Our reviews of The Best Of Star Trek: The Next Generation (published May 12th, 2009), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season One (Blu-ray) (published July 24th, 2012), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Two (Blu-ray) (published December 17th, 2012), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Three (Blu-ray) (published May 15th, 2013), Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Level (Blu-ray) (published January 29th, 2012), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One (published April 24th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Two (published May 23rd, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Three (published July 18th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Five (published February 4th, 2003), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Six (published December 16th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Seven (published February 10th, 2003), and Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Jean-Luc Picard Collection (published August 23rd, 2004) are also available.
"I must protest. I am not a merry man!"
The world was abuzz with anticipation. Yes, the entire world had bitten their fingernails down to the quick in their eagerness to know how it would all turn out. Not a single person on the planet could be pulled away from their television sets on the night of September 24, 1990. Would Locutus of Borg assimilate the Enterprise and then Earth, or would Captain Riker's deflector dish energy burst incapacitate the cube before it could reach sector zero-zero-one?
That's a conceit—but a healthy one. I love Trek, and I can vividly remember my shock and utter dismay when I saw "To Be Continued" pop up at the end of "The Best of Both Worlds Part I." Back in the day, cliffhangers weren't the norm and Trekkies everywhere were caught with their britches down. How were we going to survive the next three months before this story was resolved? It was a truly a terrible thing. Back in the day before the Internet flourished and BBS ruled, I was just a young man in college and didn't know how to find all the inside scoop on TV. In fact, I had no idea how to surf the fledgling 'net or run amok through the bulletin boards. Thus, would I wish my summer break to go by quickly just to see a TV show? Well, even if I did wish that, I have no power over the space-time continuum and things passed by at a terribly slow pace. Stupid me, I didn't even tape the episode to ease my pain during those trying months.
Facts of the Case
Coming into the fourth season, TNG was at the peak of its popularity. Even though I exaggerated just a bit above, there was enormous interest in how the cliffhanger would resolve itself. As most people know, there's the sub textual story of whether Patrick Stewart would return to reprise his role as Captain Picard. If he signed his contract, Picard would live; if he didn't sign, Locutus would die. We all know how that turned out.
The fourth year built upon the strength of the stories from the previous season and continued in their tradition of character development. During the previous three years, little bits and pieces of the characters were fleshed out and expanded beyond simple, one-dimensional characters. During this season, character development was a significant thrust for the writers, and an underlying theme for a good part of the year was developed: family. Once the loose ends were tied up in the season opener, the next eleven episodes were very much character driven and further expanded the backgrounds and motivations of all the characters. The most obvious observation of this fact is Captain Picard. After being assaulted during "The Best of Both Worlds," he is wracked with grief and remorse and turns to his brother for guidance. He returns home to France to rethink who is he and to see if he has the strength to return to space. Picard is not the same man from this point forward.
I know I'm not pointing out anything that any casual or fervent fan of the series doesn't already know, so I shall not ramble on any further. For the rest of this review, I'm going to do three things: review the transfers, briefly remark on and rate each episode, and talk a little more in depth about the bonus featurettes.
I currently own all of the released seasons of TNG (and of course will own all seven in due course). In addition to simply watching the fourth season, I took a few minutes to watch an episode from each season back to back to back to back. I wanted to get a feeling for how the transfers have progressed over the months. Fortunately, I can say "progressed" as each season does subtly improve over its predecessor. For consistency, I'll relate back to my comments from my review of season two.
Each episode is again presented (in the order aired, not produced) in its original full frame ratio with accurate, rich, well-defined colors, solid blacks, and no significant transfer errors. Unlike season two, the blacks are not too dark nor did I have any blue and red contrast problems. As to be expected, there is some light grain throughout the presentation and edge enhancement is definitely there—though not distracting. A very respectable transfer for this twelve-year old season.
On the audio side, you have the remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (and the original Dolby 2.0 track). I still had high hopes for the remix, but my desires were more restrained after the previous three seasons. While still not as all encompassing as I want, the audio remix is quite good for its age. Fortunately, the audio track gets stronger and more vibrant with each release, and this year is no exception. I did feel more power emanating from the subwoofer; there is a slight increase in the use of the surrounds; and the thinness in the center channel is absent giving us crisp, clean, and hiss free dialogue. It's obvious the original masters provided a better source material as the years went by. By the way, I still think the menus should be in 5.1 too.
If you were to look back at the numbers assigned by each Judge to each season's transfers, you'll see they don't progressively improve. Alas, the weakness in our grading system here at The Verdict is revealed. Contrary to the numbers, trust me, each season's transfers do get better and better.
In an effort to have a more scientific rationale for my story score, I thought I would rate each individual episode. I then used each individual grade to compile the overall story score. In the process, I also jotted down a few thoughts here and there about each yarn.
