Comprising this set are not the first three Star Trek motion pictures, as some might assume, but rather the second, third, and fourth installments in the series. Those familiar with these films might be surprised to hear them referred to as a trilogy. Indeed, it seems to be something of a late invention and is even called an “accidental trilogy” by one screenwriter. The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, and The Voyage Home are all loosely tied together by Project Genesis, a plot device unveiled in Wrath of Khan where a desolate planet is impregnated with a gadget that instantaneously reorganizes matter and gives birth to a lush environment capable of sustaining life. This storyline becomes crucial to Search for Spock, but the reference is almost nil by the time of Voyage Home.
Though Paramount will come up with almost any excuse to repackage Star Trek material, this latest release appears geared toward new fans who have seen J.J. Abrams’s reboot, but who are unfamiliar with the earlier movies. A smart move in putting this set together was skipping over the droning first film directed by Robert Wise: Star Trek: The Motionless Picture, as it’s often called. It makes the most sense for newcomers to start with Wrath of Khan, the still-hokey but still-universally-praised “best” Star Trek movie. Faint praise for such a poorly written film series on the whole, but Wrath of Khan is the most entertaining of the bunch, not only for its revenge storyline (much more compelling than Abrams’s aped version), but also for Ricardo Montalban’s pectorally enhanced performance. Few other actors could balance the screen so well against faux-haired fox William Shatner.
Search for Spock feels like one long stopgap as it takes nearly its entire running time to bring Spock predictably back from the dead. Nimoy, likely because he was busy with directorial duties, is rarely seen in the film and Spock is often portrayed, long before Zachary Quinto, by several younger actors throughout. While its plot is utter nonsense, Voyage Home is more entertaining than its predecessor: Time-traveling to the 1980s by circling the sun, communicating with whales, and Scotty blindly typing away on an ancient (even by today’s standards) Macintosh Plus are just some of the highlights of this bizarre installment. Owing largely to its humor and contemporary setting, it is one of the most commercially successful films in the franchise. (For those who haven’t seen them all, The Final Frontier is stranger but less enjoyable than Voyage Home, though it has the added novelty of being co-written and directed by Shatner. It takes the return of Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer to rein things in for The Undiscovered Country, tying in espionage with a Cold War theme and putting a solid end-cap on the films featuring the cast of the original television series.)
Those who already own the earlier two-disc DVD sets won’t have much reason to get this new set. These versions are taken from the recent Blu-ray release of the first six films and so feature some new bonus material, but unfortunately contain none of the material from the original two-disc versions. Another disappointing fact is that the version of Wrath of Khan included here is the original theatrical cut and not the director’s cut released in 2002, which featured alternate takes and an additional three minutes of footage. Overall, this set is a good overview of the film series for those who have never watched an original Star Trek movie and want to know how they compare to Abrams’s summer tent pole.
Image is very clear for all three films. No artifacts or edge enhancement detected. Blacks are deep and colors well presented. Audio is top-notch. It's also pleasing to see several language tracks available.
The commentaries on these films are all rather incidental. Although director Nicholas Meyer provides commentary (along with Star Trek: Enterprise writer Manny Coto) on The Wrath of Khan, the other two films feature commentaries by people who were not directly involved in the making of the films but have some other connection to Star Trek (Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor were both screenwriters on different Star Trek television shows while Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman penned the new J.J. Abrams film). While the Blu-ray versions contain all previously released bonus material on these films plus new content, these single-disc DVD versions only contain the new content. As such, they can be pretty lightweight and even a bit confusing for those unfamiliar with Star Trek. Oddly, each film contains a segment called "Starfleet Academy" that features an actress in a funny-looking Star Trek costume explaining some key plot points that should be readily understood by anyone watching the movies. "Spock: The Early Years" is a recent interview with the child actor who played a young version of the title character in The Search for Spock; "The Three Picture Saga" is an attempt by the screenwriters and producers to convince viewers that these movies are actually meant to be viewed as a trilogy; and "A Tribute to Ricardo Montalban" is a touching five-minute monologue by Meyer about working with the late actor. The rest are pretty self-explanatory and otherwise not terribly interesting. While these bonus features were likely included to entice double-dipping from those who already own the previous releases, these DVDs are currently the only way to see this extra content without a Blu-ray player.
A loose, unintended trilogy these films may be, but fans who already own the earlier two-disc versions won't need to upgrade. Just wait for Paramount to release the inevitable three-disc DVD editions to avoid a triple-dip.