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One Blu-ray Review to Beam Up: Star Trek: The Compendium

September 20, 2014Ben Mk


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To boldy go where no reboot has gone before...

Rebooting a movie franchise with an all-new cast has become commonplace in Hollywood. But having that cast inherit a set of iconic roles that have not only been heavily ingrained in the public consciousness but have also become synonymous with the names and faces of the original actors — well, that's a dicier proposition. Yet that's exactly the kind of calculated risk J.J. Abrams took when he brought a new crew aboard his version of the Enterprise in 2009's Star Trek and 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, and the results of his gambit are both on display in Star Trek: The Compendium.

   

The Films Ordinarily, Abrams' Star Trek would simply qualify as a prequel to the original movies, but — much like how the Mirror Universe episodes of the television series drew upon the notion of a parallel plane of existence to imbue the crew with radically different personas — screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman utilize the concept of an alternate timeline to not only weave an origin tale for the Enterprise crew, but to posit a new spin on Gene Roddenberry's classic characters as well.

That alternate timeline is set into motion when the destruction of the planet Romulus in the existing Trek universe results in a black hole that sends a Romulan renegade named Nero (a tattooed and bald-headed Eric Bana) — and his ship, the Narada — back in time, where he encounters the Federation ship the U.S.S. Kelvin, on which James T. Kirk's father (a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) happens to be the first officer. In the ensuing confrontation, the elder Kirk is killed, and history is forever altered.

Without the guidance and influence of his father, Kirk never joins Starfleet — that is, until 22 years later, when a fateful encounter with Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) finally persuades him to enlist. And eventually, Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Scotty (Simon Pegg) all end up together on the bridge of the Enterprise, in an attempt to stop Nero from executing deadly reprisals against the Federation, which he blames for the annihilation of his home planet.

But as much as Star Trek aims to be an origin story for the entire Enterprise crew, the truth is that some of the characters get short shrift. The focus of the story really lies with Kirk and Spock, as their relationship — and how they go from being casual adversaries to close compatriots — informs the film's central arc. The movie only tells half the story, though, in terms of that relationship. The other half is conveyed in Star Trek Into Darkness, which sees Kirk and Spock's friendship not only tested, but solidified, as they're pitted against a familiar threat in a new form: Khan Noonien Singh (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Like The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight, Into Darkness adheres to the unspoken second sequel rule of being a darker film than it's predecessor. There are scenes depicting acts of terrorism and their aftermath that may be unsettling for some audiences, and we also see the death of an important character, bringing their ultimate fate in line with the original Trek timeline. In fact, the presence of all this death and destruction makes Into Darkness one of the more sombre entries in the franchise (at least for an outing where the Borg aren't the main antagonists).

Nevertheless, Abrams and screenwriters Orci, Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof keep the film barreling along at a brisk pace, jumping from one action set-piece to the next, with each one bigger and brasher than the last. And though it sometimes feels like the story isn't given enough room to breathe, it's hard to complain when we get such epic production design as we do here. From an introductory sequence on the planet Nibiru that recalls the prologue to Raiders of the Lost Ark to a climactic battle on the Federation homeworld (aka Earth) that evokes a more recent blockbuster, Marvel's The Avengers — with a brief but thrilling stopover on the Klingon homeworld of Kronos — the spectacular action has an appeal that extends beyond the traditional Trek fanbase.

However, viewers with a deeper investment in the franchise will certainly find more to smile about. From the nods to the original series (a fleeting reference to "The Mudd Incident", the appearance of a Tribble and a capper featuring the show's opening monologue and theme song) to the references to earlier films (a third-act reversal of fortune between Kirk and Spock that mirrors the final act of The Wrath of Khan and the inclusion of an alternate timeline Carol Marcus), Into Darkness — like Star Trek before it — is a love letter to the fans of Gene Roddenberry's original creation.

Audio/Visual Fidelity As the contents of the Star Trek Blu-ray discs included in The Compendium are exactly the same as what was released on Blu-ray in 2009, the qualities of the film's A/V presentation are pixel-for-pixel and note-for-note identical as well, with top-notch clarity, contrast, color saturation and black levels and a sonically robust Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack to boot. Star Trek Into Darkness, on the other hand, receives a completely new hi-def transfer and is presented for the first time ever in the same alternating aspect ratio as its IMAX theatrical release, which switches to a 1.78:1 aspect ratio for key scenes such as the prologue on Nibiru, the climax in San Francisco and the scuffle on Kronos.

