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RUNNING TIME 1149 minutes
- Audio commentary on select episodes
- Text commentary on select episodes
- Deleted Scenes for selected episodes
- Cast Introduction
- In Conversation: Rick Berman and Brannon Braga
- Network Presentation
- Syndication Presentation
- On the Set
- To Boldly Go: Launching Enterprise (Part 1: Countdown, Part 2: Boarding the NX-01, Part 3: First Flight)
- Creating Enterprise
- O Captain! My Captain! A Profile of Scott Bakula
- Cast Impressions: Season 1
- Enterprise Secrets
- Star Trek Time Travel: Temporal Cold Wars and Beyond
- Admiral Forrest Takes Center Stage
- Inside Shuttlepod One
- Enterprise Outtakes
- Celebrating Star Trek
- The Kitchen Sink
“Star Trek Begins. Star Trek: Year One. Star Trek: The Phantom Menace.”
Scott “Scream” Bakula “Scream,” Jolene “Lock It Up” Blalock, Connor “Grinning From Ear” Trinneer, Linda “Not Grace” Park, Dominic “You’ve Got to Be” Keating, Anthony “Poppy” Montgomery, and John Billingsley
The year is 2151 and the crew of the NX-01 Enterprise are heading out for deep space, seeking strange new worlds and new civilizations. Along the way, they encounter Ferengi, Andorians, time traveling crewmen, alien pollen, slugs, and angry Vulcans.
Let’s take a look at the state of the Star Trek franchise circa 2001, when Enterprise premiered. Trek’s heyday had already passed. When the show premiered, there had been three different incarnations of Star Trek on the air since 1987. There had been a brand new episode of Star Trek every single broadcast year for 14 years. Add on top of this four Star Trek movies, with another one being shot in 2001. To say that Star Trek had oversaturated the market would be like saying that I love cake (I do, point of fact). Trek had survived for 23 years with five years of TV (TOS + TAS) and four movies. Now there was more Trek than you could shake a Rigellian stick at.
Star Trek: Voyager premiered with much aplomb on UPN, but the network was seriously floundering. Add to that Voyager’s greatly diminished ratings on network television. Even at Voyager’s best, it still couldn’t compare to the syndicated Next Generation’s ratings. The show was also considered a creative failure, made all the more apparent in post-show interviews talking about the apathy within the staff. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was creatively more successful, but never garnered the ratings it needed to become a touchstone akin to TNG or TOS. Trek was failing and needed to take a rest or seriously reinvent itself.
The Powers That Be attempted the latter. Instead of going forward, creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga attempted to reappropriate the iconography of Trek into something more commercial. They also needed to distance themselves from Star Trek. Berman and Braga needed to do accomplish both of else they would risk getting Star Trek cancelled yet again.
What resulted was Enterprise. You know, because dropping the Star Trek part makes it different.
Kidding aside, the decisions they made were really smart in a pre-reboot world. They needed to go forward creatively, but they had to stay true to what people knew about Trek. They had to play it safe, but also not. This paradoxical thinking took us to the 22nd century, where we had proto-Trek. It was a world where transporters exist, but we’re still scared to use them. Where warp drive is there, but it’s way slower. There’s Klingons everywhere, but they are the bad guys again. The status quo had been reset, but there was more danger and drama involved in those classic ideas. In theory, a sense of mystery and excitement was re-established to the tried and true elements.
What was actually established is a ho-hum television show elevated by solid acting, amazing special effects, and my love of all things Star Trek. It’s certainly more oriented in the action department, as evident by the fistfights and the shootouts. Gone are a lot of techno-babbly solutions, replaced now with some good ol’ fashioned drama. Roddenberry’s credo for the 24th century and beyond was that human drama was gone, so, now that we’ve gone backwards 200 years, humans can yell at each other again. It’s certainly more relatable than some of the bland characters we got in the Voyager years. Also, it gives us a direction to go towards in terms of emotion. We know the outcome, so we can trace the steps of how we get to Star Trek emotionally. Right now, we get to see the humans argue and, boy, do the humans argue. More on that later, though.
Scott Bakula as Archer is awesome. I wish there were a more technical term for it, but words escape me at the moment. He’s bold, rugged, a manly man…he’s definitely proto-Kirk, much rougher than his eventual successor. His portrayal of Archer is also imbued with a certain enlightenment. Archer’s rough, but he’s learning. He’s defensive, but also quite vulnerable. He lets himself be corrected when he’s wrong. Archer is new at this and Bakula plays it with a cowboy cadence. He emulates the strength of John Wayne and coupling it with the emotional resonance of…later John Wayne. The rest of the cast is solid, but its Bakula’s performance that anchors the show with a dynamic and dramatic lead.
