Judge Adam Arseneau's Captain's Log is [blurb removed due to unsuitable content by the editor].
"Darmok and Jalad…at Tanagra!"
Admitting to being a Star Trek fan is akin to loudly proclaiming in public about your venereal disease. Traditionally, one does not go around announcing it or using it as an opening line to attract the opposite sex. It is a private matter, one for which there is usually no cure. Once infected, you are stuck with the affliction, whether you choose to acknowledge the geekery openly or not. You just live with it.
I could tell you that I am no longer infected. Also, I sleep on a large pile of money with many beautiful women every night. Really, I do!
Facts of the Case
Continuing in the tradition of Paramount's Fan Collective series (Star Trek Fan Collective: Klingon, Star Trek: Fan Collective: Borg, Star Trek: Fan Collective: Q, Star Trek: Fan Collective: Time Travel) comes Star Trek: Fan Collective: Captain's Log, a collection of fan-selected episodes revolving around a central theme—in this case, episodes which focus on the role of the captain, personifying the best qualities from each of the five Enterprise captains over the years: James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), and Jonathan Archer (Scott Backula).
This time, Paramount has thrown in a twist: in addition to fan selections, each of the legendary actors were allowed to select their personal favorite episodes, making Captain's Log the authoritative collection of captain-related Star Trek episodes.
Three episodes from each series are included on this five-disc set—two fan-selected, and one selected by the appropriate captain, listed below:
Disc One: Star Trek: The Original
Series • "The City on the Edge of Forever"
• "The Enterprise Incident"
• "Balance of Terror"
Disc Two: Star Trek: The Next
Generation • "In Theory" (Captain's Pick)
• "Chain of Command, Part I" / "Chain of Command,
Disc Three: Star Trek: Deep Space
Nine • "Far Beyond the Stars" (Captain's Pick)
• "What You Leave Behind" (feature-length cut)
• "In the Pale Moonlight"
Disc Four: Star Trek: Voyager
• "Counterpoint" (Captain's Pick)
• "The Omega Directive"
Disc Five: Enterprise • "Judgment"
• "These Are the Voyages…"
• "First Flight"
Clearly targeting the casual Trek fan—the ones whom have yet to be snared by Paramount's massive net of Star Trek DVDs—Captain's Log is by far the most wide-reaching and appealing Fan Collective set yet. Spanning all five series without confining the episode choice to a particular theme, genre, or alien race (Klingons, Q, the Borg, time traveling, etc.) the episode selection in Captain's Log is united only by the high quality of episodes picked for inclusion in this set. This broad appeal makes the set a deviously attractive purchase for those holdout Trek fans that have not made the massive MSRP commitment into Star Trek DVD ownership. Such people would include this Judge. Those things are @#$% expensive!
The most noticeable gimmick that sets this set apart from its peers is the selection of episodes from the "captains" themselves: William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, and Scott Backula, with each offering a video opening explaining their selections. For fans, this is an insanely cool feature, having the actors themselves participate in the process; but realistically, their opinions are no more relevant than anyone else on the subject of "definitive" episodes. Personal interpretation is a wild and many-headed beast, after all. Still, it is clear that Paramount went out of their way to involve the actors in the process of creating this set, and it is sure to set the hairs on many a Trekkie's neck standing erect. Hopefully just the hairs.
Obviously, trying to summarize 40 years of Star Trek impact on television and popular culture would probably eat up a few hundred thousand words or so, so I shall abstain here. Covering all five series in detail would keep me writing for a solid week, and is no doubt unnecessary for fans interested in Captain's Log. Trekkies are born, not made, after all. With four decades worth of material to draw from, I'm fairly satisfied with Captain's Log and the choices made by fans here. After all, nothing short of a perfect omnibus will satisfy the die-hard fan; but for people like me, this gives me just enough Trek to whet my appetite for more. Overall, fans and captains alike made great choices with this set.