The IMAX sequences appear crisper and clearer than the scenes shot in the film's regular 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but, on the whole, image quality doesn't get any better than this. Consistent sharpness allows subtle details (like the pattern of tiny Starfleet insignias silkscreened onto the crew's standard-issue uniforms) to be readily discernible; strong color saturation brings out the crimson reds of the Nibiru foliage; and superb contrast and inky blacks make the glossy white bridge of the Enterprise and the glossy black bridge of its stealthy sister ship, the Vengeance, all the more impressive. Audio-wise, Into Darkness features the same striking 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack that graced its 2013 Blu-ray release, immersing viewers in composer Michael Giacchino's rousing score and all the non-stop action, from an erupting volcano to a 360 degree soundfield of weapons fire and explosions.

Special Features All told, the four discs included in The Compendium — two for Star Trek and two for Star Trek Into Darkness — contain a staggering six hours of bonus material. And that's not even counting the audio commentary (by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and Roberto Orci) on Star Trek or the enhanced (picture-in-picture) commentary on Into Darkness (which adds another half hour to the film's runtime, as J.J. Abrams, Michael Giacchino, and select other contributors, pause, rewind and slow down the film to point out various noteworthy things), both of which can be found on disc one of their respective movies.

Disc two of Star Trek is a carbon copy of disc two of the original 2009 Blu-ray release. It houses near four hours of extras, in the form of ten featurettes with fairly self-descriptive titles (To Boldy Go, Casting, A New Vision, Starships, Aliens, Planets, Props and Costumes, Ben Burtt and the Sounds of Star Trek, Score and Gene Rodenberry's Vision), nine Deleted Scenes with optional commentary by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof ("Spock Birth", "Klingons Take Over Narada", "Young Kirk, Johnny and Uncle Frank", "Amanda and Sarek Argue After Spock Fights", "Prison Interrogation and Breakout", "Sarek Gets Amanda", "Dorm Room and Kobayashi Maru (Original Version)", "Kirk Apologizes to the Green Girl" and "Sarek Sees Spock"), an interactive Starfleet Vessel Simulator where viewers can explore the Enterprise and the Narada, a Gag Reel and four Trailers (one teaser and three full trailers).

Aside from the Enhanced Commentary (which is broken down into nine chapters: "An Island Adventure", "Mystery Visitor In London", "Tragedy & the Mission", "The Kronos Battle", "Enemy in the Brig", "Ship to Ship", "Fall of the Enterprise", "San Francisco Finale" and "The Captain's Oath"), disc one of Into Darkness also contains a brief, 1-minute ad for missioncontinues.org, simply titled The Mission Continues. But the bulk of the bonus features (over two hours' worth) can be found on disc two, which collects practically every single extra that was included on the 2013 standard Blu-ray release, along with the extras from the various retailer exclusives.

Disc two of Into Darkness kicks off with twenty-three featurettes: The Voyage Begins...Again, Creating the Red Planet, Introducing the Villain, Rebuilding the Enterprise, National Ignition Facility Home of the Core, Attack on Starfleet, Aliens Encountered, The Klingon Home World, The Enemy of My Enemy, Vengeance is Coming, Ship to Ship, Mr. Spock and Mr. Spock, Down with the Ship, Kirk and Spock, Brawl by the Bay, Fitting the Future, Property of Starfleet, Unlocking the Cut, Visual Affection, The Sound of Music (and FX), Safety First, Continuing the Mission and Gag Reel. Ranging between 2 and 9 minutes in length, most feature behind-the-scenes footage intercut with film clips and cast and crew interviews that speak to such topics as the physical/in-camera effects used to bring to life various locations and aliens, the filming of key sequences, costumes, props, CG effects, the score, sound effects and the editing process, with some time also spent on discussing the character of Khan, as well as the dynamic between Kirk and Spock.

Last but not least, disc two of Into Darkness is rounded off with 5 minutes of Deleted Scenes ("Nibiru Captain's Log", "Marcus' Office (Alternate Version)", "Room Attack (Alternate Version)", "Carol's Accent", "Klingon Conversation (Alternate Version)", "Scotty Cargo Bay Door" and "Kirk Meets Girl") and 6 minutes of Trailers ("Announcement", "Teaser" and "Trailer 2"). The set also includes codes redeemable for iTunes and UltraViolet digital copies of both Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness.


The Bottom Line Going by the "even-numbered vs. odd-numbered" rule-of-thumb that governed previous Trek films, the Star Trek reboot had no right being as good as it was. But Abrams and the brain trust of Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof have managed to defy the odds by producing two back-to-back movies that not only keep audiences enthralled with their fresh take on the Gene Roddenberry's universe, they make us eager to revisit the franchise for another installment. But as the next film isn't due until 2016, we'll have to make do with Paramount's definitive collection of Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness for now. Not only does it contain two amazing films, but it also features stunning A/V presentations (with the second film available in its IMAX cut for the first time ever) and an endless array of bonus features, making Star Trek: The Compendium on Blu-ray a must-own for fans everywhere.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Films  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  





* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original theatrical review of Star Trek Into Darkness, published on May 21st, 2013.




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