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Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Seven

Paramount // Unrated // December 2, 2014
List Price: $129.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted December 10, 2014 | E-mail the Author

Click here for audio accompaniment, because why not?

Just like twenty years ago, watching the seventh and final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray is bittersweet: the show had an amazing run and it's been a blast to revisit in high definition, but this still marks the end of our crew's small screen adventures. As a whole, the Star Trek franchise had really kicked into high gear by 1994: the three-season original series grew from cult favorite to worldwide phenomenon thanks to a half-dozen feature films from 1979-1991. TNG stepped out of its formidable shadow from the third season onward, eventually sharing big screen privileges with the original series in 1994's Generations. Meanwhile, the previous year saw the debut of Deep Space Nine and Voyager was just over the horizon, with both shows enjoying seven seasons in their own right.

So with Enterprise and the dreaded "franchise fatigue" almost a full decade away, 1994 was a pretty good time to be a Star Trek fan. When TNG first aired, I was in elementary school...and from a certain perspective, it was the perfect age to get sucked into a sci-fi series rooted in exploration, adventure, and a tight-knight crew. I wrote stories, drew pictures, and just got caught up in the atmosphere of it all. By the end of the series' run I was halfway through high school and probably self-conscious about wearing fandom on my sleeve---things are different now, of course---but I still vividly remember tuning into the double-length series finale "All Good Things..." and enjoying every minute. I caught all four subsequent big-screen TNG outings, casually watched DS9 every now and then, and stuck with Voyager for a few years...but like most folks, my infatuation with Star Trek was slowly wearing off and by the time Enterprise showed up, I was pretty much done with it all. Sure, I still caught the occasional episode of TNG in reruns...but I never even bought the DVD collections, as I was content to just remember it through the gauze of childhood memories.

Of course, these lovely Blu-ray releases from CBS have changed all that. I've had the pleasure of reviewing each and every season and stand-alone disc since 2011, and digging through all the content has been even more fun. Forgotten episodes have bubbled to the surface, established classics shine even brighter, and even the least memorable outings are at least nice to look at. Tastefully redone visual effects ensure that TNG doesn't look as dated as most effects-heavy shows from the era. And, of course, the new supplements---mostly spearheaded by Roger Lay Jr. and Robert Meyer Burnett---are just icing on the cake, whether they're long-lost deleted scenes, episode-length audio commentaries, restored gag reels, or retrospective documentaries featuring original members of the cast and crew.

But with all the window dressing and supplements aside, it's still about the episodes. Season Seven carries the burden of following what many TNG fans consider to be its best year...and only from that perspective could you consider this final season a disappointment. Yes, it's home to bottom-feeding episodes like "Sub Rosa" and "Journey's End", while others like "Masks" and "Genesis" aren't far behind. But some of the series' very best moments are here as well: "All Good Things...", the series finale, is frequently included on fan favorite episode lists, while others like "The Pegasus" (later used as a bookend for the deflated Enterprise series finale), "Lower Decks", the two-part "Gambit", season opener "The Descent, Part II", and the penultimate "Preemptive Strike" are all established classics in the minds of most TNG fans.

Others, like "Parallels" and "Phantasms" aren't named quite as regularly but still hold up as classic adventures (or at least compelling diversions). It also doesn't hurt that the more Twilight Zone-esque moments of TNG are very appealing to me on a personal level, whether they shake up an established pattern or aim for something more nightmarish. In "Parallels", Worf's life changes dramatically after he returns from a trip, thanks to a biological anomaly that creates multiple alternate universes. "Phantasms" focuses on Data and his new dream program (first discovered and utilized in Season Six) and includes oddball elements such as an internal phone call, Slurpee blood-sucking, and a cellular peptide cake...with mint frosting. Both episodes are home to a number of absolutely memorable moments framed by solid stories, and will undoubtedly stick in your mind whether you've seen them countless times or just once, twenty years ago.

So really, this is just a long-winded way of saying the good far outweighs the bad: it's true for every season of TNG in my mind (even the first one), and the overall quality of this seventh and final batch of episodes isn't just limited to these highlights. But the cast and crew were undoubtedly growing tired of such a busy schedule at this point; after all, 26 episodes per season is quite a commitment, especially for an hour-long show with a high budget and visual scope. The retrospective supplements for this release sum up the experience perfectly: as TNG finally made the transition from television to big-screen adventures, most everyone was equal parts relieved, exhausted, mournful, and ready to move on with their lives. Luckily for us, this essential sci-fi franchise still managed to burn brightly in its final year.

Complete List of Season Seven Episode Summaries (via Wikipedia)

Video & Audio Quality

Beginning with the release of Season Five, CBS has handled the remainder of TNG's restoration in-house and, once again, the end results are spectacular. These later seasons originally made use of now-dated CGI and, though good for its time, most of it has since been tastefully replaced to blend in with ship models and other filmed footage. Not surprisingly, the effects-free material is just as impressive and boasts excellent color timing, crisp image detail and a consistently solid 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 a few short years ago. Most fans have seen the huge leap in quality between these Blu-rays and DVD/broadcast versions, and the benefits are still evident here. Once again, this time around there's no upscaled footage to be found anywhere; this was never terribly distracting to begin with, but speaks more about the thoroughness of the restoration crew. It's easy to forget just how much time and effort has gone into rebuilding 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 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 and the score (mostly by Jay Chattaway and Dennis McCarthy) never fights for attention. The original 2.0 Stereo Surround mixes are included for purists, but they're still being presented in Dolby Digital and not DTS-HD Master Audio. Most fans shouldn't consider this a deal-breaker at all, but it's definitely a curious 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 extras has been printed on the inside cover; it's reproduced above for your convenience.

Bonus Features

It's been a treat to dig through each season's worth of supplements, enough so that I watched all of them before revisiting the episodes themselves. This season is no different and leads off with another feature-length Retrospective Documentary entitled "The Sky's the Limit: The Eclipse of Star Trek: The Next Generation" (three parts, 90 minutes total) featuring key cast and crew members sharing their thoughts on this final season and the series as a whole. Participants include executive producer Rick Berman, writers Rene Echevarria and Naren Shankar, science consultant Andre Bormanis, author Larry Nemecek, co-Producer Brannon Braga, producer Ronald D. Moore, makeup artist Doug Drexler, supervising producer David Livingston, VFX coordinator Gary Hutzel, stunt coordinator Dennis Madalone, senior illustrator Rick Sternbach, VFX producer Dan Curry, production designer Herman Zimmerman and many others, as well as cast members Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Will Wheaton, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Natalija Nogulich, John De Lancie, and Whoopi Goldberg. Overall, this is another wonderfully detailed account of the show's production, impact, and lasting influencing and peppered with pitch-perfect clips along the way.

The inclusion of "Journey's End: The Saga of Star Trek: The Next Generation" (45 minutes) is an enjoyable blast from the past, as this 1994 mini-doc revisits the series' accomplishments before "All Good Things..." originally aired. Hosted by Jonathan Frakes, it's a brief but enjoyable trip through all seven seasons and also touches on DS9 and upcoming projects like Generations and Voyager. Likewise, "Closed Set: A Tour of the Real Enterprise" (11 minutes) offers a rare whirlwind tour of the empty set originally videotaped on the sly by Trek mainstays Michael and Denise Okuda, who also narrate. This is probably my favorite bonus feature in the entire collection, and that's saying something.

More retrospective material arrives with "In Conversation: Lensing Star Trek: The Next Generation" (42 minutes), a roundtable discussion with supervising producer David Livingston, director James L. Conway, director of photography Jonathan West, and camera operator Kris Krosskove. During this enjoyable chat, each of these participants shares their memories working on-set, discussing what they could and couldn't get away with, other work within the Trek universe, and much more. Also, it's worth noting that there's a major hint that those rumors about DS9's restoration may be confirmed soon...although since it's not spelled out in plain English, don't take that as any sort of official word.

Three brand new Audio Commentaries have also been recorded for this release, one apiece during fan favorite episodes "Lower Decks" (writer Rene Echevarria with Michael & Denise Okuda) and "Preemptive Strike" (writers Rene Echevarria and Naren Shankar with Michael & Denise Okuda). That's one less than we got with Season Six, but it's fantastic to see that these commentaries are still being produced since they add new perspectives to these classic episodes. Still, the complete lack of TNG cast member input (and the "All Good Things" commentary being exclusive to its stand-alone Blu-ray release) continues to disappoint a little. An older 2008 commentary during "Parallels" (with writer Brannon Braga) is also here; I'll count it as "new" since, as far as I know, it hasn't been included on any previous TNG discs.

Also here is a collection of Deleted Scenes from a whopping fifteen episodes including "Descent, Part II", "Liaisons", "Gambit, Parts I and II", "Dark Page", "Inheritance" "Parallels", "Sub Rosa", "Thine Own Self", "Masks", "Genesis", "Journey's End", "Firstborn", "Bloodlines", and "Preemptive Strike". Once again, they're restored from the original negatives and prefaced by establishing text, although finished music cues and other sound effects aren't always present. Closing out the brand new extras is another fully-restored Gag Reel (5 minutes) with plenty of flubs and character breaks.

Also here are the recycled Archival Mission Logs from the TNG Season Seven DVD collection, featuring vintage interviews and behind-the-scenes footage about various episodes and themes, plus the original Episode Promos and a handful of Trailers for other Trek Blu-ray releases. As expected, all extras include optional subtitles in the languages listed above. Again, they're just one of many highlights from this fantastic release, although a few notable extras from past releases have been left out. These include, but are not limited to, three documentaries produced for the 2007 "Complete Series" collection, which include "TNG's Impact: 20 Years Later" (hosted by John de Lancie), "TNG's Legacy (hosted by Wil Wheaton), and "Star Trek Visual Effects Magic: A Roundtable Discussion", which ran for just under 30 minutes apiece. Thanks to reader Jed Raybould for pointing out their unfortunate absence from this otherwise solid collection.

Star Trek: The Next Generation has been an absolute privilege to revisit on Blu-ray, thanks to the fantastic work ethic of CBS' restoration team, the dedication of supplement producers Roger Lay Jr. and Robert Meyer Burnett, the series' devoted fan base...and, of course, the participation of the original cast and crew. While TNG's best year was already behind it by 1994, this seventh and final season is still an entertaining and essential collection of enjoyable science fiction for the small screen. CBS' Blu-ray, as expected, meets or exceeds the quality reached on previous seasons, from the careful A/V presentation to yet another batch of satisfying new and vintage bonus features. It's truly a must-have collection and a fantastic send-off for this deserving series...but aside from the separate release of All Good Things, let's hope this isn't the last appearance of 1990s-era Star Trek on Blu-ray. Highly Recommended, obviously.

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.

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