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The first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is finally here in HD. Just in time for the 25th anniversary, the series makes its debut on Blu-ray on Tuesday. TrekMovie has had some time to check out the new set and it is impressive. More details and photos in our review.
REVIEW: Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1 Blu-ray
Seeing Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray is something I wasn’t sure was ever going to happen. Sure it seems like the logical next step after CBS completed their work bringing the original Star Trek to HD and Blu-ray a few years ago, but as been detailed on this site before, TNG was not ready for HD. It wasn’t shot in HD and to make matters worse, it was edited on videotape. CBS even tried to do some upresolution tests on the show (which are shown and discussed in an excellent documentary on disc one), but after those were shown to be insufficient they bit the multi-million dollar bullet and decided to rebuild the show using the original film elements, and Trek fans are the better for it.
In a way, the project to bring TNG into HD is not unlike the creation of the show itself back in the 80s. It too faced a number of hurdles to get on the air, including pioneering the market for syndicated drama. And of course creating a sequel TV series had also never really been done and many fans (and those in the media) questioned whether a new show could ever live up to the original Star Trek series, which had itself morphed into a successful feature film franchise at the time. But now in hindsight we know that Star Trek: The Next Generation not only got past its first season, but thrived by creating a whole new (pardon the pun) generation of Star Trek fans, and eventually it too spawned its own feature film franchise, and led the way to launching three more TV series. And that whole new era of Star Trek began in 1987 with this now remastered first season of TNG.
However, in recent years watching TNG on TV syndication or on DVDs has been a bit of a let down, at least for me. The show just didn’t look that good on a modern HD TV. The same was true (if not even worse) when the series was released for streaming online and at Netflix. But watching Star Trek: The Next Generation in on Blu-ray brings me right back to the excitement of Trek’s return to TV in 1987. It feels like a brand new show, with the exception of it being in 4:3 aspect ratio (more on that below).
Watching the Blu-ray, you will notice details you never saw before, but the new HD transfer goes beyond just adding additional definition to the show. The colors are much more vibrant and and feel more real. Of course fans will be especially impressed with the visual effects shots which now appear to be theatrical film quality. Unlike with the HD version of the original Star Trek series, the CBS team has gone out of their way to match the original effects as exactly as possibly. Shots like the USS Enterprise pulling into a Starbase in "11001001" will of course blow your mind, but I was also especially impressed with the improvement in quality you see with mundane establishing shots of the ship orbiting various (previously out of focus) planets.
Beyond the remastered visual effects based on original film elements, the new Blu-ray set also features a few brand new CG visual effects. These are mostly limited to things that were done originally in video like the transporter effect, phasers, and photon torpedoes. Probably the most notable new CG effect was the Crystalline Entity from "Datalore," which actually was originally done in CG but they used a new more detailed model for HD. Although in this case I think they may have tried to match the original too much, and I think they could have used current technology to make the entity appear to be even more detailed and facetted.
And then there is the 7.1 DTS sound which has also been rebuilt from the ground up. You can even hear the Enterprise whoosh over you! All this is combined with the beautiful music from season one (some of the best of the series) sounding better than ever. The net result, along with the visuals, is to create a cinematic feel you don’t get even with a typical modern network TV series.
So the new set looks fantastic and sounds amazing, but what about the actual episodes? Let’s face it, season one is a mixed bag. The skirts are shorter (even on the men), the stories are looser, and the speachifying and pontificating is more strident. Every episode seems at least once take a moment to explain to us how people in the 24th century people are really much better than those of us trapped in the backward 20th century.
To be sure there are a number of clunkers from eye-rolling Space Africans in "Code of Honor" to having to constantly resist the urge to punch your nice HD TV every time Wesley saves the day, like in "The Battle" (but at least we get to hear Picard say "Shut up Wesley!" in "Datalore"). And don’t even get me started on how ludicrously bad of a villain the Ferengi were, especially in their introductory episode "The Last Outpost" (and they don’t get much better in "The Battle." Thankfully Deep Space Nine later reimagined the Ferengi into a much more interesting (and now beloved) Star Trek race. And the planet full of hot scantly clad joggers episode ("Justice") is so bad that it is in "Spock’s Brain" territory (which may make it a good thing now, at least for MST3K type mockery).
