Electric Shadow

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS: Blu-ray(s) Review(s)

Last week, I went on at length regarding the anti-consumer, anti-fan implications of Paramount's bizarre choices regarding how they have chosen to carve up disc extras content for various retailer exclusive editions of the Star Trek: Into Darkness Blu-ray.  For reference, here is my four-year-old review of the 2009 feature.

STID 003.jpg

This article will be a working document through tomorrow morning, while I complete a pass through the Enhanced Commentary exclusive to the iTunes download. It's part of all Blu-ray editions of the movie, so it will not alter the overall assessment and opinions below. Deciding which (or if) you choose to buy? Let's begin with a pricing breakdown and some quick takes on hot topics, progressing into a more detailed look breaking down what's on which release.

 (from left) Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine, and Heather Langenkamp in full-face makeup

 (from left) Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine, and Heather Langenkamp in full-face makeup

Pricing Matrix

Target Exclusive $19.99 (2D) / $27.99 (3D)
 Best Buy Exclusive $19.99 (2D)
 Walmart Regular $19.99 (3D)
Amazon Regular $19.99 (2D)

Quick Reference

 Most extras on actual physical discs || Target
Most annoying extras || the Best Buy exclusives: not on a disc, only on CinemaNow service, expire in March 2014
IMAX sequences in IMAX Aspect Ratio? || only in iTunes Enhanced Commentary, not the iTunes file, nor any disc release
Which one has commentary? || only the iTunes download (included as a code in all versions), and you can only play it in iTunes
 Cheapest 3D Edition || $20 Walmart edition
General Recommendation If Buying ||  Target
General Recommendation || a double dip is inevitable, so wait unless you've got to have it
 Wait, you bought two of them || most reviewers only cover what's sent to them

from "Attack on Starfleet"

from "Attack on Starfleet"

Decent: The Standard Edition

Movie & Extras || all on one disc
AV quality || looks and sounds great, especially if you have a 7.1 surround setup
Extras Total Run Time (TRT) || 43:40

Creating the Red Planet || building and fabricating the planet from the opening sequence, plus shooting at a real volcano (8:28)
Attack on Starfleet || detonators, tempered glass, and a fractured chronological look at the building of the set and staging of the action...cooler than I expected (5:25)

The Klingon Homeworld || a nice look at the planning and choices that went into the Klingon facial re-design (7:30)
The Enemy of My Enemy || the crew's answer for "why this villain and why this way?", with a couple of choice bits from Cumberbatch's first day on set and during the shooting of important scenes (7:03)
Ship to Ship || the "space-jump" sequence from pre-vis to execution and compositing, including how they shot in the warehouse where the Spruce Goose was constructed (!) (6:03)
Brawl by the Bay || the crash and chase into San Francisco is covered, but most of the focus goes to the floating garbage truck fight and the stunt work involved (5:44)

Continuing the Mission || some on-set footage of "The Mission Continues" participants as extras, a bit on what the organization does (1:57)
The Mission Continues || a look at the really great veterans-centric non-profit they involved in production (1:29)

I separated out the two very short featurettes on non-profit The Mission Continues, which are more about the involvement of this organization rather than how the movie was made. I actually wish there were more about TMC than is on the disc. That same sentiment describes the general nature of all the extras.

Due credit to Bad Robot: the "standard" extras do feature some good morsels of behind-the-scenes stuff. It has bits that are more than actors talking about how much they love each other. What I found most interesting were the bits talking to crew whose names you didn't necessarily know. Unfortunately, there's much more of this in the retailer-exclusive sets of extras. We also get some how-it-was-made breakdowns: the construction of sets, sequences, and effects. There is more of substance here than most mass-market tentpole movies, but as a second chapter to the outstanding 2009 movie's Blu-ray, this is a disappointment. If you're the type to be into the extras at all, there's enough here to get you really hungry for the stuff that feels (and is) missing.

if one misses the word "which" on the DVD sticker (right), they might buy, take home, and open the wrong thing

if one misses the word "which" on the DVD sticker (right), they might buy, take home, and open the wrong thing

Much Better: Target

Movie & Extras || all extras except for "The Mission Continues" moved to disc two
AV quality || same as standard
Extras TRT || 74:54 (31:14 exclusives)

The Voyage Begins...Again || the intro piece that felt missing watching the standard batch of extras, sets the tone for everything else (2:28)
Ceating the Red Planet
 Rebuilding the Enterprise || a wonderful look at reconstructing the 2009 bridge as well as reconceptualizing how to use a larger soundstage (5:31)
Attack on Starfleet
The Klingon Homeworld
The Enemy of My Enemy
Vengeance is Coming || a great counterpart to "Rebuilding" where you get to see the creative process behind re-dressing the Enterprise set as the Vengeance (4:28)
Ship to Ship
Mr. Spock and Mr. Spock || a quiet, intimate, fly-on-the-wall look at Nimoy's shooting day for his appearance (4:08)
Kirk and Spock || the least of the Target exclusives, this mostly reiterates what the Kirk/Spock relationship is in fairly didactic terms (5:36)
Brawl by the Bay
Continuing the Mission
Visual Affection || a very nice look at VFX process across various parts of the film (9:03)

I was hampered by my Blu-ray screengrabbing software not reading the extras disc. I'll update with grabs if I can.

The AV transfer on this set is identical to the standard edition, even though extras moving off the first disc theoretically opens up more space for video and audio.

Especially when you've watched everything on the standard extras set, seeing the additional half hour of Target content weaved in flows much better overall. Note the order of the Target-exclusive extras above, as they are shown in the disc menu.

