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I grew up as a Star Trek nerd. As the son of a Star Trek nerd, I had no other choice, thank goodness. Although I have vague memories of watching VHS tapes of the original series during the mid 1980s, my first real exposure to the franchise arrived with Star Trek: The Next Generation in September of 1987. Immediately, my eight year-old brain was sucked into the weekly series and I watched it faithfully during all seven seasons. I wrote Star Trek stories for creative writing assignments, scribbled a few pictures and regularly rewatched my favorite episodes. Unfortunately, my interest gradually faded after TNG ended in 1994, and the series' eventual DVD releases never really sparked my interest either. I almost took the bait, but high price tags and lackluster A/V quality kept me away for another decade.
TNG was originally shot on film but edited on videotape, which explained the flat, lifeless textures, dull color and hazy special effects seen on broadcast TV and the aforementioned DVDs. Everything changed once a complete visual restoration 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. We didn't get a real taste of TNG in high definition until the January release of The Next Level, a sample-sized collection of remastered episodes generated to drum up fan interest (and money!). Not surprisingly, it worked: I couldn't have been more excited about seeing TNG again for the first time. Now, with the complete Season One collection firmly in hand, it's safe to say that Trekkies have a lot to be excited about.
Like most TV shows, Star Trek: The Next Generation didn't hit its stride until a few years in...and while there are plenty of clunkers during this 25-episode debut season, there's no shortage of highlights either. Surprisingly, I remembered some of these episodes more clearly than those from later seasons, undoubtedly due to my initial excitement for the series during its original launch year. From the big-budget pilot "Encounter at Farpoint" to the chilling season finale "The Neutral Zone", this six-disc collection includes the following episodes:
Everyone's got their favorite episodes of TNG, and a few of mine just happen to be from this season. "Where No One Has Gone Before", "The Battle", "Datalore", "Heart of Glory" and "Conspiracy" each hold a special place in my heart, and not just for purely nostalgic reasons. Many of these episodes feature great nuts-and-bolts sci-fi storytelling...and even the worst outings of TNG usually have their hearts in the right place. Clunkers like "Code of Honor", "Justice" and "Angel One" are easy targets, especially since they occur so early in the series, but they still have their moments. TNG epitomized creator Gene Roddenberry's optimistic view of the future...and to the credit of the ensemble cast, our travelling band of heroes uniformly sold his vision perfectly. "Cheesy" and "charming" are interchangeable in most cases....and really, my only overall complaint? Too much friggin' Wesley, but that's nothing new.
Upon viewing these Season One episodes as a whole, I was struck at how much the new remastering improves everything about Star Trek: The Next Generation. Carefully-crafted models absolutely sparkle with detail now, from tiny lights to little specks of battle damage. Close-ups reveal the highlights---and occasional mistakes---of makeup and costume design. The show's (relatively) expensive set designs benefit from the visual upgrade as well, from the stormy landscape of "The Last Outpost" to the charming 'futuristic shopping mall' of "Encounter at Farpoint". It's great to know that the show's original look has been carefully maintained: Star Trek: The Next Generation had plenty of amazing visual effects for its time, and the added clarity and detail of these new transfers help to cement such a claim.
It's worth noting, however, that a few background details (including various planets, ships and other objects in space) and optical effects (phasers, etc.) have been re-created from scratch with CGI, as portions of the original effects were either unavailable or of lesser quality. One of this Blu-Ray's behind-the-scenes featurettes on the restoration even details a few minor corrections, such as a Klingon "Bird of Prey" that never aligned correctly. These sporadic retouches are tastefully done and blend quite seamlessly into their surroundings...so fans needn't worry about TNG's visual style being sloppily overwritten, like that other popular sci-fi franchise. What they will find is a well-rounded Blu-Ray release that's long overdue.
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.
Luckily, the audio carries its own weight as well. 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 mixes are included too...but unlike The Next Level, they're presented in lossy Dolby Digital instead of DTS-HD Master Audio (which, if the trend continues, might inadvertently make The Next Level something of a collector's item). Most fans shouldn't consider this a deal-breaker, but it's definitely an odd oversight in an otherwise detail-oriented effort.
I've read reports of a few problems with the new 7.1 mixes that, in one instance, did not occur on The Next Level
. "Encounter at Farpoint" has the center channel audio erroneously mixed to the front right channel, and a few episodes on Discs 3 and 4 have center channel audio mixed to both FL/FR channels.
7/30 UPDATE: Paramount has since issued the following information regarding the issue: "Replacement discs (Disc 1, 3 and 4) will be made available free of charge. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for details regarding the replacement program. You may also call 1-877-DELUXE6 (877-335-8936) between 8am to 6pm Pacific, Monday-Friday."
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
As expected, the "computer interface" menu designs are simple and smooth, much like the old DVDs. Each of these episodes is 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 playback. Seen above, this six-disc package is housed in a multi-hubbed keepcase with a nice embossed slipcover and no inserts of any kind. A condensed content listing is printed on the interior artwork. I know fans might be expecting a more deluxe packaging job for the asking price...but I've grown to appreciate practical, gimmick-free designs during the last few years, so it gets a thumbs up from me.
The new extras begin with "Energized!: Taking The Next Generation to the Next Level"
(23:48, 1080p), a more detailed explanation of the show's high def conversion than what The Next Level
hinted at. Topics include the re-scanning of carefully preserved source elements, the occasional use of CGI to replace lost or worn-out effects shots, the decision to keep TNG
's 4:3 framing and much, much more. This release's main selling point is undoubtedly the A/V restoration, so it's good to see an accessible rundown of how it was accomplished.
The best new extra is the three-part "Stardate Revisited: The Origin of Star Trek: The Next Generation" (93:04, 1080p). "Inception", "Launch" and "The Continuing Mission" focus on time periods before, during and after the show's lengthy run on broadcast TV, and it's loaded with early designs, test footage and plenty of other visual goodies. Key members of the cast and crew also discuss their characters and other roles on the show, including Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton and producers D.C. Fontana & Rick Berman. Archival interviews and footage of late creator Gene Roddenberry and late supervising producer Robert Justman (Roddenberry's right hand man on the original series as well) are also included here. Colorful, concise and casual, "Stardate Revisited" a fascinating journey that fans will really enjoy, and one that I'll probably return to on several occasions.
The rest of the newly-included bonus features are fun little nuggets of TNG history. All of the original broadcast Episode Promos (0:30 each, SD) are on board, and can either be viewed individually or before each episode is launched. A vaguely familiar and off-color Blooper Reel (8:11, SD) is also included, although highlights from it are shown during "Stardate Revisited".
The remaining extras have been ported over from the previous DVD release. These include four enjoyable Mission Logs (66:03 total, SD), featuring vintage comments from selected cast and crew members regarding general production, characters and favorite episodes.
All bonus features include optional subtitles in the languages listed above. It's a fine platter of extras, all things considered, and the only disappointment is a lack of deleted scenes.
It's been a long time coming, but the Blu-Ray debut of Star Trek: The Next Generation is nothing short of remarkable. Although this first season definitely shows some room for growth, there's a pleasing mix of fantasy, action, drama and heart on display from start to finish. This six-disc release from Paramount is truly a labor of love: from the meticulously remastered A/V presentation to a number of retrospective bonus features, it represents the benefit of bringing classic television to high definition home video. A must have for Trek fans, Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season One earns extremely high marks for its technical merits...and what's more, the best is yet to come! Very, very Highly Recommended.
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.