Blu-ray Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation - Unification

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Beginning with the acclaimed cliffhanger that bridged seasons three and four of Star Trek: The Next Generation (The Best of Both Worlds), a new tradition was established as TNG continues its Blu-ray roll-out. That two-parter was issued as a standalone release, with the episodes joined together seamlessly, coinciding with the Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Three BD. The same thing happened with Season Four, as the Worf-centric Redemption (the season four finale and season five premiere) also received the special, isolated treatment.

Things are a little different this time around, as The Next Generation - Season Five arrives in high definition November 19, 2013. Instead of joining seasons five and six, the two-part “Unification” (episodes seven and eight of season five) will be issued simultaneously as Star Trek: The Next Generation - Unification. Why buy the same episodes twice? Because the standalone Unification disc contains exclusive special features, including audio commentary, a featurette, and a pair of deleted scenes.

“Unification I” aired very shortly after the passing of Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and weeks prior to the theatrical release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The episode focused on a new search for Spock, who has gone missing. His suspected location is Romulus, due to his efforts to reunify the Romulans and Vulcans. Leonard Nimoy reprised his most famous role, which resulted in the “Unification” two-parter becoming one of the most-watched of all TNG episodes. The plot’s loose tie-in with the events of Star Trek VI (directly referenced by Spock) only heightened the excitement.

Trek TNG Unification Sarek Picard (200x155).jpgMark Lenard was on hand as well, portraying Spock’s father Sarek for the final time. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), having developed a tight bond with the aging Vulcan after mind-melding (in the season three classic, “Sarek”), pays him a visit and gains some clues despite Sarek’s advanced illness. The first part plays out as a long, tantalizing tease before Picard and Data (Brent Spiner) finally meet the legendary Spock face to face. From that point on, “Unification” becomes an examination of political backstabbing as Sela (Denise Crosby), daughter of deceased Enterprise crew member Tasha Yar, reveals information that makes Spock’s efforts to unify the two races seem futile. The attempts to unify Romulans and Vulcans mirrors the historical peacemaking between humans and Klingons as depicted in Star Trek VI, with the involvement of Spock in both adding a neat layer of continuity.

Edited together, the two parts play much like a feature film—though arguably less compellingly so than The Best of Both Worlds or Redemption. Nimoy’s performance is the main reason for celebration. Had some new, unknown character been substituted, I doubt “Unification” would remain so celebrated. That’s not to take anything away from its great moments, such as Picard and Sarek’s final scene, Spock and Data’s discussion of human versus Vulcan traits, and the sheer pleasure of seeing a TOS character interacting so extensively with TNG. It’s a very plot-heavy, action-light, dialogue-intensive episode that feels just a tad too cerebral at times. The emotion is there at all the right beats, however, and ultimately it earns its place as a landmark moment in Trek history.

Unification follows in the footsteps of the previous Next Generation restorations with a remarkable 1080p transfer. With all the consistently positive reports about the rebuilding of the series from the original film elements, it’s hard not to sound like a broken record. CBS Digital handled all the season five work (they get the odd-numbered seasons, while even-numbered ones are farmed out to other studios). Cinematographer Marvin Rush bathes much of the non-Enterprise sets with a hazy glow, resulting in less fine detail. But that’s by design and looks great anyway, with a beautifully natural filmic look.

Again, in keeping with the top-notch TNG reissue program, Unification features an outstanding DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack. Because this particular two-parter is relatively sedate and talky, the pleasures of this mix tend toward the subtle. The ever-present ambiance whenever we’re aboard a ship is as enveloping as ever, continuing to create a real sense of presence even during the quieter scenes. Phaser blasts and other special sound effects are pleasingly directional. Of course, dialogue is the real star of this episode and Nimoy’s gruff, authoritative delivery sounds as commanding as ever.

As for the special features, again they’re the main draw for anyone who is also buying the Season Five set. “Unification I” writer Jeri Taylor is joined by Michael and Denise Okuda for a laidback commentary track. Not necessarily the most revelatory track I’ve heard, there are enough nuggets of information to keep it interesting. Taylor, who also served as a TNG producer, adds some touching recollections of hearing of Roddenberry’s passing. Lots of well-deserved accolades are piled on Nimoy for his generosity in participating (Taylor mentions he was the impetus behind the whole episode in the first place).

Trek TNG Unification Spock Picard (380x159).jpgThere’s also a 16-minute featurette that includes some new interview clips with Gates McFadden, Patrick Stewart, Denise Crosby, and Michael Dorn (sadly, Leonard Nimoy is not among the participants). There’s a pair of brief deleted scenes between Picard and Spock’s stepmother Perrin (Joanna Miles) that are nice to have but nothing earth-shattering.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Unification comes packaged in a fancy slipcase with two panels (secured by a bit of Velcro) that fold out to reveal photos of the primary characters. It’s hard to call the release essential, but the new features make it an attractive option for fans who want everything. The fact that Spock’s in it also makes Unification a good gateway to TNG for any old school fan who hasn’t yet embraced Picard and company.

Photos seen here, courtesy of CBS Home Entertainment, are promotional-only and do not accurately reflect the high definition restoration.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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