Unboxing Star Trek: The Original Series

08-Sep-16 1:00 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the debut of Star Trek, when "The Man Trap", premiered. CBS and Paramount are celebrating the occasion with the release of Star Trek — 50th Anniversary TV and Movie Collection, a set that includes all of the original crew's television, cinematic, and animated adventures, including the first time The Animated Series (TAS) has appeared on Blu Ray.

I already have all the movies on Blu Ray and TAS on standard DVD, so I went with the less expensive and redundant option of purchasing just TOS on Blu Ray in the "Epik Pack", released just this past June. It's not the first Star Trek box set I've added to my library this year: This past April, I purchased Star Trek: The Next Generation's Blu Ray box set. But in the space between buying and watching the TNG set, I unboxed it.

Unboxing is a strange, voyeuristic genre of YouTube video that I don't entirely understand the appeal of — but for my first unboxing of a DVD, I was happy to go all-out, green-screening myself onto the bridge of the Enterprise NCC-1701D while wearing loose-fitting Starfleet pajamas, courtesy Showbits contributor GeneD.

I couldn't unbox TNG and not TOS, so here is my less special effects-laden opening of that set:

I bought this set in time for the release of Star Trek Beyond, which my mom wanted to see in theaters, despite not being familiar with the TOS characters. As quickly as I could, I brought her up to speed with viewings of just two episodes: "Journey to Babel", which introduced Spock's father Sarek; and "The Trouble With Tribbles", which is not only a fun episode but also one that will later tie into Deep Space Nine, should we ever get that far.

Given time, I would've shown her even more TOS episodes — "Space Seed", "Mirror, Mirror", "City on the Edge of Forever" — as well as some of the movies — The Wrath of Khan; The Search fo Spock, The Voyage Home. But time between this box set's release and Star Trek Beyond's was short, so I added only Star Trek (2009) to our viewing schedule.

The Original Series is unique in being the only live-action Star Trek I've not seen every episode of. For example, I'd never seen "Journey to Babel" and was impressed how much of Spock's lore I recognized from the 2009 movie — I didn't realize just how respectful the scriptwriters and director were to the source material. My mom prefers TNG, but it was fun to watch some TOS with her, especially since TNG can't give us the experience of both of us seeing something for the first time.

Still, now that we have this set in hand (and unboxed!), perhaps we'll sneak in some classic episodes every now and then — especially so as to better familiarize ourselves with the era of Star Trek Discovery.

Unboxing Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-Ray

05-Apr-16 9:00 AM by
Filed under Star Trek; 3 comments.

In 2010, I bought the complete box set of Star Trek: The Next Generation on DVD. It was an indulgence I'd long lusted after, and once I finally had it… it sat in its box, unopened and unwatched.

A year later, I bought my first Blu-Ray player and began lusting after a new prize: The Next Generation in high definition. I blogged at that time about the significant work the studio had done to remaster this classic television series, and theatrical screenings of highlights of each updated season were proof that my dusty old DVDs fell short. I sold the old box set to a friend last fall but left its space open on my shelf for a high-def replacement.

The only thing keeping me from buying the complete series (again) was that each of the seven seasons was available individually only; there was no box set collecting the entire run at a more affordable price. Such a set was announced just yesterday: Star Trek: The Next Generation — The Complete Series: Epik Pack launches on June 7 for $208.99.

But I didn't know that a month ago, which is when I felt the itch to splurge. Some online searches unearthed an alternative to waiting for a domestic release: Amazon.co.uk sells a complete box set of region-free Blu-Ray discs for only £66, or roughly $100 USD including shipping. Such a deal! I was sold.

The result of my purchases recently arrived and, just in time for today being First Contact Day, is the subject of my latest unboxing video:

I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my father; this box set, ordered while he was still alive, arrived two weeks later, the day after his funeral. Rather than being a melancholy reminder of our time together, it's serving as the surprising foundation for a new relationship: my mother has now expressed an interest in discovering Star Trek, which she never paid much attention to before. I thought I'd lost my Star Trek buddy and am astonished and thrilled to find I have a new partner with whom to share these voyages. Her introductory episode was "The Inner Light", after which we're going back to the first season and progressing chronologically through these episodes that focus on human-interest stories:

This box set was a perfect purchase at a time it was most needed. I look forward to boldly going through my first Star Trek, seeing it as never before, sharing it for the first time with my mom.

Star Trek: TNG on Blu-ray & silver screen

14-May-12 9:55 PM by
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As a geek, I may surprise you by not being beholden to the latest and greatest technology. In addition to cell phones and tablet computers, I'm not yet convinced of the need for Blu-ray DVDs. Their improvement over standard definition seems minimal, especially when a good BD player will upscale existing DVDs to take some advantage of a 1080p display.

