'Star Trek' aired its first episode ('The Man Trap', which was notably not actually its pilot episode) on September 8th, 1966. Although the franchise would eventually grow into a media juggernaut spanning numerous follow-up TV shows and feature films, the original series struggled in the ratings and lasted only three seasons on NBC. Over the ensuing five decades, members of its passionate fan base may assume that they've seen everything there is to see about 'Star Trek'. As if to prove them wrong, CBS Films (owners of the property) have ventured into late series creator Gene Roddenberry's archive to deliver a special treat for the show's 50th anniversary.
The new Blu-ray box set called 'Star Trek: The Original Series – The Roddenberry Vault' contains a collection of 12 episodes that have previously been released on disc and that fans undoubtedly know very well and have seen many times. More importantly, it also contains a treasure of never-before-seen outtakes, deleted scenes, and behind-the-scenes footage culled from the show's original production dailies. Most of this material was never intended to be viewed by the public, and in normal circumstances would have been discarded. However, either sensing some future value for it, or perhaps simply due to an obsessive-compulsive hoarder instinct, Roddenberry saved, catalogued and stored every scrap of film he could retrieve from the cutting room floor.
For decades, this raw footage sat in film cans, tucked away on rows and rows of shelves in a warehouse, until it was rediscovered in 2007. As part of the effort to remaster the series into high definition, 'Trek' archivists entered Roddenberry's vault to search for the episode camera negatives. In doing so, they also found a lot more than they expected. Because the remastering project took top priority, and because the studio had no immediate plans to use it, the extra material remained unseen by the public for nearly another decade. Now, finally, portions of it make their way to fans.
Among the new finds are lines of dialogue that didn't make the final cut of their respective episodes, alternate performance takes, unfinished model and miniature special effects, and outtakes with the actors breaking character to goof around on set. The sight of Leonard Nimoy, in full Spock get-up, laughing on camera is a little startling. Because dailies were printed quickly and meant to be disposable, most of the footage is in poor physical condition with little color and a lot of damage. The Blu-ray disc producers have chosen to present most of it edited into new featurettes and a three-part restrospective documentary featuring interviews with former cast members and some famous fans (well, semi-famous) looking back at the 'Star Trek' phenomenon.
Of course, deleted scenes, outtakes and documentaries have been staples of home video viewing ever since the start of the DVD era. To be honest, none of this vault material is truly revelatory or will change anyone's perspective on the show, and the rather limited amount of it actually provided in this set is a little disappointing considering how much it had been hyped up as an extraordinary discovery. The disc documentaries are also pretty standard bonus content fare that mostly repeat stories and facts that fans have already heard elsewhere.
Nonetheless, this content was all assumed to be long since lost. TV series of this age rarely kept such unused footage for long-term storage. The fact that it still exists is an unexpected pleasure, and fans will surely enjoy experiencing new pieces of 'Star Trek' that they never had the opportunity to see before.
The 12 TV episodes included in this collection were selected for their relevance to the vault material: 'The Corbomite Maneuver', 'Arena', 'Space Seed', 'This Side of Paradise', 'The Devil in the Dark', 'The City on the Edge of Forever', 'Operation: Annihilate!', 'Metamorphosis', 'Who Mourns for Adonais?', 'Mirror, Mirror', 'The Trouble with Tribbles', and 'Return to Tomorrow'. Most of these are fan favorites and many are among the show's best and most famous episodes. I imagine it's no coincidence that they all come from the show's first two seasons, with none from the disappointing third, during which the series took a nosedive in quality. Arguably, the only real turkey in the bunch is the first season finale, 'Operation: Annihilate!'.
CBS Films and Paramount Home Entertainment first brought 'Star Trek: The Original Series' to Blu-ray with individual box sets for each of its three seasons back in 2009. In the meantime, the distributor has found numerous ways to repackage and resell that material, either as a complete series or as themed collections of selected episodes. 'The Roddenberry Vault' contains a mix of 12 key episodes from the show's first two seasons. All are available to watch with your choice of either the original 1960s special effects or the "Remastered" CGI-enhanced updates. Likewise, the episode soundtracks are provided in both the original mono and the more recent 7.1 remixes. The main selling point of this collection is of course the newly unearthed deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes footage, all of which is presented in the Special Features section of each disc.
The three Blu-ray discs are stored in a needlessly elaborate and confusing package that consists of a clear plastic slipcover on top of a cardboard box with two hinged doors. Inside is a keepcase that slides out from the left side after opening the first door. The second door only reveals some additional vintage photographs on the box art.
All three discs require you to select a menu language at startup. All three also have a (short) trailer for DTS audio before the menu. Disc 1 is additionally burdened by another forced trailer for the 'Star Trek' franchise's 50th anniversary.
