Star Trek (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Jun 13, 2016
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Star Trek (4K UHD Review)

Director

J.J. Abrams

Release Date(s)

2009 (June 14, 2016)

Studio(s)

Bad Robot/Paramount (Paramount Pictures)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: A

Star Trek (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray)

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Review

I initially thought that re-imagining the Star Trek franchise was a terrible idea. Having seen Paramount release one mediocre Trek movie after another, then basically abandon the Enterprise TV series, I had little hope for the future of this franchise. I say that having been a fan of Star Trek since the very early 70s – not quite the beginning, but close. Then I saw that third preview trailer for this film. The one where Bruce Greenwood starts out “I couldn’t believe it when the bartender told me who you are...” It stirred something in me – a spark of hope that maybe they’d actually gotten it right this time. I began to feel real excitement about this film and managed to go into an early press screening with an open mind. Its opening sequence alone blew me away. It’s one of the best five minutes of film I’ve seen in years – gripping, emotional, poetic. It seemed to me that director J.J. Abrams and company had nailed the spirit of Trek at its best.

What’s clever about this Star Trek, is that it’s both a reboot and manages to respect most the classic Trek continuity that’s come before. Everything that’s good and pure about the franchise has been retained, while all of the techno baggage (“Quick, flux the deflector dish with anti-thalaron particles to reverse the field matrix!”) has been left back at the Spacedock. The actors are largely spot on as their characters – Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto make you believe they’re the younger Kirk and Spock, and Karl Urban absolutely shines as McCoy. The other cast members are good too, especially Greenwood as Captain Pike (inspired casting – he’s one of my favorites in this film) and Eric Bana as the film’s villain, Nero. The production design is mostly spectacular and ILM’s CG effects are top-notch. This is definitely Trek on a more epic scale that we’ve never quite seen before.

There are, of course, things that longtime Trek fans will just have to overlook... like the fact that it seems to take only ten minutes to warp from Earth to Vulcan, that the Enterprise’s engine room looks like a boiler room, that the ship itself seems way too big, and that Delta Vega is nowhere near Vulcan (and certainly not within simple “look up at the sky” visual range). There’s a little bit of playing fast and loose with the arcane details of Trek that I understand, but that could easily have been avoided had the writers taken a bit more care.

Regardless, there’s so much that’s good here, and genuinely fun, that you can easily forgive this Star Trek its quirks. The film is exciting, action packed, occasionally funny, occasionally poignant. It’s even slightly campy, in keeping with the tone of the classic show. This definitely feels like Star Trek – no doubt about it. But I’ll tell you, this film managed to do something else that Trek hasn’t managed in a long time: Truly surprise me. There are one or two moments in this film that are almost shocking to longtime fans of the franchise, and that’s not a bad thing. This Trek is a whole different ball game, one where almost anything is possible. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes next.

Star Trek was shot on 35mm film at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio (using anamorphic lenses), then scanned and finished to a 2K Digital Intermediate. For this Ultra HD Blu-ray release, that 2K DI was up-sampled to 4K and a new HDR color timing pass was completed. The resolution is thus slightly improved over the regular Blu-ray (1556p up-sampled to 2160p vs standard 1080p), but the major improvements lie in the expanded color gamut and greater dynamic range. The film grain is just a hair noisier than it was before, but the color is both more lush and nuanced at the same time. And while many have complained about director J.J. Abrams’ penchant for lens flares, here’s the interesting thing: The effect is actually much more effective and immersive with HDR. The whole point of doing them is to create a dense sense of atmosphere in the visuals, and with the brighter brights and darker darks here, the result is that your eye reacts more naturally to all the flickering and flaring, not to mention the brilliant weapons blasts, flashing computer data, and streak-smeared jump to warp snaps. You’re drawn into this imagery a little more than you would be normally on Blu-ray. Those of you who already hate the flares certainly aren’t going to change your minds here, but this is a fine looking image nonetheless.

