Friday, March 6, 2009

Star Trek: The Home Video Saga

In anticipation of Star Trek's upcoming foray into the world of Blu-ray High Definition with the release of the Kirk and Spock movie collection as well as The Original Series, I thought it was the ideal time to take a look back at Trek's long history on home video formats.

As one of the most popular entertainment franchises in the world, the "Star Trek" films and TV series have pretty much been available on every home video format in existence.

Scene from the original Star Trek pilot: "The Cage."

When it comes to home video releases, two of the most debated chapters in the Trek saga have always been the original pilot episode "The Cage", and the first silver screen voyage "Star Trek: The Motion Picture". We'll go into all the details about the different versions of these available through the years in this retrospective.

In 1976, ten years after the premiere of "Star Trek" on network television, the Video Home System or VHS format made its debut in the United States. The format developed by the Victor company of Japan soon became the standard for home viewing after defeating Betamax in the first ever home video format war. It was a sure bet that "Star Trek" would make its way onto the popular format sooner than later. Near the end of the decade multiple companies began to release non-licensed tapes with episodes of "Star Trek" on both VHS and Betamax formats. Among these companies was the Fotomat video rental outlets.

Paramount Pictures' home entertainment division didn't begin to release any episodes of the show on VHS until 1985. The same year Pioneer Entertainment began releasing the episodes simultaneously on the Laserdisc format in waves of 5 discs with two episodes per disc. The laserdiscs included the original trailers for the next episode in production order. The following year the Columbia House video club began releasing the episodes on a subscription basis featuring two episdes per tape. They launched their collection with an introductory volume featuring "The Managerie" Parts 1 and 2.

Also In 1986 fans were treated to a special release of "The Cage", the unaired first pilot episode for the series. This VHS release was produced from a transfer of Gene Roddenberry's original workprint. The Paramount Home Entertainment VHS release also featured an introduction by Roddenberry, who had been screening his print of the pilot for years at Trek conventions across the country. 3 years later as Paramount was wrapping up the release of the series on VHS they issued a second edition of "The Cage", this time in a full color.

The reason for these two different home video editions goes back to the first season of the show when as a way of saving some money and not letting all the footage from "The Cage" go to waste it was decided to create an episode which could utilize scenes from the unaired pilot to tell a completely new story. During the process of re-cuting the pilot into this new episode ("The Menagerie") the original camera negative of "The Cage" was spliced up.
The trims (scenes not used in the re-editing process) had been thought lost for years, so Roddenberry's black-and-white 16mm print made for reference purposes was the only existing complete copy of the episode. The first video release was a transfer of this print, intercut with the color scenes that were used in "The Menagerie".

Scene from the color version of "The Cage."

A year after this VHS release an employee at one of the top film labs in Hollywood found an unmarked film can with the trims of the unused lost scenes. The newly found camera negative was soon returned to Roddemberry's company and in collaboration with Paramount Pictures the original pilot episode was soon restored. That fully restored color version made it's television debut in 1988 as part of the television special "The Star Trek Saga: From One Generation to the Next". The following year Paramount Home video issued this edition of the pilot on Home Video followed by a Laserdisc release from Pioneer.

On March 20, 1990 Pioneer made a lot of fans happy by releasing the entire Animated Series on the Laserdisc format in a box set, containing all 22 episodes on 5 discs. Unfortunately for VHS collectors they had to obtain she show as a series of 11 volumes featuring 2 episodes per tape. In 1993 Paramount re-released all the Original Series episodes on the VHS format, this time around with new packaging and a bonus Skybox trading card inside each package.

Big Screen Voyages and Spin Offs...

A couple of years before Paramount started releasing the original series episodes they had already begun launching the silver screen voyages onto the home video formats beginning in 1980 with "The Motion Picture". Priced at $79.95 on VHS, the first film in the "Star Trek" saga was geared towards the rental market. On March 22, 1981 RCA released the film for their Videodisc format priced at $39.98. Also MCA Discovision / Universal Pioneer released a pan and scan version of the film the same year for the Laserdisc format.

