Star Trek: The Original Series - Season 2

(1967) **** Unrated
1310 min. NBC. Cast: William Shatner.

/content/films/3563/5.jpgMy name is Peter Canavese, and I'm a Trekkie. But I'm in good company, including actors Tom Hanks, Whoopi Goldberg, Angelina Jolie, Rosario Dawson, Jason Alexander, Christian Slater and Kelsey Grammer; physicist Stephen Hawking; and politicians King Abdullah II of Jordan, Colin Powell, Al Gore, and, yep, Barack Obama. And those are just the super-fans. Like the president, I date my Trek love back to childhood, when the show was, at least for me, appointment television in rerun. I spent leisure hours recording my own Star Trek audiobooks from the "scripts" I found in Star Trek fotonovels my Dad used as bait (or, more charitably, rewards) for learning my times tables. And, yeah, I was Spock for Halloween at least once.

So for me and millions of others, the seventy-six colorful episodes of "The Original Series" are something like sacred texts about which it's difficult to be objective. One thing is certain: the show is a phenomenon the likes of which television has seen no equal, a franchise that now includes six series and eleven feature films as well as countless spinoff novels, video games, and novelty items. More importantly, the show inspired generations of scientists in the areas of astronomy, space travel, and technological invention. Starfleet communicators influenced the design of flip-style cell phones, the ship's Sickbay medical scanners and displays inspired the designs of now-common hospital devices, and even transporters are now in the earliest stages of development, matter having recently been "transported" in a lab from one spot to another. Above it all, series creator Gene Roddenberry held up a core value of humanism in his storytelling, an essential optimism that despite the human race's many flaws, we would reach the future in a state of ecological bliss and planetary harmony, exploring the universe with a multicultural crew and a Prime Directive reminding us not to meddle in the affairs of other cultures.

Along these lines, Star Trek's second season introduces Ensign Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), a young Russian navigator sitting on the starship Enterprise's bridge alongside pan-Asian helmsman Lt. Sulu (George Takei) and African chief communications officer Lt. Uhura. The integration of the crew was a breakthrough for television, and the addition of Chekov further challenged conventional wisdom by implying that the Commie threat of the Cold War was nothing to fear, at least in the long term. Of course, Chekov was also a bid for a younger audience, his moptop presumable catnip for fans of Davy Jones and his band The Monkees, as well as their British Invasion forebears The Beatles. Not so controversial as the rest of the crew was Scotsman Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (James Doohan), the Enterprise's lovably stressed out chief engineer.

/content/films/3563/4.jpgThough the supporting cast made gains in Season Two and gradually grew in importance to the fans, Star Trek revolved around a central triumverate: brash, emotional, instinctive man-of-action Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner); the half-human, half-alien Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), pledged to suppress his human emotion in favor of Vulcan logic; and at-times irascible, at-times good-humored ship's doctor Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), the middle-ground voice of reason who nevertheless frequently betrayed his irritability toward trying situations and the yet-more-trying Spock. The importance of this dynamic—as much a function of the actors' unique chemistry as of the show's writing—grew in prominence in the second season, in episodes like season opener "Amok Time" and  "Journey to Babel." Both stories focused on Spock, but explored new facets of the unspoken duty, respect, and love that bonded the characters to one another.

"Amok Time," penned by legendary science-fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon (More Than Human) launches the season with one of the series' top entries. For the first time, Star Trek explores the planet Vulcan, its culture, and the physiological Vulcan quirk of Pon farr (a seven-year mating cycle that has Spock going nutty from being in heat). The episode also introduces the phrase "Live long and prosper" and the Vulcan salute (the latter proposed by Nimoy), and the show's climax revolves around an unforgettable duel-to-the-death between Spock and Kirk, scored to Gerald Fried's memorable fight music (the stuff of many a Star Trek parody). "Journey to Babel," by story editor D.C. (Dorothy) Fontana, delved deeper into Spock's character by introducing his parents: Vulcan ambassador Sarek (Mark Lenard) and human mother Amanda (three-time Emmy winner Jane Wyatt).

