Judge Ben Saylor lost Spock's brain again. Don't tell Bones. He just finished putting it back in.
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 Two (Remastered) (published August 22nd, 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.
Headin' out to Eden, yea, brother!
Paramount completes its round of Star Trek double dipping with the release of Star Trek: The Original Series—Season 3 Remastered. In it, along with updated special effects and improved transfers, Paramount has provided lots of thoughtful changes, such as replacing phasers with walkie talkies (well, in this case communicators), replacing the music sequences in "The Way to Eden" with a CGI band and…I kid, I kid.
Unfortunately, all the digital gussying up in the galaxy can't cover up the fact that the third season of Star Trek is wildly uneven, a shadow of what preceded it. With the diminished involvement of creator Gene Roddenberry (who retained his executive producer credit but left the Paramount lot to pursue other projects), slashed budgets, an unfavorable Friday night time slot when the show's key viewers were either in bed or out and about, along with more than a few questionable creative decisions, Star Trek limped its away into cancellation, thus setting the stage for…well, you know the rest.
Still, the story of Star Trek's third season is not completely one of gloom and doom. There are still treasures to be found in the third year of the starship Enterprise's curtailed cruise. The real question is whether this remastered set is worth the upgrade for fans who dutifully purchased the initial 2004 release of this season.
Facts of the Case
Season 3 of Star Trek finds Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner, Boston Legal) still leading his loyal crew, including first officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers), chief medical officer "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley, The Law and Jake Wade) and chief engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan, Pretty Maids All in a Row), as the U.S.S. Enterprise explores the cosmos on behalf of the United Federation of Planets.
The 24 episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series—Season 3 Remastered are spread out over six discs in the following order:
As my colleague Judge Bill Gibron lamented in his thoughtful analysis of the remastered Season 2 of Star Trek, with a show that has been written about, debated and discussed as much as Trek, it's not easy to add something new to the conversation decades after the show first hit the airwaves. I have the added deficit of not being what one might call a hardcore Trek fan; it's not that I have anything against the series or its successors, I just haven't seen as much of the show as I would like. And upon viewing these episodes, I find that I don't have anything particularly earthshaking or revelatory to say about Season 3; common opinion is that this is the worst season of the original series, and based on what I've seen of the three seasons, this analysis appears to be correct.
Season 3 of Star Trek is a mixed bag creatively, one filled with episodes good, bad, and ones that are just sort of, "meh." Without the steadying influence of Roddenberry, Trek flounders, taking the show's characters in bizarre and ill-advised directions and frequently sacrificing the serious, intelligent-minded plots of the first two seasons for sillier, more experimental narratives that undermine the spirit of the show. To provide a somewhat more fleshed out example of the season's good/bad tendencies, here are a few episodes I enjoyed, and some others that I didn't.
"For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky"—This episode gives McCoy a moment in the sun, as he falls for a beautiful woman named Natira (Katherine Woodville). Unfortunately, Natira is a resident of Yonada, which is believed by its inhabitants to be a planet but is in fact a massive spaceship on a collision course with an actual, inhabited planet. As with "The Enterprise Incident," this episode has both an interesting plot and allows the actors (particularly Kelley, of course) to shine.
"The Tholian Web"—I'm guessing this episode is frequently cited as one of the best of the series due to its pitting of Spock and McCoy against one another. While this duel of personalities was certainly nothing new to the series, it's done really well in this particular episode.
"Turnabout Intruder" is even worse, partially because it's the last episode of the season-and, therefore, the last of the series-but also because the story is so absurd. In this episode, a former flame of Kirk's named Janice Lester (Sandra Smith) switches bodies with Kirk because she's angry with him for leaving her and is also tired of being a woman. Yup, it's basically a "Freaky Friday" Star Trek with a generous helping of feminine self-loathing. Lester's idiotic scheme of assuming command of the Enterprise with no one on the ship being the wiser, of course, fails, although not for the reason I was expecting. My assumption was that the crew would ask some simple questions of "Kirk" that only he would know and that the jig would be up (inexplicably, no one thinks to do this), but what actually happens is that the transfer of bodies only works for a finite period of time, and the bodies switch back before Lester can destroy Kirk and make the transformation complete.
"The Way to Eden"—I guess I can't be too hard on this episode, as it helps explain what was previously an obscure reference in the movie Free Enterprise. But that revelation aside, this episode has the Enterprise taken over by hippies. That's right, hippies. I don't know what it says about Starfleet when the crew of a starship can be overpowered simply by being distracted by crummy folk music. It's of some amusement that of all the crew, it is Spock who understands these people best, but overall, this episode is an embarrassment.
Still, in the episodes already mentioned and others that haven't, the virtues of Star Trek—namely, its thoughtful approach to serious issues, are still present. One example is "Let This Be Your Last Battlefield," where a being with a face that is half-black and half-white is trying to kill another being with a half-black and half-white face—only the position of the colors is reversed. While the manner of communicating the episode's point-that racism and prejudice in general are absurd-is rather blunt, it's nonetheless effective, as is the episode's ending, where the two beings (one of whom is played by Frank Gorshin) return to their planet to find that they are the only inhabitants left-everyone else has killed each other. Other key "message" episodes from this season include "Day of the Dove," where the Enterprise and a group of Klingons must put aside their differences in order to defeat an entity that thrives on feelings of hate, and "Spectre of the Gun," which sees Kirk, McCoy, Spock, Scotty and Chekov trapped in a reenactment of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral-with the Enterprise crew assuming the role of the Clanton gang. It turns out the exercise is a test by the Melkotian race to determine if the Federation is a peaceful or aggressive entity. This episode is an example of how Trek was operating under diminished budgets during this season; the Western sets are very minimalist, which actually works in the episode's favor in terms of establishing an eerie atmosphere. This season is also notable for having T.V.'s first interracial kiss, between Shatner and Nichelle Nichols, on "Plato's Stepchildren."
