There was once a time when I knew every episode of 'Star Trek: The Original Series' by heart. I could recite the episode titles in order, recap each plot, and instantly recall obscure details about one-shot supporting characters. Those days, however, have long passed. To be honest, until CBS/Paramount re-released the show's first season in Remastered form on HD DVD and then Blu-ray, it had been a number of years since I'd watched an episode. In the intervening time, my brain had so filled with other pointless trivia (including a fair amount about the many 'Trek' movies and spin-off TV series) that something had to get pushed out of the way. When this new Season 2 box set arrived at my door, I found myself looking over the episode list barely recognizing half the titles. Is 'A Private Little War' the one about the Nazi planet? No wait, that's 'Patterns of Force'. Is the one with the half-black/half-white aliens in this season? (No, it's in Season 3.) Is 'Metamorphosis' an important episode? What's 'The Apple' about, again?
Thus, although I had originally planned to sample only a handful of episodes for this review, I found myself unable to resist watching more and more of them. Often, this triggered a flood of memories. But just as often, it was like watching the show for the first time fresh. In either case, I was addicted all over again. In both its best episodes and even its worst, 'Trek' had me under its spell once more.
Aiding my appreciation is the nature of the restoration that CBS Digital performed on the series. As I'd written in my previous review of the Season 1 Blu-ray set, I (like many fans) initially approached news of the Remastering project with grave apprehension. This isn't simply a matter of cleaning up the film elements and transferring the results to high definition video. This is a complete digital overhaul, in which most of the show's aging special effects have been replaced with modern CG graphics. After the abominable travesty that George Lucas inflicted on the 'Star Wars' trilogy, I didn't think I could bear to see my beloved classic 'Trek' so molested and disfigured.
Fortunately, those fears proved groundless. The new visual effects have been tastefully integrated into the old footage, with respect for the intent of the original work. That cheesy green hand in 'Who Mourns for Adonais?' is still a cheesy green hand. However, now it and the Enterprise can be seen orbiting the planet mentioned in the dialogue, rather than dangling on strings in front of an empty star field. The episodes have not been changed so much as restored to a quality less hampered by the production limitations of the original shoot. I honestly believe that this is what the producers of the series would have wanted it to look like if they'd had the budget and the technology at the time.
Some of the new visual effects are better than others. Because the Remastering project tackled the episodes out of chronological order, many of the effects in these Season 2 episodes were completed before those of Season 1 episodes. It's obvious that a learning curve was in place. The alien threat in 'The Doomsday Machine' looks rather crude and video game-y, for example. Then again, even at their worst, these new effects are certainly no cornier than the originals.
Purists who just cannot abide these alterations will be glad to find that the Blu-ray set offers all episodes in both versions. You can choose the old, un-tampered special effects or the new CGI at your discretion. No matter what sort of fan you are, everyone has been accommodated.
And the show itself…? In many respects, Season 2 of 'Star Trek' is an improvement over the first. The actors have settled into their roles, and everyone has seemingly grown comfortable with what they want the series to be. Many of the growing pains of the first season, such as characters whose personalities would change from episode to episode, have been ironed out. In addition to the main plot-of-the-week, the producers have put real effort into building the mythology that would carry the franchise through several decades.
The second season is filled with many terrific episodes, especially in its first half. In the season premiere 'Amok Time', we visit the Vulcan homeworld and witness the Pon Farr mating ritual. It's here that the Vulcan hand salute and the phrase "Live long and prosper" make their first appearances. As does young ensign Pavel Chekov, who would quickly become a core character. 'Journey to Babel', another critical mythology episode, introduces Spock's parents Sarek and Amanda, and emphasizes the diplomacy aspect of the Enterprise's mission. The incomparable Harry Mudd returns with an army of robot servants in the hilarious 'I, Mudd'. The storyline to 'The Changeling', about a long-vanished Earth probe that has developed sentience, is an obvious precursor to 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture'. Despite its dodgy effects work (in either version), 'The Doomsday Machine' remains a remarkably tense and suspenseful thriller. In the unforgettable 'Mirror, Mirror', Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura are plunged into a bizarro alternate universe where the rest of the Enterprise crew (including Spock!) are evil space pirates. And of course, who could forget 'The Trouble with Tribbles', in which the Enterprise is overrun with cute fuzzy creatures that cause enormous havoc? These are the defining go-to episodes that any 'Trek' fan will recognize as among the show's very best.
Unfortunately, for as great as its best episodes are, Season 2 is also much more uneven than the first. Episodes like 'The Apple', 'Catspaw', 'Metamorphosis', and 'The Omega Glory' are straight-up turkeys. Bad writing and sloppy production values plague a great deal of the season, more so in the second half. Guest stars and supporting actors are frequently terrible. (The guy playing Apollo in 'Who Mourns for Adonais?' was obviously cast for his physique, not his skill reading dialogue.) It becomes almost comical how often the ship's command crew (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty) needlessly place themselves in harm's way by going off on dangerous missions together that are more suited for less critical officers. (This issue reaches its zenith in 'Catspaw', during which so many important characters wind up captured by aliens that a random Redshirt is placed in charge of the Enterprise.) These problems were all present in the first season, but seem exaggerated here through repetition.