If you are interested in overall presentation quality and want to watch the movie multiple times, this is the best overall option to get top-end bitrate and the best selection of extras. Just paying $20 for the iTunes download (which is included on all Blu-ray  versions) seems like a ripoff, based on the extras it's missing. 

(Sorta) Next Best: iTunes HD Download

Movie & Extras || "iTunes HD" double feature (incl 2009 movie), three featurettes, exclusive Enhanced Commentary
AV quality || better than Amazon and Ultraviolet, but still a 5.63GB file never looks as good as a 50GB disc
Extras TRT || 23:41 featurettes, 2hr43min Enhanced Commentary (32:00 longer than feature)

"Next Best" doesn't mean ideal or, honestly, worth your $20. This is the only place to get the commentary, but at $20 in iTunes, you might as well buy one of the discs.

Please note that iTunes Extras are currently only playable in iTunes itself. Technically, you can "throw" them from your iTunes library to an AppleTV, but you can't put them on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod.

Included in those device-limited extras is that Enhanced Commentary, which is not found on any disc edition. It includes various participants freezing the action and drawing on the screen John Madden Telestrator-style. They overlay pre-visualization, concept art, pre-effects shots, and so on as well. It opens with VFX Supervisor/2nd Unit Director Roger Guyett and Co-Producer/Unit Production Manager Tommy Harper over the opening sequence. We then pick up with composer Michael Giacchino, jump to editors Mary Jo Markey and Maryann Brandon, and then to members of the VFX team, back to Giacchino, and as we continue, there's more and more dead air. The track and visualizations are nice companions to the other featurettes, the sort of thing that is nice to watch after you've soaked in all the other extras. JJ Abrams joins at around the 1:36:45 mark. Damon Lindelof and Bryan Burke join at around 1:58:30. JJ returns right after them at around 2:16:00

from JJ Abrams' first appearance in the Enhanced Commentary

from JJ Abrams' first appearance in the Enhanced Commentary

The limited list of featurettes carried over from the standard Blu-ray are notably missing two of the better ones (Klingon Homeworld, Attack on Starfleet):

Creating the Red Planet
Ship to Ship
Brawl by the Bay
Continuing the Mission
The Mission Continues

This is supplemental to the discs, and not a great "ownership alternative", if you ask me. The iTunes Extras are a 5GB download on their own, and if you don't care about waiting eight hours for both the feature and Extras to download, pause the feature in iTunes Downloads right after you redeem your code. The Enhanced Commentary is its own separate video file within the Extras package.

One more thing: the Enhanced Commentary doesn't keep track of where you left off like iTunes Movies do, if you close it mid-viewing.

Infuriating: Best Buy

Movie & Extras || exact same discs as standard edition, extras all on CinemaNow & expire March 2014
AV quality || UltraViolet-based CinemaNow extras are just as choppy as all other UV content
Extras TRT || 30:39 CinemaNow-exclusive featurettes, others same as standard edition

We should start with the fact that the half hour of CinemaNow-exclusive extras all play in one batch, require you to have a device that is compatible with CinemaNow, and make you sign up for yet another digital content service. The kicker? It says right on the cover that these CinemaNow extras expire in March of 2014. That doesn't mean that you have until then to redeem them...you have until then to consume them, and then they evaporate.

It wouldn't bother me as much if the Best Buy extras were awful, but all of them are superior to the standard extras.

National Ignition Facility: Home of the Core || a nice look at the amazing science facility that doubled for the Enterprise engine core (4:33)
Aliens Encountered || a look at the gorgeous practical makeup sculpts, including an animatronic tail that was not CG as I'd assumed (6:49)
Down With the Ship || when things quite literally "go sideways", they show us how they used in-camera tricks instead of more complicated and dangerous equipment (6:10)
The Sound of Music (and FX) || a lovely window into the process of Michael Giacchino and Ben Burtt, who respectively worked on and tweaked the score and sound effects throughout production (5:28)
Unlocking the Cut || a peek inside the editing room and ADR booth, with revelations about reshooting two pivotal Pike scenes (5:10)
Safety First || an uproarious look at Simon Pegg pranking the faces off his costars (2:29)

I'm stunned that some of the absolute best extras are saved for the most consumer-unfriendly, awful platform possible. On top of that, they turn into digital dust in six months. Most people can't see them or will be too frustrated by trying to get it working that they'll just give up. If this whole thing hadn't already driven me up the wall, I had to go take a walk.



If you combine the runtimes of the extras available across the standard, Target, and Best Buy editions, you end up with about 1hr45m worth of supplemental material, which is honestly comparable enough to the 2009 movie's Blu-ray, since there's less to set up here. I would have no problem recommending a release with all of that on one set. The Target one is the only one I can endorse as it is, and that one comes with massive provisos, the biggest being that a double dip has to be inevitable. Deleted and alternate scenes exist...but are nowhere to be seen on any Blu-ray release of the movie. Who knows if there are enough that they feel are worth releasing.

For those who've found out there is a disc-based version of the Best Buy extras in Canada...it still lacks the Target extras. You still have to buy two copies of this to get everything that's currently out there.

No one should have top buy this thing twice for any reason. If you don't need to own a copy of the movie right now, wait.

I wish that I could just repeat my mantra of "vote with your dollars by spending them on something else", but I become more and more convinced that it makes less and less of a difference. The studios see volume retailers as their customers for home video, not the end users. There are much better ways to spend $20 this week.