Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Trek Not Worth Taking Tries To Disavow Star Trek With Enterprise!

The Good: Moments of special effects, the fourth season
The Bad: Where to start? Acting, Plots, Characters, Design, DVD bonuses, EVERYTHING!
The Basics: When Star Trek tries to do a prequel with a staff that disliked the original series, it creates Star Trek: Enterprise a four-season waste of time and money.

I've thought at various times in my tenure to write an article on how I rate products using the Star Trek franchise as a model. Given that there are five (currently) series' of Star Trek, it fits perfectly into a five out of five rating system (that part is coincidental, I suppose) and serves as a decent model of my standards. I've never managed to get around to such an article, but I've illustrated fairly well the underlying principles with reviews of the complete series' of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (reviewed here!) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (reviewed here!), which would represent 5 and 4 in my pantheon (10/10, 8 or 7.5/10). At the other end of the spectrum is Star Trek (eventually) Enterprise.

Enterprise was Star Trek's first consistent failure almost from the beginning of the conception of the series. The moment Rick Berman put Brannon Braga - a man on record publicly many, many times, declaring he did not like the original Star Trek - in charge of creating a prequel to Star Trek, the show was sunk. It didn't help that one of the earliest ideas was to mortgage the Star Trek fanbase and attempt to chase after a younger, presumably hipper, audience and dissociate from Trek by calling the show Enterprise. Sadly, for fans of the franchise, Enterprise, which belatedly renamed itself Star Trek: Enterprise for the third and fourth seasons in a desperate bid to win back the loyal Trek fans, sunk the franchise deeper than Star Trek: Voyager did by being unimaginative, repetitive, and poorly-written. With this installment, Star Trek hits (we hope) rock bottom and begs the creators to get out of the business.

The Star Trek: Enterprise Seasons 1 - 4 collection is a simple bulk pack of the previously released Enterprise DVD packs in their inconvenient and bulky cases. These are not repacked, there are no additional discs or bonus features in this packaging or collection. It is the same packages as before put together for the fans who are looking to purchase the entire series in one place. And for that person, I gladly write this review.

Set in the mid-2100s, Enterprise seeks to tell the story of the Star Trek universe from before Captain Kirk's time, in a setting that establishes the tenants of his adventures. No, actually, it doesn't (at least not until the final season). Star Trek: Enterprise is set approximately one hundred years before the adventures in Star Trek and several decades after the events in the film Star Trek: First Contact (reviewed here!). Indeed, Enterprise was supposed to illustrate how humanity evolved from the people we know and the people who survived World War III into the heroes that are represented by Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek. Only, it doesn't quite do that . . .

The NX-01 Enterprise, the first starship capable of traveling at warp 5 is being launched from Earth's solar system under the guidance and advice of the Vulcans. The Vulcans treat the humans with arrogant contempt and the mostly human crew of the Enterprise is eager to begin exploring when they are assigned their first mission: to return a Klingon back to the Empire following a Klingon crash-landing on Earth. The captain of the Enterprise, Jonathan Archer, assembles his crew, which includes a Vulcan advisor who serves as science officer and first officer.

Soon the Enterprise finds itself embroiled in a war that involves races from the future who are attempting to rewrite history by preventing the Federation from being formed. As part of this Temporal War, Captain Archer learns that he is integral to forming the Federation and he must be kept alive at any cost. As a result, Archer and the Enterprise begin exploring the immediate systems of the galaxy and meeting new aliens and going boldly, at least, until the day Earth is attacked . . .

Star Trek: Enterprise is a mess of a series and it becomes quite clear when one sits down and watches the DVDs of the series, especially in order. The show is tremendously unimaginative and what could have been the cleverest idea, the Temporal War, is simply a cheap excuse for bad writing and allowing the entire Star Trek universe to be recast in Braga's twisted vision of the future. Indeed, what many herald as the best season of Enterprise, the fourth season (when Braga was booted and replaced by Manny Coto), is spent largely doing clean-up work attempting to explain why the prior three seasons had been so terrible and how the universe was being realigned to match what viewers already knew about.

The problem is, it's too little, too late. Indeed, the very best ending that could have come for Enterprise would have been Patrick Duffy in the shower, or barring that (as the series did end) Commander William T. Riker making it clear that the whole program was one of his holodeck adventures that bore no resemblance to reality. But, of course, that's not to be.

What is really so bad about Star Trek: Enterprise? Some people had a real problem with the opening theme song, which had lyrics, but that was fairly inconsequential to me. Instead, as a devoted fan of the franchise, I found it difficult to swallow - from their first appearance on screen - how petty and illogical the Vulcans were being. There was no dispassionate compassion, simply cold arrogance and it did not fit. Moreover, the whole nature of the Temporal War instantly bugged me. It was not clever, it was not constructed in a way that was intriguing and the Suliban were not an interesting enemy. Instead, it seemed as if from the very beginning the show was being set up to undermine Star Trek and go in its own direction.

Sadly, outside the continuing plots of the series - which drifts for the first season, becomes embroiled with Klingons in the second season, enters a pocket reality in the third and then builds toward Star Trek in the fourth - the show is boldly going where the franchise has already gone before. "Oasis," for example in the first season is simply an unclever rewrite of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's second season episode "Shadowplay." Virtually every episode in the series is derivative of another, far better, episode in one of the prior four series'.

