- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2014

Director J.J. Abrams successfully revived Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi universe through a pair of blockbuster films. They arrive for the together in the Blu-ray set Star Trek: The Compendium (Paramount Home Entertainment, Rated: PG-13, $44.99).

Within a four-disk collection, a new generation of Trekkers can sit down and appreciate high-definition versions of “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” along with plenty of bonus features.

It’s worth noting that the 2009 film “Star Trek” offered a near-prefect origins story exploring the early years of the core characters of the original series and the steadily forming bond between James Tiberius Kirk and Mr. Spock.

The actors were brilliant throughout as they constructed younger versions of the legends including Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quito in a chilling tribute to Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock, Simon Pegg as the irascible engineer Scottie, Zoe Saldana as a tough as nails Nyota Uhuru and Karl Urban as the anecdotal hemorrhaging Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy.

Better yet, classic Trek permeates throughout the 127-minute effort nestled between some massive action scenes involving a time-warping, ferocious Romulan adversary.

Viewers can relish actor Leonard Nimoy playing the mysterious Spock Prime, learn how Kirk actually beat Starfleet Academy’s Kobayashi Maru impossible scenario test (set up by Mr. Spock no less) and find out more about the history of Capt. Christopher Pike, the fiery first captain of USS Enterprise (NCC-1701).

Even deeper, they get a wink from Mr. Abrams and his writers with “Trek” inside jokes such as watching Kirk almost get caught by Cadet Uhuru with Orion female Cadet Gaila (remember the green-skinned slave girl from the 1960 TV series?), or you can already guess what happens to red-suited crew member as he enters a hostile situation on another planet with Kirk and Sulu. It’s not pretty.

For the second film, Mr. Abrams let the writers get a bit too clever as they crossed the line between a potentially unimaginative rehash and committing some sacrilege within the “Star Trek” canon.

Introducing the villain, Khan Noonien Singh played by a pasty British white guy with chapped lips (actor Benedict Cumberbatch) instead of finding someone more akin to the original machismo-lathered Ricardo Montalban was a mistake. I also didn’t sit well with a key scene at the end of the film that wanders way too much into “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” territory and had much less emotional impact than the original in 1982.

However, if I set aside my geekified horror, normal viewers were actually treated to one heck of a rousing action film clocking in at bladder-gripping 133 minutes.

It’s worth noting that owners get the Imax version of “Star Trek Into Darkness” meaning about 30 minutes of footage that fills wide-screen televisions with no black bars displayed.

And that’s a good thing since the movie featured some massive battle scenes starring the Federation and Kirk’s legendary adversary.

Despite my uneasiness with the second film, “Star Trek: The Compendium” delivers a pair of highly entertaining blockbusters, exploding on high-definition screens, Both instilled new life in one of the greatest pop-culture franchise in the history of the entertainment medium

Now the one downside here is we are getting a third “Star Trek” film in 2016, making this compendium not really a complete “compendium.”

Also folks who bought the films separately on Blu-ray definitely got shortchanged on some extra features that were spread out over numerous versions of the original “Star Trek Into Darkness” release. Paramount is throwing them a bone by offering a $5 rebate by simply filling out a form with some UPC codes and including a Compendium receipt.

Note: I highly recommend “Star Wars” fans cross over to the dark side, scrutinize these films and listen to the director commentary. That’s right, Darth Vader breath.

Considering Mr. Abrams now has the immense burden of continuing the cinematic saga of the Skywalker clan with a new live-action film in 2015, “Star Wars” devotees should take note on how passionate this guy is when it comes to bringing a pop-culture rich, sci-fi fantasy fueled universe to the big screen. I think we are going to see a real resurrection of a galaxy far, far, away next year.

Best extras: Each movie comes with an optional commentary track that is required listening for film fans. In “Star Trek,” we hear from Mr. Abrams, writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and producers Bryan Burk and Damon Lindelof. It is a highly detailed and informative discussion that often breaks down into fan-boy chatter crossing into the worlds of “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” comic books, the show “Lost” and plenty of talk on classic “Trek.”

Even better, “Star Trek Into Darkness” gets an enhanced commentary track. That means key production members control the movie (stopping it at points) as it plays while they discuss scenes using picture-in-picture raw production footage, concept art and behind-the-scenes footage as well as marking up the action (like John Madden using a Telestrator to analyze a football game) to highlight and explain the magic of filmmaking.

Most interesting of the nine scenes explored is when Mr. Abrams deconstructs the fight between Khan And Spock as well as the intense space flight of Kirk and Khan from the USS Enterprise to the USS Vengeance.

The set also boasts an extra disk for each film, packed with previously released content as well as few new goodies.

I appreciated the Starfleet Vessel Simulator that allows fans to take a closer look at the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) and Romulan mining ship the Narada through three-dimensional models. Look for areas to click on with the Blu-ray controller from both ships to learn plenty of facts in this interactive encyclopedia and even test-fire the ship’s phasers and photon torpedoes.

Other nuggets include over four hours of featurettes and deleted scenes from both films devoted to every bit of minutiae required to recreate the “Trek” cinematic experience while unifying all of the features floating around from the various “Star Trek Into Darkness” Blu-ray releases.

Play the movie (literally): A couple of video games come to mind. First, control key vessels from the Federation and Romulan factions in the top-down, space-shooter “Star Trek D-A-C” (Paramount Digital Entertainment, $14.99 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3). Released in 2009, the action features surviving in solo or online, multiplayer death matches and offers plenty of frenetic battles punctuated by a dramatic musical score.

Or, look for the glitchy “Star Trek” (Namco Bandai Games, for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, under $15 at secondary market retailers) for a third-person adventure from 2013 based on the new film franchise. It offers solo and cooperative action as players control Kirk and Mr. Spock in an original story featuring the evil Gorn. A word of warning though, it is not a very good game but worth a look at the budget price for the serious Trekker.

Read all about it: IDW Publishing offered background information on the second film’s villain in the 2013, five-part comic book series “Star Trek: Khan.” Buy the trade paperback ($14.99) to learn about his early years, Khan’s struggles during the Eugenics War, and his escape from Earth on the ship Botany Bay.

While on the topic of villainy, IDW also published a four-part series in 2009 on the first film’s bad guy. Once again, grab the trade paperback “Star Trek: Nero” ($17.99) to learn about the Romulan’s obsession with destroying the Federation.

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