Reviews by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits
Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection
1979-91 (2009) - Paramount
Released on Blu-ray Disc on May 12th, 2009
Film Ratings (Overall): B
Video (1-20): See Review Text
Audio (1-20): See Review Text
Extras (Overall): A-
As I've said many times in recent reviews of Blu-ray upgrades of popular catalog titles, I'll be saying little here about the quality of the films themselves. If you're reading this, you're likely already a Star Trek fan who well knows that the even-numbered films are considered the better entries in this series, and I've reviewed them all before here at The Bits in much more depth on DVD.
What I want to talk about is what's truly new here - the Blu-ray upgrade itself, and the new extras that have been created specifically for this release. Ultimately, the question fans want answered is this: Is the upgrade to Blu-ray from DVD worth your time and money? I believe the answer is yes, particularly if you're an enthusiastic Trek fan, though it's important to qualify that some higher-end videophiles might be unable to justify it for themselves.
Let's address the quality issue right at the start: While the new high-definition presentations on these discs are much-improved over the previous DVD editions, and the new Star Trek II restoration is absolutely first-rate, the video quality is probably not quite what some high-end Blu-ray fans are hoping for. They aren't not bad looking, and as I said they are definitely an improvement over the DVD versions in terms of color fidelity/depth and overall contrast, but it's clear that too much noise reduction has been used to reduce print grain and give the films a more uniform appearance. Unfortunately, that's also meant that fine-image detail... and yes, at least some grain... is missing from the image - the very things that make a high-definition film transfer look... well, film-like. Now, the problem here is not nearly as bad as it was on Fox's Patton or The Longest Day Blu-rays, but it's still a little frustrating. Those of you with HD plasmas under the 40-inch range shouldn't be too troubled. But for those of you, like me, who use HD front projectors to obtain the most theatre-like experience on screens in the 100-inch range... well, the lack of grain and fine detail really hurts the image. The problem is that it's only really been in the last year or so that the Hollywood technical community has come to fully understand the impact of grain reduction on Blu-ray image quality at large viewing sizes, and has begun to strike a better balance when using grain reduction on HD masters. Naturally, with the exception of Trek II, most of the films in this box were remastered prior to that time. So it's an issue, but one that people shouldn't blow out of proportion, because there's a LOT that's great about this set.
As I mentioned, the new Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan restoration looks spectacular. I've seen this film projected in high quality in recent years, and the new presentation captures that experience wonderfully. The film (in fact, nearly ALL the Trek films) have always had a soft look about them, owing to the stock used and the sort of "budget production" approach with which they were shot, but the overall detail is quite good and is very true to the theatrical presentation. There's light, refined grain structure visible, and color and contrast are excellent. The image is very nicely film-like and it's just a wonderful viewing experience. Bottom line: This is exactly how Khan is supposed to look, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
In addition, these films have quite simply never sounded better than they do here in 7.1 lossless Dolby TrueHD format. The original audio elements for these films were of varying quality, so the improvement isn't as dramatic for some films as it is for others. But Star Trek: The Motion Picture, for example, benefits from a hugely wide and enveloping soundstage, with wonderful clarity and dynamic range. Star Trek II-IV are also greatly improved over the DVDs audio-wise, though their soundstage is a bit more narrow and front-biased. Let me tell you, however, James Horner's thrilling score from Trek II really shines here. The final two films in the set are a bit more improved, having been recorded on more recent equipment. Key moments, like the explosion of Praxis in Trek VI, really stand out.
In terms of overall A/V quality, here's how I would grade these films. Keep in mind that on our comparative grading scale (of 1-20), perfect looking (and sounding) DVDs would clock in at a 10 and the perfect Blu-rays would be 20:
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Video - 17
Audio - 19
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
V - 18.5
A - 17.5
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
V - 16
A - 17.5
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
V - 15.5
A - 17.5
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
V - 16
A - 18
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
V - 16
A - 18
So with these Blu-rays, you get good (though not perfect) video and great lossless audio. How about the extras? Well, here I think Trek fans are going to be very satisfied.
