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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 8/20/04



Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One
1966-67 (2004) - Paramount

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One

Program Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/C+

Specs and Features

1,461 mins (29 episodes at 50 mins each), NR, full frame (1.33:1), 8 single-sided, dual-layered discs (no layer switch), custom plastic shell packaging with inner disc holder, subtitle text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda (co-authors of The Star Trek Encyclopedia) on 4 episodes (including Where No Man Has Gone Before, The Conscience of the King and The Menagerie, Parts I & II), 5 retrospective featurettes (The Birth of a Timeless Legacy, Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner, To Boldly Go... (Season One), Reflections on Spock and Sci-Fi Visionaries), 4 Easter egg featurettes (Red Shirt Logs), episode preview trailers, booklet insert, animated program-themed menu screens with sound effects and music, episode/scene access (6-10 chapters per episode), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English, Close Captioned


"It's been a long road, gettin' from there to here..."

No, I'm not talking about Star Trek: Enterprise on DVD. That comes next year (trust me). This is the REAL deal - the box set many of you guys have been waiting a long time for (making that song oddly appropriate for perhaps the first time ever). These are the ORIGINAL voyages of the Starship Enterprise, packed with full-on, phasers-firing Trek action. In the 29 episodes you'll find on Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One, you're guaranteed to see William Shatner's ham-handed Kirk swagger, and Nimoy's unflappable Spock arch his eyebrows. Scotty will bitch and moan about his engines, McCoy will remind you that he's a doctor (as opposed to something else), and there are plenty of short skirts and funny-looking aliens (who look surprisingly like humans with painted skin and latex ears). Lots of red-shirts will die on away missions, several computers will be logic-looped by Kirk, and hordes of extras flood the Bridge just in time to be tossed around during red alerts. If you're anything like me, you simply HAVE to love classic Star Trek. This is, after all, where the legend began.

This first season of the series is pretty amazing when you consider that it contains so many of the show's best episodes. Among the adventures you'll enjoy here are such classics as Balance of Terror (the first encounter with the Romulans), The Galileo Seven (Spock's very own Kobayashi Maru), The Devil in the Dark (PAIN!!!), Space Seed (which gave us Khan... the franchise's best-ever villain) and, of course, the all-time classic... The City on the Edge of Forever (which proves that time travel and Joan Collins really do mix, thanks to the hard sci-fi writing talents of Harlan Ellison). No doubt about it - this show might only have survived for three years on NBC, but it sure as hell didn't take long to find its stride.

In terms of video and sound quality, these DVDs have been mastered from the same digital source material as the previous DVD releases (we've confirmed this with the studio). That's not to say that there isn't a slight improvement here. Having compared several episodes now between the new set and the previous releases, I'm seeing a very slightly improved clarity on the new discs. This manifests itself in slightly more visible film grain and fine picture detail on the new discs, whereas the previous releases appeared a bit softer. It's more obvious on large projection monitors (those with smaller displays will hardly notice it). The difference can largely be explained by improvements in MPEG-2 compression technology in the few years since the release of the original discs. That, and using dual-layered media, allow the episodes to be included 4 to a disc on this new set (rather than 2 per disc as with the previous releases).

Back on the subject of the masters for these episodes - the digital, high-definition transfers were done using the original film interpositives from the studio's vaults (for broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel). The D1 master tapes were then "cleaned" using special digital filters to reduce the amount of dust and dirt visible. The result, on virtually every episode, is a crisp and vibrant picture, with terrific contrast and lush, accurate colors. The video isn't reference quality certainly, especially given the age of these episodes. You'll still see grain as I mentioned, along with occasional bits of dust and scratches on the film, particularly during effects shots. In any case, the picture looks significantly better than you've ever seen it before (save for the earlier DVDs). If you're a fan of the series, and you haven't seen these episodes on DVD previously, you'll be blown away.

Since these are again the same masters used for the previous discs, the audio for all of these episodes is available in re-mixed Dolby Digital 5.1. I can say with assurance that it makes a BIG difference. The original mono tracks have been digitally extrapolated to create a three-dimensional sound environment for home theater. The result is very good ambience, panning and surround play. When the opening credits appear, for example, you'll hear the Enterprise woosh by right over your shoulder. The enhanced surround sound adds just the right amount of "oomph" to the DVD experience, and helps to make these episodes fresh again for those of us (and I know you're with me on this) who have seen them dozens of times over the years. Just FYI, Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is also present if you prefer it. Perhaps the best thing about the audio on these discs is that all of the mechanical tape hiss present in the original analog masters has been eliminated, along with production artifacts like bad music and sound effects edits. Star Trek has certainly never sounded this good before (again, save for the previous DVDs).

