History, Legacy & Showmanshow - Michael Coate celebrates 35 years of The Empire Strikes Back! http://t.co/FbzrCvtwFl
Star Trek: Enterprise - Season Four
Release Date(s)2004-2005 (April 29, 2014)
I’ve always felt that the concept of a Star Trek series set in the era before Kirk, Spock, and McCoy – one that told the story of how the United Federation of Planets and Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic future came to be – was a brilliant idea. To their credit, Enterprise creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga actually set out to tell exactly that story (something fans have only learned in retrospect, thanks to these Blu-ray releases). Sadly, the struggling UPN network and production partner Paramount didn’t want that show. They wanted more Trek just like all the other Trek that had come before, and so they forced Berman and Braga to compromise their vision and take Enterprise in an all-too-familiar direction.
Jumping ahead three years, Enterprise has struggled in the ratings. Diehard Trek fans have bailed on the show, because it’s too much like all the other Trek that’s come before, and show runner Braga has burned out. The dying UPN network has decided to cancel Enterprise. But a decision by Paramount to pay more of the production costs for one more season (so as to increase their future syndication profits) has given the show a final run of 22 episodes. Enter new show runner Manny Coto, a third-season addition to the writing staff (he was the creator of Showtime’s Odyssey 5 series and would move on to 24 and Dexter). Coto brought tremendous love for (and knowledge of) Star Trek to the job and his idea was simple: Fully embrace Enterprise’s prequel concept. With UPN and Paramount’s attention now focused elsewhere, the creative gloves were off. Coto quickly added longtime Trek novelists Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens to the writing staff and unleashed veteran Trek scribes like Mike Sussman and André Bormanis. As a result, Star Trek: Enterprise became the show it was meant to be from the beginning. It finally became great.
After quickly resolving (read: dispensing with) Season Three’s cliff-hanger finale, the show worked diligently to start bridging the gap between Enterprise and The Original Series. The show’s major characters also exhibited genuine growth amid the fallout of the Xindi mission. Archer struggled with the moral compromises he was forced to make in the Expanse. Phlox encountered a disturbing new trend back on Earth – rising prejudice against non-Humans. And Trip and T’Pol’s complicated romantic relationship continued to deepen. Coto also introduced the idea of multi-episode story arcs to the season, which not only allowed the writers to tell more intricate stories, but also allowed the producers to justify building more elaborate sets knowing that the cost could be amortized over multiple episodes. As a result, the show gained an even more epic scale, with genuine energy and enthusiasm in the storytelling.
The arcs begin with a 3-episode follow-up to the classic TOS installment Space Seed, in which a handful of genetic supermen left over from the Eugenics Wars attempt to start a conflict between Earth and the Klingons. It offers a pair of great guest performances, including Alec Newman (Paul Atreides from Frank Herbert’s Dune) and The Next Generation’s Brent Spiner. The second 3-episode arc found Archer and company struggling to prevent not only a Vulcan Civil War, but also a larger conflict between the Vulcans and Andorians – a story that explored Vulcan history and explained why the Vulcans of Archer’s era seemed different than those of later periods. The third 3-episode arc depicted the origins of the inter-species alliance that would one day become the Federation – a response to an effort by the Romulans to undermine relations between the Andorians, Tellarites, Vulcans, and Humans – and the role played by Archer and his crew in these events. Then a 2-episode arc took the series into the Mirror Universe, in a thrilling follow-up to The Original Series episodes Mirror, Mirror and The Tholian Web.
