Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection Blu-ray Review

The Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection on Blu-ray Disc is a monumental release for Paramount Home Entertainment. It is the largest single set to-date for their flagship franchise that spans more decades, shows, actors and films than anything else in the vault.

For me, it is an opportunity to watch The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home in high definition for the first time, two films I have always enjoyed checking out for the umpteenth time since their theatrical release more than twenty years ago. The other four films in this set: The Motion Picture, The Search for Spock, The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country, are films I find mildly entertaining but was in no rush to experience again. At least until this set arrived.

Taking a broader look at the Star Trek films starring the original series cast members reveals storytelling ranging from engaging to near horrific. Star Trek: The Motion Picture brought Kirk, Spock, Bones and the gang onto the big screen for the first time in what amounts to an elongated television episode reliant too much on science and exploration and not enough on adventure. In this set, The Motion Picture is presented as the theatrical edition with the director’s cut, already available on DVD, nowhere to be found.

The Motion Picture found enough success theatrically to spawn a sequel which has become a science fiction classic and my favorite of the group. From the sweeping and timeless score to the groundbreaking CGI effects to the emotionally charged story, Khan’s jump from the television show to the big screen put Star Trek on the map and is considered by many, myself included, as the best Trek experience to date.

While Khan is a revelation filled with memories its sequel, The Search for Spock, is the most forgettable in the series. It is not a poor movie, per se, but is a step behind Khan in every aspect despite carrying forward a continued story arc. While my mind goes dark when trying to recall scenes from The Search for Spock, it fills with laughs for the commercial friendly The Voyage Home. Heavy-handed with an environmental message or not, the Enterprise’s crew running amuck in 1980s San Francisco was a perfect means to wrap up “the trilogy” story with some good lighthearted humor.

The Final Frontier was designed to be the final voyage for this Enterprise and her crew but instead was so woefully poor that the gang was given one final shot in The Undiscovered Country. The latter is my next favorite after The Voyage Home, mostly due to its Shakespeare-spewing Klingon captain and adversary of James T. Kirk. Had the fifth and sixth films not existed I would have been perfectly content seeing the original Enterprise off once they completed their “voyage home.”

Each Trek film is given its own disc in this set with an additional seventh disc dedicated to a new bonus feature — all packaged inside a solid hardcover case. The graphics on the case are mirrored in the menu design which is animated and slick but not nearly individual enough for each film. Squint your eyes at the menus and you will not know which disc is loaded up.

The video transfers are all presented in 1080p via AVC encoding with The Wrath of Khan being the only film receiving a full restoration. Depending on the film the result varies due to film stock and grain, lighting conditions and the amount of digital noise reduction (DNR) and edge enhancement which has been applied to some degree on every film.

Being that The Wrath of Khan was gifted with a full restoration its video quality is quite good. Everything about the transfer is an improvement over its DVD counterpart from the colors to detail to damage on the original print. Grain and softness from the original print are persistent and, at times strong, which might deter younger viewers. Fans of film should be satisfied with the restoration’s result and more than adequate handling of a primarily dimly lit film. You can almost reach out and touch the veins popping in Kirk’s head when he yells “Khan!”

You might expect video quality to increase as the film age decreased with each sequel but such is not the case. From the bits I sampled, The Motion Picture is a stronger transfer with less DNR than Search for Spock, The Voyage Home and especially The Final Frontier. It is as if the engineers knew Final Frontier was the weakest film and digitally altered its appearance more so than the others deliberately. The Undiscovered Country does seem to be the sharpest and most modern looking of the bunch. It, too, has been passed through the DNR filters and carries a hint of artificiality like its predecessors.

While video consistency is unpredictable through the six Trek films, audio quality appropriately increases with each successive entry to a fitting farewell with The Undiscovered Country. Paramount has remixed every film with 7.1 channels of lossless Dolby TrueHD audio. Offering two additional channels of surround is always welcome, though for the first four films was not really needed. Surround use during the “action” sequences are mostly front-heavy with minimal expansion into the rears. Had I not known beforehand the films were 7.1 identifying them as such would have proven difficult. Bass extension, however, benefits substantially from the jump to lossless with rumbling not far off what you would expect from a modern blockbuster.

Not until The Final Frontier does the audio mix begin to sound somewhat “modern” with extended surround use, less reliance on the front channels and more overall depth. By Undiscovered Country, the audio has evolved to the point of providing excellent clarity and swirling surround use that puts the previous films to shame.

Browsing through the sheer volume of bonus features scattered across each disc in the set would turn even a Trekkie’s mind to mush. In addition to multiple hours of features ported over in standard definition from the previously released DVD versions, at least one new bonus feature in high definition is included with each film and access to BD-Live where a Star Trek Trivia IQ Test awaits. On top of that, each film also includes an all-new feature-length commentary track. Except for The Motion Picture whose DVD commentary could not be ported over because it was recorded for the director’s cut, there is a previously recorded and newly recorded commentary to choose from. Paramount is not one to skimp on supplements when it comes to Star Trek and everything this set offers, which would take several days to sift through, continues that trend.

A seventh disc includes Star Trek Summit (1:11:12, HD), a unique roundtable discussion moderated by Whoopi Goldberg with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes. Running a bit over an hour, three of the Trek stars have nothing but praise to lavish the franchise that lined their coffers. Shatner, on the other hand, boldly goes where the others do not. He pushes his “inflated” ego on Whoopi and the group by interrupting them with lame jokes and rambling on endlessly with no care for his careless attitude towards The Next Generation. Frakes stares at Shatner during one of his diatribes with a glint of either pity or angst in his eye, so intense a fitting closing would be the two jumping into a ring with glass glued to their knuckles.

Apart from not offering a choice between the theatrical and director’s cut for The Motion Picture and varying DNR application, The Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection is a solid set offering weeks of entertainment and, more importantly, the opportunity to view all six original crew films back-to-back. Let’s face it; like The Planet of the Apes films, it is hard to stop with just one when all are staring you in the face. Kirk and his mates find a way to keep you watching even as the script crumbles to shambles around them, meaning an all-nighter Star Trek marathon is all but a certainty in my future.

– Dan Bradley

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