Let's face it, the stories and subject matter of the episodes themselves have been discussed and reviewed at length in reviews of the previous releases of the series, therefore I shall concentrate this review on just the new box sets themselves, and of course on the new remastered and completely re-worked CGI effects (FX) contained in them.
First of all the box set packaging: The unbelievably slimline sets arrive in fancy steel cases, with artwork as pictured in this listings. Inside the steel case is a plastic DVD case the likes of which I'm starting to see a lot more often, of which I believe they refer to as a Scanavo 'brick' style case. Basically it is like a very fat version of an Amaray case that can hold up to 8 DVD's in a very small amount of space - two discs each set inside both the front and back of the case, and a fold out 'leaf' that can hold up to two discs on either side of it - in the case of season 2 there are the full 8 discs. The actual spindle/lock mechanisms that keep the discs in place are very strong, and it is quite hard to get the discs out without bending them....it can be quite fiddly at first, and somewhat of a strain. I believe after a little bit of use they should loosen up a bit, making it easier to get at the discs.
Now the episodes themselves have never looked better. I believe Youtube is a great source of side-by-side comparisons of the original FX and this all new, completely re-worked CGI FX. But let me tell you what I think...the new CGI looks astonishingly good. I believe CBS Digital purposefully never utilised the full capability of today's CGI wizardry, as if it came out looking 100% photo realistic, it would be jarring for the viewer when it went from space CGI FX to the live action sequences...which let us not forget was all shot in the late 1960's. So they had to strike a balance, and for me they got it spot on. The new CGI blends beautifully with the live scenes. So, gone are the slightly wobbly models of old, hello to stunning new CGI ships with their fluid and more realistic animation. Gone are the old star fields and planets, hello to new CGI based star fields and planets - both of which actually do look photo real to me. Space and the ship models are not the only area to benefit from the new CGI - some of the the old flat matte painting backdrops that feature cityscapes and what-have-you have been replaced with new CGI ones. These CGI backdrops have much more depth and detail to them. They are very welcome indeed. Elsewhere you will spot other subtle touch ups, one of which I liked was the ending of the season 2 episode 'Catspaw'...where no longer are the alien creatures dancing around on string....the string is no more. For me that typifies why they have done this work...as quite simply it makes the series look better. Simple as that. Let us not take anything away from what was achieved back then, as I love Star Trek just the way it was, as I'm sure do you, but let us also not kid ourselves.....Star Trek The Original Series has never looked better than this.
All in all the work compliments what they achieved back in the 60's, and let us not forget that what they achieved back then was stunning and state-of-the-art for its time, but I firmly believe that had Gene Roddenberry been able to use today's technology, he would. Therefore I would like to think he would approve of the work done here. After all, nothing of the stories and subject matter have been changed, as George Lucas did with his restoration of Star Wars...it is purely a lick of digital paint. And if this is what it takes for the series to appeal to a younger generation of fans raised on mindboggling CGI, then I for one approve whole-heartedly. I've heard of dads trying to get their kids into TOS, only to see them giggle at the FX of old. No longer will that be the case, and TOS is now ready to accept a whole new legion of young fans that will no doubt have their interest sparked by JJ Abrams new movie. If purists do not like the FX, then by all means....go to eBay and buy the previous DVD releases if you don't already own them. Personally I now own both versions, and I am a huge fan of both. If I could only take one version of the sets on a desert island with me, however, these are the sets I would take.
Aside from the new CGI FX, the actual prints themselves have been cleaned and restored to beautiful effect. The true colours of the show are now very much in evidence...including a subtly green skinned Mr Spock, which comes as a big surprise to a lot of people...as this just never came through on TV or on previous releases. Kirk's once dull mustard coloured uniform shirt is actually a subtle lime green colour, for example. Nothing has been falsely created to acquire these colours....they have always been hiding away waiting to be revealed. At first I was worried this all wouldn't come through so much on the DVD versions, as they had first been reported in the Blu-Ray and HD-DVD reviews, but I can attest that the standard definition sets also benefit greatly. Of course the details will sing and dance a lot more in HD, but for SD DVD prints these are simply stunning. All hairs, dust and whatever else have been laboriously removed to leave them literally gleaming. The prints are, in a word, immaculate. If you use an upscaling DVD player with a HDMI connection, as do I, they look even better still. A great halfway house between bog standard SD and full HD.
Some fans may be a little sore that once again the episodes are presented in air date order, as many fans seem to prefer production order...but as TOS has always been episodic in nature, with no particular story arc to speak of, this doesn't bother me at all. I've always found watching in production order to be quite novel...but the novelty soon wears thin.
As regards special features (as listed on the packaging of Season 2):
Special Features include: 'Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest' (rare home movies and special memories, part 2), 'More Troubles with Tribbles' (the episode from the animated series [TAS]), 'Trials and Tribble-ations' (the DS9 episode), 'Designing the Final Frontier', 'Star Trek's Favourite Moments', 'Kirk, Spock & Bones - Star Trek's Great Trio'.....and "much more". (which I guess means that there are more features than this, although that is all it actually lists on the box). So it appears that the bulk of the features included on the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray sets have remained intact for their DVD counterparts. One thing that never made it over would have actually been impossible given the capacity restrictions of the DVD format, and that was having a choice of both the original FX and the new CGI FX, which I know the Blu-Ray format gives you via fancy seamless branching. I am sure there are a small few other features that Blu-Ray has that would have been impossible on DVD, but rest assured that all the important stuff (documentaries, featurettes, interviews and what-have-you) from the HD releases are all present and correct. This is excellent news to those fans, like myself, not ready to make the jump to HD.
As regards audio and language specifications:
The audio languages are: English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. The bad news however is that only English is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and the rest are mono. I have run it through my amp to test that it isn't a misprint...I'm afraid not, it is Dolby 2 channel mono on all but the English track. This will be a shame to many as I know that lots of German fans in particular bought the slimline sets of TNG, DS9 and VOY here on Amazon UK (cheaper)....which I believe all contained a German 5.1 Dolby track. Subtitled languages on these new sets are: English, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish.
So there you have it. A fantastic DVD release. Easily the definitive DVD release of the original series. I bought all three seasons, and I am so glad I did. I had already managed to see a few of the restored episodes before now, but to own them all in my own collection is quite a feeling. I whole-heartedly recommend that you order all three. I can assure you, you will not be disappointed.