Space, the final frontier! These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.
The landmark science fiction television series that spawned such a franchise and influenced so much that followed, Star Trek: The Original Series is now available to collectors on the finest technology but its overall presentation by the folks at Paramount is disappointing.
I wish I had the time to go into some more detail about the original series, but I'm going on vacation for a couple weeks and figure that most of you have at least a passing familiarity with Star Trek: The Original Series, where the Great Bird of the Galaxy (Gene Roddenberry) brought his "Wagon Train to the Stars" vision to life. If you don't, then please surf around on the links and discover this classic sci-fi series which spawned such an immensely profitable franchise and inspired so many writers and creative people to create their own science fiction.
So, for those of you who want to know about these two discs, let's get to "just the facts," as Joe Friday would say.
Volume 6 begins with "Miri," first aired on October 27, 1966. As is typical for the series, the major characters from the Starship Enterprise, namely Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and some expendable red-shirted security folks beam down in response to a distress signal. Naturally, they find that they have been exposed to a virulent plague that will kill them if they cannot find the cure. Complicating the situation is a gang of "children," who are in fact hundreds of years old, as the plague slows their aging process until they reach puberty, when it kills them as it threatens to do to the Enterprise crew. Kirk must keep the gang from interfering with the race to find the cure.
The second episode is "The Conscience of the King," where Kirk is forced to wrestle with his conscience when he suspects that an actor in a touring Shakespearean troupe is in fact a ruthless ex-governor and mass murderer named Kodos the Executioner. The pressure on Kirk to act mounts when he realizes that the small group of people who can identify Kodos (including Kirk!) is being murdered, one by one. The parallels to post-WWII Nazi hunting efforts are strong, and make the issues and poignancy of the emotions very real and haunting.
Volume 7 has "The Galileo Seven," where a shuttlecraft filled with all the major Enterprise officers (except Captain Kirk this time!) is lost while on a scientific exploration mission of a quasar-like phenomenon. The drama comes from the fact that Kirk can't simply search around until he finds his missing crew because the Federation High Commissioner (conveniently aboard on this mission) forces Kirk to place an arbitrary two-day limit on the search. Meanwhile, Spock, Chief Engineer Scott (James Doohan), Dr. McCoy, and a few assorted crewmembers must repair their battered craft and fight off attacks by terribly dangerous cavemen-type creatures, in the hope of finding the Enterprise before time runs out.
Next is "Court Martial," where a routine investigation into the death of a crewman becomes much more serious when Captain Kirk is accused of criminal negligence and willful perjury. Suddenly fighting for his professional life, Kirk finds the deck stacked against him in the form of a computer record and video that are compelling evidence of guilt. Spock and McCoy are certain of his innocence, but they are stumped by the computer, whose records cannot lie. Elisha Cook guest stars as Samuel T. Cogley, a defense attorney who is as passionate about real books as he is about his work, and the only man who seems willing to take up Kirk's cause in court. Twist and turns come rapidly as the verdict nears, when Kirk gets a fighting chance to clear his name and prove his innocence. A decent courtroom drama, and worth viewing just for Elisha Cook's excellent portrayal.
The colors are quite vibrant and much more saturated than I ever have seen for a classic episode. Sharpness is good, allowing us to see the actors literally sweat under the hot stage lights, with only a touch of aliasing on edges. Flesh tones seemed a tad orange on some actors at times, but this might be due to the greater color saturation and resolution of DVD showing the limitations of the makeup! The blacks are solid and shadow detail is adequate. For the deficiencies, see below.
The audio is a 5.1 remix of the original mono, and worthy of congratulations for Paramount. The sound gurus wisely decided not to try and make Star Trek: The Original Series into a full, energetic 5.1 mix that would stray so far from the original material as to make the end result a ludicrous failure. What you do get is a very intelligent use of the source material, with the center channel properly taking the lion's share of the work, but with appropriate directional effect in the front soundstage and use of the subwoofer for explosions, thumps, and the like. The rear surrounds are left quiet, except in the opening credits (for the Enterprise flybys) and occasional atmospheric support (such as the red alert klaxon as Kirk and Spock search for an overloaded phaser in "Conscience of the King.") This mix should be a reference for those who wish to remix a mono source into surround sound.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Considering that Star Trek: The Original Series is the crown jewel of the whole franchise, I would have thought that Paramount would want to make a good impression with its presentation of these discs. The artwork and use of the Amaray keep case are good points. However, Paramount seems to have forgotten that the point of releasing a TV series is for the consumer to collect it. Thus, the decision to put only two episodes on each disc is a poor one, particularly when the retail per episode cost is $10. Collecting the whole Star Trek: The Original Series will take more real estate than it should, but that's nothing compared to what a collector of the Next Generation series will face if Paramount releases that series in similar fashion! By comparison, the recent Avengers box set I reviewed put three episodes per disc with a retail per episode cost of $7.50.
Another disappointing factor is the state of the video transfer. The box brags that the picture is digitally enhanced and remastered, and it makes me wonder. Was the original source material in even worse condition, or did the people paid to enhance and remaster go embezzle the money? The transfer is replete with flecks of dirt, hairs, and highly visible film defects, such as long vertical scratches and for a short period in "The Galileo Seven" the left-side of the screen is suddenly far darker than it should be. The noticeable film grain, while not something that could be helped, certainly does not help the picture. Don't get me wrong, this is a vast improvement over broadcast TV and VHS, but I weep at what a full restoration could have accomplished.
For fans of the series, it's a no brainer, even with the limitations of the picture and only two episodes per disc. If you are not familiar with the original series, then you ought to see what started the whole franchise and rent these two discs.
Star Trek: The Original Series is acquitted and sent where no man has gone before! Paramount is found guilty and placed on probation, with the hopes it will reform itself with the Next Generation discs as they come to market.
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