The season’s final 2-episode arc (Demons and Terra Prime) was conceived by Coto and the Reeves-Stevens. Peter Weller (of RoboCop, Buckaroo Banzai and Star Trek Into Darkness fame) guest stars as John Frederick Paxton, the misguided leader of a xenophobic group on Earth who believes that Starfleet should never have gotten involved in interstellar affairs in the first place. They see Archer and the crew of the Enterprise as the instigators of Humanity’s demise... and Trip and T’Pol’s inter-species relationship as the realization of their worst fears. The way in which Paxton and his group use that relationship for their own propaganda purposes is heartbreaking. Demons and Terra Prime represent Enterprise at its very best. All of the cast is involved in the action – even Travis and Hoshi have important things to do for a change. Weller chews up the scenery. And in the final scene, we see Trip and T’Pol holding hands, united by grief and their feelings for one another, with a Vulcan IDIC pendant clutched in their entwined fingers. It’s a poignant ending that symbolizes every high ideal the Star Trek franchise stands for. If only the season – and the series – had ended there.
Unfortunately, Berman and Braga returned to write the final episode, These Are the Voyages. It was meant as a “valentine” to Trek fans, but served only to insult fans of Enterprise and many of the show’s own cast members. It effectively turns the NX-01 crew into little more than an awkward holographic amusement for guest stars Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis, who reprise their roles as Riker and Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation in an ill-fitting continuation of the mediocre Next Gen episode The Pegasus. Compared to the rest of Season Four, These Are the Voyages is so abysmal that most Enterprise fans simply ignore it and consider Terra Prime the true series finale. This episode is so poorly regarded, in fact, that CBS (which now controls the Trek franchise outside of the feature films) later made a rare exception to the hallowed rule of on-screen events being considered “canon” in the franchise and allowed Pocket Books (in the novel series that continues the story) to recast the entire episode as a false narrative written by the infamous Section 31 to cover up the real events of early Federation history. If you’re just discovering Enterprise now on Blu-ray, my recommendation is to skip These Are the Voyages entirely. Trust me, it’s just not worth the aggravation.
The new Blu-ray release from CBS is once again a 6-disc set that includes all 22 episodes plus bonus content. I’m actually quite happy with the 1080p video presentation here. In order to save on production costs, Season Four switched to all-digital HD capture for live action footage, and while it isn’t doesn’t look quite as good as the previous seasons’ 35mm film image, it’s more than satisfactory here on Blu-ray. Combined with the fact that the visual effects were rendered at full 1080p for this final season, the result is a more even look to the episodes – far less jarring than going from 35mm film in HD to unconverted CG images as in previous seasons. Color and contrast are good and detail is more than sufficient. I’m particularly pleased with the rich color cinematography in the episodes In a Mirror Darkly, Parts I and II, which attempts to recapture the vibrant look of The Original Series. The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, as is standard for these Trek Blu-rays, with mixes that are solid and atmospheric, if not aggressive. Once again, the In a Mirror Darkly 2-parter is a highlight in terms of surround staging.
As for bonus material, the first thing to note is that everything that was created for the previous Season Four DVD release has carried over here. That includes: “Podcast” audio commentary with writer Michael Sussman and Tim Gaskill (on In a Mirror, Darkly – Parts I & II), “podcast” audio commentary with writers Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Judith Reeves-Stevens and Tim Gaskill (on Terra Prime), text commentary by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda (on The Forge, In a Mirror, Darkly – Part II and These Are the Voyages), 3 deleted scenes (from Storm Front, The Aenar and In a Mirror, Darkly – Part II), an outtakes reel, 6 behind-the-scenes featurettes (including Enterprise Moments: Season Four, Inside the Mirror Episodes, Enterprise Secrets, Visual Effects Magic, That’s a Wrap!, and Links to the Legacy), 2 U.K./Best Buy-exclusive featurettes (Enterprise Goes to the Dogs and Westmore’s Aliens: Creating Dr. Phlox and Beyond), a production photo gallery, and an NX-01 File Easter egg featurette.