Again, none of this is likely to come as news to the diehard Trekker, so without further ado, let's discuss the DVD itself, shall we? I don't own the original release of this season to compare it to, but these remastered discs boast outstanding video and sound quality. The image is clear and vibrant throughout, and the Dolby 5.1 tracks render everything from Alexander Courage's theme music to the sounds of opening/closing on the Enterprise in crystal clear sound. The packaging, however, differs from that of the original Season 3 release. While the red color scheme is retained, the shape of the outer case is different and, annoyingly, there is no disc art for these seven DVDs. In addition, instead of an insert booklet, we get four plastic cards with episode titles and airdates printed on the back of each one.
Like the previous remastered seasons, this Season 3 DVD also comes with digitally enhanced special effects (again, I haven't seen the earlier release to compare, but much of the changes/additions seem to have been made to exterior shots of the Enterprise, other vessels and planets), which is where a schism might appear among those mulling a purchase of this set. I respect the opinion of purists, but the way I see it is this: If Roddenberry and co. had had the means to make these episodes look as good as they do now with modern technology, I'm guessing that's what they would have done. It really doesn't hurt the integrity of the show, and if you're nostalgic for Trek's dated elements, there are still plenty of goofy costumes and Spartan sets to sate you.
In terms of extras, most (but not all) of the special features from the original release have been ported over to this edition. The text-only commentaries for "The Savage Curtain" and "Turnabout Intruder" have been dropped, as well as a production art gallery and (as far as I know) the easter egg "Red Shirt Files." This still leaves a lot of content, leading off with the third installment of home movies from frequent Trek extra Billy Blackburn. Next, we have "'To Boldly Go…' Season Three," a 22-minute featurette on, well, the third season, with interviews with Nimoy, Shatner, prominent Trek fan/author Bjo Trimble, George Takei, co-producer Robert Justman, Walter Koenig and Nichols. This is one of the only featurettes on the set to specifically discuss the third season, making it well worth watching. After that we have "A Star Trek Collector's Dream Come True," where model and miniature designer John Long explains how his interest in Trek props led to a career in designing props for film and television. The next three featurettes are interviews with Koenig, Doohan and Takei. Of the three, Takei's segment is by far the best, as he combines memories of the series with his involvement with the Japanese American National Museum. Following these, there is "Star Trek's Impact," a nine-minute chat with Roddenberry's son Eugene where he shares his thoughts on his father's creation. After this we get the second longest featurette (and the first of two new extras on this release), "Collectible Trek," where Long, Eugene Roddenberry and others discuss the world of Star Trek collecting. Finally, there is a nine-minute tribute to Justman (also new to this release), with interviews with Nimoy, Denise and Michael Okuda, Doug Drexler and David Gerrold. In addition, each episode comes with a corresponding preview.
Overall, while it's possible that more knowledgeable fans of the show will be able to get more out of these extras, from where I'm sitting these featurettes are just okay, and most don't have much replay value. My chief complaint is that most of them don't discuss the third season specifically.
Anyway, I've saved the best extras for last. The Season 3 DVD also comes with two versions of the original pilot for Star Trek entitled "The Cage." As Trek fans know, "The Cage" starred Jeffrey Hunter as Capt. Christopher Pike, who is tricked into traveling to the planet Talos IV, where he is imprisoned by the planet's telepathic, superintelligent inhabitants. Besides the presence of Pike and absence of Kirk, there are some other interesting differences between "The Cage" and the Trek that would follow it; on "The Cage," Pike's first officer is a woman (played by Majel Barrett, a.k.a. Nurse Chapel, a.k.a. Mrs. Roddenberry) and is called Number One (which didn't resurface again until The Next Generation). In addition, Spock's hair is different, and Nimoy's portrayal of the character is much more emotional.
Of course, "The Cage" was not picked up, and a second pilot was commissioned. Not wanting to waste the costly footage of "The Cage," the brilliant two-part "The Menagerie" was eventually created combining new footage with clips from the unused pilot. (Here's a question: Why is "The Cage" included on Season 3's DVD, when "The Menagerie" aired during Season 1?) On this DVD, two versions of "The Cage" are included. The first is in color and runs 63 minutes. The second version runs several minutes longer and has black and white and color footage, along with an introduction by Roddenberry. For the all-color version, an effect at the beginning of the episode where the camera pushes forward to the Enterprise, moving right onto the bridge, has been improved, making for a very cool effect.
If you're a Trekker, you already have your opinion on the third season of Star Trek, and probably already own it on DVD. Is this worth the upgrade? Not having seen the original release, it's hard for me to say. Since there's little difference when it comes to the extras on both, it really comes down to your level of satisfaction in the picture and sound quality of what you already have.
A hung jury on the episodes themselves, but despite lackluster extras this set is free to go for outstanding technical merits. Live long, and pass the popcorn.
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