/content/films/3563/1.jpgSeason Two of Star Trek is full of memorable episodes. "Mirror, Mirror"—written by Jerome Bixby ("It's a Good Life")—is a gripping action thriller built on a fascinating science-fiction premise of a not-so-inviting alternate universe. It's a brilliantly entertaining hour, in which our heroes face harsher versions of their colleagues (including a goateed Spock and a scarred Sulu) and their United Federation of Planets, while their mirror universe counterparts discover the kinder, gentler universe in which the series usually traffics. Later series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise would also fruitfully set episodes in the Mirror universe. Perhaps no Star Trek episode is better-known than David Gerrold's "The Trouble with Tribbles," a highly successful foray into comedy. While the episode also saw the first return appearance of the Klingons, the furry, quick-breeding Tribbles were the real stars, causing all manner of trouble on Space Station K-7 and the Enterprise. This story also spawned a sequel of sorts, when several Deep Space Nine characters return to prevent a time-traveling saboteur from changing the events seen in the original episode.

The series also uses science-fiction daringly to challenge the contemporary war in Vietnam with episodes like "A Private Little War," to power provocative and tragic stories like "Metamorphosis" and "The Doomsday Machine," and as a vehicle for good old-fashioned fun like "A Piece of the Action," set on a planet fashioned after 1920s gangster culture (another episode, "Patterns of Force," uses a similar tactic to put the Enterprise crew face-to-face with Nazism). "Wolf in the Fold" makes Scotty the suspect in a Jack the Ripper-style slaying, while the clever and funny "I, Mudd" sees the return of interstellar rascal Harvey Mudd (Roger C. Carmel). Other great character actors in guest starring roles include Stanley Adams (as troublesome trader Cyrano Jones) William Campbell (returning in a new character, Klingon Captain Koloth), William Schallert, and Charlie Brill, and that's in "The Trouble with Tribbles" alone. And though the groundbreaking interracial kiss betwen Kirk and Uhura would have to wait for Season Three, Nichelle Nichols broke an absurd taboo in Season Two by exposing her belly button, famously forbidden on series TV like Star Trek's NBC neighbor I Dream of Jeannie.

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Aspect ratios: 4:3

Number of discs: 7

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Dolby Digital Mono 2.0

Street date: 9/22/2009

Distributor: CBS Paramount Home Video

In what will surely rank as one of the finest Blu-ray box sets of the year, Star Trek: The Original Series—Season 2 makes its way to the hi-def home video format. One hesitates to call any home-video release of Star Trek definitive—especially since the recent creation of "Enhanced Visual Effects" versions of all of the episodes—but this set has got to be pretty damn close.

For starters, it's inconceivable that the show itself could look any more pristine and sharp than it does here, and Paramount has used seamless-branching technology to make it incredibly easy to choose which version one of the episodes one wants to watch or, better yet, to toggle between them at will with a press of the "Angle" button. Both versions are presented in full 1080p hi-def and look spectacular. The quality varies slightly from one episode to the next—some of the original film elements are sharper than others—but the colors and contrast are perfect, and detail is revelatory. Longtime fans will especially consider these Blu-ray hi-def transfers breathtaking.

As for sound, I'm going to go right ahead and call the presentation definitive. Not only do we get lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mixes that max out current technology, but die-hard purists also get the original mono soundtracks in Dolby Digital 2.0. The upgraded 7.1 mixes are artfully, lovingly crafted to preserve the original dialogue and sounds, but in greater fidelity, range and "oomph."

Bonus features are outstanding, and the Blu-ray set includes some brand-new ones. Two episodes feature Starfleet Access (HD), a combined picture-in-picture and pop-up database track. The "Amok Time" track includes comments from story editor/writer D.C. Fontana, writer David Gerrold, comic book writer Scott Tipton, comic book artist Alex Ross, Star Trek: The Next Generation assistant director Charles Washburn and all-around Trek-sperts Michael & Denise Okuda and Garfield & Judith Reeves-Stevens. "The Trouble with Tribbles" track rounds up Gerrold, Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens, visual effects line producer David Rossi, Michael and Denise Okuda, William Schallert, Tipton, visual effects supervisor Niel Wray, comic book writer David Tischman, and Washburn.

Each disc includes the original episode previews in standard def. Disc One also includes the recently produced bonus "Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Memories, Part 2" (12:07, HD), in which Trek stand-in Blackburn shares his home movies from the set and his memories of second season shoots.

Disc Four is given over entirely to the fan-favorite episode "The Trouble with Tribbles," which features a brand-new audio commentary by David Gerrold.