• "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II"
• "Suddenly Human"
• "Remember Me"
• "Future Imperfect"
• "Final Mission"
• "The Loss"
• "Data's Day"
• "The Wounded"
• "Devil's Due"
• "First Contact"
• "Galaxy's Child"
• "Night Tremors"
• "Identity Crisis"
• "The Nth Degree"
• "The Drumhead"
• "Half a Life"
• "The Host"
• "The Mind's Eye"
• "In Theory"
• "Redemption, Part I"
Now that you've skipped down past all the episode drivel, allow me to talk a little bit about the bonus features on the disc. Following the format laid out in the previous three releases, we are treated to more of the same basic behind-the-scenes information Paramount has seen fit to give to us. On the upside, instead of the usual four featurettes, you get five: Mission Overview: Year Four; Selected Crew Analysis: Wesley Crusher, Deanna Troi, and Vash; Departmental Briefing: Production and Make Up; New Life and New Civilizations; and Chronicles from the Final Frontier. Through the previous three releases, I felt that these bonus materials were slightly improving with each season. Alas, I don't believe that to be true in this latest instance.
Mission Overview: Year Four—(16 minutes) In this interview intensive feature, there are four main points of emphasis: the episodes "Best of Both Worlds Part II" and "Qpid," the accent on family during the season, and the celebration of reaching the hundredth episode. On the whole, this is a very light examination of the events. You don't learn a lot about anything, it's all just surface information you could, unfortunately, find online. However, you do get the interviews, including some time with the late Gene Roddenberry, which does make it worthwhile. In the realm of all four "mission overview" features, this one ranks second in quality, behind year three.
Selected Crew Analysis: Wesley Crusher, Deanna Troi, and Vash—(16 minutes) In yet another interview heavy feature, I found, much to my surprise, that the time spent with Wil Wheaton is the most informative and hence best of the three discussions. Of all three, it seems that they found more to talk about, focusing on Wesley's relationship with Picard. On the whole, this is still very light stuff; but it's not too bad. While I learned a little about Wil/Wesley, I can't say I learned another about Deanna or Vash. Much to my dismay, Vash is not as sexy as she was twelve years ago. I wonder if she could still make Worf utter "Nice legs…"
Departmental Briefing: Production and Make Up—(16 minutes) Easily the worst feature of the bunch as it meanders from here to there and back again. For the most part, I have no idea what the focus of this information was. What did they want me to learn? What did they want to show me? The discussion about the make up is a bit more interesting and focused, but that old interview with Mark and Brian rears its ugly head, and I lost all faith and interest in what I was watching.
New Life and New Civilizations—(13 minutes) Suddenly, things began to look up when the interviews were canned and true behind-the-scenes footage and discussion was taking place. Wow, now this was the stuff I wanted to know. Then they started talking about location shooting and forgot to get off the subject. Sadly, it got boring very quickly. During the last few minutes, they talk a little bit about the effects and models from "The Best of Both Worlds Part II," but that isn't enough to save this one.
Chronicles from the Final Frontier—(17 minutes) Would the final feature be able to redeem the rest from mediocrity? Would the fourth season's features be worthy? No. This one talks a lot about the focus on the characters and introduces us to Jeri Taylor and the devil-spawn himself, Brannon Braga. Most infuriatingly, Brannon doesn't understand why he's so hated by Trekkies. Perhaps it because you never watched one second of Trek and then you're a writer for the show and ruining it. Just a thought. The feature also talks about the return of Tasha and writing for Klingons.
I'd like to again chastise Paramount for the bonus features on these releases. Is this really the best you can do? I think this is a weak, almost pathetic effort in giving dedicated fans a little extra. You scorn us. You mock us. You tease us. Heaven forbid anything interesting or juicy were to ever surface about your precious franchise. Paramount is a Trek ogre, and they should be ashamed. Treat the fans with a little more respect. Give us just a little bit more, and then perhaps you'll see some positive returns.
By this time, all of the actors are quite relaxed and comfortable with their roles. They have everything pretty much down pat, and it's a cakewalk for them. With this comfort level, the acting in this season is really quite good. Fortunately, our actors don't get lazy in their roles, perhaps because most of the ideas during this season are pretty fresh and exciting. Couple that with the return of some favorite supporting characters, and life is good aboard the Enterprise.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Trek is for geeks. Why would you want to watch this second-rate attempt at science fiction? Silly stories, poor character development, and sub-par acting outline have very sad and tired this franchise has become. Can you believe this show survived seven years? Hey, I think I saw a guy in a rubber suit pretending to be an alien!
The "middle seasons" of TNG are decidedly the best. You absolutely cannot go wrong with buying this set. Great stories, solid transfers, and a good price do it justice. As noted, I'm still not happy with the bonus features; but we're (I'm) just going to have to deal with it. If you recall, I groused about the box being too big and unwieldy with season two. Well, two more sets later, it's all good. The customized container isn't that awful. I'm really quite excited about seeing all seven of them lined up on my shelf. Buy this set. Doing so would be illogical.
Not guilty! Season four is hereby ordered to boldly go onto your DVD case for years of viewing pleasure. Case adjourned.
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