The "Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level" sampler disc comes out on January 31st and TrekMovie got an early review copy. Closer to release, our home video editor Matt Wright will be doing a more detailed review with more technical stuff, but I wanted to share my initial thoughts on this major project in the world of Star Trek.
First Impressions of Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level on Bluray
The Star Trek in HD project is being done just in time for the show’s 25th anniversary in 2012. I can still remember my excitement sitting down to watch the premiere in September 1987 – and yelling at everyone in the room to "Shut up! Star Trek time!" I felt a twinge of that enthusiasm as I put the four-episode "Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level" disc into the Blu-ray player, but there was also a bit of trepidation.
Since the release of the original Star Trek series on Blu-ray, I have noticed that my other Trek DVDs felt a bit less satisfying. Watching the shows on an HD TV made them feel a bit dated, and this seemed especially true of TNG. It was even worse catching episodes playing in syndication and the transfer available streaming on Netflix was no better. After years of hearing how difficult it was going to be to bring the show into the HD future (and possibly impossible), I was concerned that this Blu-ray wasn’t going to cut it. However, shortly after "Encounter at Farpoint" started playing, all my concerns were put to rest.
If anything, the remastering of Next Gen into HD is even better looking than the original Star Trek. The colors are more vibrant, but not jarring. The details are astounding and make you want to keep on pausing to make sure you don’t miss anything. This goes for both the live action shots, as well as the remastered visual effects shots. Unlike the original series in HD, this time CBS have remastered the original filmed effects, and then used CGI much more sparingly (primarily replacing effects which were originally done on video). In the end the effects shots, especially of the Enterprise and other space scenes, are just astounding and really bring the show into the 21st century (or 24th century).
Of course some will say that the show was never meant to be seen at this level of definition, and there is an element of truth in that. Like with the original series in HD, sometimes you will see more detail than intended. So some of the makeup can seem a bit much (especially Spiner’s Data) and sometimes you can see rough edges or other less than 24th century perfection to set dressings or props. However, these are minor and in a way part of the fun of reviewing the show in HD, as is trying to spot little details in the famed Okudagrams.
Also worth highlighting is the sound, which has been remixed in 7.1 DTS-HD. I was surprised at how much this (combined with the updated looks) created a more cinematic experience. However, if you want to listen to the original stereo audio, you have that option as well.
As for the four episodes in the set, you get the two-part pilot (“Encounter at Farpoint”), one of Ron Moore’s great Klingon episodes ("Sins of the Father"), and Patrick Stewart’s acting tour-de-force in "The Inner Light." It is hard to get any two fans to agree as to what four episodes are most worthy, but these are certainly a good selection and show off the HD transfer quite well.
By the way, the 13 seconds of "Sins of the Father" that had to be upscaled (because original clip couldn’t be found) was apparent, but not too bad. However, it did highlight what a monumental task CBS has taken on to go into the vaults to find each little film element and reassemble them for the HD transfer. My hat is off to them for taking on this complex (and expensive) project. Bringing TNG into the HD world will ensure that the show lives on and will be appreciated by more people in the future. I suspect that over the coming decade, it will become harder and harder to sell standard definition shows into syndication and they will also be less and less appealing to younger audiences who expect everything to be in HD.
As for special features, that isn’t what this teaser disc is all about. The only new thing was a trailer for the Season 1 Star Trek TNG Blu-ray set, which does appear to have some new special features. You also get a couple of previously released promo spots (one for TNG Remastered, and one for the Star Trek PADD iPad app
All in all, watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray makes me feel like a kid again. I just can’t wait to review the entire series in HD. The first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray can’t come soon enough (it is promised for later this year). Until then, it is worth picking up "Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level" sampler disc, which you can pre-order from Amazon for $14.99.
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