Star Trek: The Animated Series review by Mike Long

TV show spin-offs from feature films, such as M.A.S.H., may not be as prominent today as they were in the 70s and 80s, but the idea still exists. Something that's a little less high-profile are animated TV shows based on feature films. Over the years, we've seen the likes of The Real Ghostbusters, Back to the Future: The Animated Series, and even The Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series (I somehow missed that one, but it's listed at IMDB). Rarer still are animated series which are based on previous live-action TV shows. One of the earliest examples of this was Star Trek: The Animated Series, which has just come to DVD.

Star Trek: The Animated Series, which ran from 1973-1975, continues the stories originated in Star Trek (1996-1969). The crew of the starship Enterprise explore the universe, seeking intelligent life and helping those in need. The crew is lead by the resourceful Captain James T. Kirk (voiced by William Shatner), who is always accompanied by his inscrutable science officer Mr. Spock (voiced by Leonard Nimoy) and ship's doctor, Dr. McCoy (voiced by DeForest Kelley). Kirk and his team typically pursue an innocuous mission only to find themselves in danger or enlisted to help someone else who is in danger.

Now, I'm not a "Trekkie" or a "Trekker" or a "Spock Head" or whatever one wants to call a die-hard Star Trek fan. But, I have been a casual fan of Star Trek for many years. I like the original series and I'm especially fond of the movies Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. (I made some attempts to get into the modern TV series, but they never held my interest.) And not being a dedicated fan, I can walk that fine line of appreciating the original series for the imagination that went into it, yet also being very aware of how cheap and goofy the show could be at times.

Having said that, I'm in a position to appreciate just how amazingly Star Trek: The Animated Series mimics the live-action original series. Essentially, Star Trek: The Animated Series picks up right where the original series left off -- as if the four year gap had never happened. The bulk of the original cast from the animated show return to voice their characters. (The only difference is that Chekov (Walter Koenig) is not on the animated show, his character having been replaced with an alien named Erix (sp?) voiced by James Doohan.) The storylines perfectly mirror those of the live-action show, as the crew of the Enterprise travel the galaxy meeting bizarre aliens and generally causing or stopping mayhem. Some of the episodes, such as "Yesteryear", "More Tribbles, More Troubles", and "Mudd's Passion", actually serve as sequels or continuations of episodes from the original series. As with Star Trek, the overall message of Star Trek: The Animated Series is that diplomacy and brotherhood should rule over violence and tyranny.

The other way in which Star Trek: The Animated Series is just like Star Trek is that when one looks back today, one can help but think, "Wow, that's a cheap looking show!" Whereas the live-action show had questionable green-screen effects, poorly disguised doubles, and low-grade opticals, Star Trek: The Animated Series features what is generously called "limited animation". What does that mean? That means that we are treated to a series of semi-detailed drawings where only one or (if you're lucky) two elements in the scene move. The character's lips will move and maybe they'll blink occasionally. If one watches enough of the show, you'll notice that many shots are used over and over again. For shots at a distance, the animators use black silhouettes of the characters so that no details are needed. Some of the shots of the Enterprise are simply shots from the live-action show which have been "rotoscoped". To the show's credit, the landscapes look good and the alien designs are imaginative.

While surfing around getting some background info for this review, I read some comments pertaining to the fact that "Trekkies" (or whatever) don't recognize Star Trek: The Animated Series as part of the "canon". (I don't even know what that means.) As an outsider, I find this quite odd, as the show is just like the original series. Yes, the animation is pretty crappy, and at times, it's just plain hard to watch, but the stories are good and should (to me at least) qualify as solid science fiction. But, then again, what do I know?

Star Trek: The Animated Series beams onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. This four-disc set contains all 22 episodes of the show. The shows are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The episodes were clearly taken from their original film elements, and this causes some problems. Mild grain and some defects from the source prints are evident throughout. However, these aren't that bad and there's nothing as serious as missing frames. The colors look good, especially the primary colors used in the uniforms of the Enterprise's crew. There is some mild artifacting at times. The DVDs carries a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. Yet, this track is surprisingly dull as most of the audio still comes from the front and center channels and only a few bass thumps reminds us of the 5.1 mix. The Dolby mono track may sound more hollow, but it should please purists.

The set contains a small selection of extras. Writer David Gerrold provides AUDIO COMMENTARY on the episodes "More Tribbles, More Troubles" (Disc 1) and "Bem" (Disc 4), while writer David Wise provides COMMENTARY on "How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth" (Disc 4). These talks are quite similar, as Wise and Gerrold describe how they got to write for the show, what the experience was like, and how bad the animation is. Star Trek historians Michael & Denise Okuda provide TEXT COMMENTARIES on "Yesteryear" (Disc 1), "The Eye of the Beholder" (Disc 3) and The Counter-Clock Incident" (Disc 4). These commentaries provide some information, but they don't seem as in-depth as those found on the Star Trek DVDs. The episode "The Infinite Vulcan" (Disc 2) features a STORYBOARD GALLERY. Disc 4 features "Drawn to the Final Frontier: The Making of Star Trek: The Animated Series" (24 minutes), a featurette which has comments from Lou Scheimer, Hal Sutherland, David Gerrold, D.C. Fontana, Larry Boyd, and others. They discuss the origin of the series, the challenge of getting it made, and the legacy of the show. "What's the Star Trek Connection?" (6 minutes) examines 10 links between Star Trek: The Animated Series and the rest of the Star Trek universe. "Show History" is a brief text entry on how the show came about.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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