All Judge Eric Profancik needs now is some Star Trek Underoos and his collection will be complete.
Animation, the final frontier.
Any regular reader of this site will know that I'm an avid Trekkie. I love the franchise, and it's something into which I stake quite a bit of time and passion. You may find it interesting to learn that I have never seen the entirety of Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS). I do have the vaguest recollection of seeing bits and pieces when I was a boy—or maybe I did see much more and just can't remember it (or blocked it out)—yet I've never had the slightest inclination to want to see it in its entirety. That should sound odd to you, but since TAS isn't officially considered canon and that I don't consider it canon, I just didn't care about this little hiccup of a show. Besides that, I'd heard the consensus that the show wasn't all that good.
Yet when TAS was announced and its release inched closer, I figured I'd finally see the series. Whether I was lucky enough to review it for The Verdict or whether I had to buy it myself, I was going to add it to my collection. There was absolutely no way that this show would not sit alongside the other 28 seasons and ten movies in my vast Trek DVD collection.
Facts of the Case
Space, the final frontier…
When you're cancelled after three seasons, how much more exploring can you do? Having that two-year gap to fill, somebody decided to create a low budget animated show to continue the bold adventures of James T. Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Perhaps that way it can be said that the historic five-year mission was finished, boldly going where no live-action man has gone before.
The Animated Series, or The Animated Adventures if you prefer a more dramatic title, debuted in 1973 and officially made it to a second season. Twenty-two episodes were drawn and aired on NBC until somebody lost interest or stopped giving Roddenberry money. Those stories are:
• "Beyond the Farthest Star
Let me just briefly touch on two subjects of note about this series: First, everyone except Chekov "appears" in the series. Walter Koenig did contribute to the series, penning fan favorite "The Infinite Vulcan" (also becoming the first star to write an episode for the franchise). Second, while it is not considered canon, there are many items in the show that have gone on to become canon or semi-fact like Kirk's middle name of Tiberius, the holodeck, tribble predators, Captain April being the first commander of the Enterprise, and so forth. Of course that's no coincidence since the writing pool of the franchise is a touch on the shallow side.
You can readily find out much more about the series from the great link, er, Internet.
TAS often refers back to The Original Series. Simply looking at the titles gives you tribbles and Harry Mudd. But beyond that, there are continual references to the original 79 episodes. From one point of view, it's nice to show such strong continuity; on the other hand, it showed a lack of imagination seemingly so firmly tied to those tales. While "Shore Leave" was interesting the first time around—but has since been trumped by the planet Risa (in every subsequent series including Enterprise!)—did we need to go back to this planet?
Granted, the show did try many new ideas, working to continue to explore strange new worlds; sadly, many of these ideas failed for a variety of reasons. For example, the exploration of the center of the universe ("The Magicks of Megas-Tu") was boring and fell flat, new characters M'Ress and Arex were treated too casually without explanation, and some concepts were interesting but never fully developed (like Uhura taking command of the Enterprise in "The Lorelei Signal").
The vast majority of these stories are exceptionally dull and uninspired. Even Roddenberry confessed that this show was done just for the money. With that at the heart of this creation, it's hard to make a truly good show. And they didn't. But what specifically is wrong with the series? Just about everything:
• Weak Stories: It's never a good thing when a 23-minute story puts you to sleep at 7:30 in the evening. "The Magicks of Megas-Tu" truly did put me to sleep that early, and as it's on disc two (of four) I found it hard to muster up the strength to want to go back and keep watching. Not all of the stories are that bad, but even the best ones ("Yesteryear," "The Time Trap") in the series are merely average.
• Out of Character: It's not like there weren't 79 episodes to refer to when writing these new stories, so how is it that all of the characters are all a bit off? Kirk is not as aggressively and heroically confident as he should be, Spock is often far too emotional, and McCoy is simply far too pessimistic and unsympathetic. I often wondered why Deforest recited his lines because they were so terribly against his established character. It's hard to invest in a show when its characters are wrong.