Since the complete official Tribble output is on Disc Four, we also get Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "More Tribbles, More Troubles" (24:12, HD), also with audio commentary by Gerrold, and the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations" (45:30, HD). Both are making their HD debut, though the low-def video source and shimmery special effects point up the challenge facing Paramount in readying the middle Trek series for Blu-ray release.

Two featurettes go behind the scenes of the DS9 episode. "Trials and Tribble-ations: Uniting Two Legends" (16:53, SD) features Alexander Siddig, Michael Dorn, Rene Auberjonois, Terry Farrell, executive producer Ira Steven Behr, writer Rene Echevarria, Ronald D. Moore, executive producer Rick Berman, and Charlie Brill discussing the episode's origins and their excitement at the possibility of creating a historic Trek episode for the franchise's 30th anniversary. "Trials and Tribble-ations: An Historic Endeavor" (16:32, SD) continues the theme of legacy, while getting more specific about the production and post-production work involved in pulling the episode off with sets and effects. Interviewed are Berman, Behr, production designer Herman Zimmerman, visual effects coordinator Gary Hutzel, Moore, Farrell, illustrator Doug Drexler, and scenic art supervisor Michael Okuda.

Last up on Disc Four is the all-new roundtable discussion "Star Trek: The Original Series on Blu-ray" (10:04, HD). Star Trek: The Next Generation writer Marc Scott Zicree moderates a nice little chat with Wray, Michael and Denise Okuda, Rossi, and Gerrold.

Disc Five hosts the former DVD extra "'To Boldly Go...' Season Two" (19:32, HD), which provides an overview of the season's most memorable episodes, with comments from William Shatner, producer Robert Justman, Star Trek activist/author Bjo Trimble, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Fontana, and Leonard Nimoy.

Disc Six includes "Designing the Final Frontier" (22:19, SD), an art direction featurette that includes rare production art and interviews with art director Matt Jefferies, Justman, Fontana, Star Trek archivist Penny Juday, set designer John Jefferies, and set coordinator John Dwyer.

Disc Seven packs in a number of featurettes, beginning with "Star Trek's Favorite Moments" (17:10, SD). Here, Michael Dorn, Ethan Phillips, Tim Russ, visual effects supervisor Ronald B. Moore, John Billingsley, science consultant Andre Bormanis, co-executive producer Ronald D. Moore, Jeffrey Combs, Vaughn Armstrong, Trimble, writer Jimmy Diggs, Robert O'Reilly, production illustrator Andrew Probert, executive producer Jeri Taylor, astrophysicist Sallie Baliunas, and Star Trek fans Matt Kirk, Mark Steele, Russ Noel chat up what was most important to them about the original series, including memories of their favorite episodes. Most of the participants are cast members of the Trek sequel series The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise.

"Writer's Notebook: D.C. Fontana" (7:35, SD) collates additional comments from the beloved and ever-fascinating story editor and writer Dorothy Fontana.

"Life Beyond Trek: Leonard Nimoy" (12:02, SD) focuses on Nimoy's second career in photography, a passion that keeps him busy in his "life beyond Trek."

"Kirk, Spock & Bones: Star Trek's Great Trio" (7:10, SD) muses on the show's holy trinity. Shatner, Nimoy, Fontana, Takei, associate producer John D.F. Black & secretary Mary Black, and Trimble add their thoughts.

In "Star Trek's Divine Diva: Nichelle Nichols" (13:04, SD), Nichols discusses her career and her most famous role.

The seventh disc also includes "Enhanced Visual Effects Credits" (:30, HD) and episode trailers.

But wait, there's more! The discs are also BD-Live enabled for additional online content, which continues to be updated. Paramount goes one step beyond that cutting-edge feature with Mobile Blu capability they've dubbed "Content to Go." By downloading Mobile Blu, your iPhone will be able to "dial up" and download four additional exclusive featurettes: "Writing Spock" (Disc One), "Creating Chekov" (Disc Two), "Listening to the Actors" (Disc Three), and "Spock's Mother" (Disc Four).

Star Trek fans will metaphorically die and go to heaven as they dig into these hi-def Blu-ray discs, and I can think of no better way for new fans of the Trek franchise to explore the classic series that started it all.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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