As most of you know, these discs offer the films in their original theatrical editions. The reason for this is that the Director's Cut of Star Trek: The Motion Picture couldn't be prepared in time for this Blu-ray release - all of the new CG effects work was originally rendered in 480p resolution only. So in order to create a Blu-ray release, all of it will have to be re-rendered in high-definition, which is an expensive and time-consuming process. That will almost certainly happen, but probably not for another year or two. So for this first Blu-ray go-around, it's theatrical editions only, and I'm personally okay with that. As a fan, I want both versions, so I think it's better that the director's cuts are afforded more time and resources to make sure that the transfers are done right anyway.
Because these are theatrical cuts, some of the extras from the previous Motion Picture: Special Collector's Edition DVD release (the Robert Wise commentary, select featurettes, etc) have been reserved for a future Blu-ray edition. Other than that, aside from the original Okuda text "trivia" commentaries, virtually everything from the previous 2-disc DVDs has been carried over here. (And I should note that much of the Okuda text material may still be here as well in a slightly different form - more in a moment.) [Editor's Note: I'm told that the previous DVD Easter eggs - for Trek III and V - are included as well, so good luck finding them.] But what's really cool is that TONS of new material has been created and included specifically for this Blu-ray release! The box says it's over 2 1/2 hours of material, but it's actually a lot more than that, as you'll soon see.
To start with all, in addition to the previous audio commentary tracks, each film has been given a NEW commentary as well. Highlights include Nicholas Meyer and Manny Coto on Trek II, Ron Moore and Michael Taylor on Trek III and Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (writers of J.J. Abrams' new Trek film) on Trek IV. So that's effectively 12 hours of new material right there. On top of that, each film has a new BonusView Library Computer viewing mode, which features TONS of background information, technical details and other Trek trivia compiled by the Okudas (including material from their original text commentaries as well as much new material) all indexed by subject and viewable in context during the film. In addition, each film has BD-Live online access (if you have a profile 2.0 compatible player with an Internet condition) to trivia quizzes (and more that's yet to be revealed). You can create your own quizzes, which are enhanced by footage from the film, and you can take and rate the quizzes of others.
Still not done... each film has 2-4 additional behind-the-scenes featurettes, most in full high-definition, on various aspects of the production or Trek history. There are Starfleet Academy updates on various aspects of each film (a great idea, even if the execution falls a bit short), a reunion of many of the background players seen in the briefing scene of The Motion Picture (many of whom were fans, friends and/or family of the cast), a fun look at collecting authentic props from the Trek films, a closer look at James Horner's score and its themes, a look back at ILM's special effects work, a visit to the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle (a VERY cool place), a look at how Star Trek and NASA have collaborated, influenced and honored each other over the years, the infamous look at a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet "in the original Klingon" in Minnesota and much more. There's at least a couple hours worth of this, and it's all well worth your time. (Hats off to DVD producer Tim King and his team for all their work on this.) Each movie disc also has HD trailers for Abrams' new film (the "What is your name?" trailer) and Star Trek: TOS - Season One on Blu-ray (which notes that Seasons Two and Three are coming soon - we're told in time for the holidays).
Finally, as if all this weren't enough, the icing on this cake is a 7th bonus Blu-ray Disc containing something called The Captains' Summit. Essentially, it's a videotaped chat session featuring Trek alums William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes. Hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, it's presented in full HD and runs about 70 minutes (broken into three parts). During this time the cast members remember, reminisce, tell stories and joke with one another about TONS of interesting Trek-related topics. This bonus alone is worth the price of the set in my mind - it's quite entertaining.
So in the end, here's the thing: You get SIX films in HD video quality that (if not perfect) is much improved over DVD, outstanding lossless audio, nearly all of the previously released special features, many HOURS worth of new material to explore, and the exclusive Captains' Summit bonus disc... all for around $80 on Amazon.com. Even if you leave out the bonus disc, that works out to something like $13 per film. Not bad. I'm sure there are some fans (and BD enthusiasts) who will decide to pass because of the grain reduction issue, but in my mind this new box set is, on balance, a helluva good deal. Your mileage may vary, but I'm still willing to give this set a qualified recommendation, especially for Trek fans.
Bill Hunt, Editor