When Paramount announced that they were bringing each season of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' to Blu-ray it wasn't just any old announcement. They weren't simply porting over old masters of the show. No, they were doing a complete overhaul of the original film elements and even redoing many of the special effects to make them look cleaner, clearer, and updated for high-def viewing. In short, Paramount set out to create a series of expensive, revamped Blu-ray releases that were meant to showcase the now legendary TV show the way it was meant to be seen and heard. Fans were ecstatic, and for good reason.
What Paramount has created here is a loving, careful restoration of a show so many people adore. When so many studios aren't taking the requisite time to remaster and restore shows and movies, Paramount has done a bang up job here. What they've done reminds me of the quality and care that went into Image Entertainment's individual season releases of 'The Twilight Zone.' Yes, it's that good.
It's hard to know where to begin when reviewing such an iconic series. It's a show that has taken on a sort of mythical status. One of those shows that, no matter how corny it could get at times, is still remembered quite fondly. The power of nostalgia is at work here, that's for sure, but the series itself deserves the adoration.
In the first season of 'TNG' we're introduced to the Starship Enterprise's new crew. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is the stern, but considerate leader of the ship; Commander William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is the captain's right-hand man; Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) wears a strange device so he can see, and helps run the ship's physical operations; Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) is a human-like android who has the power to think like a computer, but the programming to act human; Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn) is a Klingon officer who battles with the customs of his warrior race and the subdued nature of humans; Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) is half-Betazoid and therefore has psychic powers which help her sense disturbances and the general well-being of the crew; Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) is the ship's doctor who has a young son, Wesley (Wil Wheaton) who is much smarter than anyone gives him credit for.
Getting to know these characters all over again is part of the fun. I watch 'TNG' reruns here and there on cable, but I think this is the very first time I've sat down and watched each episode in chronological succession. Perhaps if 'TNG' were produced now it'd take more of a serial approach, continuing plot lines from episode to episode, but when it first aired the general idea of television was basically capsule-like episodes. Episodes where the entire plot and story were contained to an hour-long episode (with the exception of a few two-part episodes).
As producer Rick Berman discusses in one of the special features, the first season is where the actors and writing crew find themselves. It's a tenuous time simply because you don't know if you'll be renewed or if you'll find yourself canceled just as fast as it all started.
However, if there was tension amongst the ranks in the first season, it really isn't noticeable. Each episode is a fun, inventive escape into the furthest reaches of space. Yes, 'TNG' follows a somewhat rigid formula: a routine mission is interrupted by an as yet unknown force/entity/alien race/mechanical complication, then the problem ends up being solved as the crew works together to find a solution.
I admit that 'TNG' can be pretty laughable at times. The way the Ferengi bob around snarling and growling has always annoyed me. There are a number of times where guest stars, who are playing aliens, completely overact to the point of ridiculousness. But, somehow the show handles this corniness with grace. It's part of the charm of the show really. Part of the overwhelming nostalgic aspect of it. In a way it gives the show its own uniqueness and enjoyment.
There's no real reason to review the season as a whole and go through episode by episode (although if we were to talk favorite episodes then "Where No One Has Gone Before" when the crew travels a billion light years in a few seconds is by far one of the most enjoyable episodes of the season), simply because the people looking to buy this set aren't really interested in a step-by-step review. If you're a fan like me then you want to know how this set is going to make you feel, and I can tell you unequivocally that it'll transport you back in time to a time when you couldn't wait for the next 'TNG' episode to air. It's simply a delight to own the entire first season on Blu-ray and I'm sure you'll feel the same way too once you purchase it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a six-disc set, with each disc being a 50GB Blu-ray Disc. They come in a slightly oversized, but manageable keepcase which contains two hubs on the inside of the front and back covers, along with two swinging arms that hold two discs back-to-back. The inside of the front cover has an episode list complete with stardates for each episode, but the list is pretty hard to see as it's positioned behind the disc hub.
Here's what everyone really wants to know. How does it look on Blu-ray? Did they do a good job restoring the original film elements or did they hurry through leaving artifacts and noise in their wake? These are honest concerns, simply because undertaking the monumental task of remastering all these episodes is a daunting one. It'd be easy to cut corners just to get it out there, but I'm happy to say that they've done no such thing.
All I can say is, wow. The thorough reproduction of this season is an astounding improvement over any other type of medium that 'TNG' has been released on, be it DVD or high-def cable reruns.
In order to really understand the work that went into restoring this show I wanted to reiterate what reviewer Josh Zyber mentioned when he reviewed 'Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level': "Although the episodes were photographed on 35mm film, that footage was originally transferred to standard-definition video for all editing and post-production work. Therefore, the final masters for the episodes were locked to late-'80s/early-'90s standard-def video. In order to restore the show to high-def quality, CBS had to dig through its archives to locate every original reel of film, re-transfer it all in new high-def quality, and reconstruct each episode from scratch using the original editing logs." That's a lot of work that they went through to get this right, and they've really done a great job.
