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Season Five of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1991-92) fits nicely within the expanse of its best years: though slightly below the dizzying heights of Seasons Three and Four, the series was still riding high in the ratings; in fact, it may have been the most-watched season overall. Yet aside from the introduction of a new character (Ensign Ro Laren, portrayed by Michelle Forbes) and the first major Trek crossover (the two-part Unification, guest starring Leonard Nimoy), Season Five of TNG doesn't really change its established tone all that much. We get a few entertaining self-contained episodes ("Disaster", "The Game", "Cause and Effect", "Conundrum"), several more character-driven and/or serialized episodes ("Redemption, Part II" "Ensign Ro", "The First Duty") and plenty that toe the line. Others, regardless of their category, still stand out as classic Trek, including "Darmok", "I, Borg,", "Power Play" and "The Inner Light". Yet as a whole, the series still shines several decades later, both visually and from a storytelling perspective. TNG remained good TV, regardless of genre, because it placed the stories above the settings. It just happened to be in 24th century deep space, that's all.
Trek creator Gene Roddenberry passed away suddenly during the fifth season's production and, even more than the game-changing Season Three finale The Best Of Both Worlds, signified that TNG was truly continuing to carve out its own identity. Still, Season Five stayed the course and kept loyal fans happy by relying on unfinished business from earlier seasons, including politically-charged episodes like the second half of Redemption and the two-part Unification, the welcome return of a more mature Wesley Crusher during several episodes, a showing from the villainous Borg and more...but oddly enough, this marks the only TNG season without an appearance by Q (John de Lancie). It's a small price to pay for such a strong collection of episodes and, if nothing else, keeps the character from becoming too predictable.
On the other hand, other moments in Season Five feel new and fresh, including the previously mentioned "Darmok" (a more refined take on Trek's staple "first contact" plot device), fan favorite 'life in a bottle' episode "The Inner Light", the season cliffhanger "Time's Arrow" and more. It didn't hurt that some of Trek's most prolific and popular writers were still on board this season including Joe Menosky, Michael Piller, Ronald D. Moore, Rene Echevarria and newcomer Naren Shankar, all of whom would eventually pull double duty with TNG and Deep Space Nine during their overlapping 1993-94 seasons. As in seasons past, most of TNG's ensemble cast were given equal time to shine...and as mentioned before, newcomer Michelle Forbes makes a strong impact as the hardened Ensign Ro Laren. The five appearances she makes during this season---out of just seven total episodes, believe it or not---are during some of TNG's better moments.
CBS' faithfully consistent restoration work is back in full force during this fifth season which, for obvious reasons, is almost of equal importance as the episodes themselves. The even-numbered seasons have been farmed out to third-party outfits due to time constraints and, with some exceptions, haven't fared quite as well from a visual perspective. Either way, the massive improvements over TNG's DVD and broadcast counterparts is almost entirely due to the piece-by-piece reconstruction of each episode from the original camera negatives. Carefully constructed visual effects have once again replaced older elements that were of lesser quality or unable to be located. Another round of newly-produced bonus features is just icing on the cake, enriching our understanding of both CBS' painstaking restoration work and the retrospective memories of surviving cast and crew members. All things considered, it's yet another no-brainer for fans of the popular series and, for obvious reasons, one of the shining examples of classic TV revitalized for modern audiences.
Complete List of Season Five Episode Summaries (via Wikipedia)
Video & Audio Quality
Keeping in line with CBS Digital's restoration schedule, Season Five of TNG was handled in-house and the end results are predictably spectacular; this time around, a newly-created CG render of the ship was even deployed for certain shots with missing or lesser quality elements. Not surprisingly, the effects-free footage looks fantastic as well, boasting excellent color timing, crisp image detail and a more consistent grain structure. Overall, these 1.33:1, 1080p transfers are virtually flawless in every conceivable way; far beyond what most of us could ever expect just a few short years ago. Most fans have likely seen the massive difference in quality between these Blu-rays and the flat DVD/broadcast versions, and they've never been more evident than here. It's almost easy to forget just how much work has gone into recomposing each episode from the ground up; for that alone, CBS has earned another inarguable five-star rating.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
Not to be outdone, TNG's revamped audio presentation is basically flawless from every angle. As before, 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 notable at times and the score never fights for attention. The original 2.0 Stereo Surround mixes have also been included for purists, but they're still being presented in lossy Dolby Digital instead of DTS-HD Master Audio. Most fans shouldn't consider this a deal-breaker by any means, but it's definitely a curious (and continued) oversight in an otherwise detail-oriented effort.
