Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Fourth Season Studio: Paramount Year: 1997 - 1998 Rated: NR Length: 19 hours, 53 minutes Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English subtitles; Closed Captioned in English Special Features: 5 featurettes, 6 "Lost Transmissions," Photo Gallery, Promotional Trailer (Trekkies 2) No MSRP. Expected street Price: $100 USD Release Date: September 28, 2004 Spoilers ahead... Certain casting spoilers are unavoidable in this review. Star Trek: Voyager sees its strongest season right here in season four. There was a casting adjustment that threatened to turn Voyager into a sci-fi version of Baywatch, but the show managed to avoid that distinction to a degree, offering up a strong new cast member who opened the doors to many stories that couldn’t have been explored before. Of course, I refer to the addition to the cast of Jeri Ryan, as Seven of Nine - a human girl turned Borg, raised Borg, and returned to humanity by the unwanted actions of Captain Janeway. Something had to give in order for this casting change to happen. That was, unfortunately, the cute but ineffective Ocampan character, Kes. While the character was rife with possibility, the writers were never able to do anything interesting with Kes - and so she was written off the show. The one thing about the addition of Seven to the crew that would undermine Voyager late in season four, and in the seasons to come, is the over-reliance on the character to the exclusion of many of the existing characters on the program. Each episode, it seems, would be bookended with a lesson for Seven of Nine. This was carried too far. This is not to say the the Seven of Nine character wasn’t worthy. The problem is, Star Trek has always been an ensemble show. The excessive attention to one character, no matter how impressive, is detrimental to the ensemble. With that in mind, the addition of Seven of Nine did create the opportunity for some exciting shows, added tension to the crew, and eye-candy to the screen. The pluses would outweigh the minuses here in season four. Standout episodes include: Scorpion, Part II The resolution of season three’s cliffhanger introduces serious changes to the series. Scientific Method The Voyager crew becomes unwitting experimental subjects to an alien race. Year of Hell 1 & 2 This two part time-travel episode has some great elements. The only criticism is a big one - it’s that big “reset button.” This episode would have been great if it had lasting consequences for the crew. Unfortunately, as with many time-travel stories, the whole plot fails under even mild scrutiny. It’s fun, though - watching Voyager getting kicked to Hell and back again. Message in a Bottle A humorous “Doctor” episode, with guest star Andy Dick. The Killing Game 1 & 2 A good two-parter: The Hirogen take over Voyager and hunt the crew as prey in the holodeck. The Omega Directive An interesting science based episode that parallels some Earthly concerns about nuclear technology. Hope and Fear A great season ender. Video Once again, the quality of the video is essentially unchanged from prior seasons of Voyager on DVD - and that is a good thing. This is the best picture quality that Trek’s TV incarnations has had to offer on DVD. The picture is fullscreen. It is sharp and detailed, for the most part, with an occasionally soft scene here and there. There is no evidence of sharpening artifacts like ringing, jaggies or moire. Contrast is good, with good shadow detail. Colors are accurate and stable, with good saturation. Occasional mild banding can be seen, and an extremely rare instance or two of drifting pixels can be seen. These problems are very infrequent and mild, and are hardly worth mentioning as they are not indicative of overall quality of the set - they are rare and isolated issues. Audio The audio, too, is essentially the same as previous Voyager releases. The 5.1 mix is good, but non-agressive. Music sounds wonderful and full across the front soundstage, with some ambient effects. Dialog is consistent, clean and clear and is pinned front and center. Some sound effects will pan across the front soundstage. Rear effects are present to a lesser degree, but do present a pleasing atmospheric effect. The surrounds are well used for flybys of Voyager - regularly seen in the opening credits. Low Frequency Effects are adequate, if unimpressive. Special Features Braving the Unknown: Season Four (21:07) Brannon Braga, Roxann Dawson, Jeri Ryan, Kate Mulgrew, David Livingston, Rick Berman, and Jeri Taylor talk about the major change in the show - the addition of the female “Babe Borg” (as Braga put it), Seven of Nine. Discussion revolves around the design of the character - the desire to have a sexy character, but to avoid a “Baywatch” mentality. Another major change in season four was the result of a decision made concurrently with the addition of Seven - that is the writing out of the Kes character. Berman reports that, try as they might, they just couldn’t make the character “work” the way they wanted. Kate Mulgrew describes how upset she was that Jennifer Lien was written out of the show, and how difficult it was to film her last episode. There is a focus, also, on the grander episodes of Voyager - the two part episodes, “Scorpion” and “The Killing Game.” Braga indicates that “Scorpion” was a turning point for him and the series - and it was the first good two-part Voyager episode, and certainly the first with a really satisfying conclusion. Livingston and Braga also talk about the two part “The Killing Game.” The World War II period aspects are what they found most interesting about it, allowing them to leave the confines of the future and work in the past. Roxann Dawson talks about the unusual step of revealing her real-life pregnancy as a holographic pregnancy - an unusual way to explain it. Tim Russ talks about the welcome aspect of playing out of character. The interesting and comical episode “Message in a Bottle,” with Andy Dick, is discussed by Robert Picardo. Picardo and Dick were referred to as the “Frasier and Niles of outer space” for their comedy work in the episode. This piece is an interesting recap of a season full of changes for Voyager - a major point of evolution for the show, and includes current and period interviews with principle cast and crew. Time Capsule: Seven of Nine (13:44) Jeri Ryan talks at length about her character, “jumping on the moving freight train” of Star Trek. Included are discussions about makeup, costumes (or lack thereof), and the fans. She has many fond and funny recollections of her time with Star Trek, and seems to take her place in Trek history seriously. Included are comments by other cast members. Time Capsule: Harry Kim (14:09) Garrett Wang talks about the two and a half month process that he endured for casting. Being a young, untried actor, he went through a longer process than many. Wang talks about pushing the writers for more action and romance for his character, and the episodes that resulted. And, he talks about working the Star Trek Cruise Conventions. Included are recent and period interviews with Wang. The Birth of Species 8472 (9:35) Visual Effects Supervisor Dan Curry and CGI Animator John Teska talk about designing and creating a new species for Star Trek, a species more alien than most - even for a science fiction series. Starting with crude sketches, they created a “tripod” species, the likes of which could only be realized in CGI. Lightwave 3D was used for modeling the creature. The fact that the species communicates telepathically was a blessing and a curse - animating speech was not necessary, but other methods needed to be used for expressiveness. The difficulty of having a CG character fight with an real actor is also discussed. The Art of Alien Worlds (10:42) Visual Effects Producer Dan Curry and Matte Painters Syd Dutton and Rob Stromberg talk about the history and advancements of matte paintings through all of the Star Trek series and films. They talk about the process of making the paintings, and combining them with miniatures, actors and motion control cameras to create a convincing virtual set. This is a very interesting piece, tying together the process of matte painting throughout the Star Trek universe. Lost Transmissions (Easter Eggs) Jeri Ryan talks about adjusting to Star Trek fame - 1:05 Tim Russ talks about his directorial debut - 3:23 Jeri Ryan talks about the cast and crew’s warm welcome - 0:56 Ethan Phillips talks about his makeup in the dual role of Klingon and Talaxian - 1:26 Brannon Braga talks about naming the Borg - 1:30 David Livingston introduces the Hirogen - 2:50 Photo Gallery 38 production stills Promotional Trailer - Trekkies 2 (1:53) Final Thoughts Above average video and audio quality for a television series, combined with the best overall season of Voyager, result in a DVD set that should please any fan of the series. Some very interesting featurettes, combined with a bit of fluff, add up to over 80 minutes of special features. Overall, this is a good season package for Voyager fans. Recommended.