It has been my pleasure to review TrekMovie.com’s pre-release copy of Star Trek: The Animated Series on DVD. The animated Star Trek will always hold a special place for me. As a kid I can remember renting the video tape volumes from my local video store. Here was the perfect fusion of cartoons and Trek for a young fan. The Animated Series is the last bit of the Star Trek franchise to be released on DVD and it is a worthy addition to any classic Trek fan’s collection.
The DVD Set
The DVD boxed set comes in a clamshell plastic case that is like the recent season sets of the original series. It could easily sit on the shelf next to the 3 seasons of the classic Trek as a companion.
The box out of the shrink wrap
The discs and pamphlet
The 22 episodes are on four DVDs, selected episodes have a commentary track with the episode’s writer, while three others have trivia pop-ups from Denise and Michael Okuda. Also included is a nice pamphlet that folds open, depending on which way you fold it open you get different information. A quick summary of each episode runs across the length of the pamphlet, if you open it but don’t unfold the full length there is a section that addresses whether The Animated Series is canon.
The main DVD menu
The Animated Series
Produced in 1973-1974, The Animated Series, it could be argued, is the missing 2 years of Kirk’s 5-year mission. Sadly, we only got to see 22 such missions (episodes) in total. The Animated Series [TAS] is a Filmation production, and it shows. Filmation is best known for their cheap Saturday morning cartoons, one example is The New Adventures of Batman which can be seen on AOL Time Warner’s In2TV web portal if you’d like to see another example of Filmation’s work. The animation is rather basic: many times a scene is static with just the key items or characters moving, this is most often seen in a close up of a character which is really a static pose while just the mouth is animated. This isn’t to say that the animation is without merit. The animators took the time to rotoscope some of the common Enterprise shots from the film stock of the live-action series, creating a near exact copy of these sequences in animated form, this helps maintain the feeling that The Animated Series really is just a “lost season” of The Original Series [TOS].
The sound effects were almost all stock library effects common among Filmation productions. While there were of course some of the trademark Star Trek sound effects most were generic “computer”, “machinery”, “weird sounds” and so on, which can been heard in other Filmation cartoons as well.
I may have presented a bit of a bleak outlook for cartoon Trek, however there were incredible stories far above any normal Saturday morning cartoon show. To make the new animated series consistent with Star Trek D.C. Fontana, who was script editor for TOS, was put in charge of the series. The stories were written by Trek alumni and other established Sci-Fi writers such as Larry Niven and David Gerold. Many of the episodes were continuations of storylines that were started in the live action TOS. Such episodes include More Tribbles, More Troubles; Mudd’s Passion; and Once Upon a Planet (which revisits the Shore Leave planet); we also see the Guardian of Forever (City on the Edge of Forever) again. References to places the Enterprise had been in the original series were used quite often. The episode How Sharper Than A Seprent’s Tooth actually garnered a Peabody Award, and the show itself won an Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Series in 1975.
Free from the restrictions of 1960’s live action special effects limitations the writers were able to go to totally alien planets and introduce us to creatures that were more exotic than before. We are treated to a look at Spock’s childhood, shapeshifters, plant-like aliens, an alien that was the foundation for a Mayan god, giant clones, and more.
New regular characters Arex, the tri-pedal navigator, and M’Ress, a member of the cat-like Catian race, is an alternate officer at the communications station. Both were exotic looking and certainly not feasible in live-action.
Arex and M’Ress
Most of the original series actors reprise their roles for TAS, with the notable exception was Walter Koenig (hence the new navigator Arex). A special mention goes to Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, and Majel Barrett-Roddenberry for not only doing their own characters but doing nearly every other alien character in the series. Although this multi-tasking was part of the low budget Fillmation approach, James Doohan really shows off his voice talents. Even though Koenig didn’t get to play Chekov on the show, he did write one of the episodes.
The canon question
So here’s rub with The Animated Series — it is not really considered proper Star Trek canon. There are two instances in TAS where I can think canon was violated. The first is an episode that mixed Trek with the Kzinti race of Larry Niven’s Sci-Fi universe. Of course this may be moot because the Kzinti are mentioned a few times in Deep Space Nine. The second issue I can see causing problems is the episode The Counter-Clock Incident. The episode, while laced with great references to TOS, goes out on a limb and portrays Robert April as the first Captain of the Enterprise. To be fair, nothing in TOS said Christopher Pike was the first to command the Enterprise so April could have preceded Pike. Even though the show is not official canon, it did break some new ground. The show featured the first use of a ‘holodeck’ (called a recreation room) as well as establishing Kirk’s middle name as ‘Tiberius’.
For a ton more on The Animated Series check out the great article on Memory Alpha.
Audio and Video Quality
The video seems to be pretty darn good for a rather inexpensive 1970’s cartoon. You can see quite a bit of paint variations and brush detail in the backgrounds, occasionally this brings out flaws such as random specks of paint that move with the action, or a few little jumpy dots in various shots. It is hardly distracting and has very likely always been there; the previous VHS tapes just didn’t have nearly the resolution to expose these little animation flaws. Audio is harder to restore, because if the recording didn’t have more detail in the first place there isn’t much that can be done. That said, the sound is just fine, but certainly nothing special. Presented in Dolby 5.1 it sounds quite good considering this is from a 33 year old mono soundtrack; there aren’t any of the clipped highs which happened a bit on the VHS copies.
The standalone extras on the fourth disc are a bit lackluster. There is what is in essence a simple PowerPoint slideshow of facts and history about The Animated Series called History. The What’s the Star Trek Connection? feature is perhaps the worst. These are little vignette’s that are intended to show the ways TAS is related to previous and future Trek movies and TV shows. While somewhat interesting, each vignette ends in a pitch for the DVD boxed sets of each TV show and/or movie mentioned.
The shining extra is the 24 minute documentary on The Animated Series called Drawn to the Final Frontier — The Making of Star Trek: The Animated Series. It includes interviews with D.C. Fontana, Lou Scheimer (the series producer), Hal Southerland (the series director), David Gerold, and others. It looks at the start of The Animated Series at NBC Children’s Programming, on through the production, and touches upon how the show stands today.
I turned on David Gerold’s commentary track for More Tribbles, More Troubles to get a feel for the audio commentaries that are included. David has a lot of stuff to say, some of it is pretty interesting, some of it is more rambling about TAS in general. One of the more amusing issues on More Tribbles, More Troubles is that all the Tribbles are pink; it turns out the production team found out too late that the Filmation colorist was color blind! Another tidbit that was interesting was how the writers had to keep the animation budget in mind and work on avoiding shots with lots of dialogue since it was hard to animate.
To evaluate the text commentary by the Okuda’s I watched The Counter-Clock Incident, an episode I was familiar with, to see what value they might add to a pretty knowledgeable Star Trek fan’s viewing experience. The Counter-Clock Incident was written by the publicist for TAS at NBC named Fred Bronson, he used the pseudonym John Culver. He was a huge TOS fan and so he put in quite a few references to TOS. In this episode most of the references were planet names from 3rd season episodes and so I was happy to have the trivia pop-up tell me which episode the planet was from. The trivia commentary was often annoying, it sometimes seemed like when nothing particularly relevant was available to display on screen the commentary fell back on rather obscurely related factoids.
An exotic alien backdrop
Alien dragon creature
A tweaked engineering set
One of the rotoscoped Enterprise shots
The classic “looking down at Kirk in his chair” shot
The Klingon ship makes its’ animated debut
The new Shield Belt (a replacement for environmental suits)
The shuttlebay with new types of shuttlecraft in the hanger
The classic “over Sulu’s shoulder” shot gets a new angle in TAS