Optional Dolby Digital 2.0 dubs are provided in German, Spanish, Italian, French and Japanese. Optional subtitles are also provided in English (SDH), German, Spanish, French, Japanese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.
Packaging, Presentation & Menu Design
Seen above, the "computer interface" menu designs are attractive, simple 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 supplements has been printed on the interior artwork; it's reproduced above for your convenience.
Plenty to dig through, and it's near the same level of quality as past releases. The main attraction is "Requiem: A Remembrance of Star Trek: The Next Generation"
, a new two-part retrospective documentary divided into "The Needs of the Many" (30 minutes) and "The Needs of the Few" (29 minutes). Late series creator Gene Roddenberry is at the heart of this piece, as clips from a 1981 TV interview neatly divide a wealth of vintage production photos, behind-the-scenes footage, TNG
clips and various interviews. Other featured participants include key members of the cast (Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn) and crew (Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, Rick Berman, Naren Shankar), to name a few. The centerpiece of this hour-long retrospective is a collection of news footage and personal reflections about Roddenberry's sudden 1991 death and how his legacy has continued to affect the Trek
franchise as a whole.
Next up is "In Conversation: The Music of Star Trek: The Next Generation", a 71-minute roundtable discussion with famed Trek composers Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones and Jay Chattaway. Hosted by author Jeff Bond ("The Music of Star Trek"), it's a lively but ultimately insular chat filled with plenty of interesting stories, fun memories and occasional sarcastic jabs. Jones is probably the most vocal of the three participants and Chattaway actually isn't fully introduced until well past the 30-minute mark, but the latter manages to control most of this interview's second half. This is an entertaining and informative piece, though I'd imagine that anyone with interests outside the world of music won't get as much out of it. It also could've used a few actual music clips of their work along the way, if only to provide the occasional break.
Four brand new Audio Commentaries have also been recorded for this release, one apiece during fan favorite episodes "Cause and Effect" (Brannon Braga and Seth MacFarlane), "The First Duty" (Ronald D. Moore and Naren Shankar), "I, Borg" (Rene Echervarria with Mike and Denise Okuda) and "The Inner Light" (Morgan Gendel with Mike and Denise Okuda). It's fantastic to see that CBS is continuing to include these, but I'd love to hear from a few TNG cast members as well (especially Michelle Forbes, as her Season Five presence as Ensign Ro added a new dynamic to the ensemble cast).
Also here is a collection of Deleted Scenes; they're once again restored from the original camera negative, although finished music cues and other sound effects aren't always present. Closing out the brand new bonus features is another enjoyable Gag Reel (7 minutes) that differs in tone from previous installments, but it's still sporadically entertaining.
Also here are the recycled Archival Mission Logs from the TNG Season Five DVD collection, featuring vintage interviews and behind-the-scenes footage about various episodes and themes, plus all of the original TV Episode Promos and an ever-growing collection of Trailers for other Trek Blu-ray releases (honestly, have any TNG fans not purchased or seen Best of Both Worlds by now?). As expected, all bonus features include optional subtitles in the languages listed above.
Season Five of Star Trek: The Next Generation continues the series' winning streak, serving up another 26 episodes of high quality science fiction with energy to spare. Though it's slightly less consistent than Seasons Three and Four, the below-average outings are still outnumbered by a wide margin. TNG continues to age with grace from almost every perspective, thanks to the high production quality, commitment of the cast and crew and, of course, CBS' monumental restoration work in recent years. Featuring a reference-quality A/V presentation and another collection of entertaining, informative supplements, TNG on Blu-ray continues to be one of the shining examples of classic television updated for the high definition era. Whether as a gift for yourself or the TNG fan in your life, Season Five comes Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.