On Tuesday Star Trek The Next Generation finally makes the move to high definition with the release of “The Next Level,” a sampler of four episodes from the new project to remaster the entire series. Today TrekMovie takes a detailed look at The Next Level.
REVIEW: Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level
Blu-ray – 1 Disc
CBS/Paramount Home Entertainment
Retail: 22.99 (Amazon: $14.99)
With rumors of a Star Trek The Next Generation remastered effort dating back to 2007, most fans were skeptical of ever getting a fresh version of TNG with HD quality. Yet quietly there was a test project in the works at CBS to see if it was reasonable to re-transfer and re-edit all the footage into newly minted HD versions of the episodes. The first fruits of their labor is a sampler disc called The Next Level. It contains the pilot episode Encounter at Farpoint, third season’s Sins of the Father, and the acclaimed fifth season episode The Inner Light. Read on for the details on how each episode looks and sounds thanks to modern digital technology
The Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level Blu-ray packing is pretty basic. It comes in the common “eco” version of the Elite brand Blu-ray case that nearly all single-disc releases use. The case is enclosed in a cardboard sleeve which has the same front and back design.
When you load The Next Level it will auto-play the trailer for Season 1 of TNG on Blu-ray and a DTS-HD demo, both of which can be skipped. Then the disc menu opens with a new version of the TNG planets from the season 1 credits, it pans over to a TNG logo and then opens an LCARS menu over a moving star field.
Being that this set is a sampler, the choices are limited. You can play all the episodes, or pick them individually. There is a "Set Up" option allowing you to choose the original stereo audio instead of the 7.1 DTS. And then there is the "Additional Data" section with some trailers (see Features section below).
The presentation blows any other available releases of Star Trek: The Next Generation out of the water. The existing standard definition versions found on the DVD set, TV syndication, and streaming on Netflix and Amazon have a rather flat dull look to them. The image on this Blu-ray has more contrast and the colors are richer. Things are much sharper too. You can see lots of texture on the walls of the bridge as well as costume fabric and even variations in people’s skin.
With the increased detail something in the opening credits caught my eye. There are some people walking around in the observation lounge as the Enterprise passes under the camera during the last part of the opening credits. I didn’t remember them being there, but sure enough I put in a DVD copy of TNG and they’re in there, they just aren’t really very noticeable in standard definition. It also doesn’t show up very well in a static image, they’re more like little moving silhouettes, so it is easier to see them when watching it in motion.
While there is more detail, it is important to remember that this show is 25 years old and so things were shot differently back then. The look can be a little soft (partially because of the purposefully slightly soft style common in the 1980s), and they have varying levels of film grain (again an indicator of the era), though nothing overly distracting.
While much of the focus on this set is bringing it into high definition, the sound for The Next Generation also sees a marked improvement. The dialog certainly sounds better – fuller and clearer. As a show originally made in stereo the soundscape is mostly in the front channels, however the music and some sound effects (warp effects, ambient bridge noises, transporter noises, the noise Q makes when he appears, etc.) are mixed into the surround speakers with good results. The music track definitely gets the most benefit out of the high-resolution lossless audio mix. Explosions get a nice bass boost, but nothing exaggerated, it is very in keeping with the rest of the soundtrack (i.e. not mixed to loudness of a modern action film).
Thanks to the dedicated LFE (low frequency effects) channel (the .1 in the 7.1 audio), if you have a subwoofer, there is a very nice throbbing of the engines. Similarly, down in the tunnels of Farpoint there is a nice subtle ambient sound like a deep organic throbbing (almost like a heartbeat).
Like the visuals, the increased detail on sound can also highlight some of the more obvious boxed in “we’re all on a soundstage” sounds to “Encounter at Farpoint,” something which isn’t apparent on the other episodes from later seasons (after sound engineers worked out the bugs). But it isn’t too distracting, and certainly no worse than when you can periodically hear the wood stage creaking on the original series set.
Being that this set is really a sampler for what is to come, there is not much to say regarding bonus features. There are a few trailers and that’s it. One of those trailers is for Season 1 of the TNG Blu-ray set and it shows how there will be new features on that set. Certainly looking forward to that.
Encounter at Farpoint (Parts 1 &2)
The matte painting of Deneb IV from orbit and the physical minitures of Farpoint Station and the old Bandi city that ILM made are gorgeous. They remind me of the amazing matte paintings and miniture work done for the original Star Wars trilogy, there’s a lot of detail in their planet surfaces.
Apparently Brent Spiner needed a stunt double to skip down the rocks and pull Wesley out of the stream in the holodeck, the HD transfer makes it quite obvious that it changes from Spiner to a stunt person. I would imagine the similar stunt man stand-in will be more noticeable in Datalore too. Both were always noticeable on DVD, but now it’s crystal clear. Again, this is something that was also part of the original Star Trek HD release.
There has been a lot of talk about if this set will be making changes, but the team behind it have been clear that their focus is to stay as close to the original intent as possible. However, in this episode CBS did tweak one thing – they fixed the error in the location of the energy beam that feeds the Farpoint creature. It now correctly emanates from the phaser array rather than the captain’s yacht.
Sins of the Father
There is a new digital matte painting derived from the original shot, stars drift behind the two fixed images of the Enterprise and a new perspective of the Klingon Bird of Prey that better matches that of the Enterprise. While not a new 3D rendering, this new matte fits in pretty seamlessly.
The new orbital planetscape by Max Gabl is great. This was replaced because, as with many of the planets in season 3 and beyond, it was done with primitive computer graphics that were dubbed directly onto videotape. You can see the details on the 6-ft Enterprise model as it gets into orbit of Qo’noS. There is also lots of nice color variation and detailed panels/hatches on the hull.
The Inner Light
Being the newest episode on the disc, it is a little better looking, with a bit less noticeable film grain in the brighter scenes. The lighting of the bridge set had changed quite a bit over the years, but in this 5th season episode things are definitely a bit clearer and it is easier to see all stations around the bridge.
The aging makeup holds up very well, there’s a reason why TNG’s makeup department was considered to be one of the best in the business.
The 4-ft Enterprise makes an appearance, and yes now in 1080p one could argue it has a bit exaggerated detailing, but regardless of the esthetic debate, it looks very good like the rest of the episode.
A huge thanks is due the CBS Home Video, the CBS Digital team and the Okudas for undertaking this project. Hunting down all the footage and re-editing and re-compositing it all from scratch is no simple task, a far larger one than TOS-R was in this regard. The Next Level sampler gives us a good idea how the different seasons of TNG will look (and sound) in HD, and the future looks good! This set is recommended for any fan of TNG, unless you can hold out and wait for the season releases. Season 1 is due later this year, with others to follow.
Please note that the screenshots in this article are only a still-image frame. A screenshot of a moving image is not a perfect representation of the actual film due to the static nature of the screenshot. The screenshots are only intended to give you a general idea of what things look like.
TNG on Blu-ray available Tuesday
“Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level” featuring HD versions of the two-part pilot “Encounter at Farpoint,” along with “Sins of the Father,” and “The Inner Light” will be released next Tuesday, January 31st. You can pre-order from Amazon for $14.99.
For more from TrekMovie’s full coverage of TNG on Blu-ray:
- Interview with Mike & Denise Okuda Part 1 & Part 2 (with more images)
- Anthony’s First Impressions of The Next Level (with more images)
- Exclusive Images from The Next Level
- HD comparison Trailer
CBS provided a review copy for this article.