Colors are much more vibrant than you've ever seen them before. Details are much crisper (though this does pose a problem for make-up techniques that weren't up to the standard of HD quality, it's easy to see wig lines, clumped make-up, and the edges of facial prostheses.) Edges around characters and objects in the foreground are remarkably defined and show little influence of over-zealous edge enhancement. I'd be lying if I didn't say that the edges do look a tad artificially processed, but on the whole they only serve the show's quality in HD instead of detracting with unsightly edge enhancement side effects.
Impressive as the detail and colors might be on the inside of the ship, it's what's on the outside that really caught my eye. The cut-scenes, where the Enterprise passes by planets, galaxies, stars, or other ships are revelatory. These scenes look so well done that you'd think they were simply animated today with top-of-the-line CGI technology. The detail of the outer walls of the Enterprise are amazingly vivid. The special effects have also been updated and enhanced. However, the entire enhancement is simply patterned over what it should've looked like in the first place.
One of the special features included on this set is Episodic Promos for every episode. They're basically minute-long previews for the upcoming episode. I suggest you watch each one before watching the episode simply because these promos will show you exactly what each episode used to look like. They're presented in standard definition and aren't given the extensive overhaul that each episode has. They are literally light years apart in quality.
The show does have a few drawbacks though, but they're understandable. White blips and flecks are a common occurrence, but they're easily dealt with. Grain tends to fluctuate from very fine to heavy depending on the lightness or darkness of the scene. Darker scenes appear grittier than fully lit ones. While close-up shots feature a ton of fine detail, mid-range shots begin to soften. Soft shots are peppered throughout the entire season, but it's a reasonable nuisance.
On the whole fans will be utterly pleased with the way this video presentation has turned out. Paramount's full restoration of 'TNG' has not been in vain. They produced something that takes full advantage of Blu-ray's capabilities and have provided fans with a 1080p picture that far surpasses any previous release.
The original stereo soundtracks have been remixed into a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation. I'm just going to say it, I think the 7.1 inclusion is a bit of overkill here, since the original stereo tracks just don't seem to have the requisite sound to disperse through all seven speaker channels. The surrounds, especially, feel light. Beeps and dings from the Enterprise's equipment on the bridge can be heard, sparingly, in the side speakers. The rear speakers aren't utilized much at all, except as the show's musical soundtrack seems to bleed back there a little too much.
Prioritization of the show's iconic soundtrack is a little hard to handle too, since it seems a little too loud for its own good, especially when the music crescendos right before a fade-out that would've gone to a commercial break. LFE is lean and feels forced whenever it's pumped out for the over-mixed music.
I really don't see the full advantage of 7.1 being used here. However, it's not bad. Really, it isn't. This is a pretty capable soundtrack which produces dialogue with clarity. There are times where dialogue is drowned out by the surging music, but on the whole dialogue is front and center. Directionality stays front and center too. I didn't notice many times where voices out of frame were placed in the side surrounds rather than the front speakers. Most of the sound design stays front and center even though there are four other surround channels to play with. At times higher tones have a brashness to them, almost a high-pitched screech.
The audio mixes simply don't live up to what 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is capable of. They aren't nearly as impressive as the show's video quality, but they'll certainly do.
7/24 Update: There has been some discussion around the web about the audio on a few episodes, "Encounter at Farpoint" being the biggest offender, having authoring problems. When the 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' sampler disc came out a few months ago, I watched "Encounter at Farpoint" and had no problems with it. I wrongly assumed that the audio mixing would be the exact same as it was on the sampler, and therefore skipped over the first episode and continued on with the subsequent episodes. This was an oversight on my part, because after listening to the episode again on the set there is a clear authoring problem. Dialogue, in the pilot episode, is mixed in the center and the front right speaker creating a weird listening environment indeed.
There have been a few other episodes called into question for having dialogue mixed across all of the front channels ("Hide and Q," "Haven," "The Big Goodbye," "Datalore," "11001001," and "Too Short a Season,") but these don't sound nearly as bad as the first episode. Actually, if you're not actively listening for it, it doesn't sound off at all.
There are also syncing issues with the audio on the special features that I noticed and meant to put into my original review, but forgot to. I still think that the 3/5 audio score (which is actually one of the lowest scores across the Blu-ray review sites) accurately reflects the way the season sounds as a whole. It was my fault for skipping over the pilot episode simply because I watched it just a few months ago on the sampler disc. For that I apologize.
Let's all congratulate Paramount on their faithful and caring restoration of this great television show. They could have easily skipped steps and cut corners to save money on this expensive operation, but they didn't, and it shows. The video restoration is strikingly amazing. One of the best catalogue TV restorations I've ever seen, only to be bested by 'The Twilight Zone.' The audio may be a little disappointing, but I don't really think the original stereo tracks were up to becoming a 7.1 track in the first place. They did, however, see fit to add some great new special features that will keep fans happy. I would've loved to see new audio commentaries, but we can't have everything can we? With all that said, this set comes recommended to anyone who loves the show, or simply has a casual interest in it. It's a fantastic set to add to anyone's collection, and purchasing it is a way of saying this is how we want our past television shows to be treated on Blu-ray.