In writing this review, I struggled to decide whether the star rating scores should judge the 'Star Trek' television episodes or the archival footage that's the true centerpiece of the box set. Ultimately, I don't think it's fair to rate the Blu-ray by the quality of unrestored deleted scenes that are categorized as Special Features on the discs themselves. As such, the scores are specifically for the original episodes.
'Star Trek: The Original Series' was extensively restored in high definition around 2007 and first appeared on disc with the HD DVD release of the show's first season. That short-lived video format was discontinued shortly afterwards, but the same video masters were recycled for the Blu-ray edition in 2009. I was pretty impressed with the restoration at the time, and even rewatching the episodes now, the work holds up remarkably well.
All 12 episodes are presented in their original 4:3 (1.33:1) aspect ratio with pillarbox bars on the sides of the frame. Although the digital compression has been re-encoded from VC-1 format to AVC MPEG-4, the episodes are sourced from the same underlying video masters and I didn't notice any particular differences from the 2009 Blu-rays to these discs.
The 1080p image can be impressively sharp and detailed when shots are in focus, which unfortunately isn't always the case with this show. It was common practice on television in the 1960s to photograph actresses in soft focus, and the difference in focus from shot-to-shot stands out in much starker relief in high definition than it could have during the original TV broadcasts of the day. The episodes are also fairly grainy, especially in dark scenes. That said, the series made use of very vibrant colors and expressive lighting that looks great on Blu-ray. In general, these episodes look terrific.
Unfortunately, because the restoration effort poured a lot of time and money into replacing the show's special effects with CGI upgrades, the old effects shots (which are still provided as an alternative for viewing) were not restored. The models, miniatures and spaceship exteriors are often extremely grainy, washed-out, and covered with dirt and film damage. Meanwhile, the newer CGI effects are now more than a decade old and haven't aged particularly well for different reasons. Many of them look pretty videogame-y and don't integrate with the live action footage as well as I felt when I first saw them.
The deleted scenes, alternate takes and behind-the-scenes footage that were recovered from the Roddenberry vault are all sourced from poor-quality production dailies that have faded and sometimes suffered extensive film damage. Most of them have very little color left, and many only exist in black-and-white. Disappointingly, it appears that all of this material was scanned in standard definition video and has been upconverted for integration into the documentaries on the discs (which are otherwise comprised of talking-head interviews recorded in true high definition). They're very soft and filled with aliasing artifacts.
Each disc defaults to playing the TV episodes with the same DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtracks from the older Blu-ray editions. For multi-channel remixes of a monaural source, the tracks are very careful to retain the flavor of the original sound. Despite the 7.1 encoding, the episodes remain primarily anchored in the front soundstage, with few gimmicky or inappropriate surround effects.
Most of the remixing effort was put into expanding the musical score to stereo, while only adding a select few (usually tastefully applied) directional effects. During the opening credits, the show's theme music was re-recorded from a newer orchestration, and the Enterprise whooshes from the front speakers to the back as it flies toward the camera. Generally speaking, during the body of episodes, dialogue and most sound effects stay in the center channel.
The Blu-rays from 2009 also offered the show's original soundtracks in lossy Dolby Digital format. The Blu-ray packaging for the 'Roddenberry Vault' collection claims to include "Newly Restored Original Mono Tracks," but no additional detail is given about when this restoration happened or what it entailed. If these mono tracks are indeed different from the older Blu-rays, they're once again encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. I didn't have the time or opportunity to compare the new Blu-rays to the old Blu-rays, but I did listen to a couple episodes in mono and thought they sounded fine. The music and sound effects are noticeably brighter, even sometimes piercing or harsh, compared to the 7.1 remix. On the other hand, the 7.1 mix seems perhaps a little too rolled-off. During episode 'This Side of Paradise', the musical stinger when the alien plants shoot spores into the characters' faces is more effectively jolting in mono.
All of the bonus features in this box set are new to the 'Roddenberry Vault' collection, which is (currently) only available on Blu-ray. As such, I'm categorizing them as high-def exclusives.
None of the supplements from prior Blu-ray releases of 'Star Trek: The Original Series' were carried over to this package.
In certain respects, longtime 'Star Trek' fans may be disappointed at the prospect of having to repurchase a collection of episodes they likely already own in order to view the new 'Roddenberry Vault' contents. It may not help that those contents aren't necessarily as bountiful as implied, and are mostly buried in fan-service retrospective documentaries that offer little in the way of revelatory new information. On the other hand, the newly unearthed deleted scenes and other footage are genuinely interesting, and give Trekkies an opportunity to see parts of the show they never even knew existed.
Casual fans and other viewers who enjoy 'Star Trek', but perhaps not enough to already own the entire series, will find that this batch of episodes represents a pretty good Greatest Hits selection of the Enterprise crew's most memorable adventures.
For either type of viewer, 'Star Trek: The Original Series – The Roddenberry Vault' is worth a look.