But season one also has its highlights. I’ve always been partial to the sometimes silly "Arsenal of Freedom," guest starring character actor Vincent Schiavelli as the Minsonian weapons salesman. The new visual effects also made one of my faves "Where No One Has Gone Before" even better at epitomizing Star Trek’s exploration of different ideas. And in reviewing the show its fun to see the first instances of many things that will be perennial tropes of 21 seasons of 24th century Trek, like our first holodeck malfunction, in "The Big Goodbye." Of course there are introductions of some key recurring characters such as John deLancie’s Q. , Majel Barrett’s Lwaxana Troi, and Brent Spiner as his own evil brother Lore. And in "Heart of Glory" we get our first taste of Klingon honor, that will be delved into throughout TNG, DS9 and Voyager. Watching the first season of TNG you get sparks of the greatness that show will eventually achieve. It is not unlike looking back at home movies of a baby’s first steps.
And even though the show was focused on stand-alone episodes, season one had its share of continuing threads including Q’s fascination with humans, the Starfleet conspiracy, and even setting up the Borg in the season finale "The Neutral Zone." We also got the beginnings of seeing what could have been an interesting character arc from Denise Crosby’s Lt. Yar dealing with her past on a very much less than ideal 24th century upbringing, but alas that was all wiped out by a silly black slime creature in "Skin of Evil."
As for the packaging, it is fairly basic with a sturdy Blu-ray wallet holding the six-disc set along with a sleeve. The reverse side of the wallet cover has the disc by disc details. The navigation system is (of course) done in a LCARS style with subtle animations and is very straightforward.
Also worth mentioning is the excellent set of extras for the set. Firstly the DVD featurettes have been carried over to the set, but there are also new featurettes. Notably there is the aforementioned "Energized: Taking the Next Generation to the Next Level" documentary about the HD project. The doc goes behind the scenes at CBS and shows you every step of the very complicated process for bringing TNG into HD. By the way, for those who have been wondering why they didn’t do the show in widescreen, there is a section explaining how both the live action and effects shots could not be remastered in widescreen.
If you are determined to watch the show in widescreen you can always use your TV’s stretch or zoom feature. I tried watching in zoom and it looked pretty good, except some times the cropping makes the close-ups look way too close up.
And any fan interested in the genesis of the show will be riveted by the three part documentary "Stardate Revisited: The Origin of Star Trek: The Next Generation." Even the most knowledgeable fan is sure to learn a lot from the cast and crew of the show. It is refreshing that CBS allowed the doc’s filmmakers to show these Star Trek vets discuss both the highs and lows of that first season. In addition they seem to have found all sorts of interesting behind the scenes bits of film, including makeup and wardrobe tests. Keep your eye out on the last disc for an easter egg featuring Brent Spiner reciting an entire scene from Shakespeare’s "The Merchant of Venice" while they were doing camera tests on his make-up. There is also a gag reel, which is a lot of fun (although it was transferred from tape so it isn’t in HD).
The bottom line is that season one of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray is highly recommended for any fan of the series. You will find yourself rediscovering TNG and appreciating both the little things and the big ideas put forward by creator Gene Roddenberry all over again. The remastering of the show, the new and improved effects, the music and sound all add up to what feels like a new experience for this classic series.
Now that the set price is down to around $60 (which is just a bit over $2/episode) it should now fall into more fans budgets. And if you can’t buy it, find a way to rent it or borrow it from a fan, especially to see the new special feature documentaries.
I very much look forward to Season 2 (this set includes a preview trailer) and the rest of the series.
Available Tuesday – price drop to $59.99
The first Blu-ray season for Star Trek: The Next Generation comes out July 24th. The six-disc set includes HD remasters (in 1080p and 7.1 DTS audio) of all 26 episodes, plus brand new special features (see below for full details). The official retail price (according to CBS) is $118.00 in the US (which is actually a little less than the MSRP for Star Trek: TOS Blu-ray Season 1).
|Walmart – USA||BestBuy – USA||Amazon – USA|
|Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season One
|Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season One
The set is also available for pre-order at Amazon sites around the world.
Episode reviews coming soon
TrekMovie.com will be doing individual reviews for each episode from the remastered TNG starting later this week. Just like we did with the original series, we will review every single episode of TNG-R, wrapping up season one around the time that the season two Blu-ray set is released later this year.
And check out TrekMovie’s interview with Mike and Denise Okuda, talking about the S1 set as well as future seasons.