Moving on to the extras, the first thing I should note is that the preview trailers for each episode (which amounted to the ONLY real extras on the previous DVDs) have all been carried over to the new set. So that means YES, it's safe to sell your old discs if you like. The episodes are presented here in original broadcast order (rather than the production order of the previous discs), and four of them have optional text commentary by Trek experts Michael and Denise Okuda. When you start an episode with this feature, you'll be given the choice of watching the episode with or without the text. It's basically done with the subtitle stream, except that rather than just subtitle text, on these discs it's been done Pop-up Videos style. All of the episodes feature optional English subtitles (all of the bonus featurettes do as well - a nice touch), and all of the discs feature CG-animated menu screens which take you inside the Bridge of the Enterprise. Selecting the various episodes and options is done on the main viewer, or through the Helm and Navigation stations.

Aside from the commentaries, Disc Eight features the majority of the extras. This basically amounts to 5 retrospective featurettes. The Birth of a Timeless Legacy (24 mins) takes a look back at the genesis of the series, starting with Roddenberry's original concept for the show and the two different pilot episodes, and then discussing the final casting and development of the show as we know and love it. Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner (10 mins) basically features Shatner and his daughter talking about their love of horses. It doesn't really have much to do with the show, so it seems a little out of place. To Boldly Go... (Season One) (19 mins) takes a look back at some of the season's best episodes - how they came to be and what production was like. Reflections on Spock (12 mins) is just what it sounds like - Leonard Nimoy talking about the development of the character and how it's affected his life over the years. Finally, Sci-Fi Visionaries (17 mins) looks at the concepts and writers behind the show - the notion that the series could be truly high-concept science fiction and still be entertaining to a wide audience. The featurettes are generally interesting, and feature new and archive interview clips with Shatner and Nimoy, producer Robert Justman, writer D.C. Fontana, associate producer John Black and his wife, and more briefly George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, Ricardo Montalban (Khan), William Campbell (Trelane) and series creator Gene Roddenberry. There's also a gallery of about 30 or 40 publicity stills, and a set of 4 Easter egg featurettes (called Red Shirt Logs - they're basically funny behind-the-scenes anecdotes told by a few of the cast and crew).

Having gone through all the extras, I have to say I'm a bit disappointed. Taken as a whole, the material here is certainly worth having. But like many Trek fans I suspect, I was somehow hoping that the Paramount vaults would yield up some amazing bit of deleted footage, the well known blooper reels perhaps, vintage interview clips from the 60s, original on-set footage, original production design artwork... ANYTHING that would really have made this set a home run, a must-buy. Unfortunately, such is not the case. I also wish that the supporting cast was featured a little more prominently in the featurettes. George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and James Doohan make appearances in interview footage, but only just barely. Walter Koenig, of course, didn't appear on the show until Season Two, so hopefully we'll see him on the next set (he isn't here anywhere). Extremely puzzling, however, is the fact that DeForest Kelly is nowhere to be seen here. Kelly passed away recently, but surely there must be SOME archive interview footage of him somewhere. If nothing else, couldn't Paramount have licensed those bumpers the cast recorded for the Sci-Fi Channel broadcasts, where they all told interesting stories about the show? It's a bit of a head scratcher.

At this point, I should also let you know that if you buy this set at Best Buy, Musicland, Suncoast, Sam Goody or Media Play, you'll get an exclusive bonus disc that includes two more featurettes - Kiss 'N' Tell: Romance in the 24th Century and Trek Connections. I really fundamentally HATE the idea of these retailer exclusive bonus discs. That material should damn well be on the set in the first place. But what can you do other than complain about it?

One thing I will say about this set, is that the packaging is damn cool. The discs fit into a book-like holder with a slipcase, which in turn slides into a gold plastic shell (pictured above) that snaps open and closed. There's also an insert booklet with episode summaries, a list of the extras and brief notes about Starfleet Command and the Romulans.

Ultimately, if the extras on Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One are somewhat less than stellar, the episodes look and sound at least as good as the previous DVDs (and they'll take up a helluva lot less shelf space). If you haven't bought this series yet on disc, this is certainly the best way to do it. If you have... whether or not you want to ditch your previous discs and upgrade to this set is going to depend a lot on how much you enjoy the kind of featurettes we've seen on the previous Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager DVDs. If you love them, and just have to have them, by all means upgrade. If not... well, maybe your existing discs are just fine. All 40 of them.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


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