Fans of the original “Star Trek” TV series will be happy eventually to own any or all of their favorite shows on DVD. Paramount is issuing two episodes per volume, forty or more volumes in all, over the next few years. I know that two episodes per disc, about 100 minutes total, sounds a little chintzy for DVD, but each no-frills disc is specially priced at around $20. What’s $800 or more to a dedicated Trekker or Trekkie? In any case, probably only the most devoted fan will want every show. Besides, one of our advertisers is offering the discs at about $14 apiece, so substantial savings abound. The main thing is that all the episodes are coming, and the picture quality is the best its ever been, certainly better than broadcast television or VHS tape.
The plan is to release the episodes sequentially, starting with episodes #2 and #3 on Volume One. What happened to episode number one, you ask? It was in black and white and will await release on one of the final discs (disc number forty according to the booklet insert). Anyway, most of the old crew appear in episode #2: William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk (identified as James R. Kirk on a tombstone); Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock; James Doohan as Scotty; and George Takei as Mr. Sulu. DeForest Kelley debuts in episode #3 as Dr. “Bones” McCoy and Nichelle Nichols as Uhuru. But we would have to wait a while longer for Walter Koenig to make his appearance as Mr. Chekov.
Episode #2, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” was directed by James Goldstone and guest stars Gary Lockwood and Sally Kellerman. It originally aired on September 22, 1966. It involves the Starship Enterprise passing through a radiation field that greatly heightens the ESP abilities of two of the crew, Lockwood and Kellerman. Kellerman handles it pretty well, but Lockwood’s new powers increase his desire to become a god. A fight to the finish between him and Kirk saves the day.
Episode #3, “The Corbomite Maneuver,” was directed by Joseph Sargent and first aired on November 10, 1966. It is about an outer-space poker game, so to speak. Facing almost certain death from an alien named Balek who has seemingly super powers, Kirk must bluff his way to safety. Both shows display the simple directness and morality that would exemplify the series as a whole. Both rely more on thought and words than on action. And both illustrate what an imaginative set designer can do with a can of paint, colored lights, and plywood. It’s also interesting to see the metamorphosis in Spock’s eyebrows from one episode to the next. His eyes, ears, and personality were toned down a bit as the series progressed.
Of course, the shows are projected in a standard TV ratio of 1.33:1. The transfers were taken directly from 35-mm masters, and the colors are quite realistic and probably better defined than we have ever seen them before. Better than I’ve ever seen them, at least, and I can remember watching the series in its entirety in its first run and then in countless reruns. This is not to suggest perfection, however. The definition is still wanting in comparison to more-recent films, and there is noticeable grain in many of the background shots, especially the starship itself against a sea of space.
Nor is the Dolby Digital-mastered sound much to praise, as it is still rather limited monaural. It is fairly quiet and it gets the job done, which is all that matters.
To keep costs down, Paramount offer few extras: some preview trailers, very brief scene selections, and English subtitles for the hearing impaired. The booklet insert does list the contents of all forty DVD editions, though, making it easy to pick out favorite episodes and budget expenses accordingly.
I doubt if the “Star Trek” franchise will ever die. It keeps reappearing in new guises: Reruns, spin-offs, tapes, movies, and now DVD. They’re old friends, and it’s nice to have them around. Certainly, the audiovisual aspects of the series show their age, but, fortunately, it was a series built far more on character and characterization than on special effects. Welcome aboard.