However, it's hard for me to ignore the differences between the standard and high definition editions of a show like Star Trek. Having already remastered The Original Series (TOS) for Blu-ray, Paramount and CBS are now turning to The Next Generation (TNG). I hoped this announcement would not undermine my fairly recent investment in all seven seasons of TNG & DS9 on DVD, but this trailer suggests I am, in fact, missing out:

If you want a hands-on experience with TNG in high definition, a $22 sampler was released in January that included the show's two-part pilot, as well as episodes "Sins of the Father" and "The Inner Light". That disc apparently was sufficient proof of concept for the studio to commit to releasing the entire first season, hitting store shelves on July 24th with an MSRP of $118. But even that will have its own sampler — not on yet another retail purchase, but on the silver screen. TVShowsonDVD.com reports that, on Monday, July 23, 600 theaters in 49 U.S. markets will screen episodes "Where No One Has Gone Before" and "Datalore", in addition to some behind-the-scenes extras, as part of the show's 25th anniversary.

Star Trek series are becoming just like Star Wars: now you can own them again for the first time!

The Netflix Relief Fund

28-Jul-11 3:06 PM by
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With Blockbuster in its dying throes, Netflix has exploited its dominance over the home video market with a recent raise in rates. Customers are outraged that they are now expected to pay for one month of streaming service nearly as much as they now pay for a single Starbucks latte.

I've offered an affordable and civic-minded alternative, but it is not American consumers' way to change their habits; they want to keep doing what they've always been doing, regardless of how viable it is. Fortunately, their cause now has some celebrity weight to it. Jason Alexander speaks on behalf of the Netflix Relief Fund:

If this plea doesn't put things in perspective, then please give generously.

(Hat tips to Kara Swisher and Ryan Faas)

The Public Library: Netflix 2.0

13-Jul-11 3:49 AM by
Filed under Potpourri; 2 comments.

My friends and I have diverse film experiences. They tend to see more movies than I do, whereas I see more unusual or esoteric ones. Where they've seen Dr. Strangelove, I watched Fail-Safe; for their Zombieland, there's my The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. As a result, we often exchange recommendations, though even our acceptances take different forms: their "I'll add it to my Netflix queue" to my "I'll borrow it from the library."

I understand Netflix's appeal and the purpose it serves: it provides its customers with easy opportunities to expose themselves to a variety of movies and television shows they'd otherwise never see, and for a more affordable price than traditional purchases or rentals. Doing all this without leaving home is convenient, and the option of streaming it directly to your set-top box makes it unnecessary to anticipate your desires more than a few minutes in advance.

Library DVDs

All these DVDs can be yours, for the right price: free.

But for all this, and especially in light of its recent rate increase, Netflix still strikes me as an inferior choice next to the oft-overlooked public library. This venerable institution is sometimes seen as a destination more for children than adults, or for the decreasing number of bookworms in an increasingly multimedia world. But libraries and librarians are often on the cutting edge of technology, which for more than a decade has included such basic offerings as DVDs.

Anyone with a library card can borrow movies and TV shows for free. Much like Netflix, such requests can be made online: just search the library's online catalog, click a button, and the item will be set aside as soon as it becomes available. If the local branch doesn't carry a specific title, odds are their interlibrary loan (ILL) program can procure it at no additional charge. They'll even send an email when the item is ready to be picked up.

True, libraries don't provide streaming media — but my limited understanding of this aspect of Netflix gives me the same opinion of that service as I did of DivX a decade ago. Streaming media does not offer the wealth of bonus features and other additional content that add value to the physical disc. Viewers who still want those can order the disc from Netflix — but at that point, why not use the library?

Besides there being no monthly charge, no limits on borrowing, and no commitment to a persistent membership fee even when life is too busy for movies, there's a far more important reason to consider the library. The challenges of today's economy have afflicted civic services, and libraries are one that we cannot afford to lose. Libraries are a vital element of not just a democracy, but a thriving economy. In one study, every dollar invested in library services returned an increase of $9.08 in gross regional product and $12.66 in total state wages, making them one of the best investments our society can make.

Fortunately, your patronage is just as valuable as your money. At the same time funding is reaching all-time lows, library usage is at an all-time high. When it comes time to allocate next year's budget, one of the best arguments libraries can make is to demonstrate the need and desire for their services by pointing to current usage trends. Every DVD borrowed from libraries is another point in their favor, allowing them to continue to encourage a literate and employable citizenry, both in today's generation and tomorrow's.

No alternative — not Netflix, not Best Buy, and especially not piracy — offers cineasts as much bang for the buck as the public library. Where else can one promote literacy without reading a word or paying a dollar?

If that's not a bonus feature, I don't know what is.

Views of First Contact

25-May-11 6:17 PM by
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This past April 5 was First Contact Day, marking only 52 years until humans first encounter beings from another world. I observed the occasion by watching the film that introduced this milestone into Star Trek canon: First Contact, the first film to feature the TNG crew exclusively.

