Trek's shark-jumping final season hits Blu-ray—should you care?

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

When I reviewed the original Star Trek: The Original Series DVD sets five or six years ago, I was a lot more lukewarm about the show than I am now. It's been a weird kind of revelation to discover just how much I love Trek, at least in its original incarnation: shows from the first two seasons surpassed my previously low expectations by a wide margin. In fact, in the last 12 months I've developed such a passionate appreciation for the show that I feel no longer capable of differentiating great episodes from terrible ones.

Unfortunately, the recently released Blu-ray set for Star Trek: The Original Series—Season 3 offers little in the way of clarification or guidance via commentaries or new interviews, although its other bonus content—including an unaired alternate cut of "Where No Man Has Gone Before"—certainly fulfills all of the requirements for folks with blind fan love like mine.

Interestingly, even the cast and crew of Season three acknowledge that much of the material was inferior to the previous two. In "To Boldly Go," a featurette that includes interview footage with Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner and others, they admit that a combination of low production budgets, network constraints and a terrible timeslot (Fridays at 10 p.m.) resulted in a collectively lackluster season, at least in comparison to seasons one and two. That said, many of the stories in season three remain not only memorable but classic.

But is an episode like "Spock's Brain" actually good, Star Trek good, or just season-three good? It was the first episode I watched in this set, and I enjoyed it, but there's something about the plot—involving the theft of Spock's gray matter for a future-primitive culture ruled by women, kind of—that automatically jumps the shark, even for Trek's typical flights of fancy. In that same featurette, one of the crew members talks about it, and I can't even tell from what he says whether he thinks it's good. Suffice it to say there's no right answer, and even on a superficial level there's so much to be entertained by in the episode—Spock directing Bones through the repair of his own brain, for one thing—that goodness on any scale is purely subjective.

Meanwhile, the transfers for episodes in the season one set are among the best I've ever seen for a classic television show, and it's understandable that Paramount and the Blu-ray producers would lavish the most attention on them. Sadly, however, the episodes from seasons two and three don't look nearly as good, suffering from flickering and degraded color quality that seems to have been all but completely erased from that first set. This might be because the studio remastered season one alone for release on HD DVD and skipped the same effort for the next two.

Regardless, the show still looks great—indeed, this still counts as the best-ever presentation of the show—so fans and new viewers will find themselves easily becoming immersed in the bright, clean, futuristic environment of the Enterprise and of course the strange new worlds that the crew explores. (And for those who turn up their noses at the show's original effects, the episodes all have optional updated effects work for the interstitial ship shots and some of the laser blasts and in-story stuff.)

Unlike previous sets—a fair standard of comparison for this release, in my opinion—the episodes feature fewer extras per disc, including a total absence of commentaries. (Surely Mike and Denise Okuda could have provided text commentaries or the content producers could have found other experts or fans to discuss episodes of interest.) On Disc Five, however, there are five bonus features, and on Disc Six there are eight, making the set's reservoir of supplemental features substantial, not only preserving content (such as the aforementioned "To Boldly Go" featurette) from previous editions but creating new materials to further push the show and the series into the future.

Three featurettes examine the fan phenomenon and legacy of Star Trek at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con. While I was mildly disappointed to discover that none of the panels documented here was held in the convention center's massive Hall H, which would be a sure sign that the franchise was as ripe with fandom as ever, they offer some mildly interesting insights into the values and ideas of Trek that helped it continue to survive through multiple shows and multiple decades. Additionally, one of the featurettes is hosted by David Gerrold, screenwriter of "The Trouble With Tribbles," who manages both to examine and encapsulate the sense of sometimes dubious stardom that comes from being a part of the Trek franchise.

The third installment of "Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest," meanwhile, offers even more interesting behind-the-scenes footage of the cast and crew in action, and while it may or may not be necessary for Blackburn to offer a point-by-point description of what we're watching (especially the self-explanatory horseplay), this series of featurettes offers virtually unprecedented documentation of the production of the series. But it's the unaired alternate version of "Where No Man Has Gone Before" that truly makes this set worth checking out: CBS uncovered the original cut of the second pilot for the series, restored it and presents it here for the first time in high definition.

Ultimately, for me this feels like the final stroke in a year-long assault of all things Trek, which means that after two multi-film Blu-ray box sets, a three-disc release for Abrams' film and two previous Original Series sets, this collection offers the last lingering snippets of the first show that fans will possibly want. With these various releases, not only has Star Trek never looked or sounded better, but it arrives with the best (or at least the most) supplemental content to date, ensuring that viewers can not only enjoy the show but understand the ideas it explored as well as where they came from. Or, in my case, hopefully figure out whether it's all as good as I want it to be, or if this will precipitate the inevitable comedown that maybe has to happen after spending 12 months boldly going any- and everywhere this franchise has taken me.

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