"It's been a long road," but Paramount has finally released the first season of 'Enterprise' on Blu-ray, opting not to wait for all of 'The Next Generation' seasons to come out before releasing another 'Star Trek' series in the HD format. 'Enterprise' has long been considered the "redheaded stepchild" among fans, being the only series since the original 'Star Trek' not to run a full seven seasons ('Enterprise' was cancelled after four). But does it really deserve the bad rap it has gotten over the years?
After three series set in the 24th century, 'Enterprise' creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga decided it might be fun to find out what happened before James T. Kirk, but after humans made first contact (as seen in 'The Next Generation' film, 'First Contact'). They viewed it as an opportunity to both fill in the gaps of 'Star Trek' history, as well as present characters that were "closer" to the way human beings act today and, therefore, give viewers characters and relationships that were easier to relate to.
The pilot episode, "Broken Bow," introduces us to Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) who is asked to command the Enterprise on her first mission, the simple transfer of a Klingon back to his homeworld. He recruits the female Vulcan T'Pol (Jolene Blalock) to be his science officer, and also gives the duties of chief engineer to one of his best friends, "Trip" Tucker (Connor Trinneer). Also along for the voyage are security/weapons expert Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating), helmsman Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), communications officer Hoshi Sato (Linda Park), and the other alien member of the crew, Denobulan chief medical officer Phlox (John Billingsley). The transfer goes amiss when a mysterious race known as the Suliban manage to board the Enterprise and get the Klingon, although the 'Enterprise' crew manage to get him back. Their first mission complete, Starfleet decides that the Enterprise should not return home, but rather continue their voyage of exploration out amongst the stars.
Introduced in the first episode and brought into bigger focus by Season 1's conclusion is a concept known as the "Temporal Cold War," which involves unknown entities in the future manipulating events in the Enterprise crew's present. We discover on the bonus features of this set that the idea's genesis actually came from the studio (the United Paramount Network (UPN)) since they weren't crazy about doing a 'Star Trek' series that wasn't set in the same time period (or even later) than 'The Next Generation.' However, the whole "Temporal Cold War" idea also proved to be advantageous to the writers, as any discrepancy with the already established 'Star Trek' timeline could be chalked up to temporal tampering from the future.
Unlike prior 'Star Trek' series, 'Enterprise' struggled in the ratings almost from its onset. There are many reasons for this, and not all of them had to do with the quality of the show. First and foremost, the fact that this 'Star Trek' series (as well as 'Star Trek: Voyager') ran on UPN rather than in syndication meant that not everyone had a chance to see the show, as UPN wasn't available in every market. Additionally, affiliates who did carry the show had to air it at UPN's designated time, unlike syndication, where they could air it at times that were advantageous to their particular market. There was also the simple issue of viewers being "burnt out" on 'Star Trek.' By 2001 (when the first season of 'Enterprise' aired), some viewers (myself included) just couldn't keep up with all the new versions of 'Star Trek.' It started to become very obvious in the ratings that the overall franchise needed a break. 'Enterprise' was able to limp its way through Season 4, but it got no farther, finally getting the cancellation notice from UPN in 2005. Ironically, UPN wouldn't last much longer either, merging with The WB Network to form The CW in 2006.
There were other reasons for 'Enterprise' not achieving the success of former 'Star Trek' series, of course, and one of the primary ones was that die-hard fans objected to a lot of the storylines on the show. Perhaps none of Season 1's episodes irked fans more than 'The Andorian Incident' where Vulcans are portrayed to be outright liars. The pilot episode had already established that there wasn't much trust between humans and their pointy-eared counterparts, but many felt the Andorian episode took things too far. Never mind that the series (set roughly 140 years from now) portrayed humans as being much less violent than they are today, the fanbase just couldn't accept that Vulcans could be anything but emotionless and truthful, even though the Vulcans of the original series were Vulcans that existed about 100 years after the events that take place in 'Enterprise.'
