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Holy cow, is "Chain of Command" a fantastic slice of television, regardless of genre. Originally broadcast during Star Trek: The Next Generation's sixth season in December of 1992, it's at once a mystery, drama and psychological thriller that explores the futility of torture while turning the series upside down in the process. After one of the shortest and most potent cold opens in the show's run, we get right to the good stuff as Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn) and Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) are relieved of duty and sent on a top secret mission to destroy a weapon being developed by the Cardassians. Captain Edward Jellico (Ronny Cox) is placed in command of the Enterprise, both for his experience with Cardassian negotiations and his no-nonsense way of preparing the crew for a potential war. The crew isn't happy with the change, especially since they don't know the whole story and whether or not they'll see their three shipmates alive again. But whether they like it or not, everyone's got a new set of responsibilities.
"Chain of Command" was also one of the first times a mainstream show depicted the brutal torture of prisoners---in this case, a captured and drugged Picard---and, for obvious reasons, this topic has remained relevant in recent years. But even in the wake of more intense and graphic torture scenes on shows like 24, the interactions between our Captain and the ruthless Gul Lemec (David Warner) still hit hard despite their lack of blood and gore. This is largely due to the committed performances of Stewart and Warner--- having previously acted together in the Royal Shakespeare Company---and, of course, the razor-sharp script, which dares to question the actual effectiveness of such a horrible act.
The sudden changes and subject matter were bold moves during TNGs penultimate season, making "Chain of Command" one of the most impressive outings during what many fans agree to be its most consistent year. Originally airing in two parts, much like previous season finales and occasional diversions like "Unification", it's now been repurposed as a faux feature-length episode and runs just shy of 90 minutes. Like other TNG two-parters---also divided by cliffhangers, season finale or not---the full credits are placed up front, certain music cues have been modified and, obviously, the recap has been done away with. It's a logical step for Chain of Command (now in italics, because it's technically a movie!), albeit one that has doesn't quite blend seamlessly into the new format. There are two fades to black midway through, about a minute apart, that mark the original ending and Part II's cold open. It wasn't all that noticeable the first time through... but once I was looking for it, the new edit seemed just a little odd. Completely unavoidable, but odd nonetheless.
Along with this new feature-length edition, those interested in Chain of Command will also get a handful of exclusive supplements to boot (which were, for the most part, created for this stand-alone release and not held back deliberately), including a terrific audio commentary, retrospective featurette and deleted scenes. It's a nice little package that die-hard fans should enjoy, even if they don't buy it simultaneously with the upcoming Season Six release. Any way you slice it, Chain of Command is top-notch television and arguably the most effective of TNG's stand-alone releases to date.
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, we're blessed with 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 interior scenes as well. Dialogue is crisp and clear, LFE is notable at times and Dennis McCarthy's score never fights for attention. The original 2.0 Stereo Surround mix has also been included for purists, but it's 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 and French. Optional subtitles have also been provided in English (SDH), German, and French, unlike the much more versatile (and region-free) TNG season collections.
Packaging, Presentation & Menu Design
The "LCARS" computer interface menu designs are attractive, simple and smooth, much like the old DVDs and recent Blu-ray season sets. This "film" 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 one-disc set is housed in a silly eco-friendly keepcase with an embossed slipcover and no inserts of any kind.
The usual suspects, but most of them are (unfortunately) exclusive to this Blu-ray. First up is a feature-length Audio Commentary
with actor Ronny Cox, DP Jonathan West and technical consultants Mike & Denise Okuda, who do most of the moderating. This is a lively and interesting chat during the bulk of its running time, serving up a fine balance of technical details and personal recollections. Sample topics include how "Chain of Command" (and Season Six in general) introduced more direct human conflicts, lighting Cardassians, working with an established cast, Ronny Cox's music career, "Dueling Banjos" and much, much more. Some of this information is repeated in a like-minded behind-the-scenes retrospective, "The Privilege of Rank: Making 'Chain of Command'"
(28:35), featuring valuable input from Ronny Cox, co-writers Ronald D. Moore and Frank Abatemarco, Patrick Stewart, actress Natalia Nogulich ("Admiral Nechayev"), and more as they discuss the two-part episode's production, impact, structure and lasting influence in modest detail.
A handful of Deleted Scenes is included for Part I (1:49) and Part II (11:40), presented in slightly rougher form than the restored footage and with occasional missing music cues...but thankfully, they're bookended with proper scenes and paired with descriptive text introductions. The majority of these simply provide additional moments of Captain Jellico's friction with the crew and a few short interactions between Picard and Gul Lemec. Closing things out are both separate TV Promos for the episode halves, which are the only "Chain of Command" bonus features also included on the Season Six Blu-ray set. Optional subtitles are included in the languages listed above for all extras, except for the commentary.
I'm slowly coming to terms with these stand-alone TNG releases since, after all, the bonus content included with them exists solely because of their creation. Think of these as "icing on the cake" compared to the far more substantial season collections, although I'd imagine most fans would just rather have the whole thing in one handy package. Regardless, Chain of Command is every bit as good as Best of Both Worlds and a notch above Redemption and Unification, which also sweetens the pot a little. As for the A/V presentation, it's second to none and the bonus features are slightly more engaging this time around as well. Firmly Recommended, though Season Six is undoubtedly a better buy for the money.
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.