Star Trek: The Original Series fans, arguably the hardest core Trekkies should have little to complain about here. Shatner's episode choice, arguably the most famous Star Trek episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever" (penned by prolific sci-fi scribe Harlan Ellison) is something of a no-brainer—this is science fiction at its finest, pure and simple, and needs little introduction. It's the one where the Nazis took over the world, for Pete's sake. "The Enterprise Incident" and "Balance of Terror," both Romulan episodes, are also fine choices for Kirk. The Romulans, after all, were conceived of to give Kirk a worthy adversary to flex his muscles against, playing off Cold War anxieties of unknown enemies maneuvering in the dark, standing on the precipice of all-out war. We get Shatner at his most dramatic—well, more dramatic than normal—outwitting his opponents with the swagger and confidence that defines his character.
Next Generation fans fared well, with "Chain of Command," definitely one of the most masterful episodes in terms of sheer acting by Patrick Stewart, especially in the second part. Imprisoned and tortured by the Cardassians, the two-part episode is as gripping and psychologically troubling as Star Trek ever dared get. The second fan-selected episode, "Darmok," is a classic, stranding Picard on a planet with an alien whose language the Universal Translator cannot make heads or tails of. The two struggle to work together in the face of a mysterious creature attacking, eventually learning that the alien language consists entirely of metaphor. I am particularly fond of this episode myself—for me, it represents all that the Next Generation's captain was about, in all of his non-Kirkness. It certainly could be the most academic episode ever produced by Star Trek, especially by linguists. Unfortunately, Stewart's episode choice, "In Theory," is the one ugly duckling in this set, and fails to fit in any way, shape or form (more on this later).
The Deep Space Nine selections are all solid. "In The Pale Moonlight" is a perfect Captain-centric episode, with Sisko struggling under the weight of command and making morally reprehensible episodes for the greater good, essentially murdering and tricking the Romulans into war for the good of the Alpha Quadrant. "Far Beyond The Stars," Avery Brooks's choice, is probably the most morally conscious Deep Space Nine episode produced, where Sisko experiences visions of being a black science-fiction writer in 1953. We get to see the cast sans-makeup, playing different roles, in a brain-bending episode about race, morality, and the evolution of human culture. Brooks himself got to direct the episode, which scores double points by my count. As for the series finale, "What You Leave Behind," I understand its inclusion, but I never felt the finale to be entirely satisfying. To me, it never quite did justice to Deep Space Nine and rushed a lot of the subtle political elements carefully nurtured over the years in the Dominion War. Still, Sisko does kick a lot of ass.
As for the Enterprise and Voyager episodes…well, I was never too much of a fan personally, beyond the obligatory ogling of Jeri Ryan and Jolene Blalock. For Voyager, I can get behind "The Omega Directive," a paranoid and fun ride through top-secret Starfleet manifestos and ultimate weapons of destruction. "Flashback" makes total sense as a fan-selected Captain-centric episode, because you get two Captains for the price of one: Janeway and a cameo by George Takei reprising his Sulu character as captain of the Excelsior—serious nerd fodder here. As for "Counterpoint," I'm not sure what the appeal was for Mulgrew to select it. To me, it is an average, mediocre Voyager episode (one of many, har har).
Mr. Quantum Leap, Scott Backula selects "Judgment" as his favorite Enterprise episode; the tense Klingon courtroom drama that gives us deep insight into the state of the Klingon Empire years before Kirk ever beat one up. I'd be more interested in it if it wasn't such a re-hash of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The two fan picks are solid choices, including the series finale "These Are the Voyages," which ends the series on a bang, albeit a slightly controversial one. Hardcore Enterprise fans were dismayed at the heavy screen time given to cameos by Riker and Troi, but the point is moot, since there weren't enough of them to keep the show on the air anyway. Zing! Me, I liked the selection of "Final Flight," giving us a peek back into Archer's competitive past and the early development of Warp travel, but I was a bit surprised to see no episodes from the Xindi super weapon run in the third season. Those were the only Enterprise episodes that caught my interest, personally.
