an Enterprise fan? Have you, like me, long felt the show hasn’t gotten the respect it deserves? Have you ever asked a question about the series that starts with “Why in the heck did they _____?” Buy this Blu-ray. The answers await you. Trust me, this set is an absolute gold mine of insight into the series. And this is just the beginning.
- Bill Hunt