Paramount Home Video
Cast: Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran, Robert Picardo, Tim Russ
Extras: Retrospective Documentaries, Photo Gallery
"Star Trek Voyager" came along late in the "Star Trek" renaissance, launching in 1995. The program, designed to run concurrent with "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine," brought fans another variation of the future as envisioned by Gene Roddenberry, creator of the original "Star Trek," or "classic Star Trek" as it is now referred.
Well, I’m probably going to tick a few fans off from this point, but I never warmed to either "ST: TNG" or "DS9." From what I remember, "TNG" was Roddenberry’s attempt to correct the concept detour that "Star Trek" took with the feature films. Despite really inventive antagonists like the Borg and Q, all I got from "TNG" was everyone acting terribly polite to each other. Something was missing from new Trek. Where was the bickering amongst comrades, the nit-picking that accompanies long stretches of confinement (a box several miles long is still a box), even among the best of friends? Perhaps it was due to chemistry or its uniqueness for its time, but classic "Star Trek" episodes still hold up today, mainly because the characters possessed, as director Nicholas Meyer once remarked, "bundles of charm."
What warmed me to "Voyager" was that the conflict wasn’t necessarily external. Even the pilot episode, "Caretaker," breaks tradition with the Federation interceding in an extraterrestrial civil war between the Cardassians and the Maquis. The U.S.S. Voyager, under the stewardship of Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), is dispatched to investigate the disappearance of a Maquis vessel in a very hostile cosmic patch called the "Badlands." An unknown force (of course) hurls Voyager 70,000 light years from Earth. Once their mission is complete, the assembled crews wrestle with personal and historical baggage as they find their way back to Federation-chartered space.
For the seven season run of the show, there were as many inner conflicts as "bug eyed aliens of the week" to contend with. Yes, there was all that hoopla over a female captain ("Trek" may have always been culturally conscious, but its sexism stretches back to the mini-skirts from the original series), but the diversity of the crew and the actors took those philosophies to a different plane within the "Trek" canon. "Voyager" is about prejudice in various forms – sexual politics, political dogmas, race relations. Stranded in space, cooped up in confinement, the "Voyager" crew dealt with VERY personal demons and that’s what made it, at least for me, closer to the original "Trek." "Voyager’s" first season was cautious with its storylines, focusing more on the external threats. "Caretaker" is very compelling, better than average in setting up the show’s parameters. Kate Mulgrew, taking over the role from Genevieve Bujold (more on that later), plays Janeway perfectly, with a by-the-book toughness yet not above feeling the consequences of her actions. For a shorthand introduction to the first season, check out "Caretaker," "Parallax," "Heroes and Demons" (showcasing Robert Picardo’s prissy Holographic Doctor), and "Ex Post Facto."
Following suit with their releases of "TNG" and "DS9," Paramount Home Entertainment just released "Voyager" in a complete first season box set. Five discs house fifteen episodes, four to a disc, except disc One which has the two-hour "Caretaker" pilot episode and disc Five containing eight featurettes and a photo gallery.
The video could not look better. Presented in appropriate 1.33 full-frame, the transfers are uniformly excellent with bright, solid colors and full, deep blacks. Details come across crisp and sharp. A personal observation here: the bridge set somehow reads "flat," and not as textured as other sets. The reason I qualify this remark is because I’ve thought that about every bridge from every "Trek" opus – from the series through most of the feature films, the only exceptions in my book being "Wrath of Khan," "Undiscovered Country" and "First Contact". The source elements are immaculate with no blemishes and nada on the digital or compression artifacts.
The show originally aired in two-channel <$DS,Dolby Surround>, but underwent 5.1 remixing for DVD. The soundtracks are just as detailed as the picture with very busy surrounds and directional effects occurring regularly. LFE enhancement is present but not with real oomph, given the overall potency of the remixes. In "Caretaker" the explosions just didn’t hit the gut as I expected. Dialogue reproduces clearly through all the whooshes and zaps. A two-channel Dolby Surround option is included, most likely the original TV broadcast mix. (Not much low-frequency punch here, either.) In comparing the two, the 5.1 wins hands down.
Genevieve Bujold (who played opposite Charlton Heston in the 1974 disaster flick "Earthquake") was originally cast as Janeway, dropping out inexplicably soon after. Well, one of the extras solves the mystery. In an eight minute segment called "The First Captain: Bujold," creator/executive producer Rick Berman explains on-camera how the Janeway character evolved, the casting process, and how they "went in another direction," replacing Bujold with runner-up Mulgrew. The few scenes shot with Bujold are edited together, along with screen tests of Mulgrew and others. Judge for yourself.
The remaining supplements are featurette-based and mostly meat-and-potatoes in nature. The eight-minute "Cast Reflections: Season One" takes on-set video interviews with the cast — not all recorded in the first season — commenting on their part in the show and the overall concept. Very PR-y. "Braving the Unknown" focused on interviewing the three creators – Michael Piller, Jeri Taylor and Rick B. – about the series’ genesis, creating Janeway and the challenges of making "Voyager" different from "TNG" and "DS9." Clocking in at fifteen minutes, "Voyager Time Capsule: Kathryn Janeway" offers a newly taped interview with Kate about the character, her thoughts on the Trek mythos and career highlights including playing Katherine Hepburn (the stage makeup was spooky, turning Kate M. into a virtual doppelganger for Kate H.) in the stage play "Tea At Five." "On Location with the Kazons" runs five minutes with Supervising Producer David Livingston pointing out details and guiding the camera through the desert exterior set from the pilot, along with behind the scenes footage. The eleven-minute "Red Alert: Visual Effects Season One" spotlights the special effects for "Caretaker" as reminisced by effects supervisor Dan Curry. The footage of Curry pointing out the details of the "Voyager" miniature is, to coin a term, "fascinating." (Where miniatures still shine in our CG age is the ability to photograph shadow detail in real time.) "Real Science With Andre Bormanis" is a nine-minute interview with science consultant Bormanis discussing how "Voyager" plugs into the "Trek" tradition of incorporating as much grounded scientific theory and reality into the show. (Sorry, the scripts still contain a fair amount of sci-fi techno-babble. "Trek" writers love the word "plasma.") Lastly, "Launching Voyager on the Web" "Voyager" webmaster Marc Wade discusses how he tapped into the then-new Internet to create awareness for the show.
As much as I like "Voyager" and for casual viewers I recommend at least renting a few episodes, the steep $140 tag might put a lump in a few throats. Paramount: when "classic" Star Trek gets re-released in season box sets (it’s only a matter of time), take it easy on the list price. Please…