Star Trek on Blu-ray
Making a new Star Trek movie is always a big risk, artistically if not financially, and it was especially so this time since the producers decided not to bring in any of the various series' casts, with one exception.
The record of Trek movies has been spotty at best with, arguably, only about two thirds of them being really good entries into the Star Trek catalog and fewer than that qualifying as classic Trek. The last movie, "Nemesis", was a "Next Generation" yarn that wasn't very good (though it had excellent audio and video quality on DVD) and the last TV series "Enterprise" appears to have more or less faded away.
You'd think that would send Paramount a message that the public had had enough Trek and that maybe, after some 40 years, it was time for the studio to find a new meal ticket.
Apparently not and, as it turned out, that's okay.
Making this particular Trek film wasn't just a big risk, it was a huge risk. This is mostly because not only is this a new Trek movie, it's an entirely new beginning based on the original Star Trek TV series from the 1960's. It features all the characters we've come to know and love from that series and its movies, at least as far as the protagonists are concerned. Okay, we don't get such semi-regulars as Nurse Christine Chapel or whatever the transporter chief's name was (yet), but the entire bridge crew and Scotty are all on hand, played by a new crew (no pun intended) of actors who weren't even born when Shatner, Nimoy and the rest boldly went where no man had gone before.
When we first heard Paramount was doing this version we were scared – us and, undoubtedly, millions of others. How could some kid play Shatner's Kirk without it descending into parody, and how could the rest of the cast recreate those roles without resorting to impersonation?
And how could they come up with a story that would be new, fresh and exciting while being true to the spirit and history of Star Trek?
Well, as you undoubtedly know by now, they've done it. In fact, we'll say confidently that 2009's Star Trek rebirth is the best Star Trek movie to date, a fine adventure and a true new beginning for the tired old franchise. We hope they keep it up through the inevitable sequel(s).
The first interesting wrinkle J. J. Abrams and his team came up with is to make this an "origin" story – like Batman Begins and the first Superman, Spider-man, X Men, Iron Man, et al movies. Origin stories are our favorites, not merely because they give insight into from whence a character came and what makes him tick but because they set the tone (often, unfortunately, ignored in subsequent outings) for the character's adventures and usually feature the most delicious of the hero's villains.
Studios seem to feel that sequels have to be bigger and better than the originals, with more spectacular action and better special effects. And while we have no problem with more spectacular action and better special effects, such parameters shouldn't be at the expense of the screenplay: as has been said, "If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage".
So it is with Star Trek, and it is definitely "on the page and on the stage". The story brings us the original crew before it was the original crew and shows us how they came to be the characters we know and love. And yet it's different: there are subtle differences to the Star Trek universe now and that gives the producers the freedom to mess around with a well known history that, thanks to a neat time travel wrinkle, is now wide open for interesting stories and situations - including the destruction of something you wouldn't have thought would be destroyed given the series' history.
All this means you don't have to worry about the script. It's classic Trek yet it's fresh and new, and it works beautifully.
Don't worry about the casting, either. They've done a fabulous job of bringing new actors to the old parts and we were pleased to wallow in the enjoyment of each and every one of them. Well, Chekov seemed a little over the top at times (and we thought it would be Kirk!), but only a little.
The chief pleasant surprises are Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban who, respectively, nail Kirk, Spock and McCoy perfectly. These aren't impressions but true characterizations, kind of like you'd expect from an actor portraying a real life historical figure. They knocked them out of the park.
Zoë Saldana makes a delicious Uhura, though her character is the most different from the classic Trek character. It's okay, though, and we look forward to seeing more of Saldana's Uhura.
We won't dwell on the story, which is by now well known. Let's get to the Blu-ray.
It's a three disc package that includes the movie with some special features, a second disc of extras, and a third disc that contains a digital copy and a game demo.
The movie is presented in 1080p at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and it looks glorious. The image is bright and sharp and clean, with pretty good depth. Colors are rich and the contrast is excellent. Star Trek isn't quite the reference quality of some Blu-ray discs we've reviewed, but it's close enough, and in all it's very enjoyable.
The audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and it's LOUD! It's also balanced beautifully throughout the speakers and envelops you in the environment very well as it uses all of the 5.1 channels to their best. It's the most enjoyable Star Trek soundtrack to date as well.
As for the extras, Paramount has really pulled out the stops and given us just about everything we could want. Not only do you get the usual commentary tracks, but you also get the folks behind the movie outlining their vision for a new Trek that's true yet fresh, and the challenges involved in pulling it off. There are also meaty features on the all-important casting, the designs of the ships, worlds and aliens, props and costumes, sound design and score.
That isn't all. There are deleted scenes, a tribute to Gene Roddenberry, gag reel, trailers and the like.
The D-A-C Game Trial is for XBox 360, which seems kind of silly for a Blu-ray presentation. Disc 3 is a DVD-ROM that doesn't work in the Blu-ray player (we tried it in a PS3) but supposedly does work on an XBox 360, which we don't have. When we put it into our PC's DVD-ROM drive we pulled up a screen with links to websites were you can buy PC and PS3 versions. So much for a free demo.
That's the only real fly in this ointment and we don't really give a damn about the game anyway.
We do give a damn about the movie and the Blu-ray, and Paramount (and J. J. Abrams and gang) have done a remarkable job. We hope the next kick at the Star Trek can is as good.
Star Trek, from Paramount Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.