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STAR TREK: ORIGINAL SERIES
Season One

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols
Creator:  Gene Roddenberry
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  1461 Minutes
Release Date:  August 31, 2004

“Space…the final frontier.”

Shows ****

For Trekkies, the world is a wonderful place.  Some of us have spent our entire lives basking in the glow of creator Gene Roddenberry’s original sci-fi vision, and the many wonderful fruits that have blossomed from that first seed over the last several decades.  From television to film and back again, from novels and comic books to conventions and outright fandemonium, Star Trek has enthralled us with its adventures, filled us with its sense of wonder and optimism, and filled our imaginations with all the possibilities our futures might hold for us.

Sometimes it seems like the family tree for Star Trek goes back a long way, but every once in a while, it’s definitely worth it to trace the roots back and take that proverbial trip back in time and remember how it all started.  Now, there’s no better way to do just that than with Paramount’s new box set of The Original Series: Season One.

Fans have clamored a long time for the original show to be brought to DVD in full season boxed sets, and now the folks on the mighty mountaintop have granted our wish.  This terrific 8 disc box set boasts all 29 first year episodes in broadcast order, with newly remastered 5.1 soundtracks and a bevy of extra features—more on those further down.

From the beginning, Star Trek would show television audiences a vision of science fiction never quite seen before.  From a simple premise—a starship and crew on a five year mission of exploration—would come a weekly foray into the unfamiliar with a group of people who soon became VERY familiar to fans. 

There was Captain James T. Kirk (Shatner), the brave leader, the first officer Mr. Spock (Nimoy), a Vulcan who prized logic over emotion, and the medical officer Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Kelley), a man whose gruff exterior never fully masked his kindly heart.  Then there was chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Doohan), communications officer Lt. Uhura (Nichols), and navigator Ensign Sulu (Takei).  This crew was unlike what audiences were used to seeing:  sexually and racially diverse and interacting in a time when skin color or sex was finally overlooked just the way Dr. King had envisioned.

And unlike many shows starting out, Star Trek didn’t seem to take long to find its footing.  Even later incarnations of Trek seemed to take a year or so to really come together, but the first season of the original series is peppered with some of the best individual episodes to ever come out of the Trek universe.  Who could ever forget good Kirk battling evil Kirk in “The Enemy Within”, featuring the introduction of Spock’s Vulcan neck pinch?  Or “The Naked Time”, where the crew loses control and even Spock’s unemotional façade crumbles?  How about the introduction of a once and future nemesis for Kirk named Khan (Ricardo Montalban) in “Space Seed” or the wild, unleashed fantasy of “Shore Leave”?

Two episodes in particular deserve mention, because they are my all time favorites:  the original series’ only two part episode “The Menagerie”, which incorporated footage from the original failed pilot “The Cage”.  In it, Spock commits an unthinkable mutiny in a chance to save his former commander Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter), now an invalid.  Spock’s future hangs in the balance as his trial examines the history of Pike and a strange planet that had been declared off limits by the Federation.  Over the course of the two parts, we learn the back story, and realize why Spock risked everything to return his former commander to that forbidden world.  It was a masterful way of turning a solid original pilot into something more…as always, Gene Roddenberry always found ways to move his visions into the future.

But the one standout episode in the entire history of all incarnations of Star Trek is the award winning “The City on the Edge of Forever”.  In it, an accidentally drugged and crazed McCoy beams down to a planet and finds a gateway to Earth’s past, where he does SOMETHING to alter the course of human history and thus threaten the existence of the Enterprise and her crew.  Spock and Kirk are forced to go back to depression era America ahead of McCoy and try to figure out what he does that changes the future and stop him.  It turns out to involve a remarkable woman, Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), who may have been the one woman in the scope of Star Trek to be really perfect for Kirk.  But when Spock pieces together the entire puzzle of the historical revision, it leads the captain to the most difficult and heartbreaking choice he’ll ever have to make.  I don’t mind saying when I first saw this episode as a kid, it brought me to tears.  Even now, it still has that effect.  Science fiction has rarely seen so high an apex.

These two episodes in particular really sum up everything that made Star Trek such a great show.  The premises were futuristic, yet grounded in very real substances that even we in the past could grasp, appreciate, and understand.  The stories were based in fantasy, yet steeped in pure human truths.  The tone was optimistic; it laid out for us a future to look forward to not because of technological advancements, but because of great leaps forward in the spirit of mankind.  Most of all, the crew was peopled with characters we could identify with and love, and as a result, their experiences became our experiences.

The show would run for two more years, going from time slot to time slot until the networks decided to pull the plug.  But as history would show, that was hardly the end of Star Trek.  A fan base would continue to grow from syndicated reruns until overwhelming popularity necessitated the resurrection of the Enterprise for more adventures on the silver screen.

Now that (reportedly) the final Trek movie has flickered away the possible last adventure of one of science fiction’s most enduring franchises, now is a perfect time to go back to the beginning and reminisce about how it all began:  a ship, a captain, a Vulcan, a doctor, a crew, a five year mission, and the enduring spirit and creativity of a man named Gene.  This primary season of the original series is an everlasting testament to his vision.

NOTE:  The episodes are organized according to original airdate, but are numbered according to the way they were filmed and originally presented to be aired…the pilot episode for example, was actually the third one aired instead of the first!

Video ***

Star Trek has held up pretty well over the years, and the new digital transfers from Paramount are a treat.  Colors are bright and vivid throughout and the overall prints were cleaned up nicely.  Some darker shots, i.e. outer space, show a bit more grain and aging effects than others, but at levels that are perfectly acceptable for a classic television show.

Audio **

The new 5.1 remixes are a nice touch, but not too gauche.  A few ambient sounds from behind and accentuated starship swooshing are the main touches.  For the most part, dialogue and action are focused on the front stage, and sound perfectly adequate for a nearly 40 year old season.

Features ***

The set contains an 8th disc of all bonus material, starting with the new documentary “The Birth of a Timeless Legacy”.  Cast and crew interviews, including some vintage footage of Roddenberry, shed light on how the show came to be, including a look at the original pilot “The Cage” and how Trek was reborn after its initial rejection.  “To Boldly Go” takes a closer look at the primary season.  The captain is featured on “William Shatner:  Life Beyond Trek”, while “Reflections on Spock” focuses on the Vulcan science officer.  “Sci-Fi Visionaries” features the many writers that made the show instantly great.  A photo log rounds out.

Included on the individual discs are the promo trailers for each show and some cool animated menus replicating the Enterprise bridge.  There is also text commentary on the pilot episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before” by Star Trek Encyclopedia authors Michael and Denise Okuda.  The packaging itself is also different than anything you’ve seen before in DVD, and quite cool. 

Oh, yes, look for some easy-to-find Easter eggs on the bonus disc for some “Red Shirt Log” remembrances!

Summary:

Star Trek boldly went where no TV show went before in its first season, and as a result, it brought fans some of the best material science fiction has ever had to offer.  This terrific 8 disc box set from Paramount is more than a chance to look back…it’s a chance to experience the birth of a phenomenon all over again like it was the first time.

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