Star Trek: Enterprise Season 1
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Blu-ray Disc • 6 Discs
CBS Home Entertainment
It's been over ten years since Enterprise first graced our screens and the show still manages to polarize fan opinion. Enterprise's supporters are unwavering in their efforts to defend and promote the show, while its critics remain staunchly entrenched with the view that poor writing and a lack of imagination led - ultimately - to the demise of Star Trek on television. This newly issued Blu-ray release of Season One examines both sides of the argument from a historical perspective and sets about re-evaluating the show in a fascinating new light.
Enterprise tries hard to represent a departure from the Star Trek shows that have gone before. The new crew are untested and unsure, the ship is more like a nuclear submarine than a luxury cruiser and the galaxy feels huge, intimidating and unexplored. That feeling of pioneering exploration lasts all of three episodes and then sadly the show seems to descend into a very familiar formulaic presentation that makes it feel like a continuation from predecessor Star Trek: Voyager. There are certainly stand-out episodes: "Dear Doctor" is terrific, and represents the perfect morality play which Star Trek does so well. "Shuttlepod One" is one of those bottle-shows done on a shoestring budget which pushes all the right buttons, laying bare the souls of Tucker and Reed and allowing us to connect with the characters on a different level.
As Brannon Braga laments in the new Bonus Features for the set (reviewed below), "I wish they'd all been Dear Doctors". Sadly, the majority of the first season still manages to fade into forgetful obscurity with episodes like "Oasis", "Rogue Planet", "Acquisition", "Civilization" and "Fortunate Son" reminding me exactly why the show failed to ignite my excitement back when it aired ten years ago. Does this make the first season a write-off? Certainly not - there's enough to keep Star Trek fans interested here, just don't expect a shiny new HD transfer to improve episodes which were terrible when they originally aired. They're still terrible, folks!
CBS took the decision to issue Star Trek: Enterprise on Blu-ray as the show was already prepped and ready to go in high definition - unlike Star Trek: The Next Generation which is currently being remastered from the ground up using the original camera negatives.
Enterprise's Blu-ray transfer is certainly a step-up from the DVD release. Live-action shots possess far more clarity than you'll have seen before - previously unseen textures of costumes and small intricate details on props and the sets are visible for the first time. The sets designed by Herman Zimmerman and his team hold up fantastically well, and I was left with a renewed appreciation for his work when watching the episodes in HD.
The opening titles to Enterprise are especially striking in HD. Despite the packaging labeling of "Star Trek Enterprise", the show title remains simply "Enterprise" as it was originally aired during Seasons 1 and 2.
Black levels are close to perfect with episodes such as "Rogue Planet" benefiting the best from the improved Blu-ray resolution. This was always problematic on DVD releases - blacks would be crushed and smudged producing an incoherent mess, especially as the camera pans across a shot. The new HD transfer is thankfully free of these problems, allowing us to appreciate for the first time layers of subtle shadow previously hidden.
As I've discussed in previous articles, CG and VFX sequences for the first three seasons of Enterprise were rendered at 720p resolution during the show's production (CORRECTION: It seems most VFX shots were actually produced at 480p resolution, with shots only being rendered at 720p/1080p if the visual effects team thought aliasing issues were too severe). Rather than re-render these shots at full 1080p (which would have proved prohibitively expensive for CBS due to the reduced market for Enterprise) the shots have been up-scaled. The results seem to be very much dependent on the (admittedly variable) quality of the CG that was produced back in 2001-2002 rather than any upscaling algorithms CBS may have used.
A number of upscaled shots suffer from noticeable aliasing with the smooth lines on the hull of the Enterprise being particularly vulnerable to exhibiting jagged artifacts when the ship is in motion. These are somewhat distracting when you see them for the first few times, but I found myself being less and less bothered by them as I moved through the season. It's not a huge problem, just a somewhat annoying side-effect of up-converting the original lower resolution CG sequences.
Perhaps more distracting to me was the drop in image quality when a shot involves blue-screen work. These shots have also been upconverted and result in a somewhat blurred look to the presentation which contrasts with the crisp, sharp 1080p image that you become accustomed to seeing. Again, this was unavoidable with any upscaling project and it's worth emphasizing that these shots still fare better than they did when the show was released on DVD.
