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Not counting reruns of the original series, Star Trek: The Next Generation was my first regular exposure to science fiction in a continuing weekly format, and basically everything about the series' landmark third season (1989-1990) summarizes why I still love it so much. It's got action, comedy, suspense, great characters, fine performances and an unyielding optimism that stands in contrast to almost all sci-fi that's come after it. Even TNG's most casual fans should remember the moment when we first saw Picard assimilated by The Borg, or the poignant "alternate timeline" where Lieutenant Yar came back from the dead.
Go ahead, just try to find a "Top Ten TNG Episodes" list that doesn't include "Yesterday's Enterprise" and "Best of Both Worlds, Part I" (heck, even the four-episode Best of Star Trek: The Next Generation DVD release included both of 'em). You won't, because they perfectly encapsulate everything that Season Three does right: expand its horizons while focusing on its fantastic ensemble of characters. Executive Producer Michael Piller became head writer in the Fall of 1989, and it was his obvious knack for character development that generated some of TNG's best moments to date. A number of young, hopeful writers also entered the fold during that year, including regular contributors (and future Deep Space Nine / Voyager alumni) Ronald D. Moore and René Echevarria. Both make their Trek writing debuts with "The Bonding" and "The Offspring", two of the season's most impressively realized efforts.
Other Season Three highlights include "Booby Trap" and "The Enemy", two back-to-back episodes that maintain Star Trek's tradition of placing crew members in situations they need to think their way out of; in other words, puzzles instead of phasers and photon torpedoes (coincidentally, both also focus on LaForge). Similar outings this season include "Evolution", "Allegiance" and "Sins of the Father" (also included on last year's The Next Level teaser disc). "Sarek" [below] depicts the Trek icon's emotional impact on an otherwise diplomatic crew. Another personal favorite (guilty pleasure?) is the Rashomon-lite "A Matter of Perspective", in which Riker stands trial for murder and the incident is recreated on the Holodeck.
Season Three is notably light on less-than-impressive episodes, including (but not limited to) "The Price", "The Vengeance Factor", "Captain's Holiday", and "The High Ground". Outings such as these feel more like diversions than forward steps, but they're still watchable. At the very least, absolutely nothing dips to the bottom-feeding level of stinkers like Season One's "The Naked Now" and "Code of Honor", Season Two's "Shades of Grey", Season Seven's "Sub Rosa" or [insert your most-hated episode of TNG here]. Overall, this season represents the popular series at the top of its creative game: it's absolutely packed with solid episodes that proved to be highly influential and, in many ways, still hold up nicely almost 25 years later. That's quite an accomplishment for any sci-fi franchise, especially on the small screen.
This Blu-ray collection from CBS arrives less than four months after its landmark Season Two release and further cements the series' technical impact and legacy. Carefully crafted models once again sparkle with detail, from tiny lights to specks of battle damage. Close-ups reveal the highlights and occasional mistakes of makeup and costume design. Outdated effects that couldn't be salvaged for HD have been tastefully upgraded to preserve the series' distinct visual design. Sound effects and music cues are more robust and dynamic than ever.
While it's true that the durable A/V remastering job is the main selling point for this collection (as it should be), CBS has once again served up a fine mixture of supplements new and old. For the most part, they wisely focus on the series' direction and staff changes behind the scenes, once again providing a fascinating window into the year-long production as a whole. Available on the same day is The Best Of Both Worlds, an experimental release that combines both halves into a feature film-style presentation and serves up a few exclusive extras just for good measure. For now, let's dig into the specifics of TNG: Season Three, shall we?
Complete List of Season Three Episode Summaries (via Wikipedia)
Video & Audio Quality
In one word, the quality of these 1.33:1, 1080p transfers is phenomenal. The remastering efforts of CBS Digital have once again yielded spectacular results...much like Season One, which was also handled by the same quality control team (Season Two, on the other hand, got farmed out and wasn't treated with quite as much care, partially due to tight deadlines). Featuring bold colors, a light layer of natural film grain, rock-solid black levels, strong image detail and crisp textures, this series continues to look younger, bolder and more relevant than ever before. As the quality of TNG's original VFX shots and film stock steadily improved during its seven-year lifespan, so does the effectiveness of this substantial, eye-catching presentation. For obvious reasons, this only makes me more anxious for what's to come.
DISCLAIMER: These captures are from promotional sources and do not represent Blu-Ray's 1080p resolution.
Not to be outdone, the default audio is basically flawless overall. Each episode features a new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix; the added punch mostly beefs up music cues and warp fly-bys, but it also creates a pleasing ambiance for scenes inside the ship as well. Dialogue is crisp and clear, LFE is quite forceful at times and the music cues never fight for attention. The original 2.0 Stereo mixes are also included as well, but they're presented in lossy Dolby Digital instead of DTS-HD Master Audio. No one should consider this a deal-breaker, but it continues to be a slightly disappointing oversight in an otherwise detail-oriented campaign.