And then there's the ship . . . The NX-01 Enterprise, which ought to be a predecessor to the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701 has an exterior that makes it look much more like the NCC-1701-E, the Enterprise from Star Trek: First Contact. Creatively, the show asks the viewers to simply accept such leaps forward without a real sense that there was a reason behind it other than that was what the special effects department was used to. The interior of the ship makes sense, but is not at all visually appealing or exciting.

With lame, recycled plots and an overall arc that threatens to appeal only to the lowest common denominator of general television watching audiences, one turns to the characters of Enterprise next with hope that they might wow the viewers. Alas, they do not. However, Star Trek: Enterprise should be noted as having the honor of being the only completely stable cast for all of its seasons. Every other incarnation of Star Trek added or subtracted members of the main cast as the show progressed, but Star Trek: Enterprise is static in that regard. The principle characters of Enterprise include:

Captain Jonathan Archer - A low-key captain whose first big command takes him into the final frontier where he treats most of what he encounters with hostility or bored indifference. He has a dog, which fills the gap in his personality where affection for a partner, his ship, or. . . .you know, a personality, would go. Far from heroic, Archer stumbles through exploring the final frontier with a sense of manifest destiny and a bland affect that would make Spock jealous,

Subcommander T'Pol - The Vulcan science officer who also effectively acts as the first officer on the Enterprise. She treats the humans with utter disdain and is far from emotionless. Far from being logical, she finds herself inexplicably attracted to the Chief Engineer, ultimately pursuing a relationship with him,

Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker III - The Chief Engineer of the Enterprise, he is a Southerner who embodies most of the stereotypes of the American South and is Archer's closest friend and advisor when the trip begins. He lusts after T'Pol despite their arguments and soon begins pursuing her actively,

Security Chief Malcolm Reed - A generally suspicious British guy who is good with a phase pistol, he is often put in harm's way for the ship and performs his job adequately,

Ensign Hoshi Sato - The Chief Communication's Officer, she is responsible for translating languages that she encounters when she's not too busy being claustrophobic or afraid of the transporters. In many ways she is underused and is Token Ethnic Character #1,

Ensign Travis Mayweather - The Chief Helmsman of the Enterprise and Token Ethnic Character #2. Seriously, four years he sits on the bridge guiding the ship and while we see his family once, most of the time, he's just there pushing the buttons,

and Dr. Phlox - An alien who seems to be cast from the same mold as Neelix on Star Trek: Voyager, he treats the crew of the Enterprise worse than most HMOs. Seriously, his medical supplies are primitive and while the character is mildly interesting (he's compassionate and performed well), the tools he uses in Sickbay as the Chief Medical Officer as so backwards as to gut any credibility of that whole aspect of the show.

Which leads us to the acting. Scott Bakula understates the role of Archer in possibly the least energetic performance of his career. Bakula is boring and looks bored in almost every frame of the show. The rest of the cast is mediocre at best with some of the talent simply being asked to push buttons and show up each week. Jolene Blalock, who plays T'Pol, arrives in skin tight catsuits which seem to be her purpose.

There are two exceptions to the acting rule and they are John Billingsley, who plays Dr. Phlox and Dominic Keating, who plays Reed. Billingsley is an amazingly talented performer who is given a bum deal on the show. He is fit squarely in the hole that was left by the creative staff when they decided that the Doctor was going to resemble Neelix from Star Trek: Voyager. Billingsley spends his four year tenure on the show doing a dead-on Ethan Philips impersonation and he does it masterfully and with a consistency that would make anyone who was simply listening to the DVDs think it was Philips under the latex.

Dominic Keating plays Reed with the greatest variety of any character on the show. Over the four years, Keating evolves the character from mildly nervous and possibly incompetent (secretly lusting after T'Pol) to an efficient, insightful character. The performance aspect of this is in Keating's body language. He slouches through the first two seasons before getting his spine in the third and walking taller in the fourth. Keating was the shining performer in this series and it is easy to see why Heroes (reviewed here!), the hottest science fiction show on network television after Star Trek: Enterprise went off the air, wanted him for its second season (other than picking up yet another Star Trek franchise actor).

So, there it is; lousy plots, terrible characters, poor acting and special effects that do not respect the timeline of the franchise. Star Trek: Enterprise is terrible science fiction, rubbish from the Star Trek franchise, and poor drama to boot.

On DVD the series is dull. While Star Trek: Enterprise actually has commentary tracks on a few of the episodes, none of them are particularly satisfying (most are text commentaries as opposed to audio commentaries, like the film DVDs had!). The standard DVD bonus - as with most of the Star Trek series's are featurettes that focus on the episodes of the season, the alien races and make-up, the special effects and the sets. If one is disgusted with the series, it's hard to sit through the featurettes with anything resembling interest. In fairness, they are fine and will entertain fans of the series. The DVDs also have deleted scenes and some outtakes, so while the actual program may not be all that good, it is well represented on DVD.

In short, Star Trek: Enterprise fails to live up to either the ideals or the originality expected by fans of the Star Trek franchise. It is impossible to recommend to anyone and it's a shame it is considered canon.

For more information on the component DVDs in this bundle pack, please check out my reviews of the seasons collected here at:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4


For Star Trek reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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