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Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One

It's much cooler to be a Star Trek fan now than it was back in the day. We're talking back before Star Trek became a franchise label like some interstellar Applebees. No movies. No next generations. Absolutely no DVDs. Looking back after four subsequent TV series (each lasting longer than the original) and ten big-screen movies, the decade of the 1970s sure seems like a lonely time for the avid Trekkie ... Trekker ... whatever. Yet it was during the '70s when reruns of the 79 televised adventures of red-blooded Capt. Kirk, elegantly insular Mr. Spock, and the trusty crew of the starship Enterprise mutated into something nobody expected. This failed TV show, cancelled in 1969 after three years, grew into an international phenomenon. It spoke to a generation stressed out by Vietnam, the Cold War, and social or political upheavals. Before its premiere, NBC's on-air promos described Star Trek as "the first adult space adventure." And certainly compared to other science fiction on screens small or large — childish crap like Lost in Space or dystopic downers like Planet of the ApesStar Trek offered something relatively intelligent and grown-up, and felt sincere in its optimistic promise that somehow we'll eventually get our shit together and travel the stars. Star Trek conventions became veritable Woodstocks for thousands of faithful devotees. Fan magazines, merchandise, and novels continuing the adventures didn't just thrive, they proliferated like tribbles. By the 1979 debut of the first Star Trek motion picture, that "failed" old series had become the sacred texts in a peculiar, yet oddly inspiring, new religion. Like Superman or King Arthur, Star Trek transcended its original medium. Or was it just the right TV show to steady us through our depressingly Earthbound adolescence?

Nowadays, being a Star Trek fan is so mainstream that it doesn't even get you wedgied on the playground anymore. Cable's Spike TV, "the channel for men," sometimes looks like the 24-hour Trek Network. The franchise's best entry, Deep Space Nine, over seven years became arguably TV's all-time best spaceships-and-aliens science fiction series. (No flaming email, please.) And of course, Google up "Star Trek" to see the reason why the Internet was invented. Even the toys are cooler these days.

Now, 38 years almost to the day after the first episode aired in 1966, Star Trek's entire first, and best, season is available in one DVD boxed set no bigger than your average tricorder. Holding Season One's 29 episodes in the palm of one hand is a pretty far-out concept to those of us who remember rabbit-ear antennas. So is being able to view them at will, uncut, and free of commercials. Souped up with excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and startlingly vibrant color after years of worn-out TV prints, these discs re-introduce us to the hallmarks that made the original Star Trek such a pop-culture touchstone. Season One stands out because, unlike too many of the later franchise series and movies, it doesn't straitjacket itself trying to "be Star Trek." It has no history to live up to and no hypercritical fan base to appease (hello, Comic Book Guy), so it finds its own way through strong writing, character-centered drama, and humanistic morality plays. In particular, the superbly cast Kirk-Spock-McCoy relationship is right away the three-legged stool on which the series stands. On these eight discs you can count a dozen "classic" eps that remain some of the best Treks to date.

"Where No Man Has Gone Before" is the intriguing start-with-a-mystery, end-with-a-fist-fight pilot that convinced the NBC suits to give this odd new show a chance. An ingenious means of imprinting the now-familiar crew into our consciousness arrives early in "The Naked Time." Harlan Ellison's time-travel tragedy, "The City on the Edge of Forever," long regarded as the series' finest hour, shares a disc with "Errand of Mercy," which introduced the Klingons to the mythos. "Balance of Terror" updates Run Silent, Run Deep in a moving first battlefield encounter with the Romulans. (Thanks to new home theater sound, the space battles now rumble your subwoofer and that Red Alert klaxon surrounds your head.) A two-parter, "The Menagerie" cleverly unveils a mind-bending experience in the life of Spock's former captain. "Arena" and "Devil in the Dark" are still first-rate monsteramas, and Ricardo Montalban first found the wrath of Khan in "Space Seed." We get the expected groaners too. For instance, the otherwise top-notch allegory "Return of the Archons" climaxes on a tacky-looking and clichéd cue for a Capt. Kirk drinking game. But there's only one all-out clanker here, "The Alternative Factor," which is too busy gnashing its teeth to figure out its plot.

The second and third seasons will have their classics too, though we'll giggle more often when the crew beams down to yet another planet of Californians garbed as if for a community theater production of Julius Caesar, or confront futuristic space women sporting Nancy Sinatra hairdos and weaknesses for Capt. Kirk. Not to mention that in Dolby Digital 5.1 the wooden floorboards on the mighty starship's bridge creak more noticeably than ever before. Though Star Trek's pre-Apollo gloss has shifted from future-cool to retro-quaint, its ineffable presence over the decades has added words to our lexicon, beloved characters to our imaginations, and images to our communal wallpaper. Its sometimes Shakespearean, sometimes camp thrills can still affect us like Proust's cookie in the tea. And we don't miss the wedgies one bit.

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Paramount Home Video delivers all 29 episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One in their original broadcast order, looking good and sounding great. (These are the same cleaned-up source masters used for Paramount's previous 40 overpriced two-fer discs, though these new transfers raise the bar a little higher.) The imagery is sharp and vivid, and this most boldly colorful of all Star Treks really pops off the screen. The prints are generally quite clean, with some old dirt and film grain most visible where they've always been, in layered composite special effects such as the Enterprise orbiting a planet. A slight vertical jitter marring the previous DVD release of "City on the Edge of Forever" carries over here. Otherwise, these are impressive prints and transfers. Each episode defaults to a well-produced DD 5.1 audio remix that makes sexy use of a modern home theater system. The clear, clean, strong sound has received a surround treatment that enhances without being intrusive. The Enterprise whooshes past your ears (pointed or otherwise), the bridge sound effects place you in the big center seat, and your subwoofer kicks in more often than Sulu falls out of his chair. A DD 2.0 Surround remix is also available.

The rather humdrum special features start with pop-up Text Commentary (really just banal trivia) by Michael and Denise Okuda on four episodes. Featurettes dishing up production history and fanzine fluff start with "The Birth of a Timeless Legacy" (24:15), which compiles new and archival interview footage on the show's conception and development, with series creator Gene Rodenberry, producer Robert Justman, writer D.C. Fontana, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, James Doohan, and others. In "Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner" (10:27), the man who defeated the Gorn gives us a puff piece on his love for his horses. "To Boldly Go... Season One" (18:59) reminisces about the debut year, with Nimoy, Shatner, guest stars Ricardo Montalban and William Campbell, and more. Nimoy reconciles with his unkillable alter ego in "Reflections on Spock" (12:12).

Finally, "Sci-Fi Visionaries" (16:40) is an inexcusably tedious tribute to the professional science fiction authors hired to bring their cache value and loyal fans to the series. D.C. Fontana and the interminable John D. F. Black name-drop Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, and others. The extras peter out with a "Photo Log" of 40 stills. Click around the menu screens for four easter eggs called "Red Shirt Logs," brief interview pieces on behind-the-scenes trivia. (Easter-egging these things is a lamentable fad throughout the entire range of Star Trek franchise DVD boxed sets.)

Also, each episode comes with its original "coming next week" Preview Trailer. The menus appear within a cool CGI fly-through of the starship bridge. Our only complaint is that way too many episodes don't allow you to chapter-skip past the opening credits.

This set's unique packaging stores the eight discs in a compact page-hinged digipak, and that's housed within a '70s-chic lobster-shell plastic case in "command gold." That embossed case is as retro as an eight-track tape deck, but it fits comfortably among the other boxed sets on the DVD shelf.

—Mark Bourne

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