In 1983 the ABC television network aired an extended cut of the film with 12 additional minutes of footage. Paramount soon released this cut of the film on VHS in the 1.33:1 pan and scan format. Pioneer followed up with a Laserdisc release of the extended cut the same year. This was one of the first times in which an extended version of a film was produced for television and home video. The additional scenes included a sequence of Kirk leaving the Enterprise in pursuit of Spock. A sequence which had no visual effects work, and audiences were able to see the scaffolding and ceiling of the sound stage where the scene was shot.

Also in 1983 "Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan" appeared on the VHS format. Paramount's suggested retail price for the VHS was $39.95 ($40 less than most new releases on the format). This pricing strategy from Paramount was credited with making studios consider more competitive VHS prices, and an increase in the adoption the VHS format. The laserdisc release was priced at 29.98 by Pioneer and presented the film in the pan and scan format only. RCA also released the film on their Video disc format.

In 1985 "Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock" was added to the home video offerings on VHS and Laserdisc. The following year all three films were lowered to $29.95 on VHS. The VHS release of "Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home" in the summer of 1987 included a preview for Star Trek: The Next Generation at the head of the tape. The Laserdisc did not include the preview. In 1989 "Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier" was also released on VHS and Laserdisc.

1991 proved to be a big year for Star Trek. In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the show fans were treated to another film, this time the last voyage for the crew of the Enterprise-A. To celebrate the occasion Paramount home entertainment launched a massive home video promotion by re-releasing the first five films in the widescreen format for the first time ever on both VHS and Laserdisc formats. The new VHS editions carried a price tag of 14.95 for pan and scan and $19.95 for widescreen.

As part of this year long 25th anniversary celebration and a major push from Paramount Home Video to release as much Trek programming as possible "Star Trek: The Next Generation" made its home video debut the same year. Paramount home entertainment handled the VHS releases, while Pioneer handled the Laserdiscs which had two episode per disc. The entire run of the show was released on both formats over a period of nine years. The same year Columbia house also started to release the series on the VHS format at the rate of two episodes per tape. The initial release of the pilot telefilm: "Encounter at Farpoint" featured the edited two part syndication version . Gene Roddenbery and Paramount requested that Columbia House rectify this error and as a result subsequent releases featured the two hour version of the episode as aired during the show's premiere night. Paramount rounded out their anniversary year release slate with the Star Trek 25th anniversary television special hosted by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy on VHS.

The following year Paramount Home Video video paid it respects to the most successful installment of the film franchise by releasing a "Director's Series" edition of "Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home" on VHS. The new edition featured new packaging art as well as an introduction by Leonard Nimoy with a behind the scenes look at the making of the film. The film was presented in the widescreen format. The Laserdisc "Director's Series" edition was not released until April 1, 1992.

"Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country" followed on VHS in widescreen and pan and scan formats as well as on Laserdisc in June 1992 with a couple of minutes of new footage director Nick Meyer felt would help certain elements of the story. As a promotional tie-in Paramount offered rebates for the home video release of the film on boxes of Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats.

It should be noted that although the film was shot on the super 35mm format and framed at the 2.35:1 aspect ratio the Widescreen home video and Laserdiscs used a reduction of this framing at 1.95:1. There has never been a U.S. release for the home video market with the original theatrical aspect ratio thus far. (The upcoming Blu-ray edition should correct the situation with a new transfer at the original aspect ratio approved by director Nick Meyer.)
Once "Star Trek 6" made its home video debut Paramount reissued all 6 movies in a box set titled "The Screen Voyages Collection".

During the mid to late 90s Paramount also began to release VHS editions of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "Star Trek: Voyager". Pioneer handled the Laserdiscs release for DS9. Around the same time various T.V. specials made their way to VHS including "Journey's End: The Saga of Star Trek The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine: Behind the Scenes".

Over the years Paramount released multiple box sets mixing and matching episodes from all the series usually based on a theme or a specific character. Some of these included bonus materials such as the "Worf: Return to Grace Video Collection" which included a bonus Worf action figure repaint from Playmates Toys and the "Tribbles Gift Set" which included both tribbles episodes from TOS and DS9 as well as a bonus electronic plush tribble.

