After three Star Trek TV series set in the 24th century, the franchise needed shakeup. Moving even further into the future just didn’t seem to be an invigorating option, but how about moving back to the unexplored founding days of Starfleet? Re-inventing a 35-year-old franchise isn’t easy, and bringing a fresh perspective to a universe that had been a constant presence on the airwaves for a decade and a half (not to mention several films during time time, as well) certainly isn’t any easier, but with a name brand star and a brand-new style and HD production quality, Star Trek: Enterprise had a lot going for it. And it carried with it quite a high level of expectations.
Star Trek: Enterprise first hit the airwaves in 2001, at a time when mother-network UPN (now part of the CW) wasn’t even broadcasting in HD in most markets. The shows that were going through HD post-production at the time were typically still favoring the 4:3 standard-def broadcasts that 98% of their audiences were watching. Malcolm in the Middle even included a featurette on Season One DVD release, in which the producers explained why they often would say “F*ck HD” when production schedules got tight.
In that HD-hostile environment, Enterprise‘s creative team fought hard to make sure their show looked its best at the time. But, well… let’s just say that the best in 2001 isn’t quite what the 2013 consumer is used to, and as a result, the long-awaited first season release of Enterprise on Blu-ray has been the source of quite a few complaints on various websites. The thing is, though, in 2001, most productions were still using CRT telecine, which inherently has a slightly softer look, not the razor accuracy of film scanners. Visual effects were all done in standard definition, as the production pipelines simply weren’t fast enough for a weekly televison series in HD. So if you’re expecting Enterprise to look like TNG just because this show was shot in native HD, whereas its predecessor has been remastered from SD, then temper your expectations now. Enterprise isn’t getting a complete ground-up makeover; the Blu-ray is about as polished as we can ever hope to see the show.
Still, though, it’s certainly not as bad as its detractors would have you believe. If you’ve seen Firefly on Blu-ray, which was made under the same production limitations, then you know what to expect: a slightly soft, but solid high-definition presentation with up-converted effects that succeed more often than they fail. This Blu-ray is a fine representation of Enterprise in its native form and anyone who goes into it with these things in mind will have a fine time.
The biggest improvement this Blu-ray brings to the table in terms of presentation is the lossless audio, delivering a brand new level of clarity previously unavailable on any other format. The new audio mix renders dialogue more clearly, and delivers greater and more detailed surround activity. But make no mistake about it: Enterprise on Blu-ray looks better than any of the broadcasts of the series out there, and that alone makes it worth a purchase for fans.
The real sparkle of the set is the brand new — and at times brutally honest — bonus material. In the main documentary included with the set, CBS let the leash out to maximum for showrunners Rick Berman and Brannon Braga to talk about what worked, what didn’t, their original intentions for the show, and how the network steered them away from their bigger ideas and back into safer, shallower waters. For an hour, the two of them toss back and forth how the series was launched in less than two months from the ashes of Voyager, how they wished they had more like a year, and what might have been if they had been given more time to polish the concept.
On top of all of this is another 90-minute documentary in the style of the TNG sets, Launching Enterprise. Most people consider the first season of of the show very uneven, and by the time you finish this documentary, you’ll know why. I’m not trying to excuse the issues that resulted from Berman and Braga’s control of the franchise, but they did have a mountain to climb, and they are about as objectivea bout it as any individual with a lifetime invested in a project can be. You really feel like they were simply trying to hold the plane on a shallow dive the entire season. The best part? The entire story behind how Star Trek went from dramatic orchestral openings to a Diane Warren cheesy pop song. The temp music was U2’s “Beautiful Day,” and I wish that they’d managed to get the rights for it, since it’s a way better fit to the visuals than the much-reviled end result. But such is life.
There’s no doubt that Enterprise is the red-headed stepchild of the franchise, in that it turned off a lot of fans at the time with the shift in style, and played some seriously questionable games with established canon. But how has time treated it? Quite frankly, with the release of JJ Abrams‘ movies, it’s a lot closer tonally to what the kids today are used to seeing, and like The Original Series, it very well may find new life long after it’s off the air. If you didn’t like Enterprise, I don’t think this set is going to change your mind, but if you were a casual viewer, or a new fan of the franchise looking for something different, the comprehensive extras package should be enough to push you over the fence. For those holding out hoping for a remastering, I wouldn’t hold your breath. The show has never proven popular enough over its first decade to justify the tens of thousands of dollars per episode it would take to re-run the film alone for the small gains it would generate in quality. But the series has been given some serious archival respect by CBS, and fans of the show should be thrilled with this stellar release.