The audio is included in a very nice English Dolby Atmos presentation that takes the previous 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix and enhances it with somewhat smoother panning around the sound space, active use of the surround back channels, and a little bit of vertical extension. Most of the improvements here (over the previous 5.1 mix) are subtle, which I suppose is fine because it was already a reference quality mix the first time around. Nevertheless, clarity is exceptional here and imaging is tight and precise. There’s a rich tapestry of background sounds layered into the mix that draws you right into the film’s fictional environments. A perfect example is the firefight that erupts when Kirk and Spock beam over to the Narada – phaser bolts ping and sizzle all around you. Sound designer Ben Burtt has even managed to honor The Original Series in the almost musical quality of the film’s computer sounds and equipment noises. Best of all, Michael Giacchino’s thrilling score is woven perfectly throughout film. The main title fanfare (a piece called Enterprising Young Men) gives me chills ever time I hear it. Additional sound options include English Descriptive Audio, and French, Spanish, and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

The only extra on the actual 4K Ultra HD disc is the previous feature-length audio commentary with Abrams, and collaborators Bryan Burk, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, and Roberto Orci. It should be noted that Paramount has adapted the previous Blu-ray menus for the 4K disc, which means this is the best looking menu I’ve seen yet on a 4K disc. Fortunately, the package also includes the previous 2-disc Blu-ray edition of the film, Disc One of which offers the film in 1080p HD (with 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio), the same audio commentary, and BD-Live.

Disc Two is the same Blu-ray Bonus Disc as before. It offers an impressive number of documentary featurettes, all of which are in HD. They start with To Boldly Go (16:41) with all of its extended branching pods: The Shatner Conundrum (1:58), Red Shirt Guy (:43), The Green Girl (3:25), and Trekker Alert! (2:22). There’s Casting (28:53) and A New Vision (19:31) with its pod: “Savage Pressure” (3:08). Starships (24:33) includes pods too: Warp Explained (1:22), Paint Job (1:14), Bridge Construction Accelerated (1:18), The Captain’s Chair (:45), Button Acting 101 (1:44), Narada Construction Accelerated (1:20), and Shuttle Shuffle (1:46). Aliens (16:30) includes the pods: The Alien Paradox (1:40), Big-Eyed Girl (1:25), Big Bro Quinto (1:26), Klingons (1:57), and Drakoulias Anatomy 101 (1:35). Planets (16:10) also has Extra Business (2:29) and Confidentiality (2:45). And Props and Costumes (9:22) comes with Klingon Wardrobe (1:08). Rounding out the featurettes (without branching pods) are Ben Burtt and the Sounds of Star Trek (11:45), Score (6:28), and Gene Roddenberry’s Vision (8:47). On top of this, you get 9 Deleted Scenes with optional commentary (13:30 in all, including Spock Birth, Klingons Take Over Narada, Young Kirk, Johnny and Uncle Frank, Amanda and Sarek Argue After Spock Fights, Prison Interrogation and Breakout, Sarek Gets Amanda, Dorm Room and Kobayashi Maru (Original Version), Kirk Apologizes to the Green Girl, and Sarek Sees Spock). There’s also a Gag Reel (6:22), a teaser trailer, and 3 theatrical trailers. Finally, there’s the interactive Starship Vessel Simulator that lets you get a much more detailed look at both the Enterprise and Narada. You can navigate around the ships, and go up close to different parts of each. You can fire the phasers and torpedoes, and even take the ships to warp. And all of this is in full HD, using the original ILM CG models from the film. It’s a cool feature that makes this 2-disc set a genuinely great special edition.

[Editor’s Note: Given that nearly all 4K releases are multi-disc sets, with the extras often included on separate BD discs, our extras grades for these 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray reviews will reflect the bonus content across all discs in the set.]

Star Trek is a rip-roaring good time at the movies, the rare summer blockbuster that transcends its genre while also managing to honor and respect the franchise upon which it was based. The 2-disc Blu-ray release was one of the best of its day, and Paramount’s new 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray edition carries all of that quality and content over and adds significantly enhanced picture and sound too. Put simply, Star Trek looks and sounds terrific on Ultra HD – the HDR definitely gives this film an extra visual kick. To be fair though, Paramount’s $49.99 SRP is way too high compared to the other studio’s 4K releases to date, which means that you might want to wait until the studio comes to its senses a little bit before you pick this one up. Still, 4K Ultra HD is absolutely the best way to watch Star Trek at home. So if you’re a fan... don’t miss it.

- Bill Hunt

 

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