In addition, VAM producers Roger Lay, Jr and Robert Meyer Burnett have created a new 4-part, 2-hour retrospective documentary, Before Her Time: Decommissioning Enterprise, that is absolutely the perfect conclusion to the behind-the-scenes journey we’ve had on the previous Blu-ray seasons. All of the actors and major production staffers chime in here. Part One: New Voices (27 mins) covers Manny Coto taking over the show and talking about all the stories he wanted to do building up to the Federation from The Original Series, the addition of the Reeves-Stevens to the staff and more. Tellingly, Braga admits here that Coto’s approach is probably the way the show should have started to begin with. Part Two: Memorable Voyages (30 mins) covers many of the season’s multi-episode story arcs. The Reeves-Stevens’ reveal the details of their fascinating idea to have William Shatner make a guest appearance as Tiberius (a.k.a. Mirror Universe Kirk). Jolene Blalock (T’Pol) talks about the growth of her character because of Trip, then both Connor Trinneer (Trip) and Blalock speak to the relationship as a whole. We even learn that the NASA astronauts wanted to record a “Godspeed Columbia” message (for the story in which we see NX-02, which was named after the lost Space Shuttle) but UPN wasn’t interested. In Part Three: Final Approach (30 mins) we see the cast and crew dealing with their disappointment that the show was being cancelled just as they were doing their best work. Coto hints at many of the stories he still wanted to tell had the show continued (the Romulan War, exploration of Romulan culture, Stratos, additional Mirror Universe story arcs, Shran joining the NX-01 crew). We see a bit of the fans’ “Save Enterprise” campaign. Trinneer and Blalock talk about their final scene in Terra Prime, and the real-life personal events that made it all the more emotional for them. Frequent series director James Conway provides a brilliant critique of UPN’s cancellation of the show: “UPN never again had a show that had the ratings that Enterprise did when it was cancelled. So they gained nothing by cancelling it. They just didn’t know what the future held for TV – that the 16 share we had on our pilot is an unheard of number today. No show gets that today. Enterprise went off with a 6 share, which anybody would kill for today.” And (almost) everyone distances themselves from the finale. Blalock’s comments in particular are priceless: “Were we a hologram? Did our show actually happen. I didn’t know how to answer that question. I still don’t.” Finally, Part Four: End of an Era (29 mins) focuses on Rick Berman, Brannon Braga and all the major cast and crew members looking back on what their participation in Star Trek meant (and still means) to them. Fittingly, Braga gets the last word, after expressing his pleasure that people finally seem to be discovering how good Enterprise was and noting (correctly, most fans would argue) that Star Trek really belongs on television: “I miss what it represents. There’s nothing else like Star Trek on. I hope it returns.” I’ve given you just the highlights – there’s so much more for Enterprise fans to discover in this documentary.
But there’s more: In Conversation: Writing Star Trek: Enterprise (90 mins) reunites many of the show’s writers for a wide-ranging discussion. Sadly, Manny Coto couldn’t attend and staffer David A. Goodman (who acts as a host until Braga arrives) derails the conversation more than once with jokes just as it’s getting interesting, but the piece is still excellent and well worth your time. There are also new audio commentary tracks with the Reeves-Stevens and Michael and Denise Okuda (on The Forge and Observer Effect), the Reeves-Stevens and David Livingston (on United), Conway, Sussman and the Okudas (on In a Mirror Darkly, Part I), and Dominic Keating (Malcolm Reed) and Trinneer (on Demons and Terra Prime). Some are great, some less so – Keating and Trinneer in particular fall into just watching their episodes as much as talking about them – but they’re still worth checking out as well. You even get to read script pages of the original ending to the episode Home, in which Archer visits his father’s grave on Earth.
I’ll say it one last time here: As someone who loved and struggled with frustration over this imperfect gem of a series, the ability to experience the retrospective documentaries on these Enterprise Blu-rays has been both a catharsis and an incredible treat. I’ve certainly gained renewed respect for Brannon Braga in watching these installments. Say what you will, but the guy loves Star Trek deeply and gave a huge part of his creative and professional life to it. My thanks to him, and to all those who worked on Star Trek: Enterprise, for the most fun I’ve had in Gene Roddenberry’s universe in a long time. My thanks also to Roger, Rob and the entire team at CBS for delivering a terrific Blu-ray experience. Season Four is not only the best that Enterprise has to offer, it’s damn great Star Trek period. And it gets my highest recommended on Blu-ray.
- Bill Hunt