Blu-ray Reviews

Star Trek (2009) Blu-ray Review

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Quick Take: You expect greatness and for the most part get it.

Space. The Final Frontier. A place few were willing to venture with the last two Star Trek: The Next Generation helmed films. On virtual life support, J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot collaborators reinvented the iconic franchise into something hardened Star Trek fans and casual moviegoers without an ounce of prior interest in the series could equally digest and enjoy. His efforts carried Star Trek into a new frontier of success and riches at the 2009 box office, to a place where Paramount’s treatment of the Blu-ray Disc release should – and marvelously does – fall into the esteemed category of exemplary.

Star Trek’s reboot begins with a huge bang, a knockout prologue that chronicles the birth of James T. Kirk and the death of his father, a Starship Captain (for twelve minutes), all during a surprise attack by a renegade Romulan Nero (Eric Bana). Flash forward a quarter of a century to Iowa where we find Kirk (played as an adult by Chris Pine) has grown up to be a cocky, devil-may-care genius with a pretty serious chip on his shoulder. Following a bar fight he has with a quartet of Starfleet cadets one night, he meets a Starfleet Captain named Pike (Bruce Greenwood) who suggests that Kirk join Starfleet and try to do a better job than his pop did on the day he was born.

Kirk takes Pike up on his challenge and joins the Academy. It is here where Kirk begins to encounter the usual series suspects, including a brash doctor named Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), a sexy linguistics officer named Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and a half-Vulcan, half-human named Spock (Zachary Quinto), a fellow cadet who believes that Kirk cheated on a test that he created to be a no-win scenario.

As Kirk faces suspension from the Academy for his so-called “cheating,” a distress call is received from Vulcan, Spock’s home planet. After sneaking on board the Enterprise, Kirk soon realizes that the distress call is a trap whose parameters are quite similar to the one that cost his father his life decades ago.

For this third generation of “Film Trek,” the winning formula has returned in a big, big way. Using a solid screenplay by Transformers scribes Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman as his foundation, Abrams presents a new, vibrant and more mainstream-accessible version of the classic Trek without alienating the legions of long-standing fans by integrating legions of classic Trek-isms.

Abrams tried to balance human drama with high-tech action and produced mixed results with his last film, 2006’s Mission: Impossible III. Mediocre scripts will do that. With Star Trek, however, he achieves that balance. With the assist of some astounding visual effects and a dynamic music score by Michael Giacchino, the action sequences are among the best in the series, professionally executed but never overshadow the story or characters. This helps give the film an emotional depth rarely seen in Star Trek, be it television or film.

While breathing new life into a 43-year old franchise is difficult enough, finding an acceptable group of actors to fill the shoes of these iconic characters played by actors so identifiable in these roles is even more of a challenge. But once again, Abrams succeeds by perfectly matching the actors to the characters. Pine displays a nice mix of cockiness and arrogance to make for a fine Kirk. Quinto excels as Spock whose internal conflict serves as the film’s emotional core; while Karl Urban is pitch-perfect as the abrasive McCoy. DeForrest Kelly would be proud. Despite reduced screen time, Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Checkov) and Zoe Saldana (Uhura) each do just fine helping to solidify the ensemble as the new “Magnificent Seven” in outer space.

Bana makes for a decent villain even if his Nero is not in the same league as Ricardo Montalban’s Khan or Christopher Plummer’s Shakespeare-quoting Chang from Undiscovered Country. Winona Ryder and Ben Cross are fine as Spock’s parents, while Bruce Greenwood gives his Commander Pike a nice combination of authority and fatherliness. As for the sole returning cast member from the original series, it is great to see Leonard Nimoy make a welcome return as… well, you know.

You do not need the knowledge to differentiate between a Klingon and a Tribble, quote episodes verbatim or dress up in a costume two sizes too small to enjoy the new Star Trek. All you have to do is sit back and have a good time. Star Trek is easily one of the year’s best entertainments, and one whose sequel cannot warp into theaters fast enough.

Star Trek’s persistent use of complex and intricate special effects combined with extensive lens flaring to create drama looked fantastic on the big screen and equally satisfying on Blu-ray Disc in its AVC encoded 2.35:1 framed 1080p transfer. Scenes such as on the steps of Starfleet Academy burst with vibrant colors from the blue sky, green grass and red uniforms. Detail is dazzling such as picking out the army of eyeballs on the red snow beast that gives Kirk a run for his money. Effects seamlessly integrating with CGI provide countless instances of striking imagery you come to expect from top tier Blu-ray titles.

