Being one of the few writers on the web to receive a review copy of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek on Blu-ray is prestigious, I will admit it. But it also comes with a great responsibility — the knowledge that my review must be a thorough look at the release, which spans three discs and almost 6 hours of total entertainment. That said, I took to watching it this week with a fervor unlike anything I’ve seen from myself in a long time, watching the film three times (including once with commentary) and taking in the 30 behind the scenes featurettes twice. It was an all-encompassing Star Trek experience so enjoyable, I had to fight to find the right words. Hopefully in the next few paragraphs, I will be able to convey those feelings and find those words.
If a $383 million dollar box office take and the praise of Trekkers world wide tells us anything about J.J. Abrams’ franchise reboot, it is that it has resonated with audiences the world over. The film is a fast-paced, glossy and yet detail-oriented take on the Trek canon that is without a doubt, pitch-perfect in execution. The story of an alternate timeline for the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, altered by a time-shifting angry Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana) and his vendetta against Spock of the distant future (Leonard Nimoy). The change in events creates this new timeline, in which James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), young Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the other iconic names of the original Trek series must find each other and take their places as the characters we all know and love.
If this film accomplished anything, it is that it brought Star Trek back to life in a way that is as accessible as it is reverent. Director J.J. Abrams, producer Damon Lindelof and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman showed an attention to detail that is unparalleled, while giving the right injection of action and youthfulness to a franchise long plagued by the slow, lumbering ‘submarine warfare’ nature of the original. And on Blu-ray, the attention to detail is there as well. The 1080p transfer looks brilliant, once again showing off the imperfect and stark realism of the way this film was shot. It also shows off the incredible special effects delivered by Industrial Light and Magic. Not to mention the pulse-pounding score from Michael Giacchino, mixed perfectly in stunning 5.1 Dolby Digital TrueHD surround. It is nearly as good as you might have seen in theaters — and certainly the best possible experience you can have at home.
Also notable in the presentation category is the menu system, which is simple, intuitive and fitting with the aesthetic of the film. It feels like the kind of video menu that you might find on the bridge of the USS Enterprise, with smooth branching menus that make up pods of special features piled on top of special features. As you can see in the screencap of the second disc below, there are a lot of special features on this disc — and getting to all of them is not even remotely difficult thanks to a very solid menu system.
The second disc of this three-disc Blu-ray set is all special features, all the time. Instead of the usual single featurette, gag reel, trailers setup, the folks behind Star Trek decided that we should get a completely immersive experience. It is enough to make us believe that we have been a part of the production process since the beginning — and by the end of it all (some 3+ hours of extras) we feel as if we are now intimately aware of everything that went into this production.
The commentary track (which is actually on the first disc with the film) is great. Director J.J. Abrams is joined by his brain-trust of writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, as well as producers Damon Lindelof and Bryan Burk. Some of it is the standard commentary schlock of talking about what a joy it was to work with Actor A and how “amazing” Actor B was every day on set. What we know from all of this is that Trek was a fun film to make. We also get some very unique and intimate moments with the film’s creative team, such as Orci and Kurtzman recounting their feelings as they sat with an audience for the first time at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, nervously awaiting the reaction of true fans. As well, there is a really sweet story near the end of the film about working with Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who worked on the film shortly before she passed away. Be sure to leave the disc on until the end of the closing credits to hear Abrams tell that story.
As you might expect, with a film this big there are plenty of things that didn’t make it into the film. This includes two scenes that involve Klingons that were cut out of the final story. Also, Brad William Henke shows up as young James T. Kirk’s uncle. His voice didn’t make the movie — as it was ultimately Heroes star Greg Grunberg who shows up in little Kirk’s phone call home, but it is Henke who actually plays the character in the deleted scene.
This is a hard one. There are 30 — count ‘em — 30 behind the scenes featurettes on this disc. To be fair though, there are really 10 main featurettes that have extended editions. In these extended editions, there are little Starfleet logos that pop up in the bottom right hand corner of the screen from time-to-time. When that pops up and we click the select button, we are taken to a series of sub-featurettes that relate to what the main featurette was just talking about. These are the most interesting of the lot. There is one that shows how the visual effects crew used very simple effects to create the bulging eyes of the alien nurse in the first scene. There is another that is solely dedicated to the charismatic and energetic first Assistant Director Tommy Gormley, who is clearly the heart and soul of the production. It is a rare look at one of the key players in the production, someone that the average moviegoer wouldn’t necessarily see in the usual, generic round of special features on most discs.
As for the main featurettes, everything seems to be covered in detail. Everything from J.J. Abrams’ unique vision for this new Trek and the nature of the brain-trust creative team (completely with a fun Trekker rating system for the writers and producers), to the casting process are covered in the first three featurettes. From there, we get to the more in-depth and supremely fascinating ‘art of filmmaking’ features — Starships, Aliens, Props and Costumes, Sound Design with Ben Burtt and Score (with Michael Giacchino) all get their own 5+ minute featurettes. They are all edited together incredibly well, making for very engaging and upbeat look at how the nuances of this film came to life. All-in-all, it is a series of behind the scenes peeks that are more than worth your time.
Have you ever wanted to be able to fire the phasers on the USS Enterprise, much like Sulu? The 3D models of both the Enterprise and the Romulan ship The Narada are present for your viewing pleasure. You can get a full 360-degree look at both ships, as well as see detailed info about different parts of both vessel. Oh, and you are one click away from firing the phasers. On the USS Enterprise!
Attention to detail seems to be the word of the day with this release. And there is no single feature (other than the film itself) with more creativity and pizazz than the gag reel. Often gag reels are just a series of clips, thrown together moments in which actors burst into laughter repeatedly as they attempt to deliver dialogue. But with this gag reel, there is a narrative and a cleverly edited series of clips that is a wonderfully entertaining example of just how fun this film was to make. Its no wonder it turned out to be one of the best films of the year.
The single best trailer of 2009 is on this disc — “Prepare for the Beginning.” Watch it again and tell me that I’m wrong. I dare you.
The Third Disc
As is customary with Blu-ray releases, the third disc is a digital copy, which will allow you to download a version of the film to iTunes and take it with you on the go. Yet another one of those films that I want nothing more than to have on my iPhone for those long days of travel. Also, a nice bonus is the free demo of the Star Trek D-A-C video game for the XBOX 360. I haven’t had a chance to check that out, but the trailer for it on the first disc of this set looks pretty wicked.
The Blu-ray release of Star Trek is a must-own for anyone with a Blu-ray player. It has the attention to detail that is sorely missing from most releases, and the in-depth featurettes that bring the audience to the process than we could ever expect. Everything from the creation of the new Spock ears to the paint job on the Enterprise is delivered in a way that is fascinating, engaging and full of life. Not to mention the fact that we get to rewatch one of the best movies of the year in glorious high definition.
Star Trek is currently available for pre-order on Amazon and will be in stores on November 17, 2009. For more Blu-ray goodness, be sure to check out my weekly column This Week in Blu-ray.