I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. My dad was already a huge fan of the original series in the 1960s...and when TNG made its debut, I hadn't even hit double digits yet. So I was born into the franchise, but TNG is a fantastic series even without the benefit of nostalgia. Our family watched and enjoyed this second incarnation of Trek during its popular seven-season run...and rewatched it several times, thanks to the benefit of VHS.
Somewhere between then and now, TNG lost a lot of its perceived visual luster. The series was originally shot on film but edited on videotape, which explained the flat, lifeless video quality, dull color palettes and hazy special effects. When the DVD season sets were released less than a decade ago, I reluctantly passed. Maybe it was the poor video quality, made even worse by over-compressed discs. Maybe I was over my Trek phase, or just put off by the ridiculously high price tags. Either way, I had fond memories of TNG growing up, but these memories were slowly fading away like a well-worn VHS tape.
All that changed when the Blu-Ray release of TNG was rumored and finally announced last year: the original filmed negative would be re-cut to match the original episodes, effectively giving us a brand-new version of a series that didn't even look that great 25 years ago. To drum up excitement and awareness of these forthcoming Blu-Ray season sets, CBS has released The Next Level, a three-episode teaser of best-loved TNG episodes in high definition. Simply put, watching this collection was like having a little slice of my childhood back again, and it has effectively cemented my excitement for what's to come.
Episodes include Season 1's feature-length pilot "Encounter at Farpoint", Season 3's "Sins of the Father", and Season 5's Hugo Award-winning "The Inner Light". These offer a decent cross-section of TNG's modus operandi: it was never an action-oriented series, often leaning towards drama and character relationships instead of photon torpedoes. Though it's not a seamless jumping-on point, The Next Level should please franchise fans and those looking to rekindle their love for Trek's most popular incarnation. It's not an essential purchase for the patient...but as a "glorified trailer", The Next Level certainly delivers the goods.
Video & Audio Quality
In one word, the quality of these 1.33:1 1080p transfers is phenomenal...but if you've seen any of the promos or comparisons online, you already knew that. The difference between these newly-created film masters and the worn-out videotape "originals" should excite any Trek fan; after all, the broadcast and DVD versions made this 25 year-old series look its age and then some. Featuring bold colors, a light layer of natural film grain, rock-solid black levels, strong image detail and crisp textures, TNG looks younger, bolder and more relevant than ever before. In all honesty, it couldn't have happened to a more deserving series.
NOTE: A brief 13-second scene during "Sins of the Father" is essentially an upconverted version of the SD master, as the original film elements could not be found. It's hardly a deal-breaker, but the missing piece may be discovered in time for the full Season 3 release.
Not to be outdone, the audio also holds its own. Each episode features a new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix (!), which mostly beefs up music cues and warp fly-bys, but also creates a pleasing ambiance for scenes inside the ship as well. Dialogue is crisp and clear, LFE is notable at times and the score never fights for attention. Thankfully, the original 2.0 Stereo mix is also included too, and it's also presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. Either way, the audio treatment was obviously handled with care and both mixes sound great.
Optional DD 2.0 dubs are provided in German, Spanish, French and Japanese. Optional subtitles are provided in English (SDH), German, Spanish, French, Japanese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish. Sadly, no Klingon or Ferengi, but what can you do?
Packaging, Presentation & Menu Design
Seen above, the menu designs for this release are simple and straightforward, just like the old DVDs. Each of the three episodes is divided into more than half a dozen chapter stops, though no submenus are present. No layer change was detected during playback, and this disc appears to be locked for Region 1 playback only. It's packaged in an "eco-friendly" Blu-Ray keepcase with a matching enhanced slipcover and no inserts of any kind.
Three brief extras in 1080p, and they're all promotional. These include a Trailer
for the forthcoming Blu-Ray release of TNG: Season 1
(1:38), a less interesting ad for the official Trek iPad App
(0:33) and the Teaser
's remastering that we've seen online (1:13). Just for the record, it's the shorter version without the additional comparison shots.
Yes, it's essentially a glorified trailer for TNG's forthcoming HD season releases, but The Next Level should make any Trekkie slobber with excitement. The washed-out DVD and broadcast versions we've seen for years have been gloriously remastered from top to bottom, unearthing a new layer of detail, care and relevance for a series that's felt dated for much too long. Though a taste of more bonus features would've been appreciated, it'll be tough for any fan to resist this package on release day; simply put, it boldly goes where no DVD has gone before. Recommended, unless you're patient and/or happy with a rental.
NOTE: These images were obtained promotionally and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance design projects, teaches art classes and runs a few websites in his spare time. Randy also enjoys slacking off and writing stuff in third person.