Blu-ray Review Enterprise

Warp Five Blu-ray Review: Star Trek: Enterprise - Season Four

April 30, 2014Ben MK

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Saving the best for last

By Ben Mk

Say what you will about J.J. Abrams and his affinity for lens flares, but the man sure knows his way around sci-fi. After just two films, his version of Kirk, Spock and the rest of the classic Enterprise crew has already left an irrevocable imprint on moviegoers. But pretend for a moment that you've commandeered control of a Borg sphere and have used it to time travel back to Earth, circa ten years ago. The Star Trek universe was a very different place a decade ago, with not a J.J., a Chris Pine or a Zachary Quinto in sight. So, what significance does the year 2004 hold for Trekkers? It was the year that the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise premiered, spelling the end of eighteen years of Star Trek on television.

Star Trek: Enterprise was never the franchise's most beloved entry. Conceived on the notion of showing the formative years of the Federation, the series generally failed to deliver on its heady promise. Many fans blamed showrunners Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, who had helmed the franchise since the days of Star Trek: The Next Generation, for the misfire. But in hindsight, it was really a combination of factors that caused the show to veer off its intended path — and which led to its eventual demise after only four seasons. It was a minor miracle that it was even renewed for a fourth year, but thanks (at least in part) to devious strategizing by its writers — who ended season three on a cliffhanger note — it was. And rightfully so, because season four of Enterprise — which saw Manny Coto (24, Dexter) take over the creative reins — delivers some of its most memorable episodes. It may not have been enough to save the struggling show, but it certainly redeemed it in the eyes of fans, by both enriching the Star Trek mythos and providing the essential connective tissue to tie the show back to the original series.

Still bearing the scars from their previous season-long encounter with the vicious alien race known as the Xindi, the Enterprise NX-01 and its crew begin year four of their voyage by being flung two hundred years into the past. Just who or what is responsible — and to what end — is unknown; but this much is clear: something is deeply amiss with the timeline. And for Enterprise, that can only mean one thing: the Temporal Cold War. The two-part season opener, 'Storm Front', sees Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and his intrepid crew — Commander T'Pol (Jolene Blalock), Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker III (Connor Trinneer), Lieutenant Commander Hoshi Sato (Linda Park), Lieutenant Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating), Ensign Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery) and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley) — do battle against Nazis and aliens (or, more specifically, Nazi aliens), as they struggle to right the timeline once and for all. The storyline alone is ripe for an ill-timed Quantum Leap reference; but thankfully, the writers bring swift closure to this much maligned story arc, paving the way for bigger and better things ahead.

Once Archer and company return to their own timeline, season four really settles into its groove, unfolding over the course of a half-dozen mini-arcs (plus a handful of standalone episodes) that further solidify the connection between Enterprise and the earlier series (while having a little fun along the way). And aside from the lackluster series finale — which all but reduces everything that came before it to a holodeck simulation — the season only gets better as it progresses. The highlight is the late-season two-parter, 'In a Mirror, Darkly' — essentially an homage to the original series (particularly its episodes, 'The Tholian Web' and 'Mirror, Mirror') — which affords the cast the opportunity to chew the scenery as mirror universe versions of their regular characters, while donning the classic Starfleet uniforms and stomping around a spot-on recreation of the Constitution-class USS Defiant. The pair of episodes is just one of a number of nods to the original series and The Next Generation — some more throwaway than others — that pepper the show's final hurrah. There are also references to Khan Noonien Sing, Botany Bay and the Briar Patch in a three-episode arc ('Borderland', 'Cold Station 12' and 'The Augments') centering on the remnants of the Eugenics Wars; and a long overdue explanation of the more-human-than-Klingon-looking Klingons from the original series is delivered in the two-episode arc 'Affliction' and 'Divergence'.

Coto and his writers also roll out the red carpet for guest stars aplenty, including a trio of TNG cast members. Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis all make an appearance, with the former playing the great grandfather of the creator of his TNG character, Data, while the latter two reprise their TNG characters, Riker and Troi. Also among the list of familiar faces are the late James Avery (best known for his role on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), as a Klingon General, Re-Animator's Jeffrey Combs, as an Andorian Commander, and The X-Files' Brian Thompson, as a Romulan Admiral. RoboCop himself, Peter Weller (who would later return to the franchise as Admiral Alexander Marcus, in Star Trek Into Darkness), even plays a pivotal role in the series' penultimate storyline, playing the leader of a xenophobic terrorist faction hellbent on preventing the unification of planets. Factor in the appearances from some of the galaxy's most recognizable alien species — including the Tholian and the Gorn — and it all adds up to arguably the best (or at least, the most enjoyable and entertaining) season of Enterprise.