While the premise of letting people argue is successful in theory, it fails in practice. The biggest problems here are two fold:
- The characters are cardboard cut outs
- The pacing is cardboard cut outs
The joke only works if I put pacing as number two, but I actually want to talk about it first. You know how I kept mentioning that some iteration of Star Trek had been on the air since 1987? Well, it feels like it here. Let’s look at the pilot as a big example of where things go wrong.
“Broken Bow” is a two hour episode that could have made a breathtaking hour long pilot. The concept is so simple, it’s genius. Get the Klingon to his home. Things get in the way. Archer and crew fight them because they’re eager to prove themselves as astronauts and it’s the right thing to do. They succeed. There is a solid narrative that is simple enough, it can reinvent the franchise by getting it back to its shoot-em-up roots. The emotional through line is complex enough to be relatable, yet compelling. Effing A, J.J. Abrams utilized this emotional through line in nuTrek and it was a billion times dumber and more clichéd than how they used it here (I’m a fan of nuTrek, just to be clear).
Unfortunately, they’re telling this simple story utilizing 1987-style narrative devices (read: slow). At this point, Trek needed an adrenaline shot to the chest. Far too many scenes of Harry Kim playing clarinet had contributed to franchise fatigue. Action is great, but what was lacking was narrative brevity. Now, the narrative is clear. Every single bit makes logical sense. For every effect, it feels like there is a cause. There is just no brevity to it all.
For example, there is a neat character scene between Archer and the ship’s good doctor, Dr. Phlox (played amazingly by John Billingsley). In the scene, Phlox is unloading strange animals that he uses for healing means. Archer is noticeably weirded out by this. Phlox addresses the weirdness by encouraging the captain to embrace new ideas. He then smiles far too widely. It’s a nice scene, a quiet scene, and, for all intents and purposes, an effective scene.
However, this is effectively our introduction to Phlox. It’s a talking head scene revolving around objects and ideas. It’s not the most interesting way to introduce new characters, especially if you’re going to be spending a long time with them.
Let’s look at The Next Generation in comparison. Specifically, “Encounter at Farpoint.” The way we’re introduced to Picard isn’t through conversation. Sure, the episode starts off with the Captain’s Log, but we’re not introduced to his character this way. The way we’re introduced to Picard (along with Worf, Troi, and Tasha Yar, but not Data) is through action. They throw an enemy into the machine. These characters are forced to make snap judgments in order to react to danger. Picard makes the decision to save the families of the Enterprise-D, but takes the ship back to fight. He’s not afraid to run from a fight, but he’s also smart enough to know when he has to fight. Picard is a thinker first, then a fighter when there’s no other choice.
We’re not told to think first, then fight. We’re shown this through Picard’s action. We’re also shown Yar’s hot-headedness, Worf’s Klingon-ness, and Troi’s ability to have headaches.
Also, I realize the hypocritical nature of me calling out Enterprise for having outdated storytelling methods by using an outdated example of storytelling. “Encounter at Farpoint” is still really weak, but the opening is badass. Also, incredibly effective.
We’re introduced to key characters in an exciting, concise way. We know the main tenets of Picard’s character just by watching him act within the first five minutes of the show. Heck, maybe even sooner. Now, compare this to Captain Archer’s introduction as commanding officer. We meet both him and the chief engineer, Trip, in an inspection pod going over the Enterprise hull. They exchange some pleasantries, then they get a call from Starfleet Command saying stuff’s going down. Then the captain goes down to the planet and talks it out and yells a bit. Because humans can do that again. Archer decides to take the Klingon back to his homeworld to prove his worth. Also, there was a prologue involving li’l Archer and him being excited about the Warp 5 engine.
In three scenes, we find out this important information: Archer is an explorer who’s a nice guy but also fights for what he believes in. It takes ten minutes to find out what this character’s emotional core is. This isn’t economical. It’s still effective, but it’s not concise. If Enterprise was about going to a more dangerous time, then we should have felt some of the danger right out of the gate instead of waiting so incredibly long to get there.
At least Archer has character traits, though. This brings me to point number 1. The characters are so paper thin, you could easily fold them and cut them into snowflakes when you’re waiting with your nephew in a doctor’s office and all the Highlights are wet for some reason.
Great characters are rarely defined by their jobs. Citizen Kane wasn’t defined by being a newspaper magnate. He was defined by his megalomania, his selfishness, his emotional complexity. He was defined through conduct. To keep it Trek, Spock wasn’t defined by being a science officer. He was defined by his logical, but sometimes emotional, state. He was, again, defined through conduct.
Enterprise is definitely following the original Trek model of defining the triumvirate the most. The captain, the Vulcan, and the southerner. The emotional, the logical, and the one that makes the right decision. Archer, Vulcan science officer T’Pol, and Trip get the most character definition, which would be fine if the story was mainly about them.
