DVD Review: 50 Years of Star Trek

The history of Star Trek, from the original television series to the current feature films, is detailed through interviews and a roundtable discussion. This documentary originally aired on The History Channel in 2016.

This documentary, although not authorized by Paramount or CBS, is an effective and comprehensive look at the creation of Star Trek, its history, and its legacy on pop culture. It is specifically geared to casual fans of the franchise, who will find the history and backstory fascinating (Spock pun not intended).

The documentary is anchored by a roundtable at the Leonard Nimoy Theater at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, hosted by Nerdist’s Matt Mira. Actor Kevin Pollack, actress Jeri Ryan, John Putman (History Professor, San Diego State University), Bobak Ferdowski (aka NASA’s “Mohawk Guy” who is also an engineer), and Doug Drexler (Makeup Artist on “The Next Generation”) all sit in on the roundtable. That discussion is intercut with taped interviews of cast members, vintage video, and photographs that tell the story of Star Trek from the beginning.

The big draw of the documentary is the inclusion of the final full interview of Leonard Nimoy before his death last year. Clips from the interview are scattered throughout the documentary, and his observations are still insightful and entertaining after all these years. We miss him already. Some of the major players in Star Trek history are not interviewed, William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, and Brent Spiner among them. While it is a bit of a minus, there are plenty of other interviews which provide a comprehensive look at the franchise.

I realize it is annoying to list EVERY person interviewed for the documentary, but in this case, it is important to mention some of the major cast and crew members who do provide input. Interviewees include Nichelle Nichols, D.C. Fontana, John D.F. Black, Ronald D. Moore, Rod Roddenberry, Christopher Lloyd, Nicholas Meyer, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Jonathan Frakes, James Cromwell, Chase Masterson, Armin Shimerman, Tim Russ, Ethan Phillips, Robert Beltran, Roxann Dawson, John Billingsley, Dominic Keating, and Anthony Montgomery.

Although there is a nice roster of Star Trek personalities included, the documentary also chooses to include other voices who really bring nothing to the discussion, besides their celebrity. Kevin Pollack is a great actor, but it doesn’t seem like he’s a hard core Trekker, so his inclusion on the roundtable is a head-scratcher, especially when there are SO MANY cast members from the TV series who could provide better focus and insight. There are other celebrities who provide some generic observations, which is fine, but Star Trek fans would better appreciate hearing from the actual cast and crew.

At times, the documentary seems a bit too pedestrian, and the editing is too disjointed, jumping back and forth between anecdotes without building a more compelling overall narrative. You get the feeling that someone who really loves Star Trek should have been in charge of maintaining the direction and tone. There are a few errors (in particular, one clip is identified by the wrong episode title) that Trek fans will catch right away, that wouldn’t have slipped by a producer with a more intricate knowledge of the subject.

Despite the “by-the-numbers” presentation, the content of the interviews will still win viewers over. The documentary is at its best when it just let the Star Trek cast and crew talk. There are some fantastic stories and observations from them, and it makes the documentary very watchable. It’s great fun to hear them reminisce.

Hard-core Trekkers may not find much new information here. They are probably aware of the role Lucille Ball played in bringing Star Trek to television, or how Dr. Martin Luther King encouraged Nichelle Nichols to not leave the show early on. For the casual fan, however, these stories are great to hear, and some will likely be a revelation to some fans. I was surprised to hear about the proposed role for Eddie Murphy in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which was thankfully discarded.

It’s difficult to create a documentary on something as big as Star Trek and do it justice, but 50 Years of Star Trek does a commendable job. Even as a long-time fan, I found it completely enjoyable and have watched it several times. It’s a pretty dense documentary (information-wise), and moves along quickly. You won’t be disappointed.

The standard definition DVD features a sharp image with nice detail, although the quality of vintage footage and photos does, understandably, vary at times. The new interviews were obviously filmed in high-definition, but even on the DVD, there is good color reproduction and an overall crisp image.

The audio is a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, and it is sufficient for the documentary. As it is mostly talking with a score undercutting it, the documentary sounds isn’t meant to give your speaker set-up a workout. English subtitles are included.

No special features are included, with the exception of a digital copy of the documentary. The digital copy is compatible with the Ultraviolet service.

THE BOTTOM LINE: ‘50 Years’ is an effective documentary
An entertaining and informative watch from start to finish, “50 Years of Star Trek” is a great documentary for both hardcore and casual fans. The interviews are well done, there’s a wide variety of cast and crew featured, and the “behind-the-scenes” look is well done. There isn’t much by way of special features, but the strength of the documentary makes it a worthy viewing experience.

Release Date: November 1, 2016
Rating: TV-PG
Running Time: 85 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Special Features: Digital Copy
Label: Lionsgate
MSRP: $14.98

Click here to order 50 Years of Star Trek on DVD from Amazon!

Victor Medina is a freelance writer based in Dallas. He is the editor of several websites, and his writing credits include The Dallas Morning News, Yahoo News, Cinelinx.com and SportsIllustrated.com. He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at vic@victormedina.com.

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