Other box sets released included:

- Star Trek: The Greatest Battles (Episodes: TOS - "Balance of Terror", TNG - "Gambit", DS9 - "The Way of the Warrior", VOY - "Maneuvers")

- Star Trek: The Premiere Episodes (All four Pilots)

- The' Captains Video Gift Set (Episodes: TOS - "Obsession", TNG - "Family", DS9 - "Adversary", VOY - "Caretaker")

- Time Travel Gift Set (Episodes: TOS - "City on the Edge of Forever", TNG - "Yesterday's Enterprise", DS9 - "The Visitor", VOY - "Time and Again")

- The Data Collection (Episodes: TNG - "The Measure of a Man", "The Offspring", "Hero Worship", Descent")

- "The Q Continuum" (Episodes: TNG - "Encounter at Farpoint", "Hide & Q", "Q Who?", "Deja Q")

- "The Borg Collective" (Eposodes: TNG - "Q Who?", "The Best of Both Worlds" , "I, Borg")

- "The Mudd Pack" (Episodes: TOS - "I, Mudd", Mudd's Women")

The Laserdisc releases for Deep Space Nine came to a close after 30 volumes in October 1999 with the release of episodes 173 and 174 ("Extreme Measures and "The Dogs of War".) Star Trek Voyager never saw a Pioneer episodic release on Laserdisc in the U.S.
Once the torch was passed from the original series crew to the Next Generation on the big screen with "Star Trek Generations" the crew of the Enterprise D took over the silver screen missions and multiple releases of their cinematic adventures followed on all home video formats beginning in the summer of 1995 with the VHS release of "Generations" to rental outlets. The Laserdisc edition was released day and date with the rental VHS. The mass retail release was launched on February 1996 featuring a lenticular holographic cover with the film becoming available on pan and scan and widescreen formats on VHS. "Star Trek First Contact" followed with a VHS release for the rental market on May 1997. The Laserdisc was released shortly after on June 17, 1997.

Other VHS releases late in the decade included the TV specials "Star Trek: 30 Years and Beyond, "Ultimate Trek", and the documentaries: "Inside Star Trek: The Real Story" and "William Shatner's Star Trek Memories".

Closing out the decade "Star Trek Insurrection" made its VHS debut in the spring of 1999. With a Laserdisc release on May 11. In October of the same year the mass retail release became available with a bonus behind the scenes look at the film. The final release of the decade for "Star Trek" on the VHS format came in the form of a box set titled: "The Ultimate Star Trek Movie Collection" featuring all 9 feature films in the widescreen format.

Print ad from 1999 - Paramount lowers the VHS editions of the films one more time as DVD becomes more popular in the late 90s.

DVD and Beyond...

As the 90's were coming to a close a new groundbreaking format was beginning to emerge and take a hold of the high end videophile market where Laserdisc long reigned, while at the same time beginning to spread to the general consumer market at an amazing rate. The format know as Digital Versatile Disc or DVD, was a digital delivery medium similar to CDs but with the storage capacity to hold an entire feature film or multiple episodes of a television program in digital audio and picture.

The first "Star Trek" release on this format was the feature film "Star Trek First Contact" on October 7, 1998 as a bare-bones edition with no special features with the exception of a theatrical trailer. The release pattern continued in reverse chronological order with the exception of "Star Trek Insurrection" which was slotted between Star Trek 5 and 4 to coincide with the Laserdisc release of the film on May 11, 1999. By July 11, 2000 Paramount Home Video had made it up to "Star Trek 2 The Wrath of Khan" and the most problematic film in the franchise's history, "The Motion Picture", was next. Instead of doing a bare-bones release for this film like they had been doing for all the others Paramount agreed to director Robert Wise's request to complete the film as he had originally intended but had been unable to originally due to the multiple problems faced by him and his team in post production as a theatrical release date Paramount had no way of changing fast approached.

The result from this second chance given to Robert Wise made its debut on November 6, 2001 as "Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition" was released on DVD as a two disc set featuring a plethora of bonus features as well as a re-edited version of the film with many new computer generated effects finally completed and a full sound mix with all the sound effects missing from the original theatrical mix due to time constraints. There was also a Widescreen release of this edition of the film on VHS.

