I just finished watching the extra features on the Blu-Ray of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek (I believe they’re essentially the same on the DVD) and I needed to take a moment to congratulate the folks who put this amazing disc together. It’s been way too long since I’ve sat down with a DVD and really gotten lost in the features, but Star Trek truly transported me.

It’s been a bad few years for DVD/Blu-Ray special features (for new movies). Director commentaries have become standard, but also generally insipid; we learned that not every filmmaker needs to talk for two hours about their movie. We also learned that the problem with commentaries for new films is that they are recorded before the movie comes out, at the very end of post-production. No one has any distance from the film, no one has seen how it was received and very likely people are still looking for their next job and don’t want to ruffle any feathers by telling all on the commentary.

If commentaries had become lackluster, documentaries had been miserable. Many new films included crappy EPK style docs; it didn’t help matters any that we live in a time when the behind the scenes movie magic can often be summed up by a picture of guy sitting in front of a Mac. Studios have been less willing to pony up for the costs and there are all sorts of union rules that have led to longform docs mostly disappearing as home video special features. There have been a few exceptions, but many of them came from Charles de Lauzirika, mastermind behind the incredible Alien Quadrilogy set and the ultimate Blade Runner set (and whose work on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen I understand is actually great, with a really revealing doc, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to rent that yet), and he’s off in Detroit right now directing his first feature film. When he started shooting I wondered if the age of great DVD features had more or less come to an end.

Enter Star Trek. Mark Herzog and his team have put together a raft of special features that is interesting, fun, intriguing and in-depth without being paralyzingly boring (I’m looking at you, nine hour docs on Rob Zombie DVDs). Herzog et al are surely abetted by JJ Abrams and his team, who made the film using a number of endearingly old school techniques, like having Chris Pine stand outside on a mirror so they could shoot his reflection against the sky in the scene when Captain Kirk does his low orbit dive, as opposed to some green screen nonsense or hanging him from a huge harness or some shit. It’s stuff like that which is a gift on a behind the scenes doc, techniques that make you appreciate the ingenuity of the filmmaking process and reminds you not every director simply tosses off ‘We’ll fix it in post’ as the answer for every new challenge.

Herzog and his team also interview a wide array of crewmembers, which means that the features aren’t the same three talking heads again and again. They also understand how to use fun, quick bits of behind the scenes horseplay, camaraderie and goofiness to give the viewer a feeling of being there on set in the best possible way. Again, Abrams et al were a blessing for Herzog, as the doc crew had apparently unfettered access – they have footage of Leonard Nimoy all but breaking down into tears after his last shot (probably ever) as Spock! – and the actors aren’t big enough stars to keep the cameras away. The insane secrecy Abrams indulged in during the shoot (documented on the special features) is not on display on the Blu-Ray.

The disc also contains one of my favorite features in a long time – an examination of how Ben Burtt created the sound design. One part mystery story – Burtt goes to the Paramount archives in search of the original Trek TV show sound FX – one part science experiment – watching how Burtt creates the sounds is a pure joy of invention and fun – this feature is just incredible. I don’t understand why we don’t get more features like this, as sound design is such a fascinating bit of alchemy, transmuting one common noise – like a coil being hit – into a truly uncommon one – the blasts of photon torpedoes.

Too many DVDs and Blu-Rays advertise hours of extra features and stick you with tepid talk show interviews, lame trailers and boring EPKs. The Star Trek Blu-Ray’s features kept me engaged for hours, and got me psyched to see if there are other special features out there still capturing the magic of filmmaking.

Buy Star Trek on Blu-Ray and DVD through CHUD by clicking here. I can’t recommend this release enough.

Know of other great special feature-laden modern DVDs or Blu-Rays? Tell me about them on the message boards!