Paramount's Star Trek - the Compendium - offers a bit of new and a lot of old
By Jim Bray
While it could be viewed as merely yet another dip into Trekkies' wallets, Parmount's new boxed set of the two Star Trek "reboot" movies at least offers some new stuff for fans to enjoy.
Okay, that's probably more true for the new treatment of the second film, "Star Trek Into Darkness," which offers the IMAX version of the film for the first time on video - but the four disk set also offers abundant extras that are actually pretty neat - if you haven't seen them already in the previous releases.
The set, which hit stores on September 9th, includes four Blu-ray discs, two of which contain the movies and two of which offer the abundant extras (though most of the stuff was available on the films' initial Blu-ray release). You also get codes that let you get digital HD versions of both films via Paramount's Ultraviolet process, by which you surf by their website (or iTunes), enter a code, and then - bam! - the movie downloads to wherever you want to save it. On the other hand, when I tried the website version Star Trek's page wouldn't come up, though the Into Darkness page worked fine.
The Compendium also offers some new stuff for Into Darkness, including some new featurettes and a gag reel, but it's the IMAX stuff I wanted to see - and it may be worth Trekkies (sorry, "Trekkers!" Geez…) time if they have an extra forty bucks or so burning a hole in their pockets. The IMAX version works much like the Blu-rays of The Dark Knight and its sequel, in that the whole film wasn't shot in IMAX and therefore the aspect ratio jumps around as the film unfolds. The IMAX scenes fill the HD screen completely, whereas the "conventional" widescreen parts of the film appear in their native 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
In theory, this might sound like it'll be obtrusive when they switch from "letterboxed" to "full screen," but since it usually happens during big shots and action scenes, your attention tends to be focused more on the action than the screen itself and many people may not even notice it.
One thing you don't get with The Compendium is the 3D version of Into Darkness. And that's a shame, because as much of a 3D denier as I am, the movie looked very cool that way. So if 3D is important to you, you'll have to buy that version separately or, knowing Paramount, wait for the next inevitable release that will probably incorporate the third dimension and the IMAX version...
Star Trek, the reboot, is a remarkable film that brought the moribund franchise back from the dead and gave it a fresh coat of paint (and, as is apparently director J. J. Abrams' wont, far too many lens flares). In my never humble opinion, it was the best of all the Trek movies to date, introducing us to the familiar cast from The Original Series (and the first six movies). But rather than reuniting them one more time it brings them together for the first time, back when they were youngsters, before they eventually sally forth on the first adventure aboard the brand new starship Enterprise.
So, really, it's an origin tale, much like the first cinematic outings of Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Spider-man, Hulk, etc. And to me, the origin stories have been the best of the respective series (well, maybe not Hulk), with the subsequent adventures (sequels) not being as good.
That happens here, too, in The Compendium. Star Trek is terrific. I love how the cast comes together and the story is first rate - and the fact that J. J. Abrams and his little friends decided to alter the timeline meant they opened up a whole new universe of potential stories for Star Trek.
Then they blew it with Into Darkness. The second movie starts off great, but after about an hour it peters out, changing from a fresh and highly entertaining story into a tired rehash of an old TV episode and an old Trek movie. And it's a shame, because it didn't have to be that way. In fact, a minor rewrite (and some trimming of the end) could have saved the movie and continued the franchise as it boldly went where it hadn't gone before. But no! Once the bad guy reveals his true identity, you can pretty well shut off the disc because you've seen it all before (though slightly differently - and better), except that you'll want to stick around for the action and special effects, which are top notch.
It's a shame. They had successfully rebooted the series and sent it off in a fresh, new direction, then haul themselves back to where they'd gone boldly before.
Still, the Blu-rays for both movies look and sound fantastic. Both, of course, are offered in 1080p with lossless sound and Paramount has done a fine job. Well, the first movie's transfer appears to be the same as the original Blu-ray's (right down to some now-old trailers at the beginning), so if you already have that version there's not a lot to be gained from The Compendium unless you really want the IMAX version of Into Darkness.
I also watched both films up converted to "fake" 4K (Ultra High Definition) via OPPO Digital's great BDP-103D Darbee edition universal network 3D Blu-ray player hooked into a 58 inch Panasonic 4K smart TV and they looked even better! Regardless of whether you watch it up converted or in 108p, however, the picture for both films is sharp and clean, with rich color and just the right amount of grain to give a nice, film-like impression. Likewise, the audio rocks, with tight bass and clean middle and high frequencies, and the low frequency effects channel (a.k.a. your subwoofer) will rattle the stuff on your walls if you let it.
And even though the extras are mostly recycled, there's still plenty of interesting stuff about both films. I particularly enjoyed the first film's stuff, which even uses branching technology to let you jump out of a featurette temporarily to pursue a sub-topic such as "The Shatner Conundrum" (why wasn't Shatner in Star Trek, since Nimoy was?). They cover many aspects of the production - casting, design, special effects, and the like, and watching them you can see clearly that these folks weren't just trying to make Star Trek, but rather they wanted to make a great Star Trek - and succeeded.
There's also a really nifty "enhanced commentary" on the Star Trek Into Darkness disc, a great idea that actually adds about half an hour to the movie's running time because the "commentors" pause and rewind the film in places and even use a TV sports-type telestrator to illustrate better how certain things were done, or where the seams between live action and digital are hidden. It's mostly fascinating.
The box itself mounts the discs in a way that makes it hard to access the supplement discs without taking out the movie discs first, which is a bit of a pain.
Paramount has a long history of multiple dipping titles it thinks it can wring a little more cash out of - and judging by how often they do it it must work. And that's basically what's happening with Star Trek The Compendium. If you don't own the films already and don't care about a lack of 3D for the second film, it's a worthwhile investment. Ditto for folks who want the IMAX version of STID that was unavailable previously, or who are collectors of all things Trek (for which I'm sure Paramount and its shareholders are extremely grateful). However you slice it, and whichever versions you get, both movies - especially the first - are worthwhile entries in your home theater as well as being good demo discs with which to amaze and impress your family and friends.
Speaking of 4K, as mentioned above, it looks as if Blu-ray is going to embrace the new standard as soon as next year. According to a piece at C-Net, the Blu-ray Disc Association said the first 4K Blu-ray players should hit the market by the Christmas shopping season of 2015. This, of course, means you'll have to shell out for a new player (and a 4K TV) but having seen 4K I'd love to see some native content, which the report says will also offer dramatically improved color as well as enhanced detail.
C-Net made no mention of pricing or availability of titles (of which there are virtually none so far) but if nothing else it would let Hollywood release its new stuff - much of which is mastered at 4K already for home video - in the higher quality. As for existing inventory, well, I imagine there'll be trips back to the well by all studios here as (or if) they perceive a few new bucks from folks who've probably bought their library numerous times already, from beta to VHS, to laserdisc, to DVD, HD DVD and finally Blu-ray.
The buzz for the past couple of years has been all about streaming media content and how it's going to kill physical media, but I believe there are many people who, like me, prefer to have a physical copy of their movies. Not only will they outlast a hard drive crash, but they (at least so far, with Blu-rays' quality) still offer the best picture and sound experience you can get in the home theater.
Copyright 2014 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.