Paramount // 1966 // 201 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // May 12th, 2009
"Fascinating." -- Mr. Spock
Unless you've spent the past few decades marooned on Ceti Alpha V ("Buried alive!...Buried aliiiive!), you already know that Star Trek is about the voyages of the starship Enterprise, its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilization, to boldly go where no man has gone before [cue bongos]. The Enterprise is captained by the adventurous James Tiberius Kirk (William Shatner, Boston Legal), whose brashness is tempered by the cool logic of Vulcan first officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers ). Rounding out the crew is grumpy ship's doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral), chief engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan, Loaded Weapon 1), helmsman Hikaru Sulu (George Takei, Mulan), navigator Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig, Drawing Down the Moon), communications officer Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols, Snow Dogs), and a seemingly endless army of red shirt ensigns ready to sacrifice their lives in the name of good drama.
The series ran for three seasons from 1966 to 1969, for a total of 80 episodes (a surprisingly brief run considering its enormous pop culture influence). The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series is a slim, single-disc release containing four episodes from the series -- two from the first season and two from the second:
* "The City on the Edge of Forever"
No Best of Star Trek set would be complete without this first-season Harlan Ellison-penned episode about the consequences of monkeying with the space-time continuum. Driven mad by an accidental injection of cordrazine, Bones beams himself to the surface of an alien planet and lunges through a portal back into Earth's past, altering the present so that the Enterprise doesn't exist and Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and Scotty are stranded in space. Kirk and Spock follow McCoy back to the Great Depression with the intent of righting the historical timeline and saving their ship. In New York, they meet Edith Keeler (Joan Collins, Dynasty) an altruistic and pacifist social worker whose death is necessary to ensure that the Allies win World War II. There's only one problem: Kirk thinks Keeler is hot and doesn't want to see her die.
* "The Trouble with Tribbles"
In this Season Two episode, the Enterprise answers a distress signal from Space Station K7, only to discover (much to Kirk's chagrin) that they've been summoned to protect intergalactic wheat from potential Klingon theft. Rogue trader Cyrano Jones gives Lt. Uhura a cute but rapidly reproducing fur ball called a tribble. Soon the Enterprise is overrun with the pests even as Kirk and Spock find themselves dealing with a Klingon captain named Koloth who wants to grant his crew a little rowdy shore leave on K7.
* "Balance of Terror"
Hopping back to Season One, we get the introduction of series villains the Romulans. A string of attacks on outposts along the Romulan neutral zone leads Kirk and Spock to believe that the Federation's mysterious and centuries-old enemy is ready to add a little heat to the current cold war. When Spock deduces that Romulans and Vulcans share a common ancestry, a surly crewmember named Stiles tries to gin up suspicions that the Enterprise's first officer may be a spy. Equipped with plasma torpedoes and a cloaking device, the Romulan Bird of Prey is more than a match for the Enterprise, but its wily captain (Mark Lenard, who would go on to Trek fame playing Spock's father, Sarek) soon learns the hard way that Kirk is a brilliant tactician.
* "Amok Time"
Returning once again to Season Two, the set wraps up with this episode about the mating rituals of Vulcans. The Enterprise is en route to an important diplomatic mission on Altair VI when Spock requests a course diversion to Vulcan so he can have some shore leave. Kirk is reluctant to change course (and baffled by Spock's request) until his friend and first officer falls victim to his own hormones and turns violent. It seems that Spock is suffering Pon farr, a kind of heat that Vulcan males go into every seven years, requiring them to mate or die. Spock's bride-to-be, T'Pring, awaits him on Vulcan. But when Kirk, Spock, and Bones arrive, she invokes the Kal-if-fee, a fight to the death between Spock and Kirk.
Selecting a paltry four episodes to represent the best of Star Trek is an impossible task to say the least, but this disc makes a decent show of it. The satisfying slate of episodes provides a solid primer on Trek. We get clashes with Klingons and Romulans, space stations, a trip to Vulcan, time travel, alternate history, and plenty of screen time for McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Chekov, and Sulu, all on a single disc that runs a little shy of four hours. Sure, I'd prefer that the set contained "Space Seed" (with the first appearance of Khan) or "Mirror, Mirror" (with the evil goatee-wearing Spock) instead of "The Trouble with Tribbles," but there's something to be said for the latter's inclusion. It's a fine representation of the show's more comic episodes; plus, it's a refreshing change of pace from the more serious drama (and occasional pontificating) in the other three episodes on this disc. The inclusion of "The City on the Edge of Forever" -- an episode famed for both its quality and the controversy surrounding its writing (Ellison was so angry about D.C. Fontana's rewriting of his original screenplay that he wrote an entire book about it) -- is a no-brainer. "Balance of Terror" and "Amok Time" are worthy because of the former's space battle (which feels a lot like a fight between cold war era submarines) and the latter's introduction of Pon farr (not to mention the plodding combat music during the throwdown between Spock and Kirk). The set suffers from a notable absence of a wheelchair-bound Captain Christopher Pike, doomsday machines, Orion slave girls, Harcourt Fenton Mudd, and a young Clint Howard in a bald cap, but such are the hazards of four-episode Best of collections.
The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series contains the 2007 remastered versions of the episodes. The image quality throughout is astoundingly good. Colors are vivid and black levels are rock solid. Detail is excellent. Isolated shots contain heavy grain, but that's about the only flaw you'll find. The original optical effects shots have been replaced with digital effects that are more expansive but demonstrate an amazing sensitivity to the aesthetics of the original shots. Instead of intrusive digital inserts, the new effects look like perfectly executed practical effects from a time when perfectly executed practical effects were impossible. Combine the beautifully restored original material with the stellar new special effects and Star Trek has never looked better (the Blu-ray release notwithstanding) -- not even when the show originally aired back in the late '60s.
Audio, too, has been upgraded to an expansive Dolby 5.1 mix. Dialogue and effects are crisp and clean. The opening theme song is spectacular. The mix spreads throughout the entire soundstage, while directional panning makes the most of swooshes as the Enterprise zips across the screen.
There are no extras.
If The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series' purpose is to whet one's appetite for the recent Blu-ray release of the series' first season as well as for J.J. Abrams' feature film reimagining, mission accomplished. I don't often buy television shows on DVD, but the beauty of the video and audio transfers on this DVD made me want to see how gorgeous Star Trek must look in high definition; and watching the old Kirk, Spock, and Bones on the small screen made me eager to check out the new Kirk, Spock, and Bones on the big screen.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 201 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated