If you've ever wondered where George Lucas got his little encyclopedia of iconic sound effects, look no further than the new Star Trek Blu-ray. Although he mentions the Star Wars franchise only in passing, Oscar-winning sound designer Ben Burtt reveals the actual source for the sound of blaster fire while explaining how he created the new film's photon torpedo fire (turns out it's a recording of a drumstick striking a slinky hanging from a folding ladder).
But then again, the mythology and lore of the Trek franchise are so rich that it seems impossible for much of anything in the 11th movie in the film series not to find its origins somewhere in the expansive landscape of science fiction that Trek influenced and inspired.
Thankfully, the new three-disc set doesn't merely acknowledge this interconnected universe but truly explores it, which is why Star Trek isn't merely one of the summer's best blockbusters but one of the year's best Blu-rays as well.
Disc One is fairly straightforward, offering only the film itself along with several audio options, including a commentary track by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and Roberto Orci. The film looks truly amazing in high definition, offering detailed, clear and colorful images that fans will enjoy poring over. Meanwhile, its soundtrack, available in 5.1 Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital, immerses you in the action, providing superior clarity for the dialogue and even subdued sound effects while Michael Giacchino's score offers the perfect combination of classic and completely new character and story themes.
Although using five participants makes it tough sometimes to know exactly who's talking during the commentary, the track is a valuable addition to the viewing process. In addition to explaining all of those damn lens flares (which even Abrams admits were sometimes ridiculous), the director, screenwriters and producers talk at length about their love for Trek and their task of reviving the franchise without simply feeling they were following some predetermined formula. While revealing some of the technical challenges that they faced in bringing the film's world to life, they also explain how some of their original ideas didn't work (like the oft-discussed rumor that Kirk was to be beamed out of his mother's uterus) and point out extra little details, such as the debris and reflections that appear on the camera lens, which ultimately gave the film much of its visceral intensity.
Disc two features Burtt's revelations about the film's sound effects, as well as nine other featurettes that form a complete portrait of virtually every aspect of Star Trek's rebirth that one could possibly want. Precisely why Paramount didn't merely put these together into a multi-chapter documentary is anyone's guess, but the segments are no less interesting for being separate, and, quite frankly, this arrangement allows for easier access to the segments that are of greater individual interest. That said, "To Boldly Go" is the primary overview piece on the disc, delving into the initial thoughts and ideas that led to the film being envisioned as a reconception of the franchise, what had to remain from previous iterations, and what would end up going.
While primarily this means an open acknowledgment and explanation as to why William Shatner did not return while Leonard Nimoy did (in a branching featurette entitled "The Shatner Conundrum"), the other featurettes examine the development and production of the film, showing the depths of Abrams' expertise and enthusiasm coming into the beginning of the process. In "A New Vision," for example, he and screenwriters Orci and Kurtzman first talk about the lessons they could learn from Star Wars (which they admit is blasphemy) but then show what they mean in terms of tone and technique, all of which makes terrific sense in the context of today's audiences, if also today's Trek fan. Later, the producers get into the business of shooting practical and special effects, the impact of Abrams' time-honored camera-shaking technique on the images themselves and the translation of on-set material into movie magic.
The casting featurette is also interesting because it essentially offers both the filmmakers and all members of the cast the opportunity to comment on each other's contributions. Needless to say, casting their Kirk was the biggest challenge, but Abrams and company explain how and why Chris Pine had the right qualities to create (or re-create) an all-new and yet totally familiar Kirk; then, other cast members talk about their experiences working with Pine and offer a few off-the-cuff observations that give the material a (slightly) less pre-packaged feel. Burtt's "Sounds of Star Trek," again, was probably my favorite, but it too gives away some trade secrets, and some really fascinating facts, in the service of exploring the rich legacy even of sounds that occupy Trek's universe.
A collection of additional scenes further reveal what the filmmakers intended with their reimagining of the franchise, not to mention explaining some of the finer points and plot details the theatrical cut glosses over. For example, one scene shows where Nero spends much of the 25 years between Kirk's birth and his ascendancy to captainhood of the Enterprise; another shows Spock's birth, which was originally intended to mirror the trajectory of Kirk's coming of age; and others explain the role Rachel Nichols played in the film, how she was inadvertently involved in Kirk's rigging of the Kobayashi Maru and Kirk's subsequent apology to another Orion slave girl who turns out not to be the one he betrayed.
The Starfleet Vessel Simulator and gag reel are alternately informative and featherweight—material for completists or folks who want to meticulously examine every single little detail about the production and production design, no matter how small—which ultimately serves the point that overall there's nothing obvious missing from this set that Star Trek fans could possibly want. In fact, what's really most terrific about this set is the fact that it connects so seamlessly to the rest of the Trek franchise, whether you're referring to the expansive history of the series and the way this movie pays homage to that, or even just the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases, which offer similarly themed and structured content that creates a sort of narrative continuity.
In which case, this set is the must-have release for the month of November, but there will be more than enough material to keep you entertained through the end of the year, ultimately proving that even if you don't think that the film made good use of time travel, the Star Trek Blu-ray will nevertheless offer plenty of good uses for your time.