The upscaled presentation manages to provide a number of surprises through the season with many shots coming out with a stunning level of quality and detail that I would have thought impossible given the source material. Shots such as the ones showing the IKS Somraw in "Sleeping Dogs", Starfleet Headquarters in "Shadows of P'Jem" and the Valakian City in "Dear Doctor" look stunning in HD and bring forth some wonderful detail previously hidden at standard def resolution.
|The IKS Somraw from "Sleeping Dogs" - some really nice textures visible on the model after the upscaling.||The Valakian City digital matte from "Dear Doctor" looks stunning in HD. No aliasing evident and lines are sharp with a nice natural grain visible.|
Finally, I must mention the apparent color correction applied to the episodes for the HD conversion. Episodes have taken on a slight magenta/purple cast which has resulted in some rather noticeable palette changes. I've posted a couple of shots to highlight this difference below. At present, I've been unable to ascertain the reason behind this shift in color but I'm looking into it and will update the review with more information when I have it.
|The color of the HD transfer seems to have been given a purple/magenta hue, so scenes such as this shot of Risa in "Two Days and Two Nights" have been rather dramatically altered.|
I would find it somewhat difficult to justify an upgrade to Blu-ray at the price CBS is asking for this set if it wasn't for the masses of extra bonus content commissioned specially for this release. TNG Blu-ray VAM gurus Roger Lay, Jr. and Robert Meyer Burnett were once again drafted to produce a raft of documentaries and special features chronicling the troubled inception of Enterprise.
Enterprise had already been given a pretty lavish helping of bonus features when it was released on DVD back in 2005 with numerous documentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes and even a commentary or two. Thankfully all of that material has been ported over to the Blu-rays so you can rest assured that you're not losing any content from the previous release.
The main body of the new content comes in the form of Roger Lay, Jr.'s three-part 90 minute documentary "To Boldly Go: Launching Enterprise".
- "Countdown" details the rocky road the producers and creative staff had to traverse to develop the show and get their concept approved. Show producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga are brutally candid about Enterprise's troubled inception, with Berman recalling how he "begged" the studio to wait after Voyager and Braga evoking memories of being daunted and exhausted during the first season. Braga is especially engaging as he shares some wonderful memories of developing the show, revealing that Season 1 was originally going to be set entirely on Earth! You can't help but laugh at the end as Braga finally 'fesses up to finding the theme song "embarrassingly bad", a thread which will be picked up in the "In Conversation" piece later on.
- "Boarding the NX-01" introduces us to the main cast - or at least some of them. Due to the tight deadlines imposed by CBS on this release, Roger Lay, Jr. was unable to interview the entire principal cast in time so those hoping to see Jolene Blalock, John Billingsley, Anthony Montgomery or Linda Park will be left waiting for Season 2. Still, there are some nice stories to be told as Dominic Keating recalls overhearing Billingsley's hilarious "squawking bird" audition and Connor Trinneer remembers fearing he would be fired by Rick Berman after stealing a couple of bottles of booze from a studio function.
- "First Flight" is easily my favorite part. The creative struggles that faced the show are finally illuminated in a far more honest light than we've ever seen before. Even lead actor Scott Bakula admits that the writers were exhausted during the inaugural season. Brannon Braga is a delight to watch here as he says what many fans have thought for a long time, and takes responsibility for what didn't work. I couldn't help but empathize with Braga as he laments that none of the writers lasted through the first season and how he was forced into frantic rewrites of most of the shows that season. Having him literally go through a list of episodes was a stroke of genius, and produces hilarious results as he writes off shows such as "Terra Nova" as "terrible, f**king terrible" and "Aquisition" with "There was no excuse for the Ferengi. It was an act of desperation."
Video Village behind the NX-01 bridge set controlled all the LCD monitors on the bridge. There's a nice story from Denise Okuda about how nothing worked hours before the pilot was scheduled to start shooting.
