I'm a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and of all the characters on board the Enterprise, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is, hands down, my favorite. Thoughtful, intelligent, always motivated to find a peaceful solution to problems, Picard is the perfect captain for a starship whose adventures often included knotty ethical problems and cultural conflicts in which there's no clear-cut "good guy" and "bad guy." He's also a man of action, though, and will stand up not only to enemies of the Federation, but even to his own leaders if he feels they're in the wrong.
If you're a dedicated Next Generation fan, you already know all about Captain Picard... and this DVD set really isn't for you. Fortunately for us fans, Next Generation is available in full season sets, and if you know you love the series, that's the way to go. However, if you've never watched Next Generation on a regular basis, it's a big leap of faith to pick up a season set, with its fairly high price tag. That's where the Jean-Luc Picard Collection fits in. It's an ideal way to dip into Next Generation and see what it's all about, without committing to full seasons.
Seven episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation are included in this set, all featuring Captain Picard as a main character, of course. The set opens with "The Big Goodbye" from Season 1, in which Captain Picard is trapped in a 1940s-era holodeck program along with Dr. Crusher and Data. It's a bit of an odd choice for the very first episode of this collection; viewers who are totally unfamiliar with the Next Generation universe may find the holodeck story to be a bit disconcerting. On the other hand, it's also a showcase for the variety that Next Generation has on offer: the delightful invention of the holodeck will give viewers lots of great episodes throughout the course of the series.
The Picard Collection skips over Season 2 entirely, with Season 3's "Sarek" as the next episode. While this episode will be most meaningful to viewers who know Sarek as the father of the famous Spock from the original series, it's an excellent stand-alone episode as well. Here we get to see Next Generation's thoughtful treatment of an alien race, in this case the Vulcans, as well as showcasing Picard as someone who cares deeply about diplomacy and the peace process.
Two very different episodes appear from Season 4. "Family" focuses on Picard's personal life, which is significant for the very reserved and private Starfleet captain. In the context of the full Season 4, "Family" follows up on Picard's traumatic experiences in "The Best of Both Worlds," but again works extremely well on its own. In a way, it would have been perfect to see "The Best of Both Worlds" on this set, as it's one of the high points of the entire series, but I can see why it was omitted, as it's a two-parter that doesn't always have Picard in a major role. Also from Season 4 on this set is "The Drumhead," in which Picard has to deal with a Starfleet investigation that soon turns into a witch-hunt on board the Enterprise. "The Drumhead" is an outstanding episode, and it's one that highlights Next Generation's storytelling strength: there are no starship battles, no action sequences, none of the superficial trappings of "exciting sci-fi"... instead, it's a powerful and critical look at power, integrity, and corruption.
Two of my very favorite Next Generation episodes are Season 5's "Darmok" and "The Inner Light," both of which find their way onto the Picard Collection. "Darmok" is a superb first-contact story with a genuinely alien race: one whose people don't just look different, but think in a fundamentally different way. It's characteristic of Next Generation's excellent storytelling that the themes of communication and mis-communication are developed into an engaging and memorable story. "The Inner Light" is probably the most emotionally powerful episode of the entire series. Here, an encounter with an alien probe leaves Picard on a strange planet, seemingly taking the place of a man named "Kamin." I won't say more as it would spoil the story; suffice it to say that the episode is thoughtfully and beautifully developed, and will stay in your mind for a very long time.
The Picard Collection closes with an episode from Season 6, "Tapestry." Here, the alien being called Q gives Picard a death-bed chance to relive his life in a different way, starting as a young Starfleet officer. It's another episode that showcases Patrick Stewart's outstanding acting skills in the role of Picard, and it's a fascinating episode with a great story on top of that. The godlike character of Q may be a bit of a surprise to viewers who are new to the series, but again it's an example of the tricks that Next Generation has up its sleeve to produce a variety of intriguing stories over the course of the show.
If you love the episodes on the Jean-Luc Picard Collection and decide to go out and pick up the season sets, you might be annoyed that you've just double-dipped. However, one possibility is that even if you decide to get season sets, you might want to hang on to this DVD for "The Big Goodbye" from Season 1, and go straight to Season 2 or even Season 3 as you start picking up the full sets. (Frankly, Season 1 is only for completionists; Next Generation got off to a rather rocky start, though it certainly made up for it in subsequent seasons.) But even without that in mind, the Picard Collection makes for a very accessible and reasonably priced sampler of Next Generation, so it's well worth it if you're interested in the show but aren't familiar with it yet.
The Jean-Luc Picard Collection is a two-DVD set, packaged in a small fold-out cardboard holder that slides into a glossy paper slipcase. Seven episodes are included, pleasingly presented in chronological order.
All of the episodes are presented in their original television broadcast ratio of 1.33:1, and look extremely good. Paramount treated Next Generation very well indeed in its season-set transfers, and these look to be exactly the same. The image is clean and clear, with natural-looking colors and skin tones; black levels are appropriately deep and dark, but the contrast is never too heavy. Edge enhancement is kept to a minimum, and is entirely absent in some of the later-season episodes, so the picture has a nice level of detail to it.
Viewers have the choice of either the original Dolby 2.0 track or a remastered and very nice-sounding Dolby 5.1 soundtrack. The remastered soundtrack is clean, clear, and natural-sounding, with no distortion or background noise at all. Dialogue, an essential part of Next Generation episodes, is always clear, while music and special effects are well balanced in the overall soundtrack.
The glossy cardboard DVD holder is printed with information about the character of Picard, including his personal data and Starfleet career summary. This is pretty pointless, but it's a cute way to jazz up the DVD holder. Of more practical value is the fact that the disc art lists not just the name of the episodes, but also their original air dates.
The "bonus feature" here is a 42-minute documentary on space, called "From Here to Infinity: The Ultimate Voyage." It's unrelated to Star Trek, except for the fact that it's narrated by Patrick Stewart. It's an odd little documentary that seems to be trying to emulate Cosmos in miniature (and on a shoestring budget; the CGI is a little hokey at times). For what it is, though, it's actually not badly done: it's an overview of some of the key features of the larger universe, from the planets in our own solar system to Alpha Centauri, pulsars, the Orion star nursery, and more. There's not a whole lot of depth to it, but it's a decent overview that would probably be excellent for younger viewers, and of course it's always pleasant to hear Patrick Stewart's lovely voice as the narrator.
If you're interested in Star Trek: The Next Generation but aren't ready to take the plunge to full season sets, the Jean-Luc Picard Collection is a reasonably priced way to dip your toe into the pool, so to speak; it's worth it as a test run. The episodes presented here are a fairly representative sample of Next Generation, showing off the series' inventiveness and variety as well as its overall high quality of storytelling. Dedicated fans will want to go straight to the season sets, but this collection is "highly recommended" for viewers who aren't hooked on the show... yet.