It's only fitting that the best season of Enterprise receive the best HD presentation of the series' run, and Paramount's Blu-ray set doesn't disappoint. Whereas the original series and The Next Generation underwent painstaking restoration before making their way to Blu-ray, Enterprise (as a far more recent show and, perhaps, as a less popular one) has never been privy to the same tender loving care, it seems. The A/V quality on past seasons has ranged from underwhelming to adequate. But season four marks the show's transition from 35mm film to HD video, and the difference is readily apparent in the Blu-ray's picture quality.

From the desert hues of the Vulcan Forge to the icy blues of the Andorian homeworld, colors are bolder and more vibrant than ever before, especially the dark blues of Starfleet's uniforms and the multicolored graphics on the Enterprise's bridge computer screens. Flesh tones — whether they be human, Andorian or Orion — are also nicely balanced, and even the stipples in the actors' makeup and prosthetics applications are noticeable. And the image is generally quite sharp (save for the odd hazy shot here and there), making it easy to spot minute details like the textural differences between T'Pol's velvet jumpsuit and that of the standard-issue crew uniform. Overall, effects shots benefit from the increased resolution — particularly the stunning recreation of the Enterprise-D glimpsed in the series finale — but viewers will notice more than a few VFX shots that are beginning to show their age (as none have been remastered for Blu-ray), and the clarity of the image only makes it all the more apparent. Audio-wise, the disc's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is more than capable of handling the sonic dynamics of each and every episode, and — between the rousing orchestral soundtrack and the blasts and explosions from phase pistols and photon torpedoes — viewers should find little to complain about (other than the show's perennially unpopular theme song, of course).

Keeping with the tradition of previous Star Trek releases on Blu-ray, season four of Enterprise is bolstered by a wealth of special features, spread across Paramount's six-disc set. This includes content (presented in standard definition) from the 2005 DVD release: 6 minutes of deleted scenes for 'Storm Front, Part I', 'The Aenar' and 'In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II'; audio commentaries for 'In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I', 'In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II' and 'Terra Prime' (all of which originated as free-to-download podcasts); text commentaries from Mike and Denise Okuda for 'The Forge', 'In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II' and 'These are the Voyages...'; 86 minutes of Archival Mission Logs (Enterprise Moments: Season Four, Inside the Mirror Episodes, Visual Effects Magic, Enterprise Secrets, That's a Wrap!, Westmore's Aliens: Creating Dr. Phlox and Beyond, Outtakes and NX-01 File); and a photo gallery containing about sixty photos taken on the set during the show's production. New HD bonus features include a 1-minute extended scene and a 2-page script gallery for 'Home', plus newly-recorded audio commentaries for 'The Forge', 'Observer Effect', 'United', 'In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I', 'Demons' and 'Terra Prime'.

But as season four was all about giving fans of the show closure, there are also a couple of substantial bonus features geared towards that specific purpose. The first is the 116-minute, four-part documentary, Before Her Time: Decommissioning Enterprise, where the cast and crew speak very frankly and openly about the show's untimely end, weighing in with their opinions and criticisms. Part one, New Voices, centers on the contributions of season four showrunner, Manny Coto, and new writers Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. Part two, Memorable Voyages, shifts the focus to the final season's more memorable story arcs, including a few anectodes about their production. In part three, Final Approach, the cast and the filmmakers share their opinions on the circumstances that led up to the series' cancellation, as well as their opinions of the ill-received final episode; and Coto briefly mentions his story ideas for the unrealized fifth season. The documentary concludes with a discussion of the larger implications of Enterprise's cancellation — the end of Star Trek's eighteen-year television reign — in part four, End of an Era.

It's followed by In Conversation: Writing Star Trek: Enterprise, a 90-minute roundtable discussion between some of the show's key writers and producers — David A. Goodman, Brannon Braga, André Bormanis, Michael Sussman, Phyllis Strong, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Chris Black — where they share their experiences on the series and reflect on its successes and failures. In contrast with some of the special features from the 2005 DVD release, it's refreshing to see the cast and the filmmakers be so open and honest about their opinions, making these new special features must-sees for any Enterprise fan.

Star Trek: Enterprise isn't merely a footnote in the Star Trek television landscape; but it shall go down in history as one of the more curious entries in the franchise. Beloved by some yet maligned by others, the series was a valiant attempt at boldly going where no Star Trek television show had gone before. Ultimately, it was more misunderstood than anything else; but its fourth and final season succeeds at righting some of the series' earlier wrongs, by consistently delivering on the core Star Trek experience while connecting the dots between it and the original series in interesting and entertaining ways. With the (inter)stellar A/V presentation on Paramount's Blu-ray release, Enterprise has never looked or sounded better; but it's the bounty of insightful extras — featuring frank discussions with the cast and the filmmakers — that makes Star Trek: Enterprise - Season Four on Blu-ray well worth catching up on, especially for those who may have missed it on television the first time around.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★★
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★
Special Features  —  ★★★★½

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