In celebration of the 55th anniversary of the debut of the Star Trek TV series this month, Paramount has released the first four films in 4K Ultra HD. All of the films are newly remastered from the original film elements and presented in Dolby Vision and HDR-10.
The first film still feels the most epic of the set, even though it’s clearly overly long with ponderous effects shots such as the minutes-long flyby over the Enterprise in drydock. I only ever saw the films during their original theatrical releases, so I was surprised during this rewatch to find recycled Enterprise exterior footage from the first film clearly popping up in the second film, although of course that calls back to its humble TV origins. The second through fourth films, the unofficial trilogy, drop the pretension of the heavy-handed first film, ramping up the action and treating the property less preciously. The second film is still easily the most enjoyable, while the fourth has not improved over time due to its real-world setting in the now very dated ‘80s San Francisco.
The films look better than ever before, but don’t overdo it with enhancement. They all show fine film grain and avoid any soap opera effect without any TV setting adjustments. They also don’t overdose on HDR, maintaining subdued tones except for rare effects that really pop, most notably the very beginning of the Genesis Effect demo reel and the vibrant nebula cloud in Star Trek II. Blacks are fairly dark, while whites aren’t so brilliant as to blow out surrounding details. Skin tones look natural and fine detail is incredibly precise. All in all, the films look exactly like they should without resorting to any modern trickery to make them look overly processed.
All four films are presented on individual Blu-ray and 4K discs, with each group housed in single standard cases. The Blu-rays contain the same newly restored versions of the films as the 4K discs, just in 1080p. Digital codes are also provided for 4K redemption on only VUDU or Apple, since Paramount still stubbornly refuses to play with Movies Anywhere. Can we talk about that cover art? I mean really, who approved that travesty? Bones looks like some kind of lizard man, the colors are really wonky, and the whole piece looks like something any half-capable high school student could improve upon. Paramount is in need of a fan feedback forum to get some advance correction on their misguided marketing.
The new set recycles most of the extensive bonus features from the 2009 Blu-ray releases, omitting some material but not adding any new content aside from a couple of isolated score tracks. For space considerations, most of the bonus features appear on the Blu-ray discs only. While the sheer volume of features is impressive, Paramount could have trimmed a bit further. By the time we’re getting down to features interviewing fans who were part of a crowd scene in the first film and other fans who collect Trek props, it’s time to wrap things up. Still, some of the archival material is great, such as on-set press interviews of a testy Shatner during the production of the fourth film where it’s clear he doesn’t want to be there and amuses himself by offering flippant answers. I also enjoyed the look behind the scenes at the efforts taken to turn part of Paramount’s parking lot back into a huge water tank used for the ocean scenes in the fourth film. Sadly, the first film has the least features, with the primary offering being a discussion of the prolonged script writing process.
The new box set achieves its main purpose: providing competent debut 4K UHD releases of the first four films. While it would be nice to have remastered Dolby Atmos soundtracks, the recycled 7.1 Dolby TrueHD tracks from 2009 do a fine job of enveloping viewers in the deep space action. The bonus features are stale and the cover art is atrocious, but the films carry the day. The main benefit is the improved image quality, and while not all older films benefit from the upgrade, this is one case where the remasters were done right and provide home viewers with the best-ever Trek experience.