Blu-ray Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Seven

A look at the exceptional final season, with concluding comments from Commander Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes.

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Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the series’ sendoff, the seventh and final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation debuts on Blu-ray. The high definition releases of the full seasons began two years ago. When the first season hit shelves in mid-2012, fans were flabbergasted by the upgrade in quality. Transferred from the original 35mm negatives, with each effects sequence recreated from the original models and mattes (along with tastefully rendered new CG), the episodes exhibited a cinematic richness that had never been seen before. Regarding the work done by CBS Digital, Jonathan Frakes had this to say when I spoke with him recently, “It’s quite spectacular what the technology has been able to produce, especially with the special effects shots.” (Read on for more of Frakes thoughts on the reissues, not found in my previously published interview.)

So, at the end of arguably the most monumental home video restoration process in TV history, it’s quite easy to be blasé about Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Seven. The truth is the thrill of rediscovery is still present when revisiting these two decade-old episodes. For those new to the series (the popularity of the J.J. Abrams reboot films has sparked a resurgence of interest), the show can be approached without any caveats. There’s no need for warnings (i.e. “Try to ignore the soft, fuzzy focus and dull, smeary colors”) because those problems no longer exist. We can now discern the subtle difference in hue between, say, Worf’s (Michael Dorn) uniform and Geordi’s (LeVar Burton). In fact, to my eyes the only downside (if it can be called that) is the seams now show a bit more obviously where makeup appliances blend with actors’ skin tones. The detail is that good.

As for the seventh season itself, it’s a consistently solid journey through largely character-based stories. If it seems a bit lacking in terms of the inspiration that increasingly drove seasons four, five, and six, that might’ve been down to the fact that the team was itching to transition to the big screen. Plus Deep Space Nine was already underway and Voyager was just around the corner. But the TNG creative team was riding high, which shows even in weaker episodes. For example, “Sub Rosa” succeeds largely because the actors were so firmly entrenched in their characters by this point. Directed by Frakes, it’s kind of a supernatural Harlequin romance centering on the love life of Dr. Crusher’s (Gate McFadden) grandmother. It’s goofy stuff, but it somehow works.

Other highlights include Paul Sorvino’s guest role as Worf’s brother Nikolai Rozhenko in “Homeward.” Sorvino, outfitted in dandyish crushed velvet and purple shoes, nails the role of an overzealous anthropologist. It also provides another chance for Dorn to invest new layers of depth in Worf. Speaking of which, a concussed Worf is spotlighted in “Parallels,” which ranks among the all-time most inventive TNG episodes. “Gambit” is an underrated two-parter that offers a chance for both Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes to stretch out in their respective roles as Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Commander Riker. There’s a real fire in Riker’s demeanor when he initially believes Picard to have been murdered. Meanwhile, Stewart has some fun undercover as Galen, trapped aboard Arctus Baran’s (Richard Lynch) ship.

Cast members continued to branch out as directors throughout the season. Patrick Stewart directed two Season SevenStar Trek: Enterprise). Frakes, in addition to the above mentioned “Sub Rosa,” helmed “Attached,” which saw some interesting (albeit uncomfortable) romantic entanglements between Picard and Crusher. Gates McFadden stepped behind the camera for her sole directorial effort with “Genesis,” an imaginative episode (written by Brannon Braga) that shows a new side to everyone.

Star Trek Next Gen all good things cover (218x280).jpgThe series finale, “All Good Things…,” roped in more viewers (17.4 million) than any previous episodes. The two-parter, among many things a final showcase for John de Lancie as Picard’s ever-popular, omniscient nemesis Q, is also available as a standalone Blu-ray. This has been common practice among the Blu-ray reissues program since “The Best of Both Worlds,” the two-parter that bridged seasons three and four. Some are annoyed by the cash-grab. Others have loved having a seamlessly-edited “feature film” edition of some of the series’ most enduring two-part episodes. The upside is that these standalones all have some exclusive features included. The magnificent “All Good Things…”—which brings TNG full circle—is no exception.

The DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround mixes are every bit as outstanding as we’ve heard on previous seasons. Dialogue is prominent and firmly centered, with a wide array of atmospheric effects creating an immersive aural environment at all times. In each episode, the scores all sound as beautifully blended with other audio elements as they did in earlier Blu-ray season reissues.

In addition to special features ported over from the previous DVD set, Season Seven is highlighted by the all-new “The Sky’s the Limit,” a three-part documentary running a total of 90 minutes. An all-encompassing look at the final season, everyone from the primary creative team checks in with their thoughts. The cast members dominate part three with reflections on their roles, making this a surefire “fan favorite” segment. Also new is the 42-minute “In Conversation: Lensing Star Trek: The Next Generation,” deleted scenes (various episodes), gag reel, and commentaries on “Lower Decks” and “Preemptive Strike” (the latter, unfortunately, does not include director Patrick Stewart).

What a true joy Paramount has given Star Trek fans with these Blu-ray reissues of The Next Generation. Having previously reviewed each season here on TMR, it seems only fitting to give the final word to Jonathan Frakes, responding to my question about rediscovering the episodes in their freshly minted, high definition versions.

“The episodes were shot on film; shot beautifully. Most of our DPs did a great job, even though it’s somewhat old-fashioned in style: master, close-up, etc.," Frakes said. "When we get into the visual effects stuff, certainly in the episodes there wasn’t as much action as we did in the movies. But it’s fun to revisit.”

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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