Director J.J. Abrams’ global sensations Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness set a course for the ultimate comprehensive home entertainment package in Star Trek: The Compendium, including the IMAX Version of Star Trek: Into Darkness. This four-disc set is packed with previously released bonus material and additional never-before-seen footage.
"Our destinies have changed."
At the time Paramount handed the keys to 'Star Trek' over to J.J. Abrams, the franchise was on very shaky ground. Its last movie, 'Nemesis', was a box office disaster, and the recent 'Enterprise' TV series had been canceled due to poor ratings. Nevertheless, 'Trek' boasts an enormous and famously ill-tempered fan base that doesn't take easily to change or to disruptions in the series' labyrinthine canon. With that in mind, it took a lot of cojones for the studio to contemplate the prospect of wiping the slate clean, erasing six TV shows and ten feature films worth of continuity, and starting over. Could any movie manage the near-impossible task of appeasing old fans while attracting new ones? That was the challenge laid out for Abrams and his writers. Somehow, they (mostly) pulled it off.
Released in 2009, the newly-revamped 'Star Trek' declared its intentions right from the title. It wasn't 'Star Trek XI'. It was just 'Star Trek'. Full stop. Start over. Reboot. And yet, at the same time, not. Using an ingenious solution that ties the new prequel story to the original continuity through the MacGuffin of time travel, all of the events of the 'Star Trek' that fans followed for four decades still happened, while the new movie creates an alternate, parallel timeline that shoots the characters off in another direction. Fortunately, once that gimmick gets the plot rolling, it's quickly dispensed with, and the film blasts along at lightning speed to show us how the young, rebellious James Kirk enlists in Starfleet Academy and meets important comrades such as McCoy, Spock and Uhura, all of whom eventually wind up on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Although the first reboot movie has some scripting issues that I could quibble about, Abrams does a great job of casting young actors to believably portray the iconic characters that fans have known and loved for decades. Just as importantly, the movie feels fresh and exciting. It's action-packed, with a dynamic visual design and terrific special effects married to some great character development and emotionally gripping drama. The film made 'Star Trek' fun and relevant again.
Paramount's big gamble paid off. The new 'Star Trek' was a huge box office hit (the biggest in the franchise's history), and scored widespread praise from both critics and audiences. Naturally, more had to follow. Buoyed by the enormous good will engendered by his success, Abrams returned to direct 2013's bizarrely-titled 'Star Trek into Darkness'. Unfortunately, his follow-up falls victim to the ills that plague so many sequels. It's bigger, louder and more expensive than the last one, but also duller and dumber, with all the same weaknesses and few of the strengths.
I spent a lot of time cataloguing the crippling story, character and plot deficiencies of 'Star Trek into Darkness' in my original review. In brief, the film is a messy hodgepodge of half-thought-out ideas, ill-considered character arcs, and major plot-points and dramatic moments recycled from earlier franchise entries without any of the original context or emotional relevance – all wrapped up in a bunch of videogame-y action sequences that feel like Abrams' audition reel for his upcoming 'Star Wars' gig. It's flashy and frenetic, but terribly shallow and bereft of imagination.
Even with all of its problems, however, 'Star Trek into Darkness' still falls a rung or two above franchise low points 'The Final Frontier' or 'Insurrection'. While that may not be saying much, 'Star Trek' has suffered worse and will survive this folly. How long that will take remains to be seen.
Both the 2009 'Star Trek' and its sequel 'Star Trek into Darkness' were previously released on Blu-ray – the latter in both 2D and 3D versions. If that sounds like it should be enough to satisfy most viewers, Paramount made a very frustrating and consumer-unfriendly decision at the time to divide the bonus features for 'Star Trek into Darkness' up among a host of retailer exclusive editions – making it difficult and expensive for fans to collect all the content for the film. The studio justly received widespread criticism for this move.
To rectify that error (at least, that's allegedly the intention), Paramount Home Entertainment has now reissued both films together into a new package called 'Star Trek: The Compendium'. The choice of title is a little strange, given that the box set only contains two movies out of a franchise of 12, and a new sequel is currently in development with screenwriter Roberto Orci at the helm.