• Bad Voice Acting: Though the bonus features state everyone came in and recorded together (at least once), it doesn't come across that way. Instead of interacting as a chorus, it sounds like a bunch of soloists. I don't recall anyone talking over anyone else; it was Kirk speaks then Spock speaks then McCoy speaks then Uhura speaks and so on. There wasn't any interaction between the characters, and that made it all feel like line recitation. Bolstering that was the voice acting itself, which was clearly uninspired and done without any emotion (and we're talking about more than just Spock). There was no passion, no true intent, or no force behind the words. The actors didn't seem to be in the role, perhaps because they couldn't visualize what was going on. It's a true skill to be a talented voice actor, and no one in this show excelled.
• Limited Voices: How many voices did Majel Barrett have to do? What about Nichelle Nichols? James Doohan? George Takei? No matter how they tried to disguise their voices, you could always tell it was Majel, Nichelle, or George (but Jimmy was good with the voices, at least). Hire some more people so you have some depth and variety in your ensemble. Hearing George pretending to be a Klingon just ruins the moment.
• Average Animation: Though there was no 3-D animation in the early 70s, this batch of 2-D is pretty average. No attempt was made to flesh out the details and create lush environments. Many shortcuts were taken to (what I presume) get the episodes finished. For example, I like to see my characters when they are running instead of black silhouettes of the character. Or, wouldn't it be nice to clean up the "matte lines" and dirt around the Enterprise as it goes through space? Shoddy, lazy animation just doesn't stand up to the test of time.
Moving on to the discs themselves, the packaging is great. Be warned, however, that the discs fit tightly inside the clamshell and any slight alteration can cause damage to the cardboard cover around the discs. The video and audio transfers are unspectacular. The video is clean with acceptable colors and detail (as it is). I didn't notice any transfer errors across the presentation. The audio does offer an interesting diversion by including the original mono mix and a new 5.1 Dolby mix. It came across very thin and hollow. Going to the original mono track afforded a richer, truer sound. And if you think the 5.1 will offer some semblance of surround sound, you would be incorrect.
This set does offer a nice assortment of bonus features, even though you may not at first notice them. The problem is that the discs don't have a special feature button. You have to go into each episode (or read the DVD labels) to see if it has any related bonus material. You'll miss all this if you use the available "play all" episode option. Included are:
• Audio Commentaries:
• Text Commentaries by Michael and Denise Okuda:
• Storyboard Gallery on "The Infinite Vulcan"
On the final disc are some "stand-alone" bonus items:
• "Drawn to the Final Frontier: The Making of Star Trek: The Animated Series" (24 minutes) is a good, overall review of the show, helping to properly place it in the franchise—albeit it with a bit too much self-congratulation.
• "What's the Star Trek Connection?" (5.75 minutes, broken down into 11 segments) shows ideas and characters and how they connect to the other shows in the franchise. It's too simple a summation.
• "Show History" is a text-based, quick and dirty rundown of the supporting characters voice work. You'll learn nothing.
I enjoyed the commentaries and the "making of" featurette, which led to me learning some new Trek trivia.
You'll also find preview trailers for Star Trek on DVD and The 4400 Season 2.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
We've had to wait too long for this series! Not limited by what you could practically do, the freedom of animation truly allowed the Enterprise to achieve the grandest of adventures. Exploring parallel universes, the center of the universe, miniaturized people, and supersized tribbles took the franchise to a big new frontier. Everything you ever wanted to see in The Classic Series is wonderfully realized in The Animated Series. The five-year mission has been completed, filling us with a sense of awe.
I will admit to a moment of excitement when I realized that this was Star Trek that I had never seen before. This was my last chance at seeing "new" episodes for who knows how many years. It is animated, but still "Trek," but then I watched it…It's true that The Animated Series has its moments and puts forth some interesting ideas, locales, and characters. But, in the grand scheme, it just doesn't work and doesn't quite fit with the established work of The Original Series.
In the end, I found myself thoroughly unimpressed with this series. As a result, I am not recommending this set except for those who have already seen the show and found something to like. For the casually curious, just pretend this one doesn't exist. That's what Roddenberry did when he bestowed official non-canon status.
Star Trek: The Animated Series is hereby found guilty of being a poor marksman and missing the mark.
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