But it wasn't until this week that I finally popped in the set's second disc of bonus features. I'm not usually a fan of such material and can't remember the last time I listened to a director's commentary, but I'm always willing to make an exception for Star Trek.

As I expected, this disc was a welcome addition to the set and not just some tacked-on money-grab. Some of these featurettes were filmed on the set of the movie, but others were shot exclusively for the special edition DVD's 2005 release. They're broadly broken down into "The Star Trek Universe", "The Borg Collective", "First Contact Production", "Scene Deconstruction", and "Archives", for a total of 19 pieces.

Star Trek First Contact menuI first watched the 11-minute "The Legacy of Zefram Cochrane", which details the inventor of the warp drive and how he was cast and written for First Contact. The interviews with Rick Berman, Michael Okuda, James Cromwell, and Brannon Braga focused primarily on the First Contact portrayal of the character but does include some clips and discussion of Glenn Corbett, who debuted as Cochrane in TOS. (Corbett died in 1993, well before Cochrane's reinvention for First Contact.) No mention of a very different interpretation in the non-canon novel Federation was made, though.

I spent the next 18.5 minutes with "First Contact: The Possibilities", which was in fact not a montage of scenarios from science fiction or hypothesis of humanity's first encounter with extraterrestrials, but was instead a profile of real-world, modern-day efforts to detect signs of alien intelligence. Representatives of SETI and the Planetary Society shared their methodologies and hopes, detailing some interesting intersections with Star Trek. For example, I had no idea that SETI@home would not exist if not for Paramount Studios!

"Design Matrix" dissected the artistry of the Enterprise and its cybernetic inhabitants, the Borg. Although I imagined the budget of the silver screen allowed for more complex cyborgs than their television roots did, I had never consciously noted some of the differences — for example, TNG Borg had helmets and caps, and movie Borg did not. The attention to detail that the First Contact Borg received also allowed for eyepieces that you probably didn't know blinked Morse code messages, usually the names of the electrician's friends and pets. With so much investment in each outfit, the crew had the time and budget to design only eight individual Borg outfits, which were reused time and again in this film and in Voyager. Director Jonathan Frakes was quick to give credit where due, a quality consistent with my meeting him at the Super Megafest a few years ago.

"The Story" revealed some alternative angles the scriptwriters tried, including putting Picard in Montana with a local photographer as a love interest, or even setting the entire film in Medieval Ages. I'm not surprised that MAD Magazine spoofed this film when it came out, but I didn't know that their parody was apparently based on one of those earlier scripts. Now I'm keen to get my hands on that lampoon!

I was disappointed to find the featurette dubbed "From A To E" was not about the history of the Enterprise, but rather the putting together of First Contact. The crew's analogies amused me, from Ronald D. Moore calling the film "Die Hard on the Enterprise" to Brannon Braga describing the film's conclusion as the "Star Trek nativity scene, with three wise Vulcans". Throughout these interviews, though, Braga and Rick Berman rarely cracked a smile, even as other cast and crew cheerfully shared that "Star Trek is so much fun!" and "First Contact is my favorite film." It was a sharp contrast.

There are also a few scene breakdowns that show how the CGI was done (ever liken the Borg sphere to the Death Star?), with narration by ILM special effects supervisor John Knoll. This and some Easter eggs topped off a great package, though a lack of deleted scenes was noticeable.

Star Trek First Contact bookAs much as I appreciated learning more about my favorite Star Trek film, what truly gave a new perspective of it was the novelization. Whether a movie is being adapted to book or vice versa, the source material is almost always superior, but there are nonetheless opportunities to explore the characters and plot in a way unique to that medium. In the case of First Contact, the J. M. Dillard's novel explains to us why Zefram Cochrane is both brilliant and an alcoholic. It gave our protagonist much more gravitas and let me better empathize with him, rather than seeing him almost as the film's comic relief.

Two negative changes the book featured (perhaps due to working off an unfinished script) were relatively minor. When Picard claims the phaser from Lily and she demurs "It's my first ray gun," the preceding line in the film indicates that the weapon was set to kill. In the book, it's on its lowest setting, which would've given Picard only a bad burn, making the perceived threat of the scene into fantasy. Finally, before Data's novelized betrayal of the Borg, he gives Picard many not-so-subtle cues. I much prefer the tension produced by his last-minute cinematic revelation.

That there are so many important details, both within and behind the scenes, demonstrates how much love was poured into this movie. It's the Star Trek film that I've returned to time and again, and I look forward to celebrating many more First Contact days.

DC Superheroes Duke It Out on DVD

06-Apr-10 1:03 PM by
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DC, the animation house responsible for Batman and Superman, have in the last few years brought their stable of superheroes to life in a series of direct-to-DVD feature films. From the aforementioned mainstays to less popular heroes Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, each has gotten a crack at the spotlight. But despite extended length compared with their television series and PG-13 ratings, I found that two recent installments don't always do their heroes justice.

