Star Trek, arguably the summer’s most talked-about movie, is finally coming to DVD on November 16th. For some, this two-disc set will be the first time they witness JJ Abrams’ re-imagining of the 40-year old sci-fi franchise. For many of us, though, it’s the chance to have that experience all over again.
Although dyed-in-the-wool Trek fans had every reason to feel nervous about a series reboot, take it from one – watching Star Trek wasn’t the world-shattering experience it could quite easily have been. Star Trek is respectful to its history without requiring the viewer to be familiar with it, and in keeping the sights on making a movie first and a ‘Star Trek movie’ second, Abrams imbued the franchise with the kind of wide appeal that recent films had repeatedly failed to capture.
Still, sitting in front of a giant screen, dazzled by light and sound and without any knowledge of the story’s course, it’s easy to be won over by even the most average film. For a film to work on DVD, it needs to retain its essence even without that , away from the glitz and hype. Does Star Trek hold up on a second viewing?
And the answer is… almost totally. The story as a whole is sound, focussing on the characterisation of (and friendship between) Kirk and Spock gives Star Trek the personal quality common to all the best Trek movies. The visuals hold up well on the small screen, even without the intensity of the cinema. The film is fairly long, but so tightly paced that even when you know what’s coming, it doesn’t drag. All of these things are achievements in themselves.
However, with a bit more time to chew things over, you do notice a few cracks in the veneer.
The film’s main weakness is its sense of humour, and the self-conscious attempts to prevent the film from becoming overly sincere and po-faced cross too easily into slapstick, even as the recognisable faces of Simon Pegg and Deep Roy threaten to rip you out of the film’s reality. Without an audience’s laughter to enhance the mood, the comedy set pieces, such as Kirk’s botched vaccination and Scotty’s ordeal in the pipes, struggle noticeably.
Elsewhere, Spock and Uhuru’s relationship, surprisingly easy to accept the first time around, seems to add little texture in the grand scheme of things, and although Nero makes an engaging villain, his backstory seems under-explored and his motivation too easily fades from view.
That said, the movie feels at its absolute weakest about two thirds in – Kirk’s encounter with ‘Big Red’ on an ice-planet is completely dispensable; the chance encounter with Spock Prime that follows is a little too hard to swallow, and the magic transporter equation that gets him and Scotty back to the Enterprise stands revealed as the kind of techno-babble plot device generally held up as an example of all that ever went wrong with Star Trek.
Despite that, the film does manage to support its weight overall. Indeed, on the flip side, a few things stand out far more the second time around. Karl Urban’s turn as McCoy was often eclipsed by Quinto and Pine in the cinema, but his modest, personable performance gives the cast an earthy anchor amidst the drama and bombast, while Pine himself is far easier to accept as a young Kirk when we know how his story goes.
Some things, of course, are as good as they ever were. Quinto still utterly steals the film as Spock, and every time he’s on camera you can’t help but be glued to the screen. Similarly, every one of Nimoy’s appearances radiates warmth and gravitas, and the space battles – particularly the opener – remain nothing short of breathtaking.
Ultimately, it’s a film that stands up well to multiple watches, and easily has the character to go down alongside not only the best Star Trek films, but alongside the best space operas in general. Whether this is your first time watching, or your second, or your fifth or sixth, it’ll hold up. It might not be completely perfect, but it’ll inarguably take a long time for a film with Star Trek‘s energy to tire.
The 2-DVD set contains a feature commentary, gag reel and documentary on the main disc, and an extras disc with deleted scenes (plus commentary) and four “making of” documentaries.
The extras disc is ruthlessly constructed, to the point where it begins to feel almost spartan. The docs themselves are standard ‘making of’ fare. All of them are composed of behind the scenes interviews and footage which shed varying amounts of light onto the proceedings.
Three of the documentary extras, A New Vision (an overview of the film’s production, on disc one) To Boldy Go (a look at what Star Trek is and how it was re-imagined) and Casting (how the principle cast was assembled) come across as cloying and self-congratulatory, while on the other end of the spectrum, Score (the making of the film’s soundtrack) and Aliens (the design and prosthetics involved in creating the various races of Star Trek) contain some fantastically insightful material, particularly, in the case of the latter, around the work recreating the infamous Spock ears and redesigning the Romulans.
All of the docs are imbued with the same wide-eyed wonder and optimism that Abrams’ Star Trek was, and on that level they complement the movie well. They’re diverting for a single watch, if never more than that, but experience demands we expect nothing more from the DVD extras of a blockbuster film.
The important thing is that with a combined length of around 90 minutes, you won’t feel cheated based on running time alone. But it still feels like there was the chance for something a little different which went unexplored.
The section that most people will view immediately, of course, is that perennial favourite: the deleted scenes. Some of the material cut from Star Trek may be initially surprising, in particular, those involving a good look at Abrams’ version of the Klingons. But you don’t need to listen to the commentary to understand why the cuts were made. Winona Ryder’s virtual elimination from the film notwithstanding, it’s easy to see how their removal serviced the completed cinematic version. Despite this, they’re still the most interesting part of the extras, offering the only ‘new’ Star Trek material we’ll see until a sequel.
The feature commentary is a textbook example, but for such a high-profile franchise, it’s particularly welcome to have the filmmaker’s insights, and that makes the film entertaining an extra time around. Abrams’ own words are more illuminating than any documentary can be, although the input of some of the cast members could’ve enhanced the commentary further.
The menus on both discs are animated, yet speedy, and demonstrate welcome restraint in their service to functionality. Where DVD menus are concerned, less is certainly more.
The Gag Reel is candid enough, but as tends to be the case with these things, it’s not quite as funny as it imagines itself to be. If you worked on the film, it’s no doubt a gleeful reminder of the fun that was had on set. To the rest of us, it’s just a puerile opportunity to hear Nimoy swear, even if it is bleeped out, and can’t really entertain beyond that level.
Overall, it’s a fairly standard set of, some essential, some less so. The level of quality is very slightly higher than average, but those who regularly pick up two-disc sets will know what to expect.
Were it not for the deleted scenes being placed on disc two, you could quite reasonably put it in your DVD player once and never again, though, to be fair, some disc sets fail to even match that standard. For better or worse, it’s not a disc set you’ll be buying for the extras.