Blu-ray TV reviews: ‘Primal’ and ‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’

Here’s a look at a pair of animated episodic shows now available in the Blu-ray format.

Primal: The Complete First Season (Rated: TV-MA, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 220 minutes, $27.98) — Known for a varied career in which he introduced to the world boy genius Dexter and Samurai Jack, Genndy Tartokovsky returned with a new series on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim taking viewers back to a fictional prehistoric time period when man and dinosaur coexisted.

Arguably one of his most creative works to date, the 10 episodes of the inaugural, Emmy Award-winning season is now on a pair of Blu-ray discs.

The adventure finds caveman Spear (Aaron LaPlante) initially inconsolable after watching the death of his wife and daughters, consumed by a pack of horned Tyrannosaurus.

After viewing a similar fate while helping a female Tyrannosaurus named Fang unsuccessfully protect her young from the same pack, he finds a common bond and befriends the beast in the purest pack mentality way possible.

Together, they attempt to survive hostile lands loaded with creatures such as Argentinosaurus, Titanoboa snakes, dromaeosaurs, Anchiceratops, pliosaurs as well as ape-men and witches in overtly brutal, gore-filled, life-and-death struggles that play out almost every episode. 

With environmental backdrops one might find in a Moebius painting, character design tipped to comic book artist legends Frank Miller, Tayyar Ozkan and Frank Frazetta and a level of violence and neon red blood-letting one might find in a “Heavy Metal” movie, each episode is a visual marvel that requires multiple viewings — if viewers can stand the gore.

Equally impressive is the often simple, primordial stories packed with emotions that play out without any dialogue in each episode.  Simply watching the characters’ eyes and facial expressions and listening to their screams of anger and angst take viewers deep into the complexities of “Primal.”

Varied episodes can be heartbreaking (to the point of unwatchable), as in the pair’s encounter with a sick Woolly Mammoth or just as roller-coaster-ride thrilling as they battle a pack of giant bats and one large spider.

Suffice it to report, for those with the stomach, Mr. Tartokovsky’s horror-fantasy series never disappoints as the episodes revel in bringing forth some of the most powerful creatures on earth as they unapologetically and viscerally battle for existence.

Best extras: For a show of such wondrous magnitude, viewers only get a 10-minute production featurette barely scraping the surface of the series featuring words from Mr. Tartokovsky, director Scott Wills and some of the artists from the animation house Studio La Cachette offering any depth to the much, much too-short segment.

Viewers deserve much better, Warner Bros. How about some optional commentary tracks (even if socially distanced), a deeper look at the animation style or an homage to the man behind the magic. Seems pretty reasonable to me for viewers spending roughly $30 for the set.

Star Trek: Lower Deck, Season 1 (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, not rated, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, 251 minutes, $31.99) — “Rick and Morty” alum Mike McMahan’s animated, humorous take on Gene Roddenberry’s beloved sci-fi universe, originally found on the CBS All Access streaming service, now arrives in the high definition format.

Compiling all 10 episodes of the inaugural season on a pair of Blu-ray discs, the collection introduces the crew of the decidedly average Federation starship the USS Cerritos as they roam the galaxy dealing with some more than average missions.

Set within the “Next Generation” time period, the show mainly focuses on the often forgotten members of a starship that take on the daily grunt work, specifically, Ensigns Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid of “The Boys”), Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), part cyborg Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) and Orion D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells).

They spend time performing important but boring tasks such as balancing a phase variance in the brig, making sure the food module makes yellow bananas and lubing the turbolift while occasionally getting sucked into the more intense adventures with the ship’s captain, Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis); first officer, Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell); Bajoran tactical officer, Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore); and Caitian doctor, T’Ana (Gillian Vigman).

The geek writers often feel compelled to dazzle viewers with their love of Trek canon and lore, overwhelming with sometimes obscure references, such as having a salt vampire appear (first seen in the original “Star Trek” episode “Man Trap”) while reintroducing species like the Vulcans, Romulans, Ferengis, Vendorians, Klingons, Gorns, Borg, Cardassians and Endosians and name dropping Deep Space 9, Khan, Picard, Kirk and Spock.

Of course, they also sneak in a few actual guest stars (voiced by the original actors). A well-known pair to the franchise do not disappoint and appear in easily the best episode and finale of the season “No Small Parts.”

As this is a comedy, the humor style is scream early and often at a frantic pitch and hope for a laugh. That tension is always present with the exploits of “by the book” Boimler getting stuck working with chaos instigator Mariner, who also happens to be the daughter of the serious Capt. Freeman leading to another level of dynamic friction.

Also, in the styles of a less cerebral “Rick and Morty,” we get plenty of physical, sophomoric humor spotlighted by a nude Boimler getting suckled by a spider creature on the Galardonians planet in the episode “Second Contact.”

Although the “Lower Decks” has its moments, the issue is ultimately can creators craft a “Star Trek” series worthy of its predecessors as well as boldly taking Trekkies where no series has gone before?

Viewers saw hints of the impactful possibilities by the end of the season, but hopefully, the second and third seasons will cement the deal with diehards.

Best extras: Each episode offers a companion featurette called “Lower Decktionary” covering the production of the show and some history of the “Star Trek” franchise.

Each averaging about six minutes each, the segments’ topics covered include the series’ origins, main characters and species, the animation process; visual style; and the Holodeck.

Talking heads include Mr. McMahan, co-producer Brad Winters, director Kim Arndt, art director Antonio Canobbio, compositor lead Alex King, composer Chris Westlake, supervising director Juno Lee, animation director Alexandre Pelletier, editor Todd Raleigh and most of the cast.

Next, viewers get a 24-minute deeper look at the eight main characters, their origins and the voice-over actors portraying them.

Finally, an eight-minute featurette reveals some of the many, many “Star Trek” pop culture Easter eggs appearing in the shows, such as the sentient computer Landru (original series, “The Return of the Archons”); or a glavin glove (“Next Generation” episode “Code of Honor”); or the Spock Helmet (an actual toy from 1976 by Enco).

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