Anyone who has followed our recent dissection of the confusing Star Trek Into Darkness Blu-ray release will be left in no doubt about the level of hatred retailer exclusive bonus features draw from fans. Thankfully the recent CBS Home Entertainment season releases of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Enterprise have been largely immune from this frustrating sales technique, albeit not completely. Many of you will be aware that CBS flirted with the use of retailer-exclusive VAM (specifically for Best Buy) with a couple of their Blu-ray releases this summer.
CBS Retailer Exclusive VAM: Take 1 - Enterprise
We previously drew your attention to the Best Buy exclusive "Shuttlepod One: Declassified" VAM featurette which was bundled with Star Trek: Enterprise's first season Blu-ray release back in March. For fans in the United States, this 15-minute retrospective documentary was only available to those who bought the Blu-ray set from Best Buy and was presented as a rather poorly encoded low-resolution video file accessible using a redemption code through Best Buy's clunky CinemaNow online service. Fans in Germany were more fortunate as the feature was made available to all customers using a redemption code to access a full 1080p high resolution download from Paramount Germany's website. And that was it - fans in all other international territories were out of luck, and left hoping that that the illusive feature would appear on YouTube some day.
CBS Retailer Exclusive VAM: Take 2 - TNG
CBS's second foray into the world of retailer exclusives was, unfortunately, more frustrating. The material chosen for the Best Buy exclusive piece bundled with Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3 on Blu-ray - original CG tests done for TNG back in the 1980s - was something fans had been eagerly awaiting ever since Robert Meyer Burnett first mentioned it in an interview with TrekCore back in January. Again, the 15-minute featurette - titled "The Trek Not Taken" - was made available to Best Buy customers using the same poor quality CinemaNow service. The lack of true high definition was particularly disappointing given some of the breathtaking visuals included, amongst which were a series of stunning excerpts of original ILM filming footage of the 6-foot Enterprise model.
Fast forward to today, and we have some rather exciting news - at least for some fans. While the majority of us have already had time to digest the delights of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Four on Blu-ray, it's worth noting that folks in Germany won't get the set until September 19. The delayed release date undoubtedly earned Paramount Germany a fair amount of wrath from fans eagerly awaiting the set, however those of you intending to pick Season 4 up will be thrilled to hear that "The Trek Not Taken" will be included as a special 1080p high definition bonus feature, downloadable from Paramount Germany's website.
The Trek Not Taken: First Steps into the Digital Frontier - Review
Despite it's abbreviated length of 15 minutes, there is a LOT of material crammed into this piece. We're given a whirlwind tour through the history of Star Trek's visual effects starting from the fascinating proposition that TNG could have used CG rather than physical models. It turns out that Paramount considered a wide range of different approaches for TNG's visual effects and commissioned several companies to do a "bake-off" to show how they would go about creating CG for the series. The result is a variable collection of early CG featuring Star Trek movie footage (the design of the Enterprise-D hadn't yet been finalized). Some is pretty good, considering the time - however the majority is laughably bad. It's not hard to see why Paramount passed over the CG for models in the end.
The latter half of the featurette showcases a number of stunning shots of the original Enterprise-D model mounted for filming at ILM while Visual Effects wizard Gary Hutzel hilariously reminisces about how the model was equipped with 14 separate lighting circuits and used to "shock the bejeebus out of him" thanks to arcs from the high voltage source. There's plenty of fascinating insight captured here, covering everything from motion control to filming passes and stock shots.
Certainly the main highlight is the array of visual effects filming footage that has been inserted into this piece. It's chock full of beautiful passes of the various models which I've raved about so often in previous reviews. Seeing so many of these makes it even more frustrating that "The Trek Not Taken" didn't see a wider relese.
Retailer Exclusives: A Post Mortem
So, certainly some good news for German fans who will finally get to see this great TNG visual effects piece. You can pre-order Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season 4 on Blu-ray from Amazon.de here. For everyone else, it would seem pretty unlikely that "The Trek Not Taken" will be bundled with a future season due to the nature of the exclusivity contract with Best Buy. On the bright side, CBS has apparently abandoned it's brief affair with Star Trek retailer exclusives and we're not aware of any future plans to include them on new releases.
In the meantime, we'll leave you with a series of full-HD images from "The Trek Not Taken" along with a bit of reassurance: we haven't seen the end of this kind of visual effects eye-candy - the VAM team have more of this type of content planned for future releases which will be available for everyone!
Stay tuned to TrekCore for plenty of upcoming TNG Blu-ray news, including the latest from Season 5 and "Unification"!