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

A truly stunning high definition presentation breathes new life into the vintage sci-fi classic.

By , Contributor

In a rare case of results justifying hype, Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season One practically looks like a brand new show on Blu-ray.

Simply put, a Herculean effort has been made to bring the series to high definition and anyone who has seen the series on DVD (or television) will immediately recognize the difference. The first season, of course, introduced an entirely new cast of characters and soon became as iconic in its own right as the original. Collected here are the initial 25 episodes—maybe not quite all classics, but all interesting—that led to six more seasons and four feature films.

So strong is the visual presentation, the Blu-ray release might just win the series a whole new generation of fans. What was once drab, with smeary, ill-defined colors and a general lack of detail, now looks very much like the Next Generation theatrical productions—better in some cases. Really the only thing that betrays their age is the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The vitally important element is that the special effects still retain the feel of the original broadcasts. They should, because (for the most part) they were all recreated using the original analog models and matte paintings.

STTNG_S1_Still_20 (380x214).jpgNormally I bristle at the idea of sprucing up the original effects of an old show or movie. Usually we wind up with the Star Wars special editions or Star Trek: The Original Series, vintage film footage with computer-generated effects that stand out like a sore thumb. Thankfully the original Trek has continued to be available in its unaltered form, giving viewers a choice. But there was understandable fan concern about what would be done with The Next Generation. There’s a simple reason why the show looks so bad on DVD. While shot on 35 mm film, the post-production work was finished on standard definition videotape. It was perfectly acceptable for broadcast in 1987, but on a digital format it looked subpar. That was especially true for the special effects, which originated on video rather than film right from the beginning.

As detailed in the terrific new featurette Energized: Taking The Next Generation to The Next Level, the only way to truly deal with these source limitations was to literally reassemble the show from scratch for the very first time. The original film elements were retrieved from a massive warehouse and painstakingly transferred to high definition. The special effects needed to be reshot entirely, but the decision was made use the original elements. Models of spaceships and such were also dragged out of storage and carefully framed to match the original footage. In relatively rare instances, such as the Crystalline Entity from episode 13, “Datalore,” where there was not a physical prop, newly created digital effects have been used.

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Great restraint was exercised by the technical team to not go overboard with new enhancements. The truth is, had they left anything “as is,” it would have simply looked far more out of place than the light touch-ups that were included. I suppose there may be some hardline purists who balk at anything being changed at all. But in a way, the broadcast versions can be thought of as works-in-progress that have now been completed at long last. The live action footage now has true depth and complexity, with deep blacks and rich colors. The tepid skin tones are now consistently realistic. The models, including of course the Enterprise, are now incredibly detailed. It truly does feel like watching the material for the first time.

As for the episodes themselves, The Next Generation would only improve from this maiden voyage. Longtime fans won’t have to think twice about picking up this set, provided it’s in their budget (as with the DVD releases of a decade ago, it’s not exactly cheap). But those thinking about diving into the Trek world for the first time will find many great episodes, as well as the opportunity to watch the cast discover and hone their characters. It can be clumsy at times, especially for Wil Weaton as young Wesley Crusher. But Patrick Stewart, as the inimitable Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and Brent Spiner as the android Lieutenant Commander Data were spot on right from the start. New concepts are introduced, such as the omnipotent Q (John de Lancie) and the alien race called the Ferengi, making season one an absolute must-see for sci-fi fans.

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In addition to the old featurettes carried over from the 2002 DVD release, the Blu-ray doesn’t skimp on brand new extra material. First there’s the aforementioned new featurette, Energized, found on disc one. Disc six includes the very well-produced “Stardate Revisited: The Origin of Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Divided into three parts, “Inception,” “Launch,” and “The Continuing Mission,” it runs for a total of about 93 minutes. It’s a mixture of mostly new interviews with cast and crew and vintage footage of series creator Gene Roddenberry, as well as behind the scenes footage—including makeup and wardrobe tests. All the primary cast members contribute their thoughts and reflections, including Denise Crosby on her decision to leave the show before the initial season was even finished. The most devout among the show’s fan base may wish it was even more in-depth, but “Stardate Revisited” provides a very satisfying overview of the season.

ST_TNG_S1_BD_RightSpine (211x250).jpgNot to be overlooked is the Blu-ray’s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack, which is a more subtle upgrade than the visuals, but still a vital part of elevating Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season One to a cinematic experience. Again without sacrificing the feel of the original, the soundscape is broader and more immersive than ever before. The upgrade to lossless high definition from the previous DVD’s 5.1 Dolby Digital is notable in the extra clarity in the dialogue, as well as the greater depth to the LFE channel.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I will go so far as to say there is something magical in the Blu-ray presentation of Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season One. Perhaps more so than any home video reissue I’ve ever seen, it allows the viewer a chance to truly rediscover a great show. I would love to know what the production budget was for restoring the series, because it’s obvious how much work went into it.  The high definition audio/visual presentation is stunning; a true gift to veteran fans and an investment in the ongoing legacy of the franchise.

UPDATE 7/30/12: I must apologize. In my efforts to complete this review in time for the title’s release date, I missed the audio issues that CBS Home Entertainment has now officially addressed. Seven of the episodes are affected (“Encounter at Farpoint,” “Hide and Q, “Haven,” “The Big Goodbye,” “Datalore,” “11001001,” and “Too Short a Season”). Basically, the dialogue for these episodes was erroneously mixed to the right and left front channels, not just the center channel (with the exception of “Encounter,” in which only the right front channel is affected).

CBS Home Entertainment has apologized and instigated a free replacement program for discs 1, 3, and 4. According to their statement, “Please email for details regarding the replacement program. You may also call 877-DELUXE6 (877-335-8936) between 8am to 6pm Pacific, Monday-Friday.”

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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