"On the Set" is a fascinating documentary giving a detailed account of the work involved in producing an episode of Enterprise. Film-maker Barry Kibrick spent a week on the Paramount lot during the production of the episode "Vox Sola". What follows is a revealing look at the challenges of producing a full episode of Star Trek, from story-breaking through to filming and post-production CG work and scoring. There are some really nice insights here, and I was particularly impressed by Roxann Dawson whose professionalism and motivation is clearly apparent in her role directing the episode. There are some wonderful one-liners thrown in here from the unlikeliest of people as Rick Berman muses how "it's very difficult to make a pile of goo the bad guy" and Roxann Dawson qualifies the challenges of "directing alien linguine". Great fun!
On the Set takes an intimate look at the daily troubles faced by the cast and crew when filming Enterprise and focuses particularly on Roxann Dawson's role as the director of "Vox Sola".
"In Conversation" for me, is the pièce de résistance from this set. Producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga sit down together for a full hour to address some of the more contentious issues which fandom has debated for years. The piece starts off innocuously enough with the two discussing the ideas behind Enterprise and the cast, but quickly heats up as Braga turns to Berman and asks "Do you realize Rick, that some fans say we killed the franchise?" What follows is a fascinating insight into studio and network politics and the daily obstacles the producers had to overcome to keep Star Trek going. Rick Berman's story about the unnamed network executive's failure to understand what is meant by the ship's hull is hilarious, but also poignant as he recalls realizing that they were fighting a losing battle to keep Star Trek on the air. There are some real shockers thrown in as it's revealed that Brent Spiner refused to do Star Trek: Nemesis unless Data died at the end and William Shatner pitched a two-part Kirk episode of Enterprise but wanted an "obscene" amount of money to do it.
"In Conversation" is a killer piece which originated from an idea by Robert Meyer Burnett that he used previously for the 2003 DVD release of "Valley Girl". It works exceptionally well on this set and I can only hope that the team organize a follow up of some form in the future. It's a totally captivating watch and managed to leave me with a renewed appreciation for both Berman and Braga.
The candid In Conversation piece between Rick Berman and Brannon Braga covers some notably hot-button issues such as network interference, allegations of "killing" the franchise and dealing with demands from actors.
Audio Commentaries: The set sports a total of four new audio commentaries on the key episodes of the season -
- "Broken Bow" with Brannon Braga, director James L. Conway, visual effects producer Dan Curry and cast members Connor Trinneer (Trip Tucker) and Dominic Keating (Malcolm Reed)
- "Silent Enemy" with writer/story editor André Bormanis and visual effects producer Dan Curry
- "Shadows of P'Jem" with writers/executive story editors Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong
- "Shuttlepod One" with Brannon Braga, director David Livingston and cast members Connor Trinneer (Trip Tucker) and Dominic Keating (Malcolm Reed)
Admittedly I haven't had chance to listen to the commentaries yet, but judging by the people involved it sounds like they're going to make for fascinating listening, especially the new "Broken Bow" commentary.
Additional New Material: While the team were unable to locate the original episode trailers for the set, there are some very cool promotional presentations which I hadn't seen before, including:
- Cast Introduction - Rick Berman introduces fans to the new cast during the filming of "Broken Bow"
- Network Presentation - A three minute presentation chronicling the different incarnations of Star Trek and introducing Enterprise
- Syndication Presentation - A blood-pumping seven minute presentation which is easily the best of the three. Features some of the most memorable scenes from Star Trek: Enterprise and the earlier shows in a wonderful montage.
Again I must give kudos to Lay, Jr. and Burnett for putting together a great package of bonus features at short notice. The material clearly benefits from the close involvement of the show's co-creator Brannon Braga and will undoubtedly change many fans' opinion about Enterprise.
The Bottom Line
Despite some of the limitations I've discussed relating to picture quality and the somewhat hefty price-tag for this set, it deserves recommendation based purely on the unprecedented candor on display in the new bonus features. The VAM makes this set, and it really is fascinating to watch. "In Conversation" is sure to challenge many fans' preconceptions about Berman & Braga, or at the very least give them new ammunition to lay fresh criticism at their feet.
Written by Adam Walker, March 16 2013