Nevertheless, for all their flaws, even the weakest episodes retain their entertainment value and usually leave the viewer with a little something to think about. 'Star Trek' was and still is outstanding television. These Remastered episodes bring new life to an already classic series.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
CBS Home Entertainment (through their distributor Paramount Home Entertainment) brings 'Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 2' to Blu-ray. The studio previously released the show's first season on the format earlier this year. As before, the Blu-ray contains both the new Remastered versions of the episodes and the original versions with their 1960s special effects. The alternate footage is seamlessly branched from each episode, allowing you to toggle between the old and new versions on the fly by selecting the camera icon in the pop-up menu.
The second season Blu-ray packaging is virtually identical to the first. The 7 discs are housed in a multi-disc keepcase with slipcover. A small packet of 'Star Trek Monopoly' game cards is included in the case for promotional purposes. The first disc in the set also opens automatically with an annoying promo for other 'Star Trek' Blu-rays.
An episode listing is printed on the backside of the cover art, visible through the plastic case. Once again, the episodes are presented in their original broadcast order, not their production order. If you wish to watch the episodes in production order, you have to sort that out by reading the "Mission Stardate" trivia notes on the episode list. Fortunately, the episodes in the second season have no ongoing storylines and will not cause any continuity problems regardless of which order they're viewed.
The Season 1 Blu-ray set was truly a revelation for 'Star Trek' fans. All of the episodes were painstakingly restored and presented in high definition quality vastly superior to their original television broadcasts. Some nitpicks aside, the picture quality was vibrant and colorful, and amazingly detailed. All of these Season 2 episodes have undergone the same type of restoration by the same team. In fact, because the episodes were not remastered in chronological order, many of the episodes in this set were prepared at the same time as or earlier than those in the first season.
With that said, it's obvious very quickly that the picture quality of Season 2 is more inconsistent than Season 1. In fact, the first episode ('Amok Time') looks pretty awful. Episodes in the second season are generally much grainier than those in the first, and often appear washed out or faded. Flesh tones can be erratic; some times they look fine, but other times are pinkish or even greenish.
As far as I can tell, this is not the fault of the restoration project or the Blu-ray encoding. Available information points to the show having undergone a budget cut between seasons, which resulted in less production time for each episode. It's obvious just from looking at it that the second season's photography is much sloppier than the first. The lighting is less precise or controlled. Camera focus often misses its mark. It was the style of the time to shoot close-ups (especially of actresses) in soft focus, but here there are countless shots that are completely out of focus. At the time, either the production crew wasn't able to reshoot these scenes, or reasoned that the audience watching on 15" tube TVs at home wouldn't notice the difference.
The remastering team was obviously aware of these problems. Many of the new CG visual effects shots were rendered with heavy "film grain" effects to better match the live action footage. Unfortunately, although the Blu-ray discs also contain an option to watch every episode with the original 1960s special effects, this footage was obviously not restored or remastered. Most of these shots are overwhelmed by nasty grain, fading, and print damage. There has been little to no attempt made to digitally clean them up.
And yet, some episodes look terrific. As do selected scenes within otherwise mediocre episodes. Colors are generally pleasing and vibrant. Even the worst-looking episodes have moments of excellent detail and clarity. Because the show was never intended to be viewed in high definition (which didn't even exist at the time), the improvement in picture quality here frequently exposes production gaffes such as the obvious fakeness of props, the worn and natty texture of the costumes, and the wires holding up the flying Nomad probe.
As far as the Blu-ray's technical specs, the 1080p/VC-1 transfers are presented in the show's original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with pillarbox bars on the sides of the frame. Occasional pixelation and color banding artifacts intrude at times (episode 'I, Mudd' is a big offender in that regard), but are usually less frequent or severe than those in the first season box set.
Honestly, I think that if Season 1 had looked like this, nobody would have raised a fuss. It would just be accepted that this is an old, low-budget TV series with source issues. For what it is, it looks very good, certainly far better than the show ever looked in broadcast or DVD. It's only because the first season happened to look even better that there might be any cause for disappointment.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtracks on Season 2 are equivalent in quality to the previous box set. The show still isn't a slam-bang auditory powerhouse, but the remixes do a good job of cleaning up and tweaking the original material while retaining its flavor and intent.
Each episode remains primarily anchored in the front soundstage, with few gimmicky or inappropriate surround effects. In many episodes, there may be one or two instances of obvious movement in the rear channels. Generally speaking, dialogue and most sound effects remain in the center channel, with the musical score spread out to a mild stereo dimensionality. The audio is clean and clear, if not particularly aggressive in envelopment or dynamic with bass. The show's theme has been freshly recorded from a new orchestration and sounds terrific.
Purists will be pleased to know that the studio has once again provided the show's unrestored monaural soundtracks in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono format. You can choose this audio over either version of the episodes. Unfortunately, it is significantly weaker in quality and fidelity.
The Blu-ray carries over all of the bonus features found in the comparable DVD box set of these Remastered episodes, which was released in 2008. Many of these were originally created for the non-Remastered DVD box set from 2004.
Trekkies, rejoice! (You Trekkers can get over yourselves and embrace your nerdiness.) Another fabulous 'Star Trek: The Original Series' box set is available on Blu-ray. Season 2 is more uneven than the show's first, as is the video quality of the Blu-ray set. Regardless, this is an essential purchase for fans and comes very highly recommended.
Live long and prosper.