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is based on the first six issues of the Superman/Batman comic book that launched in 2003. When Lex Luthor is elected president, one of his first acts is to declare his two arch-nemeses enemies of the state. With villains out to collect the bounty and vigilantes-turned-soldiers determined to follow the letter of the law, Batman and Superman have few places left to turn.

The plot consists mostly of blows being traded among a cavalcade of DC superheroes. While this who's-who of the DCU can be fun for fans of the comics, it doesn't leave much room for character development. There are a few insightful moments, be it in dialogue or in cooperative battle tactics, that reveal Superman and Batman's relationship and ability to work as a team, but mostly it's just one action scene after another.

But the presentation of this film is fantastic, with a vaguely anime-like look. Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly reprise the titular roles they've become famous for in the last two decades, while Clancy Brown and Allison Mack (the latter of Smallville) turn in admirable performances as Lex Luthor and Power Girl, respectively. Unfortunately, the script doesn't afford Power Girl much respect, leaving her a weak-willed woman. (Can you spot LeVar Burton's cameo?)

Batman and Owlman

Batman and Owlman face their counterparts.

Public Enemies was followed this February with DC's seventh and most recent video release, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, in which our heroes — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter — travel to a mirror universe, where heroes are villains and vice versa. Such an encounter could be a fascinating opportunity to delve into what makes someone be good or evil, but the running time of just 75 minutes affords little opportunity for backstory or character development. The most screen time is given to the trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and their evil counterparts: Ultraman, Owlman, and Superwoman, but the only meaningful dialogue is given to Batman and Owlman. There is a superficial love interest for the Martian Manhunter, but it's not explored in any real depth.

Being such a short film, the plot has to move fast. The Justice League's first melee with the Crime Syndicate occurs just 12 minutes into the film, resulting in an exciting airborne battle. In this scene and throughout the film, the Justice League fight mostly random super-powered troops; the movie doesn't pit our heroes against their equivalents until about the one-hour mark.

Again, the animation is top-notch, though there remain instances where CGI is not as seamlessly integrated as they could be. It would've been clever had Batman, Owlman, or both been played by familiar voice actors, such as Kevin Conroy. But we do instead get excellent performances with James Wood as Owlman, Gina Torres (Firefly) as Superwoman, Bruce Davison (X-Men) as the POTUS, and Kari Wuhrer (Sliders) as Black Canary.

Both movies feature trailers and featurettes that we've seen on DC's other DVDs, which doesn't make for very "special" features. A notable exception is Crisis on Two Earths, which includes an original short film starring The Spectre, the DC universe's manifestation of God's spirit of vengeance.

These two animated films feature top-notch production values and are true to their comic book origins without requiring viewers to be familiar with their other animated incarnations. But I couldn't help but feeling that the PG-13 rating was used not to explore mature themes and characters, but to show grittier slugfests. I don't need "mature" to mean "dark", but I do want to see characters embark on a journey, tackling issues with more than their fists.

The Return of Superman Returns

01-Dec-09 2:45 PM by
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Superman Returns, released to theaters in June 2006, was a mixed success: it raked in $391 million from the worldwide box office — a lot of money, but well short of the $500 million expected. Critics were also, well, critical: some found male lead Brandon Routh dull, the plot lacking in action, and the inclusion of Superman's son unnecessary.

But Superman fanboys, even those who can are not blind to the film's shortcomings, still love the film and want even more from it. The various teasers and trailers released at the time revealed footage not seen in the final cut, so we hoped those pieces would be restored in the DVD edition. And though some deleted scenes were indeed made available, there remain even more that were not.

Just as Superman II got a Richard Donner cut, there is now a petition for Warner Bros. to create Superman Returns: The Bryan Singer Cut, named for the movie's writer, producer, and director. These fans have taken what unreleased snippets they could find and strung together this trailer:

As an owner of the original Superman Returns DVD, I would buy another edition and so hope this petition succeeds — but I don't think it will. First, Superman Returns is likely to be dismissed in whatever film is next for the superhero; the potential for a reboot could be confused by further promotion of this film. Second, the Richard Donner cut was a unique situation in which studio politics prevented his vision for Superman II from being realized for more than two decades; I don't know of any similar dissatisfaction on Bryan Singer's part. Finally, since DVDs have regional releases, I'm not sure if it hurts, or is immaterial to, the cause that the petition is based in Argentina.

Nonetheless, you can follow the cause on Facebook or Twitter, though neither have been updated in the last two weeks, just two days after the above trailer was posted to YouTube. Perhaps this cause was just a superhero fly-by-night.

Hat tip to the BlueTights Network.