Although there are arguably things to complain about, 'Enterprise' has a lot of strong points as well. It perhaps has one of the best pilots among the five 'Star Trek' series (for my money, perhaps only the pilot for 'Deep Space Nine' beats it), and there's certainly no complaints about the acting quality. Scott Bakula's Archer is easily the closest we've seen to James Kirk (we find out in the new commentary track that Bakula most likely based Archer on his own Hollywood hero, John Wayne), and one can't help but notice the similarities between T'Pol and Spock, as well as Trip and Dr. McCoy. In fact, one of Season 1's best character-themed episodes, "Shuttlepod One," only happened because the series was way overbudget and the studio needed a "bottle show" (an inexpensive episode) to help save a little dough. The result shows the kind of series 'Enterprise' should have been, but never quite was – rich with characterization and real human emotion, which are the primary reasons that 'Star Trek' gained the following that it did in the first place.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Enterprise' launches onto Blu-ray in packaging quite similar to 'The Next Generation' Blu-rays that have already been released. The six, 50GB discs come housed in case that holds two discs on each inside cover, plus two added hubs that hold a disc on either side (again, exactly how 'The Next Generation' sets are designed). There are no inserts, but the reverse side of the slick (which you can see on the inside of the case) lists the episodes and bonus materials for each disc. Overtop of the case is a nice embossed slip cover, which matches the cover of the slick. Again, as with 'The Next Generation' releases, each disc launches by asking the viewer to select a language, with English being the default selection. The first disc in the set is front-loaded with trailers for both Season 2 of 'Enterprise' and the 'Best of Both Worlds' Blu-ray release. There are no front-loaded trailers on the other five Blu-rays.
Perhaps Paramount should have released 'Enterprise' on Blu-ray before remastering 'The Next Generation' since, while this isn't a terrible transfer, it does pale in comparison to the rework that was done (and needed to be done) for that earlier series.
First, let's deal with the issue of special effects. While 'Enterprise' was shot on film and then transferred to HD, all the special effects were created standard-def and then upconverted for the original television run. Back in the early 2000s, that was good enough for TV exhibition, but in the world of Blu-ray where every little flaw can be caught by (most) human eyes, it proves to be a little lackluster. However, since 'Enterprise' had already been converted to HD for TV, Paramount didn't want to invest (as they did with 'The Next Generation' and will probably do for the other two 'Star Trek' series yet to be released on Blu-ray) in re-doing all the special effects. Therefore, we're stuck with a lot of noticeable aliasing in many of the special effects shots. It's by no means horrible, but it's occasionally distracting and the bigger one's television screen, the more bothersome some shots are going to appear.
As for the rest of the image, it ranges from average to pretty good. Some of the episodes that take the crew off the soundstage ("Strange New World" is one early example) look pretty good on Blu-ray, but for a lot of these episodes, detail is often lacking and black levels tend not to be very strong. Everything tends to have a someone muted look to it, although much of that seems to be due to the general color palate that was used throughout the run of the show…avoiding the bright colors that were seen in the previous series and giving viewers a lot of dark blues, grays, and blacks.
With all those issues noted, 'Enterprise's' appearance is far from horrible, it's just a very average one as far as TV-to-Blu-ray shows go. However, it's certainly no worse than, say, 'Firefly', which also suffers from the same special effects issues (created in SD, upgraded to HD) that 'Enterprise' does.
Again, a lot of comparisons are probably going to be made between the audio here and the remastered tracks that are appearing on 'The Next Generation' releases. By that standard, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio here may disappoint, but it's probably a pretty accurate version of what was created for the television broadcast.
While a lot of explosions/effects lack the "umph" one would expect, most episode's tracks are quite active, and dialogue is always crisp, clear, and properly mixed with the other sounds and soundtrack of each episode. All in all, the audio quality rates a little higher than the video quality, and most fans should have few complaints.
In addition to the DTS-HD track, 5.1 Dolby tracks are available in German and Italian, while 2.0 Dolby tracks can be heard in Spanish, French, and Japanese. Subtitles options consist of English SDH, Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish. Sadly, no Klingon tracks.
'Enterprise' aired at a time when fans were getting tired of 'Star Trek,' but it comes to Blu-ray at a time when most are hungry for a new television series again. That definitely plays to its advantage as, having missed many of these episodes when they first aired, I found viewing 'Enterprise' to be a mostly enjoyable experience. Granted, there are some shows (perhaps too many of them) that don't quite work, I do feel the good stuff here outweighs the bad by a significant margin. For that reason, Season 1 of 'Enterprise' gets a solid recommendation.