There’s a balance of ensemble here in Enterprise. While the main three get the most development, the show insists on giving other crew members screen time. Por ejemplo, Ensign Travis Mayweather is the ship’s pilot. He’s lived his whole life on starships. He likes them and is excited about this new one and how fast it goes.
That’s basically his character. He might like adventure? He probably does or else he wouldn’t be in Starfleet. He’s mostly behind his station, be it on the ship or in the shuttlepod. He likes doing his job, too. He gets an episode, “Fortunate Son,” to examine a little bit of his backstory but, like the rest of the season, it’s just flat and lifeless.
Travis is not a compelling character. Nor is Hoshi Sato or Malcolm Reed or…is there another one? These characters are there because their jobs were on other Star Trek shows. We have to have a communications officer and an Asian on the ship. Never mind they could have just created an interesting character that happened to be Arabic or gay or Muslim or anything else. They had someone of Asian descent on the original show, so they have to have one this time.
This is indicative of the franchise fatigue Star Trek was suffering from. It’s like the show staff was sleepwalking through things, throwing in an action element here, doing a Star Trek thing there, etc., etc. There aren’t any big ideas here, just ideas that have been seen before on other Trek shows. Even without the comparison, the ideas are so half-heartedly executed, it makes me want to stun myself with a phase pistol. Because I still want to wake up.
I enjoy the novelty that this crew is doing all of the things we’ve seen before for the first time, but, once they shake that loose, what we’re left with are episodes that revolve around one idea and execute them in a rote manner. Unique idea, crew scrambles to save the day, they save the day. If I can find one person whose favorite episode of any Trek is “Rogue Planet” and I will gladly shake their hand. I also kind of enjoy the Temporal Cold War aspect. I would take the Temporal Cold War any day, just so long as they could have written some higher energy, more original, character based drama. What we got in return was an episode about male pregnancy.
So Rick Berman & Brannon Braga went back to what made Trek special, but took the most superficial (and familiar) elements to fill it out character wise. Archer’s more impetuous than Kirk, but he’s still Kirk-like. T’Pol is passive-aggressive, but she still does things logically. Trip is McCoy. He’s…he’s just McCoy. Character-wise, Phlox might be the only original one. He’s just happy and weird all the time. An eternal optimist, he loves people, new situations, and egg drop soup. It’s an original character for Star Trek. So that’s a plus. Other than that, you’ve seen all of this before. Sad.
The absolute gem and the reason to buy this set despite the boring episodes is In Conversation: Rich Berman and Brannon Braga. What could have been a fluffy conversation about how great Enterprise was turns into a serious examination of the two men by each other and their place in the Trek pantheon. Berman, ever the effigy on which Trekkies beat their bat’leths upon, shows a refreshing amount of cognizance in how absolutely despised he is, along with Braga. The two men lament on the weaknesses of Enterprise and the state of the franchise when they developed the show. They talk about studio interference (they wanted an Earth-bound Trek, but that would have meant no ship, which confused the studio), about their own flaws, and about the fact that they had been doing Star Trek for about a decade, so cut them a break. They also talk about their successes, lest you think it’s two creative types lamenting about their need for recognition. Both men are very aware of themselves and, while the feature starts off sluggishly, it quickly becomes a must see for any fan of Trek.
Additionally, there is the three part documentary, To Boldly Go: Launching Enterprise. Talking with Berman, Braga, and other staff members, the piece talks about everything you could possibly want to know about Enterprise, from set design to casting to even what aspect ratio the show should be shot in. If that last one isn’t indicative of how incredibly thorough this documentary is, then you need to shoot yourself with a phase pistol. On kill. Because I’m resorting to hyperbole.
On the Set is a 30 minute on the set documentary chronicling the making of “Vox Sola,” the episode where Trip and Archer get caught in some fiberglass…I mean, alien. Alien. It’s a fantastic look on the day to day making of an episode of Enterprise, especially since there is so little footage of actual on set photography when it comes to Trek.
Cast Introductions is the most awkward special feature I’ve seen in a long time. It starts off with a bored looking Rick Berman (to be fair, he always looks bored) saying that this crew is one of the best ever. He then manages to pass off the focus to Scott Bakula before he falls asleep. Bakula, who’s in costume and on the bridge of the Enterprise, then goes around and introduces us to the rest of the cast in an awkward and largely pointless manner. I don’t know who this was designed for, but its stilted nature is absolutely amazing.
There are a billion more other special features, including a trillion deleted scenes, text commentaries, audio commentaries, all of the special features from the DVD set (for those wondering if you should throw away your old copies), and the syndication and network presentations of the show, which are two promo pieces meant to sell stations on how exciting Enterprise is. They crammed a crap ton on this set about this show which, for nerds like me that supplant human contact with information about television, makes me gleeful and skip through the halls. It’s a really well done, incredibly thorough set.
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars