Judge Clark Douglas prefers taking a more diplomatic route.
Our reviews of The Best Of Star Trek: The Next Generation (published May 12th, 2009), 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: Chain of Command (Blu-ray) (published July 15th, 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.
Like you've never seen or heard it before!
"Let's see what's out there."
Facts of the Case
"Space…the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It's continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before."
It's been nearly a century since the many exciting events of Star Trek: The Original Series. Many things have changed, including the U.S.S. Enterprise and her entire crew. The man in charge is Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, X-Men), a thoughtful diplomat whose style contrasts dramatically with the reckless heroics of Captain Kirk. He is ably supported by a crew of highly-trained professionals.
First Officer William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes, North and South), a strong-willed and good-hearted man whose intense loyalty to Captain Picard doesn't prevent him from being willing to challenge direct orders when he feels the situation calls for it.
Helmsman Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton, Reading Rainbow), an amiable technical wizard who is blind but is able to see with the aid of a high-tech visor.
Chief of Security Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby, Pet Sematary), a brash and impulsive crew member who is usually among the first to leap into action in any dangerous situation.
Counsellor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis, Crash), a half-human/half-betazoid who has the ability to intuit the feelings of others.
Tactical Officer Worf (Michael Dorn, The Santa Clause 2), a fierce and proud Klingon who works hard to abide by Starfleet standards without betraying his Klingon values.
Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner, Independence Day), an advanced android who wants nothing more than to perfect the art of human behavior.
I received my review copy of Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season One (Blu-ray) just a few days before the release of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. Despite the fact that I had been eagerly anticipating the conclusion of Nolan's epic saga for months (along with nearly every other moviegoer in the world), my anticipation for that film couldn't even begin to compare with my excitement at finally getting a chance to see TNG in hi-def.
That's not a statement about the quality of the program, mind you. Sure, TNG certainly offered some tremendous episodes over the course of its seven-year run, but it also features a large number of flaws and weaknesses (particularly during this first season). However, the second small-screen incarnation of the franchise (well, the third if you want to count that ill-fated animated series) adds up to more than the sum of its parts. It's one of the most defiantly optimistic television programs ever made; a lovingly-crafted portrait of the future that serves as a love letter to humanity's potential. It doesn't attempt to ignore or deny our well-established human weaknesses, but it firmly believes that we can—and should—be so much better. The central characters eventually transcend the familiar types they've been handed and transform into complex individuals whose diverse personalities are united by an all-encompassing fundamental goodness. If I were asked to name the top ten television programs of all time, I doubt that TNG would make the list. However, if asked to named the ten programs I most enjoy spending time with, this one would be right at the top. It's the rare show that has the ability to cut right through one's deep-rooted cynicism.
That said, my feelings about the series were developed over the course of a lengthy period of time, after I had spent several seasons with the characters and their world. For those jumping into the show for the first time, it's going to be a pretty bumpy ride at the start. Honestly, the first season of TNG is almost certainly the weakest, but it's not as easily dismissed and ignored as, say, the first season of Parks and Recreation. There's a lot of important plot and character development in the first season, and as the series proceeds it becomes quite a pleasure to watch the show start to reach its full potential. If you haven't seen the show before, there will almost certainly be moments in which you roll your eyes and say, "This is what my cousin Phil is always begging me to watch? I need to stop hanging out with Phil." Or something like that. However, permit me to borrow a slogan and reassure you: it gets better.
Yes, you'll have to endure quite a bit of painful rubbish during this first season. You've got the unfortunately overheated performance of Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar. Precocious young Wesley Crusher at his most intolerable (even as someone who doesn't entirely dislike Wesley, he's pretty insufferable in some of the early episodes). Awkward-looking uniforms. Jean-Luc Picard's bizarre hatred for children. A whole lot of plotting that is preachy and heavy-handed even by Star Trek standards. The Ferengi at their most obnoxiously one-dimensional. The list goes on, but you get the idea. It can be tough going at times. From a modern perspective, it's kind of astonishing that the show lasted as long as it did considering the sheer number of flaws it had early on. Fortunately, audiences were willing to stick with the show long enough to see it transform into something special.
To be sure, there's plenty of good stuff that helps offset the problems a bit. For starters, we have Patrick Stewart's immediately engaging performance as Picard; truly one of the all-time great television characters. His rational, intellectual approach to command sets the tone perfectly: while Star Trek: The Original Series was filled with "Wagon Train to the stars!"-style adventure and derring-do, TNG frequently took a more blatantly philosophical approach. Star Trek has always offered a more cerebral brand of science-fiction, but this particular incarnation really emphasized that fact. TNG would also eventually become a much more character-driven show than its predecessor, but that's not so evident during this first season (as creator Gene Roddenberry—who passed away pretty early in the show's run—felt strongly that plot was more important than character). Though his performance doesn't quite hit its peak in this season, Stewart essays his role with charisma and intelligence. Whatever its faults may be, the show is rarely dull when Picard is onscreen.
Also impressing from the outset is Jonathan Frakes, who brings a smarmy charm to Riker that works quite well in a show that occasionally gets a little too self-important for its own good. Michael Dorn is also superb as Worf, though initially he isn't quite as well-defined as the Worf TNG and Deep Space Nine fans remember. Most of the other key cast members take a little while to really start firing on all cylinders (Brent Spiner's beloved Data just seems a little too smug and cutesy at the outset of the show), but the only truly problematic performances come from Crosby and Wheaton (the former vanishes before the season concludes, and the latter slowly improves before taking off for Starfleet Academy midway through the show's run). Also worth mentioning is John De Lancie (Breaking Bad) as the advanced being known as "Q," an all-powerful trickster who lights up the screen every time he appears (he turns up in the double-length pilot "Encounter at Farpoint" as well as "Hide and Q"). Neither of his appearances this season rank among the best Q-centric episodes, but De Lancie is on fire from his very first scene.