As this is a visually complex film there are unfortunately some nitpicks resulting from the transfers such as blacks dropping detail in the fields of Iowa at dawn and other scattered backdrops. Noticeable increases in grain and light noise make surprising guest appearances during “smokey” and low light scenes. Even with these small issues that keep it from perfection, Star Trek in high definition does not disappoint.

The sounds of Star Trek are pitch perfect in Blu-ray’s 5.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless audio track. Torpedoes slamming into their targets and starships jumping into warp speed fire off satisfyingly deep bass. Trumping LFE are surrounds that run a marathon of activity from start to finish whether it be phasers popping out from all directions, control console bleeps and blips, space garbage clanging off hulls or the score and subtle ambient noise from the tight confines of a tin can in space. Even Spock’s superhuman analytical skills would find no fault in this mix.

Disc One boots up with a pair of trailers for Paramount’s other tentpole home video releases, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, as well as a well placed Bad Robot influenced ad for the second season of Fringe on Fox which may add some viewers to the show. The main menu resembles a blueprint schematic of the Enterprise that occasionally spins around in a new direction. Like the film it is svelte with clean lines and easy to read.

Feature Commentary – Bad Robot masterminds J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and Roberto Orci sit down and casually waste no time talking about everything from differences between earlier cuts and the final version, Easter Eggs, reasons behind key decisions, who came up with what and tons of various production tidbits including the axed Nero side story and Kirk’s motivation for sleeping with the Green Girl. The commentary is extremely engaging and loose without a hint of silence or dragging talking points behind the lead of Abrams and his unbridled enthusiasm for the film. You can almost imagine this crew kicked back in recliners with their favorite adult beverage reminiscing about the project. It is a rare track more than worth listening from start to finish.

BD Exclusive: NASA News via BD-Live – The thought behind this feature is commendable but the execution leaves something to be desired. It takes three button clicks and at least a minute to reach the RSS news feed ported directly from the NASA website that includes NASA’s image of the day. You could pull off the same feat in less time by simply visiting the NASA website via a PS3 browser or computer. Still, if anything the feature is an advertisement for NASA and space exploration rather than a functional feature someone will pop in their Star Trek Blu-ray to specifically access.

Disc Two opens up with an intimidating menu housing a screen-long list of bonus features down the left with the Enterprise schematic off to the right. Even more impressive is some of the features listed tier down into additional pod features. I prefer not having extra navigation to view similar material but simple touches like the ability to access those sub-menus with arrow clicks as opposed to button clicks underscore the high end treatment Paramount has bestowed upon these discs.

To Boldly Go (16:41+) – This section offers a ‘play’ and ‘play extended’ option with four must-see branching pods that talk about exactly what their title implies: The Shatner Conundrum, Red Shirt Guy, The Green Girl, and Trekker Alert! The ‘play extended’ option pops a Starfleet logo onto the screen to access the additional video content pods during ‘To Boldly Go’ but can also be accessed via the feature sub-menu. The setup is a bit cumbersome but any concerns are immediately dropped when the piece begins with Leonard Nimoy’s signature voice with a behind-the-scenes look at his screen test kicking off many intimate looks at the creative team laying the foundation for what becomes the film.

Casting (28:53) – Casting younger versions of iconic characters was a Hurculean task Abrams and crew did not take lightly. Running just shy of a half hour, this short documentary appropriately devotes a segment to each core member of Star Trek with interview snippets from the actor and his colleagues as well as behind-the-scenes footage. There is minimal final cut footage or fluff to bog this intriguing look at the film’s faces.

A New Vision (19:31) – Another featurette with a pod, this one titled ‘Savage Pressure’ that looks at assistant director Tommy Gormley’s insane workload and responsibility. The name refers to a term he loves to use on set. ‘A New Vision’ talks about pulling out all the stops to make a huge film that goes far beyond anything seen in Star Trek entertainment to date. One of the more intriguing questions posed by J.J. to his writers was, “what can we learn from Star Wars here?” The answer is mimicking the pace from the original trilogy films to make Star Trek more intense and fast.

Starships (24:33) – This featurette is loaded with pods, 7 to be precise: ‘Warp Explained,’ ‘Paint Job,’ ‘Bridge Construction Accelerated,’ ‘The Captain’s Chair,’ ‘Button Acting 101,’ ‘Narada Construction Accelerated’ and ‘Shuttle Shuffle.’ Between the pods and featurette you will learn everything you wanted to know about Starship design, inspiration, set construction and functionality in Abrams’ Star Trek universe.