Cast and crew join director Robert Wise at the Hollywood premiere for "Star Trek The Motion Picture: The Director's Edition"

The running time for the new edition was four minutes longer than the theatrical cut. This was not just a work of adding more scenes, the Director's Edition represents more than just that. The filmmakers got the opportunity to complete multiple effects shots that had originally gone unfinished, create new establishing shots for locales such as the planet Vulcan, delete shots or dialogue that due to the new FX visuals had become redundant, re-edit certain sequences in a more visually compelling way, and create all the missing sound elements on the bridge of the Enterprise and other environments. Some shots and or sequences were removed or replaced (all of the deleted scenes are available as part of the DVD's bonus features). The changes resulted in a significantly improved version of the film.

Wireframe and fully rendered CG model of the Enterprise A for "Star Trek The Motion Picture: The Director's Edition"

After the film was released word soon spread that this new version of the film had been mastered at standard definition as the newly created FX shots had been rendered at standard-def as a cost cutting decision by the studio. Paramount never issued an official statement regarding these rumors and by now fans everywhere are aware of the new Blu-ray releases of the films scheduled for this spring, from which the "Director's Edition" of "The Motion Picture" is suspiciously absent.

Impressed by the picture and sound quality of the new format fans started clamoring for a release of the Original Series episodes on the DVD format very early on.
Paramount listened and in August of 1999 the studio began releasing the show at a rate of two episodes per disc in production order. The studio's release strategy was to release four episodes on DVD each month.

In the fall of 1999 Ron Smith, Paramount's Project Manager for Star Trek's DVD release told the press all about the work being done by the studio to make this DVD release the best possible video and audio presentation of the show thus far. Smith said the following regarding the studios first ever digital film transfer for The Original Series: "We have dutifully cleaned up the opticals, which have become predictably dirty. And part of the endearing charm of the original series are the cool opticals."
In order to create these new digital transfers, Smith and his team had access to Paramount's two existing positive prints on 35mm for each episode. They were able to select the best available footage from the combined prints, then clean and restore the footage while at the same time color correcting the transfer to its original production tones. The team proceeded to approach the audio side of the task by not just restoring the original sound mix elements but also creating all new Dolby Digital Surround Sound mixes for home theater systems for each episode.

The team's most challenging episode was the original pilot "The Cage".
Both the re-edited color version and the original black and white were restored for release. "Restoring The Cage has been different from all other episodes", says Smith. "It is the print that more often than any other episodes has been taken out of its cans, shipped around, and handled. It looks and sounds the worst of them all. It is showing it's age more than all the other episodes." On December 11, 2001 their task came officially to a close with the release of the last volume of The Original Series on DVD featuring the show's final episode "Turnabout Intruder" and both versions of "The Cage".

Almost 3 years later fans got treated to season sets of the show with all new special features exclusively produced for this release. By then the "Star Trek" DVD train was running at full speed with season box sets of "The Next Generation", "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager". Each season set featured all new retrospective documentaries specially produced for these releases and featuring dozens of cast members and production personnel from all the shows.

Best Buy added a couple of bonus discs to some of these sets with bonus featurettes not available anywhere else.

On May 2003 the latest feature film Star Trek Nemesis made its debut on DVD (the film was also released on VHS and UMD). Best Buy also distributed a bonus cd-rom in the shape of the Romulan Emblem with various desktop utilities for your computer.
The Best Buy bonus discs on all these DVD releases drove fans mad trying to get a hold of the specially marked packages in order to see these special features not available anywhere else. Many fans, including this one, became infuriated since we are all usually paying the same prices for these sets no matter what retailer we get them from so we should all be able to get every featurette produced. You'd think Paramount had some scheming money grubbing Ferengis working for them when they came up with their strategy to release certain bonus features on the Star Trek season sets exclusively at one specific retailer.

After their success with the "Director's Edition" of "The Motion Picture" Paramount decided to give the deluxe treatment to the critically acclaimed sequel: "The Wrath of Khan". On August 6, 2002 "The Director's Edition" for this fan favorite film was released as a two disc set with multiple bonus features including a commentary track by director Nicholas Meyer and about 3 minutes of additional footage not seen theatrically. One of most notable additions to the film takes place in a scene where Scotty loses his young nephew during Khan's attack on the Enterprise. The character of midshipman Peter Preston had many of his lines cut from the original theatrical release, including a scene where it is explained he is Scotty's relative. These scenes were reinstated when ABC aired "The Wrath of Khan" on television in 1985, and once again in "The Director's Edition", making it clear why Scotty's grief at the crewman's death is so painful.