Optional DD 2.0 dubs are provided in German, Spanish, Italian, 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
The "computer interface" menu designs [above] are attractive, functional and smooth, much like the old DVDs. Each episode has been divided into more than half a dozen chapter stops, though no sub-menus are present. No obvious layer changes were detected during playback and these discs are unlocked for region-free viewing. This six-disc set is, once again, housed in a multi-hubbed keepcase with a handsome embossed slipcover and no inserts of any kind. A condensed list of episodes and bonus features has been printed on the interior artwork.
Once again, CBS delivers the goods with a fantastic
mix of supplements...but, as mentioned earlier, a handful have been made exclusive to the Best of Both Worlds
stand-alone release. This may irritate fans (especially given Trek
's notoriously high retail price) but, as a complete package, it's a comprehensive effort that maintains the template of the first two seasons.
Our main attraction is "Resistance Is Futile" (90 minutes, 1080p), a three-part retrospective documentary that focuses on the writing staff. Season Three's secret weapon was newly-crowned head writer (and Executive Producer) Michael Piller, who brought a renewed focus on character development that strengthened TNG's core. Ignoring the studio's bureaucratic submission process, Piller also accepted scripts from many young, hopeful writers including Ronald D. Moore and René Echevarria, who are interviewed along with writer/producer Ira Steven Behr. This documentary also delves into other facets of TNG's evolving direction, from abandoned concepts to the friction created when creative minds collide with authority. Cast members including Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden and Michael Dorn are also given time to speak frankly about fond memories and growing pains.
The next major supplement is "Inside The Writer's Room" (71 minutes, 1080p), featuring TNG writers Ronald D. Moore, René Echevarria and Naren Shankar, as well as Executive Producer (and former intern) Brannon Braga. Hosted by Trekkie extraordinaire Seth MacFarlane, this informal chat deepens the focus on TNG's breakout season...even if, behind the scenes, they were too busy to realize how influential their efforts would become. For almost everyone involved in this roundtable interview, TNG was their first exposure to "the business" and they all seem incredibly grateful for the experience. Of course, that doesn't mean that certain episodes, concepts and chunks of dialogue don't get ripped apart, but this team's infectious sense of camaraderie makes "Inside The Writer's Room" as entertaining as it is informative. Several stories are repeated from the documentary, but that's my only minor complaint.
On a related note, we also get a fantastic Tribute to Michael Piller (14 minutes, 1080p) who passed away in 2005. This fine supplement features Piller's family and co-workers, including his wife, son and writer/producer Ira Steven Behr, who share their thoughts and memories of his life's work and dedication as a husband and father. It's unquestionably worth a look.
Bridging the gap are five Audio Commentaries, four of which have been newly recorded for this release. These are available during "The Bonding" (featuring writer Ronald Moore with Michael and Denise Okuda), "Yesterday's Enterprise" (a 2002 commentary featuring David Carson, as well as a new one featuring Ronald Moore and Ira Behr, who co-authored the teleplay, with Michael and Denise Okuda), "The Offspring" (featuring writer René Echevarria with Michael and Denise Okuda) and "Sins of the Father" (featuring writer Ronald Moore with Michael and Denise Okuda). These are all worth a listen and feature plenty of production tidbits not shared during the other supplements, and it's good to know that the lone DVD commentary (Carson's chat during "Yesterday's Enterprise") has been preserved. Though the Best of Both Worlds release includes a new group commentary, it's not available here.
A few old and new tidbits are here too. These include the Original David Rappaport Footage (5 minutes, 1080p) filmed for "The Most Toys" (just before the late actor attempted suicide), another enjoyable Gag Reel (9 minutes, 1080p), a few Archival Mission Logs (2002, 480p) featuring key cast and crew members and, of course, the original Ernie Anderson Promos (30 seconds each, 480p) for each episode. These amusing capsules are always fun to watch, and their lackluster A/V quality only makes me appreciate CBS' remastering even more.
As expected, all bonus features include optional subtitles in the languages listed above.
Three seasons in, and it appears that both Star Trek: The Next Generation and its Blu-ray counterpart are firing on all cylinders. In the story department, there's very little to complain about here: a number of classic episodes are included, very few are below average and one of television's most potent, intense cliffhangers caps the whole thing off. As for the Blu-ray, it's nearly impossible to nitpick CBS' monumental restoration work and, as always, the extras are thoughtful, all-inclusive and incredibly informative. In fact, my only complaint is that the separate Best Of Both Worlds disc includes a few exclusive bonus features that would've bumped this up to a perfect score. From top to bottom, it's an absolute no-brainer for even the most casual Trek fans and worthy of our highest rating: DVD Talk Collector Series.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.