The Compendium is a 4-disc set. Each feature is granted one disc for the movie and another for supplements. Other than the artwork screened on their faces, the two discs for 'Star Trek' are identical to the copies previously issued in 2009, whereas the two discs for 'Star Trek into Darkness' have been re-authored with a new video transfer for the film and new bonus content.
Only the 2D version of 'Star Trek into Darkness' has been provided. If you want the 3D version and don't already own it, you'll need to buy that separately.
The movies are housed in a surprisingly flimsy and cheap-feeling fold-out digipak with discs stacked on top of one another on each interior side. The brittle plastic hubs seem destined to break when removing or replacing the discs.
Owners of the prior Blu-rays for these films are eligible to receive a whopping $5 rebate after purchasing the Compendium.
I rated the Blu-ray for J.J. Abrams' first 'Star Trek' movie pretty highly when I reviewed it back in 2009. The copy in this box set is unchanged, but because I now have better equipment, a larger screen and possibly higher standards five years later, I felt it worthwhile to rewatch the disc. Although I'd initially intended just to spot-check a few scenes, the movie is so much fun that I wound up watching the whole thing again.
I'm happy to report that the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer holds up very well. The 2.40:1 image is nicely detailed with vivid colors and a light presence of accurately-resolved film grain. The picture is a little soft, especially during visual effects scenes (possibly due to the resolution that the VFX were rendered at), but never distractingly so. The movie is extremely stylized with Abrams' fondness for shaky-cam and lens flares. Those affectations may rub some viewers the wrong way (I'm more bothered by the shaky-cam than the lens flares), but overall the disc looks great in high definition. 'Star Trek' is still a fine piece of home theater demo material.
Unlike the first movie, the 'Compendium' Blu-ray of 'Star Trek into Darkness' is a new video transfer. The 2013 Blu-ray edition of the film was presented entirely at the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, like the majority of the movie's original theatrical screenings. However, director Abrams shot portions of the movie on IMAX film stock. Copies that played in IMAX theaters expanded in height during those specific scenes. The 'Compendium' disc replicates this effect by varying in aspect ratio from scene to scene (and often shot-to-shot within scenes) between 2.40:1 and 1.78:1.
The taller IMAX frame is generally used during big action set-pieces (including the opening on the volcano planet, the starship warp-speed chase, and the climax in San Francisco), as well as establishing shots, city views, and pretty much any VFX shot that involves outer space. Meanwhile, any scene that takes place in the interior of a starship or shuttlecraft will revert to 35mm and the 2.40:1 ratio, presumably because Abrams couldn't maneuver the bulky IMAX cameras in those sets. This means that the ratio will sometimes frantically switch back and forth as scenes cut between one location and another. Also, the topsy-turvy scene where the Enterprise spins out of control and the characters run along walls and ceilings – which might have made a good IMAX sequence – had to be shot in 35mm.
Both aspect ratio presentations for the film are legitimate. Because the director had to compose his shots with both in mind, he framed the important action within the 2.40:1 portion of the image. Nevertheless, home theater viewers with Constant Image Height projection screens are advised to stick with the earlier Blu-ray. The 2.40:1 extract is not always taken from the precise middle of the frame (sometimes it's centered high), and on-screen text and subtitles have been repositioned for each version of the movie. As a result, you cannot simply crop off the top and bottom of the IMAX version to get the same results as the dedicated 2.40:1 transfer.
In scenes that don't involve IMAX footage, the 'Compendium' disc looks equivalent to the older Blu-ray in video quality. The movie is frequently very grainy, more so than the previous 'Trek' film and enough to be distracting at times. The IMAX scenes, on the other hand, appear a little crisper and clearer on the new disc than the same footage did on the prior Blu-ray. During normal playback, the difference isn't necessarily a revelation, but fine detail such as the text written on the indigenous aliens' holy scroll is a little more discernable.
The soundtrack for 'Star Trek' is encoded in lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 format, while 'Star Trek into Darkness' is in TrueHD 7.1. I didn't notice this when I first reviewed each film individually, but the track for 'Into Darkness' has been authored with a much louder default volume than the first movie. This became painfully clear when I watched both back-to-back. The volume setting I'd left my A/V receiver set for after comfortably watching 'Star Trek' nearly blew me out of my chair when I put in 'Into Darkness'. Fortunately, this just took a quick minute to compensate for.
