Judge Bill Gibron has a hard time remembering his own painful episode of Pon farr.
Our reviews of The Best Of Star Trek: The Original Series (published May 12th, 2009), Star Trek: The Original Series: Season 1 (Blu-Ray) (published May 6th, 2009), Star Trek: The Original Series: Season 2 (Blu-Ray) (published September 16th, 2009), Star Trek: The Original Series: Season Three (Remastered) (published November 26th, 2008), Star Trek: The Original Series: Season One (published September 27th, 2004), Star Trek: The Original Series: Season Two (published November 2nd, 2004), and Star Trek: The Original Series: Season Three (published January 26th, 2005) are also available.
A Sci-Fi Classic Goes Digital—and George Lucas is Nowhere in Sight!
What is it, exactly, about Star Trek that continues to fuel our imagination? Why is it that a TV show that's over forty years old still finds a way to foster fandom and outright obsession the way few examples of science fiction have ever managed? There are lots of theories as to the series' endearing qualities—the camaraderie between the characters, the intelligence of the scripts, the attention to detail and preservation of myth, the counterculture/revolutionary spirit of its purpose, and the personalities involved. None of them really reflect the true reason why Trek continually takes on a life of its own. The answer is as obvious as a quick peek through the bells-and-whistles-laden 40th anniversary box set of the Star Trek: The Original Series: Season Two (Remastered). Tweaked to provide more digital bang for the fan's already burdened buck, the newly designed landscapes and effects cannot cover up the undeniable fact that, as an entertainment, Star Trek used friendship and the changing times to create a truly timeless work of art.
Facts of the Case
As many of you are aware, Star Trek broadcast 26 episodes during its second season on the air. Beginning on Sept. 15, 1967, and ending on March 29, 1968, the installments presented here are considered to be by many to be some of the show's best. Starting with a classic look at the life of a Vulcan and heading for a trip back in time to a world racked by nuclear proliferation, Gene Roddenberry and his staff of stellar writers really delivered this time around. Here are the specific storylines explored:
• "Amok Time"—Mr. Spock must return to Vulcan for
an important ritual, or die.
This is a hard review to write. Not because Star Trek doesn't deserve the reams and reams of analytical scholarship. Frankly, it seems more and more thoughts about the series and its impact appear every single day. Clearly, this new remastering job does warrant consideration. After all, when George Lucas similarly reconfigured Star Wars to meet his original creative goals, the fan base literally frothed. No, the reason this overview is hard to write is that there really is very little new to say about what Trek means to a modern audience. Those who love it swear by its mixture of technology and truth. Others see it as a dinosaur worthy of kitsch and camp laughter. In essence, we're either talking about TV's 2001 or another lame Lost in Space. So what does one do when faced with such a daunting task? How do they whittle down twenty-two hours into two thousand words? The answer, oddly enough, is perception. After spending a week with the crew of the Starship Enterprise, and revisiting episodes that have stayed in the memory for decades, providing personal insight into how these shows continue to inspire and intrigue may be the only viable critical commentary left.
Let's get the whole issue of the 40th anniversary update out of the way right up front. For the most part, the changes are minimal—the Enterprise looks better in its brand-new digital rendering. It still feels like the old familiar starship, but the antiquated appearance is smoothed out and more pleasing, visually. As for the rest of the "fixes," most have to do with revolving planets, interstellar creatures, and the occasional refashioned vista. A perfect example is Spock's return to Vulcan during "Amok Time." Instead of merely beaming onto the planet and entering the Kunat kalifee, we now get a magnificent shot of the planet's landscape, and a trip across as treacherous rock bridge. The final shot shows us the arena from the air. Then our heroes enter. There are a few more instances like these (ships leaving the Enterprise's docks, previously vague barriers given new, noticeable life), but for the most part, these alterations are less than intrusive. Most importantly, they don't take away from the original storylines. We don't get a case of "Spock Shot First" or the random insertion of unwarranted aliens into the frame.
Since the new material fails to lessen the impact of these shows, what's also clear is that what you bring to Star Trek more or less determines what you get out of it. If you come to it expecting lots of spectacular interstellar dogfights and nonstop mano y mano, you'll be gravely disappointed. There is very little action here, and what firefights there are seem over in a literal flash. Instead, Trek has always been about the battle of ideas, the war between logic and lunacy, rationality and the reactionary. Much of this comes from the time it was conceived. The United States was going through a major social crisis with the Civil Rights movement in 1967, the Establishment trying to defend four hundred years of direct (and indirect) indentured servitude. As a bright beacon of hope for the future, Trek took the high road on its many analogous stories. From the Cold War-like positioning of "The Omega Glory" to those interfering aliens the Klingons, the series' characters and stories speculated on how conflict could be averted by a strong defense, a cautionary offense, and a firm line of diplomacy. What with Vietnam waging thousands of miles away and urban centers burning under riotous rage, Trek promised a multi-cultural Federation capable of handling any issue with tact, tenacity, and the occasional photon torpedo.
