To Boldly Go Where No Blu-ray Has Gone Before
Like the Star Wars film series, there are certain things that long-time die-hard fans find themselves buying over again and again with each new step in media technology. Perhaps you have done it as well, perhaps on a smaller scale with let's say The Beatles buying them on vinyl, 8-track, cassettes, compact discs, and then digital... err... oh they never made it that far yet, perhaps The Beatles is not the perfect example. Let's just stick with Star Wars and Star Trek here, but you get the idea. Back in the day
when consumer home video was just making inroads into well... the home with VHS and Betamax format VCRs, it marked a new era in fandom. For the first time (outside of uncommon home movie film rolls which required a film projector, movie screen, and the movie rolls themselves) fans had the opportunity to relive their favorite movie or TV series on their own terms when they wanted to, how often they wanted to without being enslaved to when it was broadcast or shown in the theaters.
For videophiles, cinema buffs, and real die-hard fans, this was not enough. We want want our media in it's truest form. Be it letterbox so we can see the entire screen as it was meant to be seen with the filmmaker's original composition of each shot, or for television series, we couldn't settle for simply recording what was being broadcast to us which was often plagued with commercial advertising and were edited down to fit said ads and the prints or video footage had seen better days.
Studios started releasing these treasures for both the home market and video rental industry, first in the form of video tape (i.e. VHS and originally Betamax or "Beta"), but as the video format improved with newer formats, so did these treasures by having them re-released on these new formats such as the very short-lived RCA's CED video disc and for home theater enthusiasts such as myself, laser discs (LD). Today, all these formats have been phased out in favor of DVDs and more recently for high definition (HD) Blu-ray and for a bit HD-DVD (which has now lost the battle to Blu-ray in the "HD format wars."
With all that said, trying to stay on top of seeing our favorite media in the best way it can be presented at home, meant buying and re-buying the same media over and over again.
It's that time once again. This time for the original Star Trek series. The long wait is over, the remastered original series is now available on Blu-ray with last week's first release, season one on Blu-ray. Although, this is not the first release of remastered season one in the HD format, as it had previously been released in the ill-fated HD-DVD format shortly before the format called it quits. If it wasn't the fact that Blu-ray came out as the 'winner' in the recent 'HD format wars' it may not had seen its day on the format. Although at the time of the battling formats, I couldn't stand idle waiting to see which would come out the winner, I have the means of playing either format on my HD-TV. With that said, it was looking more and more like Blu-ray was going to come out on top, so I did resist buying the first release of season one on the HD-DVD format.
So what of the new Blu-ray release? Can it really be that much better than the DVD release on decent system good at upconverting it to your HD-TV?
The difference is there, and it's delicious! The series was recently cleaned up for HD and the effects of the original series while being state-of-the-art at the time shows the limitations of the budget and means available to the creators at the time. So an effort was made to replace the original effects and some other outdated elements with CGI (computer graphic imagery). But fear not, the Blu-ray set contains both versions, the episodes with the new enhanced effects as well as the original effects. It is somewhat similar to the Special Editions of the Star Wars films, but unlike George Lucas revisiting of the original films, no drastic character changes were made like making Greedo shoot first here with the Star Trek treatment. Because of the seemless branching that Blu-ray offers, you can even switch back and forth between versions while watching the episode.
The enhancements are not limited to just the visuals, as the audio has been given a 7.1 digital surround sound treatment. Also the theme music has been re-recorded staying true to the original recording make up. Once again, for the purist the mono soundtrack is offered on the discs as an option.
Getting back to the visuals, specifically how does the high definition come across. Being a life-long fan and viewer of the original series, I had to had seen each episode dozens of times over the years. Not just from watching them syndicated over time, but as mentioned earlier, through its various releases on different media be it VHS, laser disc, or DVD. After opening the new Blu-ray set, inserting disc one, I chose to watch Where No Man Has Gone Before (the second pilot for the series) as it was the closest to the first episode as possible on this disc (more on this later). Never have I seen this episode so clear. I joked on Twitter that I could see every detail, ever pore (as in skin pores). But joking aside, it is a real joy seeing these episodes filmed the mid-1960's so clear and sharp today in high definition. Much care was given to achieve such results. So much wear and tear was evident on the original film stock of the episodes, that further processing to remove tears, scratches, and other damage which has occurred over the years of being transfered onto various media formats (as mentioned previously). Care was given to adjusting the contrast and other digital processing to make this transfer the best it could be in high definition.
