Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Best of Both Worlds is a curious little release that can hardly be called essential, but remains a unique way to experience the two-part cliffhanger that ended season three and began season four. While I can understand why some fans are crying “cash grab,” it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Paramount isn’t forcing anyone to buy this. Those wishing to save money can simply wait for the complete season four. But if you’d like to experience this particularly special pair of episodes without having to switch discs (or endure end/opening credits), this standalone release presents the final episode of season three and the season four opener seamlessly.
For those who aren’t already familiar with the story of Captain Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) assimilation by the Borg, it is better left discovered simply by watching the episodes. Suffice it to say, Picard’s capture and subsequent assumption of the alternate identity Locutus was a shocking way to conclude season three. For many fans it marked the point at which TNG really matured, establishing itself as a great show in its own right. It also worked like gangbusters as a way to build anticipation for season four. While we now know (even if you’ve never seen the show) that Picard survives the ordeal, there was a real sense during the summer of 1990 that we might never see the character again.
The concurrent subplot regarding Commander Riker’s (Jonathan Frakes) growing complacency is less talked about, but hardly less important to the story arc. It is brought to Picard’s attention that Riker is on the fence, as it seems he always has been, about moving into the captain’s chair on another ship. Lt. Commander Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy) is aggressively eyeing Riker’s spot on the Enterprise. The competition between the two drives the narrative forward and, like the best Trek always does, grounds the episodes with conflicting emotions we can all relate to.
The resulting edit of the two episodes is practically a cinematic experience, though just like the full season Blu-rays, the image necessarily retains its original 1.33:1 framing. Some fans have grumbled about the lack of widescreen, but the show simply was not shot for 1.78 or 1.85:1—presenting it as such would either mean cropping for phony widescreen or opening up the frame to include lights, cables, and other material that was never meant to be seen. The audio/visual experience is exactly what we’ve come to expect from TNG on Blu-ray, with a sterling image and immersive 7.1 DTS-HD MA lossless soundtrack.
Additionally, this disc offers a few exclusive bonus features that aren’t included on the season three set. Mike and Denise Okuda (the husband-and-wife team that worked as part of the special effects team on various Trek series) are joined by episode director Cliff Bole and guest star Elizabeth Dennehy for a new audio commentary. The Okudas largely moderate the chat, prompting Bole and Dennehy during the laid back track. Dennehy is quite candid as she acknowledges her naivety at the time the episodes were shot. The daughter of Brian Dennehy freely admits that she was completely ignorant about all things Trek at the time and looked at the job as just another stepping stone. Nearly a quarter-century later, Shelby is her best known role.
There’s also a half-hour featurette “Regeneration: Engaging the Borg” that’s every bit as well produced as the other recent new material on the season sets. Almost every member of the main cast (with the notable exclusion of Wil Wheaton) chimes in with memories of the two-parter. Topping things off is a new gag reel that runs several minutes, allowing a peek at the lighter moments during the making of The Best of Both Worlds.