Aliens (16:30) – Continuing the pod theme, ‘Aliens’ is packed with 5: ‘The Alien Paradox,’ ‘Big-Eyed Girl,’ ‘Big Bro Quinto,’ ‘Klingons’ and ‘Drakoulias Anatomy 101.’ The ‘Klingon’ pod is the first reveal of Abrams’ version of Klingons as seen in the cut Nero prison sequence. What’s intriguing is not their species but the armored outfits that nearly hide their species distinctive look. The main featurette is chock full of behind-the-scenes alien dressing footage, concept art, CGI designs and props in varying degree of completing. Quite a bit of time is spent discussing Spock ears and eyebrows while alternate versions of Nero’s facial markings are revealed.

Planets (16:10) – The real world settings and loads of filmmaking secrets behind creating Vulcan, Delta Vega, and Earth’s Starfleet Academy and futuristic Iowa for the big screen. Pods included are ‘Extra Business’ and ‘Confidentiality.’

Props and Costumes (9:22) – A shorter and straightforward featurette led by the film’s prop master and Abrams’ direction for him to watch the original series and base everything off that with contemporary designs that reflect what is futuristic for us versus audiences in the 1960s. The pod is especially intriguing as it delves into the deleted unique Klingon prison guard attire.

Ben Burtt and the Sounds of Star Trek (11:45) – No pods, just over 10 minutes of the keen attention to detail legendary sound designer Ben Burtt built into the film starting with the mesmerizing opening sequence that relies on the iconic bleeps and blips of Trek as much as the imagery of Kelvin coming into and passing through the frame. Burtt is and always has been a student of sound and used his passion for history to uncover the sources for the original Star Trek sounds rather than trying to digitally recreate the sounds using newly devised methods.

Score (6:28) – A few brief minutes with composer Michael Giacchino as he and his orchestra play the Star Trek themes and marry new melodies with old. If you were wondering why the original theme appears in the closing credits and not earlier then this featurette will answer that question.

Gene Roddenberry’s Vision (8:47) – You cannot have a Star Trek film without some sort of homage to the franchise creator. Nimoy, the crew and others reflect on what Roddenberry meant to them and how they view the man who create one of the most recognizable science fiction properties ever.

Deleted Scenes (13:30) – A total of 9 scenes with partially completed effects are offered with optional commentary by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof and a ‘play all’ option. These are almost all true deleted scenes, not extended scenes or snippets of footage. They contain full dialogue and in many instances fully dressed sets seen nowhere in the feature film. These are a gold mine of footage for not only “Trekkies” but anyone with even a vague interest in Abrams’ new Star Trek universe. The dark and wretched Klingon prison is especially noteworthy as we may see something similar in the sequel.

  • 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
  • Sarek Sees Spock

BD Exclusive: Starfleet Vessel Simulator – An interactive feature similar to those seen on the Star Trek: The Original Series Blu-ray sets. You can select the Enterprise or Romulan Mining Vessel and then highlight certain areas of the ship to learn tech-infused facts about how they work. In the case of weaponry you can make the ships fire, but you cannot control the view other than predetermined aft and drill angles.

Gag Reel (6:22) – Star Trek is a fairly humorous film with a young cast so it comes as no surprise that this mock Star Trek show opening featuring the cast screwing around or messing up was made or that the crew fires off tons of adlibbed lines and four-letter responses to flubs. Too bad they are all bleeped out.

Trailers – Four total trailers are included: the teaser, ‘The Wait is Over’ theatrical, ‘Prepare for the Beginning’ theatrical and ‘Buckle Up’ theatrical. The bevy of TV spots that aired regularly have been left off.

Disc Three wraps up the set with a Digital Copy and a Star Trek D-A-C Free Game Trial for Xbox 360 with web links to the free trials via BD-Live for the PC and Playstation 3 on the Playstation Network.

J.J. Abrams has brought back the voyages of the Star Trek Enterpise and given not just Trek fans but everyone purpose and reason to revisit the final frontier. Paramount has ensured the Blu-ray presentation is befitting the film with hours of non-fluffy bonus material, sharp video and audio that reaches levels of perfection few discs have before. Beam one of these into your high-def collection without hesitation and enjoy one of 2009s best discs yet.

- Dan Bradley with movie commentary by Shawn Fitzgerald

Shop for Star Trek on Blu-ray in regular and limited edition exclusive gift set versions at Amazon.com.

SCORE: 4.7 out of 5