Naturally, it was the interaction of people that supported such a political position, and if Star Trek can be thematically linked to a certain ideal, it's friendship. Roddenberry argued that alliances mixed with allegiances could conquer galaxies, and in each and every episode here we can see how these relationships turn the tide for our characters. At the center are Kirk and Spock. As the yin and yang of the Enterprise, its passion and its prudence, these two become the fulcrum for the crew's many successes (and a few failures). Whether they are battling it out for Spock's biological life or for some manner of old world Roman entertainment, they are pivotal to the show's impact. So are McCoy and Scotty. As the two outer edges of this paternalistic sandwich, our elder officers often come off as the more aggressive voices of reason/irrationality. It's interesting that both are men of science—one physical, one physics—and their added perspective helps in situations where Kirk and Spock become jangled or hardened in their approach. Finally, when you add in Chekhov and Sulu, Lt. Ohura, and various ancillary crew members, we have a vivid reminder that space and all its problems aren't going to be conquered by politics or probabilities. It will be people who command the stars.
Among favorite episodes here are the classic "evil" crew from "Mirror, Mirror" (complete with sinister facial hair) and the wicked malevolence of "The Doomsday Machine." Even though many Trek fans hate the hairy little devils, "The Trouble with Tribbles" is indeed iconic, as is the intriguing "The Gamesters of Triskelion." Sure, there are the slightly surreal journeys to Prohibition-era speakeasies and neo-Nazi futurism, but both "A Piece of the Action" and "Patterns of Force" have their moments. In fact, while an episode of Star Trek can occasionally miss the ambitions of its storyline, the show is rarely boring and always revelatory. Even if you aren't into the various alien mobilizations and machinations, you can always enjoy the pop art production design, frequent ham acting, and dialogue dripping with authentic-sounding space gobbledygook. Of course, those situations are so rare it requires repeat viewings to gather in all the potential interstellar goodness.
Finally, the writers here have to be mentioned. Though many contributors to Trek have argued over the amount of input creator Roddenberry had in the final scripts, it's clear that the initial outings represented some of the finest science fiction ever committed to a single show. Just look at the list of names here—Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, Norman Spinrad, Harlan Ellison, and DC Fontana, among many, many others. Their ideas and inspirations, their imprint on the series remains so vital and necessary that, some four decades later, it's clear why Trek remains the standard bearer of dramatic television. It took risks. It rewarded intelligence. It attempted to say something beyond the standard murder mystery setup or seedy soap opera-ish conventions. Of course, with all intricate dialogue and pontifications, it was sometimes possible to miss the big picture. That's why Star Trek is more important than perhaps any other science fiction effort except Star Wars. Unlike what Lucas wrought, it only continues to grow in importance and reputation.
Back to the tech specs for a moment. Again, those who worry that the "purity" of the series has been somehow sidetracked by the digital update really shouldn't be concerned. For the most part, the new material is flawlessly incorporated and doesn't announce its presence in an overly obvious way. Of course, once you've see the CG Enterprise, you'll never view the original as anything other than a really well-made model. Elsewhere, the full-screen images have been fully remastered and cleaned, colors brightened, and backgrounds made richer than in any previous DVD presentation. This is the best Star Trek has ever looked on the home video format, period. It far surpasses any other presentation. On the sound side, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes are pretty good. There is nice separation in the speakers, and the memorable musical score appears heftier and less tinny. Indeed, you often wonder if anything was "rerecorded," since some of the soundtrack feels that fresh.
As for added content, most of the material included here is ported over from the original 2004 Season Two box set. The most telling missing bonus feature is the text-based commentary tracks that offered trivia and other backstage insights into the Trek legacy. While they were a nice addition to the previous compilation, they are not really missed. Frankly, most text-based discussions usually aren't. As for the rest of the already released extras, we have the detail-oriented overview "To Boldly Go…Season Two," creative featurettes focusing on "Designing the Final Frontier," "Writer's Notebook: D.C. Fontana," and "Star Trek's Favorite Moments." There are also a collection of cast featurettes—"Life Beyond Trek: Leonard Nimoy," "Kirk, Spock, & Bones: Star Trek's Great Trio," and "Star Trek's Divine Diva: Nichelle Nichols," and a pair of Tribble-based bonuses—the episodes "More Tribbles, More Troubles" from Star Trek: The Animated Series and "Trials and Tribble-ations" from Deep Space 9 (with commentary). The sole original feature is "Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Features Part 2." As a noted extra and longtime member of the Trek production, Mr. Blackburn has a lot of interesting anecdotes and personal glimpses into what made the series tick. Together with the rest of the material and the new tech specs, this is a great way to experience classic Trek.
What's my own personal perspective? I was in my early teens when I originally discovered and became fixated on Trek. I would come home from school, wander into my parent's basement bar/family room, pull up a chair, and wait until 4pm Then, the elusive charms of the Starship Enterprise and its unusual crew would carry me out of my Indiana home and into a world of galactic possibilities. It remained a fascination all the way through college, where daily dorm room powwows produced the occasional recreational pharmaceutical and the usual debates over most/least effective monster/villain. Over the years, throughout the various permutations and new "generations," the original Trek remains something very significant to me. Not just because it entertained and educated me, or because it opened an entire universe of speculative fiction that I enjoy to this day. No, Star Trek: The Original Series remains important because of what it said about the '60s, and about the compassion and concern people had for each other back then. It's something no current show could recapture. That's why Star Trek remains legend. That's why it deserves its timeless reputation.
Not guilty; the new remaster looks amazing, and the shows hold up quite well indeed.
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Scales of Justice
• "To Boldly Go...Season Two"
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