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A look back at 'Star Trek,' 'The Twilight Zone' and the early days of TV

Posted December 17, 2016

A couple of new Blu-ray sets that crossed my desk have had me reflecting on the early days of television, and in particular the fantasy and science fiction programs that were popular with both kids and adults.

In this 21st-century era, as we’re overrun with superheroes and CGI fatigue, it’s easy to see what’s wrong with modern fantasies, both on TV and in movie theaters: They are often all about special effects and not enough about humanity.

Escapism is fine, but it’s also nice to see things we can identify with, programs that make us think about the human condition, offer us alternate viewpoints — sometimes from alternate realities — and prompt us to examine sociopolitical issues.

And few shows have accomplished that as well as “The Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek.”

As a child, I went to a lot of fantasy and sci-fi movies, and enjoyed various 1950s and ’60s programs that covered similar territory. But I had a particular affinity for anthology programs, such as “Science Fiction Theater,” “Tales of Tomorrow,” “One Step Beyond” and “The Outer Limits.”

But in terms of holding onto its audience — and its enduring status as a classic — nothing has matched “The Twilight Zone,” which began in 1959 and played with great success throughout the early 1960s.

So when the new, reduced-price Blu-ray set, “The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series” (CBS/Paramount, 1959-64, b/w, 24 discs, 156 episodes) came my way, it was impossible to resist.

And it’s been a lot of fun to watch some of my favorite episodes again in these pristine Blu-ray transfers — looking much better here than they ever could when my family watched them on our 12-inch Sylvania during their initial broadcasts, B.C. (before color).

It was also fun to watch the bonus features, such as Rod Serling’s unofficial “Twilight Zone” pilot “The Time Element,” and his being interviewed by Groucho Marx and, more seriously, by Mike Wallace. (It should be noted that only some, not all, of the earlier editions’ extras are included here, and despite the face of every disc being imprinted with the words “bonus features,” they only show up on the final disc of each season.)

My experience with “Star Trek” was a bit different. The seminal science fiction outer space series also started up in the 1960s but by the time it began its three-year run in the fall of 1966, I was fresh out of high school and working during the evenings while going to college during the day. Two years later, I found myself in the Army. As a result, I had no opportunity until some years later to see this engaging series that so many of my friends were talking about.

As a result, I became a Trekkie late, and I remain a Trekkie in my dotage. (And don’t say “Trekker.” You just sound pretentious.)

Not that I’m as fluent as some of my friends and neighbors. Don’t quiz me on “Star Trek” minutiae; I’ll fail miserably.

But even if Klingon is your second language, you’ll find new information in the Blu-ray release “Star Trek: The Original Series: The Roddenberry Vault” (CBS/Paramount, 1966-69, three discs, 12 episodes).

Collected here are 12 key episodes (“Space Seed,” “The City on the Edge of Forever,” “The Trouble With Tribbles,” etc.) that come under scrutiny in the many extras, which include three new documentaries, new audio commentaries, new featurettes and isolated music tracks, all encased in a complicated box (that should come with instructions for opening).

Arguably the most notable bonus feature is “Swept Up: Snippets from the Cutting Room Floor,” comprised of 21 minutes of never-before-seen bits of dialogue, deleted scenes, alternate takes, test footage — and Nichelle Nichols singing a song in its entirety that is abbreviated in the “Conscience of the King” episode.

Obviously, the target audience is devoted fans and collectors, so if a Trekkie — or what, a Zonie? — is among your loved ones, here’s something that might make for a very merry Christmas indeed.

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at hicks@deseretnews.com.

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