Both films have very dynamic and aggressive mixes with powerful bass, highly active surround activity and fascinating sound design by the great Ben Burtt. When I last reviewed 'Star Trek into Darkness', I'd complained that the dynamic range sounded a little compressed. I didn't notice that so much this time. I'm in a new listening space now, so it's possible that room acoustics played a part in my original observation. Whatever the case, I still scored the disc highly last time, and it seems fine to me now – at least, it's fine in that respect.
Unfortunately, I experienced frequent and severe audio dropouts all through the new 'Compendium' copy of 'Star Trek into Darkness' when bitstreaming the TrueHD track from my Blu-ray player to my A/V receiver. I put in the old disc to compare and have no issues with that one. Nor did the first 'Star Trek' give me any problems, but the new edition of 'Into Darkness' gave my equipment terrible fits. At a guess, I assume that the way the Blu-ray is authored in a branching format to accommodate the new Enhanced Commentary (more on that shortly) is at fault.
I can't say for certain whether this issue will affect every viewer, or if it's a compatibility problem with my specific Blu-ray player and/or receiver. I can only hope for the latter and hope that this is something that can be resolved with a firmware update.
Since the two discs for 'Star Trek' are unchanged from the movie's last Blu-ray release in 2009, they of course contain the same selection of bonus content.
'Star Trek' (2009) Disc 1
'Star Trek' (2009) Disc 2
All of the features from the 2013 general retail Blu-ray release of 'Star Trek into Darkness' have also carried over. Sadly, while the supplements on the prior movie are generally interesting and informative, those on the sequel are mostly insubstantial Electronic Press Kit fluff and barely worth watching.
'Star Trek into Darkness' Disc 1
'Star Trek into Darkness' Disc 2
A printed flier in the package also offers redemption codes for UltraViolet Digital Copies for both films.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Previously, additional supplements for 'Star Trek into Darkness' were sold with retailer exclusive copies of the Blu-ray at Target and Best Buy, as well as the iTunes digital download. (Each edition had unique features.) The Compendium box set brings most of that content together in one place along with some new material.
'Star Trek into Darkness' Disc 1
The Enhanced Commentary is by far the most interesting of the new bonus features. Most of the rest are short, promotional EPK featurettes – the kind of filler you can probably find on the studio's web site or the PR firm's YouTube channel.
'Star Trek into Darkness' Disc 2
The Cutting Room Floor: What Didn't Make the Blu-ray?
The 'Compendium' box set does not include a 3D transfer for 'Star Trek into Darkness'. While you can still buy the separate Blu-ray 3D edition of that film, that copy was transferred at a constant 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The IMAX 3D version of the movie, with both 3D and the variable aspect ratio, has not been released on home video anywhere.
On the one hand, it can be argued that Paramount is trying to correct the mistakes it made with the original Blu-ray release of 'Star Trek into Darkness'. Unfortunately, I don't think that asking fans to pay for yet another copy of the film, plus another copy of the earlier 'Star Trek' (unchanged from its older Blu-ray), in order to get a bunch of mostly worthless new bonus features, is really going to engender a lot of good will from consumers. A piddling $5 rebate probably won't do much to calm those waters either.
Forget the new featurettes. Listed out in bullet-points, they look far more impressive in quantity than they turn out to be in quality. They're not worth wasting your time to watch. The main benefits of this 'Compendium' box set are the IMAX variable aspect ratio transfer for 'Star Trek into Darkness' and the Enhanced Commentary on that film. Each viewer will have to determine for his- or herself whether those alone can justify the purchase price. If not, there's little reason to upgrade from the older Blu-ray editions of both films that most 'Trek' fans already own.
Given the lack of the 3D version, this box set still cannot be considered the definitive edition of 'Star Trek into Darkness' anyway. I suppose that's being held back for a "Twist the Knife Edition" coming sometime in the future.
Be aware that the "Overall Grade" star rating for this review is a composite average of the Movie, Video, Audio and Supplements sections. Though 4 stars may seem like a high score, in this case the star rating does not reflect the actual value or merit of the item.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.