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Star Trek the Next Generation - Season 5
Star Trek the Next Generation hits it right in a variety of areas. For starters, it has a premise that allows for a great flexibility in the kinds of stories that could be told. The Enterprise is primarily a vessel of exploration and diplomacy, and the show does a great job of drawing exciting stories out of those areas; it's also a warship, and in a pinch can be called on to serve in nerve-wracking confrontations either in war or at the brink of it. Add to that the fact that, especially by the fifth season, the show's writers were producing script after script of exciting, innovative, thought-provoking stories.
With Season Five, Next Generation is at the height of its powers of storytelling, a height that began in Season Four and would continue to its finale. To begin with, the season opens with Part II of "Redemption," which gets Picard and the Enterprise tangled up in Klingon (and Romulan) internal affairs. Later episodes include some of my personal favorites: "Darmok," which showcases Star Trek as a program that makes compelling drama out of communication and creative problem-solving, "Cause and Effect," a brilliant play on time and causation, and "Inner Light," a beautiful and moving episode that highlights the show's ability to reach emotional depths as well as tell exciting stories.
In Seasons Three and Four, and the beginning of Season Five, we were treated to a two-part episode with the "cliffhanger" ending at the end of one season leading to the resolution of the story at the beginning of the season. These double-length episodes allowed for more complex, dramatic stories to be told, stories that just wouldn't fit in the boundaries of a single episode. In Season Five, we are treated to an extra "double feature" in the middle of the season, with the exciting "Unification" Parts I and II. Here we have Next Generation's foray into the affairs of the Romulans... as this mysterious race had made frequent, usually threatening appearances in earlier seasons, the Romulans certainly offer a fertile ground for the story in Season Five. In "Unification," we also see how Next Generation weaves a richer story tapestry by drawing in characters with an existing (and intriguing) backstory: in this case, the legendary Mr. Spock along with other figures from earlier seasons of Next Generation itself.
The season concludes with the first half of "Time's Arrow," a time-travel episode in which Data plays a significant part. It's not the strongest of the season finales, but after all, "The Best of Both Worlds" and "Redemption" set a very high standard to meet. "Time's Arrow" is most definitely an entertaining episode, and viewers will be eagerly waiting for Season Six to roll out on DVD in order to catch the second half.
So we have a great premise, and great stories; add to that a fantastic ensemble cast, and you'll be looking at a clear picture of why Star Trek the Next Generation is the outstanding show that it is. By Season Five, all the main actors had been sharing the screen for several years, even accounting for Gates McFadden's sabbatical in Season Two, and it shows in the strength of their performances. What helps the series work so well is that in addition to being well-rounded, the characters also show change and growth over the course of each season.
Next Generation is essentially an episodic show, as opposed to one like Babylon 5 which has a defined story arc, but even so, there's a substantial amount of character development. Data continues to be one of the most fascinating characters in the show, with his ongoing quest to become more human, but in Season Five we are also treated to a deeper look at Worf. From being the "token Klingon" on the bridge in the first season, to seeing hidden depths as well as conflicts in his heritage in later seasons, Worf has certainly been an intriguing figure. In Season Five's "New Ground," "Ethics," and "Cost of Living," we see Worf struggle to accommodate new aspects of his life. Picard also gets several outstanding episodes, of which the aforementioned "Inner Light" and "The Perfect Mate" are highlights.
For a dedicated Next Generation viewer like me, watching these episodes is like seeing old friends once again; and like the best of old friends, Next Generation is a delight to revisit time and again.
Paramount certainly knows how to take proper care of Star Trek. The video quality of the Season Five release of Star Trek the Next Generation is even better than that of earlier seasons, which were already outstanding; the DVD transfer on this set will absolutely delight fans of the show. The series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
The most noteworthy aspect of the Season Five transfer is that the edge enhancement that was present in earlier seasons is now almost completely absent, resulting in an absolutely clear picture. An increased level of detail is now visible at middle- and longer-distance shots, and of course close-ups look fantastic as well. All the CGI footage looks superb, with crisp, well-defined edges, no haloes or fuzziness, and no artifacts.
Taken as a whole, it's very evident that Paramount has gone the extra mile to present Next Generation in absolutely the best condition possible. There is no noise in the image at all, nor any print flaws; I did see a faint hint of grain in a few shots, but it was very mild. The color palette of the show appears slightly more muted than in earlier seasons, but considering that the full range of the spectrum does appear, the colors look natural, and skin tones appear completely accurate, I suspect that the show's designers in Season Five simply chose to tone down some of the brighter colors in the crew uniforms and sets. Contrast remains a strong point, with black levels nicely rich and dark, and excellent detail present at all times.
Star Trek the Next Generation Season Five has been remastered into Dolby 5.1 sound, and as with the earlier seasons, the sound quality is excellent. The overall sound is very clear, with no distortion or background noise in the least. Dialogue, always an essential part of Next Generation, is accurate and crystal-clear, while sound effects and music are clear and well-balanced with the dialogue.
Next Generation Season Five is packaged in the same "gift box" packaging as earlier seasons, except that this season has light blue as its color accents on the silver packaging. The seven discs are held in individual plastic spindles in a large fold-out cardboard piece that fits inside a lidded outer box for storage; the packaging is visually attractive but admittedly not particularly convenient to handle. The first six discs contain four episodes each, while the seventh disc contains the final two episodes and the special features. The menus are nicely Star Trek-themed and are easy to use, though the episode selection screens do contain tiny clips from the episodes that could potentially be spoilers.
The pleasing selection of bonus materials follows the same pattern as in earlier seasons. "Mission Overview: Year Five" is an eighteen-minute featurette that offers a look at some of the most memorable events of the season, including the appearances of Spock and McCoy. In the "Departmental Overview" section, a fifteen-minute featurette on production and an eighteen-minute one on special effects highlight the challenges of creating episodes such as "The Inner Light." "Memorable Missions: Year Five" is another eighteen-minute featurette that takes a look at the most interesting of the season's episodes, with interviews from cast and crew.
The longest single bonus feature is the half-hour "A Tribute to Gene Roddenberry"; Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, passed away during the fifth season of the show. This featurette focuses on the dedication of the Gene Roddenberry Building on the Paramount lot, which took place before Roddenberry died, and includes both footage and interviews from the dedication ceremony and from earlier interviews with the cast and crew, including Roddenberry himself, as well as interviews with crewmembers done specifically for the DVD.
In total, there's over an hour and a half of bonus materials on the set, and it's all good-quality bonus materials: no promotional fluff, all worth watching.
What can I say? Star Trek the Next Generation is essential viewing for any science fiction fan, and any viewer is looking for an imaginative, well-written, well-acted, and just plain entertaining series should gravitate toward the Next Generation DVD sets. With Season Five, Paramount has shown that it's truly looking out for its fans by providing an impeccable transfer of the series onto DVD along with a thoughtful selection of special features. Without a doubt, Next Generation Season Five is highly recommended.