There are clunkers in every season of TNG, but the ratio of good-to-bad episodes in the first season is approximately 50/50. For every engaging outing like the bracing "Conspiracy" (an action-packed tale that delivers in a more visceral way than most of the others), there's a cringe-inducing affair like "Code of Honor" (a silly Tasha-centric story with embarrassing scenes of gladiatorial combat and some unfortunate racial undertones). Quite a few episodes essentially attempt to update the tales of the original series for a new generation (such as the season's second episode "The Naked Now," a mostly-unsuccessful sequel to "The Naked Time" that is very poorly placed—you really shouldn't feature an episode in which everyone's personality changes dramatically before you've even given viewers a chance to get to know the characters), but the most successful outings are the ones that attempt to move outside the familiar formula just a bit (such as the noirish holodeck saga "The Big Goodbye," in which Picard reveals his delightful affection for pulpy 20th-century detective novels, or the introduction of a charismatic new villain in "Datalore," or the exceptionally satisfying new take on Klingon culture in "Heart of Glory"). Once TNG fully embraced its status as a show with its own unique identity, it would start delivering quality material on a more consistent basis.
Okay, let's get into the reason you're all here: the transfer. Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season One (Blu-ray) is one of the most remarkable hi-def releases of the year, but those checking out the show for the first time probably aren't going to be able to fully appreciate that fact. The transfers presented here don't even look as good as those offered on the Star Trek: The Original Series Blu-ray releases, so it's understandable that some might take a quick look at one of these episodes and wonder what all the fuss is about. However, those of you who have witnessed the disheartening ugliness of the previous DVD releases of the series will be enthralled with the improvements. No longer does TNG suffer from dingy, flat, VHS-style video quality. The image is crisp, clean and detailed; it's almost like watching a new show. Colors are considerably brighter, the palette is more dynamic (though we're still miles away from the bold primary colors of the original series) and blacks are impressively deep. There's a somewhat heavy but satisfyingly consistent measure of natural grain present throughout, along with a handful of flecks and specks that pop up on occasion, but these liabilities are minor.
Even more exciting is how beautifully the special effects have been handled. Part of what makes this Blu-ray release so special is that in order to present a true hi-def transfer, all of the effects had to be reconstructed from scratch. If you've seen the Star Trek: The Original Series Blu-ray releases, you'll have an idea of what you're in for: lovely new effects that preserve as much of the original idea as possible while polishing it up considerably. Some moments that looked pretty clunky before now seem quite impressive. The team in charge of this project took great care not to engage in any significant revisionism, but simply to enhance the existing material as much as possible. Since they're brand-new, the special effects sequences boast a level of detail and polish that makes a number of crucial moments seem just a little bit more…well, special. The brilliant clarity of warp speed shots and transporter twinklings make the use of advanced technology seem just a tad more wondrous in contrast to the familiar humanity of the characters. I'm not gonna lie, there were more than a few moments in which I sighed aloud with admiration at the beauty of this transfer. I never expected to see my beloved TNG series looking so damn good.
The series has also been given a snappy new DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio track that does what it can with the existing material. Some sequences really benefit immensely from the new mix (especially louder battle scenes and moments of rumbling space travel), but much of the track betrays its origins as a humble 2.0 stereo track (you also have the option to listen to the audio in its original 2.0 format). Still, dialogue is clean and clear for the most part (though it seems a little muffled at times during the pilot) and the generally stellar musical scores receive a good mix. I'm impressed, though the leap in audio quality isn't as dramatic as the leap in video quality.
The supplements from the first-season DVD release have been preserved and paired up with some impressive new items. The first disc offers a 24-minute featurette called "Energized: Taking The Next Generation to the Next Level" that examines the manner in which the series was loving restored for this Blu-ray release. It's a great little piece that should appeal to both videophiles and fans of the series. The piece even addresses some of the well-documented problems with the sampler disc that was released and patiently explains why the series was released in its original full frame format rather than 1.78:1. The first disc also contains a handful of archival promos for the show, in addition to some individual episode promos (which are included on every disc). The sixth and final disc of the set houses the rest of the main extras, with the four featurettes from the DVD release ("The Beginning," "Cast and Crew Analysis," "The Making of a Legend" and "Memorable Missions") joining a brand-new feature-length documentary "Stardate Revisited: The Origin of Star Trek: The Next Generation." The doc thoroughly covers the creation of the show and the struggles of its first season, and is meant to be the first part of a massive seven-part documentary that will continue with each new Blu-ray release. Finally, there's an 8-minute gag reel. While some individual episode commentaries would have been nice, it's hard to complain about the terrific extras this set offers.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season One is a problematic season of television, but it's easier to recommend in retrospect with the knowledge that many of its problems will eventually be fixed. Honestly, shows that begin poorly and then develop into something excellent are far more rare and valuable than the countless shows that start out well and then fall apart. There's nothing that can be done about the weaknesses of the writing in the first season, but this show sure looks dramatically better than ever before. This Blu-ray release was clearly a labor of love, and I'm profoundly grateful to Paramount for being willing to make it happen. Here's looking forward to Season Two.
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