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‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – Season One’ (Blu-ray review)

Created by Akiva Goldsman, Alex Kurtzman,  Jenny Lumet
Based on Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Starring Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, Jess Bush,
Christina Chong, Celia Rose Gooding, Melissa Navia,
Babs Olusanmokun, Bruce Horak, Rebecca Romijn

 

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is the Star Trek of my imagination.

Set in the 23rd century a decade before the classic 1960s television series, the first season of this newest installment of the Trek franchise has arrived on Blu-ray, DVD, and an upcoming 4K UHD SteelBook.

This series spins out of the events of season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery and debuted on Paramount+ in 2022.

The relevant establishing story points are succinctly recapped in the premiere episode, “Strange New Worlds.”

Longtime Trek fans will immediately recognize the setting and premise.

Starfleet Captain Christopher Pike, played by Anson Mount, leads the crew of the Starship Enterprise as they explore wonders and dangers at the edges of Federation space. It is the same basic premise as the scuttled 1965 pilot of the original series. Elements of that story made their way into the first season of Star Trek the following year and have since become foundational canon for the franchise.

It is a moment in Trek history that many fans have hoped to visit after decades of spinoffs and movies. But despite being so deeply rooted in franchise continuity, Strange New Worlds presents a fresh entry point for new audiences.

The ensemble crew mixes the established but undeveloped characters of Captain Pike and his Number One, Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijin) with younger versions of classic characters Spock (Ethan Peck), Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush), and Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun). Rounding out the mix are several new characters including security officer La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), pilot Erica Ortiz (Melissa Navia), and Chief Engineer Hemmer (Bruce Horak), a blind Andorian. The rich mix provides fertile territory for character development and story opportunities that are enriched rather than hamstrung by what has come before in the franchise.

The series restores the episodic storytelling of the classic format, refined for contemporary audiences by more sophisticated storytelling and robust character development. Over the course of the first season’s ten episodes, Strange New Worlds offers up the rich situational and tonal variety once common to Trek but missing from recent installments of the franchise as audiences have grown accustomed to heavily serialized plotlines.

The premiere sets the tone for what is to follow as Enterprise is called out of spacedock early to mount a rescue after Number One goes missing during a first contact mission. The episode lays out all the necessary backstory and foundation needed to engage the viewer while thoughtfully incorporating visual and plot elements of the Cold War science fiction tropes from which Star Trek was born, from The Day the Earth Stood Still to Silent Running. This is a show that knows where it comes from, and where it wants to go.

The next episode, “Children of the Comet,” provides Cadet Nyota Uhura with more backstory and development than decades of previous appearances by this iconic character. Uhura’s robust arc and her unlikely friendship with Chief Engineer Hemmer continue to grow and to evolve throughout the season.

While each character is given plenty of opportunities in the spotlight, not all are handled as effectively as Uhura. Captain Pike and Science Officer Spock, as the series’ central characters, receive the most attention. Meanwhile, a plot involving Dr. M’Benga’s search to cure his daughter’s terminal illness seems hastily resolved after being teased out over several episodes. Likewise, the ship’s pilot, Lieutenant Ortegas is a vivid personality but almost entirely undeveloped after ten episodes compared to her fellow crewmates.

Subsequent episodes also demonstrate a wide tonal range. The Gorn, an archetypical “rubber-suited alien” from the Original Series, are reimagined with modern effects technology as a terrifying predator species in “All Those Who Wander,” a horror-thriller with a debt to Alien. “The Elysian Kingdom,” in which the crew are transformed into characters from a fairy tale, is a nod to some of classic Star Trek’s more fanciful and lighthearted episodes. While viewers personal preferences might vary, there is something for everyone, and each episode is crafted consistently and solidly executed.

Extras include audio commentary on the pilot, deleted scenes, Star Trek: The Original Series Episode “Balance of Terror”, featurettes and gag reel.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds restores the fun and optimism inherent in the storied franchise from the beginning but missing from more recent incarnations. With a budget allowing for production design and modern effects that the original series’ producers could only dream of, season one of this reinvigorated classic is Star Trek the way it always looked in my head.

Season 2 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premieres June 15 on Paramount+

 

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