The technical presentation, as with all Paramount Star Trek titles, is tight. Having all appeared on previous DVDs in one form or another, these appear to be simple re-released presentations, with no additional re-mastering. All are presented in their native full screen, except Enterprise, which was shot in and presented here in a 1.78:1 ratio. Star Trek: The Original Series episodes (the original versions, not the newly created digitally re-mastered episodes recently shown in syndication) are fantastic, with vibrant primary color tones and impressive detail. Some grain and damage are noticeable, especially during the overly grainy space travel sequences, but for their age, the restoration work is nothing short of incredible. Next Generation and Deep Space Nine episodes have rich black levels, nice color saturation, and acceptable sharpness, but some anti-aliasing is noticeable at times; the fidelity is good, but not quite up to spec one might expect. Some restoration work here would go a long way. Voyager episodes have impressively deep black levels but a surprising amount of noticeable grain, compression artifacts, saturated, bleeding reds, and anti-aliasing, making them the worst of the bunch. Enterprise, on the other hand, looks impeccable: shot in wide screen, deep black levels, natural colors, razor-sharp detail, and not a single noticeable visual defect, compression artifact, or speck of grain. Amazing what a few years can do!
All episodes are presented in both 2.0 stereo and a 5.1 Surround track. Without exception, the surround tracks are the way to go; nice balanced bass, fantastic ambient and environmental distribution (especially during combat or space battle sequences), and clear dialogue. The Original Series episodes do fairly well in surround, but a bit superfluous; the rear channel distribution often sounds forced. A bit of a quirk: a Spanish 2.0 track is available for all the episodes, but only half the Deep Space Nine and none of the Enterprise episodes get the secondary Portuguese 2.0 track. Weird.
On supplementary material, all five captains sat down and recorded interviews, sliced into featurettes scattered over all five discs. The Captain-selected episodes all include introductions by the respected actor or actress, discussing the importance of the episode to them and why they included it. In addition, a large portion of the fan-selected episodes get the video introduction as well, but not all of them. We get a few minutes here and there with each actor on a wide variety of subjects—some examples include "The Importance of 'The Captain's Log'," "What Makes a Good Captain?," "Playing a Captain," and so on. Each actor discusses their character in-depth, the social commentary of Star Trek, fond reminiscences about cast and crew, directing (for those lucky enough to get the chance to) and so on. William Shatner's video introduction for "City on the Edge of Forever" includes a guest appearance by actress Joan Collins, who starred alongside Shatner. Nothing too earth-shattering here, especially for those who already have complete sets of Star Trek. Each featurette only amounts to a minute or two, with no "play all" feature, and can be difficult to keep track of, spread across all five discs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As solid as the overall selections made for Captain's Log may be, some of the selections are obtuse, if not downright silly. "Definitive episodes" is a subjective term, I realize, but some, like Patrick Stewart's pick, "In Theory," are just asinine. That's a Data episode, by gum, and this is a Captain's omnibus, and I don't care who directed it! (On the video intro, Stewart freely admits the episode is his favorite because it was his directorial debut, blah blah blah.)
And what, TNG's "The Inner Light" nowhere to be found? If there's a Picard episode better, I don't want to hear about it. And forget the series finale of Deep Space Nine—me, I would have rather seen "Past Tense," where Sisko goes back in time and inadvertently messes up the civil rights movement in 2024.
Oh crap, hold on—my nerd is showing. Ah, there we go. Forget I said anything.
Tantalizingly tempting for those who have yet to purchase any of the Star Trek series on DVD, Star Trek: Fan Collective: Captain's Log is probably the most universally appealing of the Collective sets, making them great for casual collectors or fans. I must admit; Paramount did a very nice job with this set.
Unfortunately, for the truly die-hard fans, the supplementary material included on these discs alone hardly justifies the purchase of this DVD, assuming that you already own said episodes on the dozens of other Paramount Star Trek releases on the market over the last few years. If you're a Trekkie, you probably do. It may not technically be a double-dip, but these Fan Collective collections definitely nibble the edges.
Damn you, Paramount, for making my venereal disease flare up again.
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