A penitent Paramount brings us a new release of the rebooted Star Trek movies
Star Trek: The Compendium represents a rare occurrence of a studio actually listening to the wishes of the fans. After the unprecedented cluster**** of the original home video release of director JJ Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness – where the bonus content was broken up into numerous piecemeal featurettes and scattered across a multitude of ‘retailer exclusives’ – Paramount have made amends, blaming the new personnel in their marketing department for what happened.
They’ve since gathered together most of that disparate content (along with the 2009 movie), added in a little something new and put a great big cherry on top: the IMAX edition of Into Darkness, which enlarges the aspect ratio at key moments to heighten the visual experience. While this home video version cannot hope to capture the impact of the 15/70 theatrical IMAX version (which I saw firsthand), the use of the alternating aspect can still lend an extra degree of excitement and awe to home viewing.
I won’t go into too much detail about the movies themselves because the same arguments have been done to death in the geekosphere. But, for the record, I love the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana, it’s fresh and sleek and a whole lot of fun without betraying too much of what Star Trek is all about. There’s some beautiful and downright moving filmmaking on display (the USS Kelvin opening sequence in particular) and Michael Giacchino’s score is wonderful. The same cannot be said for the sequel however, which displays a bad misjudgement of Trek’s core values and has a nonsensical story that relies much too often on sheer coincidence and ‘get out of jail free’ plot devices.
As with the first film, it references some of Trek’s most hallowed ground – the peerless Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – but this time around it lacks the gravitas needed to pull off the weightiest moments of homage. There’s lots of running and jumping and shooting so it more than delivers on the ‘brainless action’ front, but that’s all it is, a pretty but hollow technical exercise which came as a disappointment after the 2009 movie delivered some genuine emotional heft along with the action. Star Trek still rates as a very enjoyable 8/10, but Into Darkness gets 5/10.
Released only in North America at this time, the Compendium contains both Star Trek and Into Darkness spread across four region-free Blu-ray discs, two for each movie, presented in a larger-than-normal digipak (it’s taller than a regular Blu-ray case but shorter than a G1 DVD) with codes for an Ultraviolet/iTunes digital copy of each film. 2009’s Star Trek is represented by exactly the same discs and content as before, nothing has been added or taken away so you still get superlative A/V quality and some good special features. From here on out I’ll be focussing on the sequel.
Into Darkness was shot on a combination of anamorphic 35mm and horizontal 65mm IMAX with a 2K DI finish. This 1080p AVC video encode retains the same virtues and foibles of the original Blu-ray release, only this time with added IMAX. The colour is bold and vivid, almost to the point of being too overbearing as skin tones can tip over into orangey perma-tanned territory, and the blacks are very solid, lending an inky depth to the space shots in particular. Detail is also good but it varies, with the 2.40 widescreen shots having that classically soft anamorphic appearance while the 1.78 IMAX scenes are jaw-droppingly sharp and crisp. The distortion of of the anamorphic glass is occasionally apparent as people sometimes look slightly squashed, but this is entirely normal for those lenses, so please don’t adjust your set!
The image can look a little over-processed at times, as there’s some extremely slight vertical jaggies on Kirk’s closeups when he’s in Pike’s office and a few isolated bouts of harsh-looking noise (which was also true of the cinema version that I saw) but apart from that the fine layer of grain is generally unmolested, and disappears completely when we cut to the large-format IMAX scenes (as well it should). The tricky gradations of light and dark in the underwater/space shots are handled impeccably with no obvious banding.
As for the IMAX footage itself, virtually every exterior shot fills the entire 1.78 frame and imbues a palpable ‘wow’ factor on those sequences, neatly cutting back and forth with the widescreen interiors (and some cases the black borders slowly encroach into the frame, which is a classy touch). The matted widescreen versions of the IMAX shots always looked very cramped and awkwardly framed on the previous releases, and now that they’ve got all this extra room they look utterly magnificent, especially the beauty shots of the Enterprise. It’s spaceship porn at its finest.
It’s worth noting that the IMAX scenes were finished at 1.66 – not 1.44 like other 15/70 shows – so the slightly cropped 1.78 version seen here doesn’t lose too much picture information at all. They were done at 1.66 because of the sheer amount of ultra-high-quality VFX that was needed, a situation compounded by the requirement of separate renders for each ‘eye’ of the 3D version, so to reduce the workload they scaled down the height of the frame. (Unfortunately this IMAX edition Blu-ray is not presented in 3D.)
The audio is the same as before, being a raucous Dolby TrueHD 7.1 lossless mix that puts you right in the middle of the action with precise localisation across the entire array of speakers (when the Niburu natives are throwing spears at Bones, one zips past to the rear-right while another hits directly behind you) and there’s lots of atmospheric touches during the quieter beats. Dialogue is cleanly reproduced every step of the way, as no matter how rowdy the action got I didn’t lose so much as a syllable. And, unusually for a show with Ben Burtt as the sound designer, the music comes through big and bold, and anything less would’ve been a crime as Michael Giacchino’s stirring fanfare doesn’t deserve to be buried under a hail of sound effects. The bass is good and loud, it’s more heard than felt but it still adds plenty of kick when called upon.
One minor caveat is that there were constant dropouts in the Dolby TrueHD audio track on my equipment when bitstreamed from player (Oppo 95) to amplifier (Yamaha RXV667) over HDMI, and neither the original 2D or 3D version of Into Darkness did this. The obvious culprit is the seamless branching used to encode the enhanced commentary (which is explained in the next section). This was also true of other recent TrueHD titles that used branching, like Sony’s Total Recall remake, and then as now it can be ‘fixed’ by changing the player’s output from bitstream to PCM, i.e. setting the player to internally decode the audio. It’s a small annoyance, but it’d be nice if the studios finally figured out what’s causing these issues with TrueHD and branching and put a stop to it.
The extras for Into Darkness are legion. The movie disc contains the excellent enhanced commentary (which first debuted with the iTunes version), where the participants don’t just talk, they also pause and rewind the movie and highlight certain parts by way of a telestrator (they literally draw on the image in front of you), along with a picture-in-picture stream that shows behind-the-scenes footage of what they’re talking about. It’s a thoroughly entertaining dissection of the movie and is much more engaging than the average audio commentary. On disc two you’ll find twenty-two short featurettes, only eight of which were present on the original retail release and two are brand-new additions. Taken as a whole, they run for nearly two hours and represent an excellent overall appreciation of the making of the movie. Also present is a selection of newly-released deleted scenes and a gag reel, plus the original trailers, all of which were also lacking from the standard retail release.
Paramount has indeed listened to the consumer but they’ve been very crafty with Star Trek: The Compendium: we’re getting a package of bonus features for Star Trek Into Darkness that arguably should’ve been released that way to begin with, and we also have to buy the 2009 Star Trek movie in order to get it. The stunning quality of the IMAX footage does add an extra level of enjoyment but it’s 2D only, so 3D fans will want to hold on to that prior edition.
The expanded line-up of extras is undeniably excellent with several hours of informative content for Into Darkness, though it’s a shame we didn’t get anything new for the 2009 movie just to sweeten the deal for those of us who’ve bought it several times already. This set cannot be unconditionally recommended because it’s only for the most hardcore of Star Trek fans, but those that do purchase it are likely to be very pleased.
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