I know I’m a little late to the party, but I finally got a hold of the Inside the Roddenberry Vault Blu Ray set. While owning yet another copy of the same “best of” episodes – which, time-wise, is the majority of the set – was not appealing to me, many reviews seemed to make it clear that the documentaries and extra footage included were well worth the purchase. They were partially right. There is a lot wrong with this set beyond the filler episodes that is nearly fatal. There’s stuff in here that’s worth watching, for sure, but it comes with a heavy price.
Star Trek is fifty years old now and nearly everything that could be said about its uniqueness, reach, and historical resonance has been said, ad nauseam. There will always be a place for that sort of self-congratulatory exercise, but a set promising new material to a dwindling number of hardcore fans who have seen it all is not it. A conglomeration of alternate takes, raw effects footage, and deleted scenes is a very niche product. Only the die-hard would buy it. Yet the documentaries included are 80% talking heads bloviating the same uncritical worship of all that is Gene Roddenberry’s great vision of future humanity. Almost nobody on these discs says anything interesting at all. An utterly bewildering lineup of guests like the creator of Two and a Half Men, the producer of The Librarians, a Family Guy writer, and Bill Nye the Science Guy just talk and talk and talk about how special the show was and how nothing like it had ever been seen or done before. A lot of it is myths about Star Trek‘s exceptionalism that won’t die, but even if it was all true, why would you trot it out in what should be an extremely technical product? Even David Gerrold has nothing revealing to add. He just rambles like all the other famous fans. None of them are more insightful than any random dork you’d meet on TrekBBS. Maybe less. Some Simpsons producer actually marvels about Kirk saying “Let’s get the hell out of here” in “City on the Edge of Forever” as if it’s some kind of censorship breakthrough. Really, dude?
There are a few moments of insight that enter into sublime. Dorothy Fontana has some interesting stuff to say about script production and her disagreements with directors, but her audio is so heavily edited to speed it up that she sounds clipped and unnatural. Meanwhile we’re given the entire, sprawling mess that is Edith Keeler’s starship speech for the hundredth time. No, damn it. Give me more Dorothy! There’s a long interview with Richard Edlund who worked at one of the special effects houses employed by the show. He discusses everything from hand-lettering the opening sequence to developing a library of effects shots, to the freaking ISO of the film they used to shoot the eleven foot Enterprise model. Did you know the asteroids in “Mudd’s Women” were cornflakes? Thanks, Richard! Doug Drexler is also a high point. He wasn’t there when the Original Series was in production, but his knowledge of technical minutiae about model shooting and matte paintings is unsurpassed because he researched that shit. Then it’s all interrupted by the Librarian guy telling us how the transporter is such a brilliant plot device and that shot of Rigel VII belongs in a museum. Wank, wank, wank.
While the other features are peppered with good material, like a discussion of racism Sulu has with Kirk in “Corbomite Maneuver” and extra lines from Kirk’s speech in “Return to Tomorrow”, the best feature in the set is the last one, which contains no talking heads, only unseen clips with titles to tell you where they came from. They include dialogue from “Conscience of the King” that establishes Kirk as a midshipman stationed on Tarsus IV, not a colonist, and an odd, out of context snippet from “Tomorrow is Yesterday” where Kirk asks his interrogator if he’s stopped beating his wife. The raw, unmatted ship footage is fantastic, showing the level of quality the Enterprise was shot at. There are clips of several prototype engine cap effects. One is a set of sparkly jewels rotated on the outer dome, another is a simple glowing pulse effect, and another is the blinking lights they finally used, but without the turbines in front of it. There’s an amazing 180 degree rotation of the ship with a zoom in and out that would have made a really cool fly by. All of this is capped off with Nichelle Nichols singing the entirety of “Beyond Antares” as heard on the La-La Land series soundtrack, but now with visuals.
So, it’s a mixed bag, folks. I’m glad I got to see all this footage, but my sanity was put in utter jeopardy by the constant onslaught of on-screen fan adulation. It’s nothing short of a goddamn slog. Music rarity sets don’t have this problem. If you were to pickup Nivana’s “With the Lights Out” you’d be overwhelmed by 213 minutes of demos, alternative takes, and live performances uncut and with any commentary left to the booklet insert. There will not be more than a introductory paragraph talking about how innovative and amazing Kurt Cobain was. That’s because music companies know the only people who will buy a rarities set are those who have heard everything else and already know how great the band is. Inside the Roddenberry Vault should have been several hours of footage with occasional, completely technical discussion on one of the audio tracks. Instead it comes off as an advertisement selling how great Star Trek is to people who have already been obsessing over it for fifty years. It’s such a poor choice it baffles my mind.