Between October 2002 and October of 2005 all remaining Star Trek films were released in the 2 disc "Collector's Edition" format. All featured commentaries, behind the scenes featurettes, and a series of documentaries under the heading of "The Star Trek Universe". Each documentary focused on different aspects of the franchise's history.

All these two disc editions of the films were collected into "The Star Trek Motion Pictures DVD Collection", a 20 disc set released on October 4, 2005.

Also in 2005 Paramount Home Entertainment released all four seasons of "Star Trek Enterprise" on DVD.

Since the advent of HDTV in the late 90s consumers had been looking for the ideal format to obtain High Definition programming on. Various attempts were made by multiple companies including such formats as DVHS. Nothing really proved successful enough until the advent of lasers with shorter wavelengths which could yield optical storage with much higher density than the existing formats. Shuji Nakamura came up with practical blue laser diodes. The first step in the right direction in high definition storage seemed to have been taken.
On April 18, 2006 Toshiba released their first consumer-based HD DVD player in the United States beating Blu-ray to the market by about three months, HD DVD Players were priced between $499 and $799. On November 20, 2007, a few months before the format's quick cancellation Paramount Home Entertainment released the first season of Star Trek The Original Series Remastered with all new visual effects and sound work.

The 10 disc HD DVD / DVD combo set marked the first ever release of Star Trek product in the High Definition format. One week before the release of this box set Paramount orchestrated a special presentation of the remastered episode "The Menagerie" on November 13th at almost 300 theaters nationwide. The two-part episode was shown in HD and digital surround sound. The screening included a 30 minute behind-the-scenes featurette about the remastering process done to the entire series. A second screening took place on the 15th of November as well.

Paramount also put together a special mail-in offer for those fans who purchased a Toshiba HD DVD player and the first season HD DVD box set. By mailing in thier proofs of purchase costumers would receive a Phaser remote control for their HD DVD player. An even better offer come courtesy of the Virgin Mega Store. The first 150 customers to purchase the set at two specific Virgin Mega Store locations (120 at Time Square and 30 at Union Square) also received a free Toshiba HD DVD player on which to watch their new discs.

Unfortunately for fans looking to get the rest of the series on HD DVD, by 2008 the format had been beaten by Blu-ray and every company cancelled their slate of upcoming HD DVD products.

On November 21, 2006 fans of the animated adventures of the Enterprise finally got the entire run of episodes on DVD with the release of "Star Trek: The Complete Animated Series." The Peabody Award winning series included multiple special features including commentaries and interviews with key creative staff including writer David Gerrold, who had penned the classic "The Trouble with Tribbles" episode of the original series and served as a staff writer on the animated show.

To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" Paramount released the show in a complete series box set in 2007. The new set included all the special features from the previous season sets as well as a bonus disc with all the Best Buy exclusive featurettes and an assortment of new documentaries: "Star Trek The Next Generation: 20 Years Later", "The Next Generation Legacy", and Star Trek Visual Effects Magic: A Round Table Discussion".

As we now approach the release of the 11th feature film Paramount prepares to introduce Star Trek to the Blu-ray High Definition Format and fans again will be able to relieve their favorite moments of the original crew's journeys into the final frontier. On April 28 Season one of the Original Series makes its debut on Blu-ray with seasons 2 and 3 scheduled for release later in the year.

A few short days after STAR TREK explodes onto theater screens world-wide the first 6 films in the franchise will finally see the light of day on Blu-ray. Paramount promises to have the 4 Next Generation films ready for release on Blu-ray by the end of the year. Most likely to coincide with the Blu-ray release of the new film. I for one can't wait to enjoy the adventures of the Starship Enterprise on High Definition, especially since we'll be able to toggle between the original opticals and the newly created computer generated shots via seamless branching.

I'll be posting my thoughts on these new box sets as they get released, but in the meantime dig out all those old VHS tapes, laserdiscs, and DVDs you have stashed away and enjoy your favorite missions one more time before the next great chapter in the "Star Trek" saga hits screens all over the world in two months. The secret to Star Trek's success has always been its compelling characters and the great quality of the storytelling, and fortunately that always comes through no matter what format you see these films or episodes in.

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