Mind you, although thankfully these were shot on film which lends itself to high definition transfers, it was not originally meant to be seen that way obviously. The typical television of the mid-1960s is long away from today's HD-TVs. At the time, they would deliberately use a very soft focus for scenes (usually when trying to create a soft sensual glow effect around women), which at the time was subtle on smaller low-res television sets, is now glaringly obvious and out-of-place.
Episodes like Where No Man Has Gone Before have been given the extra treatment of a production picture-in-picture video commentary. So you can watch it with comments on from the remastering production team on what they did, where they did it, and just as interesting what they did not do as well. Once of which is carefully explained in this episode where at the climax there are scenes with a tombstone created for James T. Kirk, except it reads "James R. Kirk" on it. Obviously during this second pilot, his middle name was not formerly developed and later writers forgotten about the R and came up with the T for Tiberius for Kirk's middle name. There was a big debate by the team whether or not it should now be corrected via CGI in the remastered edition. It turned out they decided not to do it, mostly due to how difficult (time extensive = expensive) it would be to do so.
Most of the enhancements are logical ones. Some instances where you may wonder why something was not cleaned up or changed goes unexplained, but we can speculate. Such as when Mitchell is first effected in this story, there is an extreme zoom close-up to his eyes as it fades out for what would be a commercial break. Zooming up on the still film revealed imperfections of the film grain (black specs) which could had been easily removed in the remastered version but had not. In another case where they could had corrected a bit of blooper but did not was a scene in the episode Charlie X where Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner are thrown against the bulkhead of the Enterprise which caused the actual set to break creating a visible crack in the set walls. Surely the Enterprise is made of stronger stuff? In the next shot, the crack is no longer there. Yet it still remains in the special remastered version when it probably could had been easily removed.
Even in the revised enhanced special effects that were created via CGI to better fit the storytelling of the episode can call questions to mind. For example, in the episode The Naked Time, Spock mentions that the planet they are orbiting was once Earth-like before it's "sun went dark." Yet for a sun that had gone dark, the planet is awfully bright even with the newly created enhanced special effects for the episode. It's beautiful, but much brighter than one would expect for a planet around a sun that had gone dark. Unless Spock was not speaking literally, which isn't much like Spock though. We can overlook such things because it is joy to see these remastered episodes. We have the option of seeing the original effects or the enhanced ones. If the high definition is too much for you, there are still the standard definition DVDs available to you (sold separately).
What's not to like? For one the episode order. Why are we still suffering the poor decisions made by NBC suits back in the 1960's today?! WHY? Unfortunately, once again, the series is in the order of how the episodes were originally broadcast on NBC in the 1960s not in the production order (or Stardate order). Why? Why? To my understanding, NBC choose to show the episode, The Man Trap first simply because it had a "monster" in it which can be seen at the climax of it. This is another big FAIL again... as the series is constantly being released in the order of broadcast instead of their true production order.
Even though this set was released deliberately to prime the pump of enthusiasm for the new re-imagined Trek film being pushed out this week from JJ Abrams, it even has a trailer for it at the front of disc 1 in the set, it is still a pleasure to see this episodes released in this format. Although I do not own or have seen the previous HD-DVD release, from reading reviews of those that compared the two have concluded they look better on the Blu-ray release. Also since I don't have the HD-DVD release, I can't compare the differences in the extras. Speaking of which, if you are looking for commentaries on the episodes, you will be disappointed. Outside of the few selected episodes given the picture-in-picture production commentary (which is quite good) there are no audio commentaries.
Even though I hated the fact of re-buying the series yet again, I don't regret doing so after viewing a little more than a half dozen already so far. It is available for just under $65 at retailers such as Amazon (Star Trek: The Original Series - Season 1 [Blu-ray]), it is by far less expensive when you compare it to the cost of previous releases such as laser disc which had 2 episodes per disc and each disc sold for $30 (plus tax and shipping) so the complete series would had put you back more than $1,200.00 by the end! The Blu-ray sets which give you so much more, for only a fraction of that cost. Let's just hope there isn't any new media platforms on the horizon anytime soon. I refuse to re-buy them once again when they come out on 'blu-crystal' or whatever it may be.