Judge Erich Asperschlager stands relieved.
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: Season Four (Blu-ray) (published July 30th, 2013), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Five (Blu-ray) (published November 19th, 2013), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Six (Blu-ray) (published June 25th, 2014), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Redemption (Blu-ray) (published July 30th, 2013), Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Level (Blu-ray) (published January 29th, 2012), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Unification (Blu-ray) (published November 19th, 2013), 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 Four (published September 16th, 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.
"How many lights do you see?"
Over the past two years, Paramount has made Star Trek: The Next Generation fans very happy. The full season Blu-ray sets have earned high praise for taking the decades-old show into the high def era—pulling new detail out of the source material and upping the fidelity with revamped visual effects. Starting with the three-episode sampler that came out ahead of the first season, the release schedule has included a series of budget two-parters released alongside the pricier season sets. Previous single-disc releases include the Borg cliffhanger The Best of Both Worlds, Klingon-centric Redemption, and the return of a certain character in Unification.
The latest standalone entry is Star Trek: The Next Generation: Chain of Command, a two-part storyline also available on the newly released Season Six set. The fan-favorite adventure follows Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) on a dangerous mission into enemy territory that ends with his capture and torture at the hands of a cruel Cardassian (David Warner). Meanwhile, the Enterprise is under the command of Captain Jellico (Ronny Cox), whose no-nonsense approach ruffles more than a few feathers.
In a world of TV binge-streaming and complete series sets, it's strange to see a company like Paramount put out a physical disc with two episodes from a big series like Star Trek: TNG—especially when those same episodes can be had for less per episode as part of a full season release. I'm not sure who Chain of Command is for: Someone who wants to sample the series' hi-def upgrade? A friend or spouse looking for a cheap gift for that special Trekker? The completist the studio assumes will double-dip to get the bonus features that aren't available on the full season sets? Okay, maybe I do know who it's for.
Chain of Command is a worthy standalone release, with both halves edited together into a gripping feature-length film. It's got a lot of the stuff that makes Star Trek great—political intrigue, away missions, alien prosthetics, and characters in peril. The story, about the Federation teetering on the brink of war with the Cardassians and the price Picard is willing to pay to save lives, is defined as much by the performances as the plot. The two-parter introduces the character of Captain Jellico, played by Ronny Cox. A lesser series would have made the character a two-dimensional bad guy—an anti-Picard who exists so the audience can hate him. Instead, Jellico is shown as a capable officer whose hard-nosed approach fits the dire situation he's been brought in to handle. The shake-up also allows regular cast members Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, and LeVar Burton to show their range, as Riker, Troi, and La Forge butt heads with the new captain.
As great as the Enterprise-focused stuff is, the meat of the story takes place in a Cardassian torture chamber, with Patrick Stewart and David Warner in a battle of brilliant British actor wills. Warner joins the ranks of memorable Trek baddies as intergalactic gestapo Gul Madred, trying his cold-hearted best to destroy prisoner Picard. He's great, but Stewart wins the contest, with his quiet portrayal of a man broken but not defeated. It would be easy to overpraise his '90s TV depiction of pain and suffering—but it's a brave performance, building to a powerful climax.
Whatever you think of these two-episode discs in relation to the full season sets, Chain of Command is a darn fine showcase for the audio-visual prowess of Star Trek: TNG on Blu-ray. The 4:3 1080p presentation will be a revelation to anyone who watched the series primarily on TV and VHS. Minus a bit of softness here and there, it's a sharp, saturated picture. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track hits harder than most modern hi-def television releases. When the Enterprise zooms past the camera during the opening credits, even my cat sat up and took notice. None of this is news if you own any of the Next Generation sets, but count this newcomer impressed.
The main difference between this standalone Chain of Command disc and the episodes as part of the full season set are the bonus features, which are (as far as I can tell) exclusive to this release. I'm not sure whether the extras were held back or made specifically for this disc. I understand why the separate extras might rub some fans the wrong way, but they give this release weight. It's nice to see Paramount lavish the same attention on two episodes as they do on two dozen. Chain of Command has the following bonus features:
• Audio Commentary: Actor Ronny Cox, DP Jonathan West, and Mike & Denise Okuda talk about making the episode, how it ties into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Cox's experience coming in to an established series for a couple of episodes.
• "The Privilege of Rank: Making Chain of Command" (28:35): This exploration of the two-parter features interviews with the cast and crew, who talk about making the episode and its themes.
• Deleted Scenes: 14 minutes of deleted scenes from both parts, fleshing out the events on Jellico's Enterprise and in the torture chamber. The excised material hasn't been given any HD upgrade, providing a stark point of comparison with the episode footage it's mixed in with.
• Episodic Promos for Part 1 (0:34) and Part 2 (0:34): A fun blast from the past that shows just how (relatively) crummy the series used to look.
Without knowing who exactly to recommend it to, Star Trek: The Next Generation: Chain of Command is another impressive Blu-ray release for one of the great sci-fi series. The audio-visual presentation matches the bigger season packages, and a handful of exclusive bonus features rounds out a solid budget package.
THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS! Not guilty!
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