By this point 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' had really found its footing, not only as a competent sci-fi adventure show, but also as a showcase of characters and smart storytelling. In a time when TV has become brutally violent, it's almost quaint to revisit 'TNG'. I'm not saying that violence and gore are bad things for television. What I am saying is that taking in a season of 'TNG' reminds you how innocent television used to be. Though, what was great about watching the Enterprise gang was that no matter how corny the situations and action got, the science fiction – smartly rooted in science fact – usually delivered the goods.
Beginning with the thrilling conclusion to the two-part episode "Best of Both Worlds," season four gets off on the right foot and never looks back. Even after retrieving Picard from the clutches of the human-hungry Borg they still find themselves dealing with the same enemy in the next episode "Family." And so begins the fourth season. Now that the show knew where it was going it was easy for it to focus on its characters.
Character-centric episodes dominate this season as well. Besides "Best of Both Worlds," Picard finds himself the central focus of a number of episodes. He even gets to spend some quality time with Wesley on a desert planet in "Final Mission." (Because who wouldn't want to spend a whole lot of quality time on a lonely planet with Wesley?) Riker time travels in "Future Imperfect," which adds some clever space time continuum plot points into the mix. Data, always trying to understand the human condition, even goes so far as to participate in quite possibly the most awkward love story ("In Theory") in "TNG" not counting the weirdness going on between Riker and Troi. Worf continues to come to terms with being Klingon and yet serving in Starfleet. In "Reunion" an old Klingon flame shows up to talk Klingon business, but may also be toting along Worf's son.
That's only a sampling of what season four has to offer. Chances are if you're reading this far you're buying these sets regardless of what I say. I almost feel inadequate trying to "review" a season of such a beloved show. There are so many more hardcore fans out there that know so much more about 'TNG' than I do.
What I do know though is that 'TNG' is a special show and season four is one of its many highpoints. Here we really see the crew of the Enterprise coming together as a family. Once you get this far into the series you already know the characters and the basic formula for each episode. What you want to see is the intimate interactions between each character. It's such a rich cast of people and humanoids that watching them do what they do is merely a pleasure.
Like season three, four also ends with a "I Can't Believe They Ended It There" cliffhanger. "Redemption." It's a great two-part episode that really showcases what Dorn could do with the character besides growl. Whenever he's the focal point of an episode, Worf's duality really shines through. While "Redemption" isn't as jawdroppingly maddening as "The Best of Both Worlds" it's still a solid way to end a season, leaving the audience gasping for more.
Season four, like season three (and two, and one) is an immensely satisfying experience. 'TNG' may not have the big-budget sci-fi special effects J.J. Abrams can afford these days, but it's storytelling, character development, and science fiction ideas are all superior. Honestly, there's not a whole lot of TV shows that are more enjoyable than 'Star Trek: The Next Generation.'
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Season four follows the same packaging conventions as the previous three releases. Inside it's slightly oversized keepcase is six 50GB Blu-ray Discs. Two swinging arms hold four discs back-to-back, while the other two are secured to the insides over the front and back covers. Inside the front cover is a disc list which gives the titles of each episode, their respective Stardates, and the special features one can find on that specific disc. Discs 1 – 4 have five episodes each. Discs 4 and 5 have a total of four each. The last disc contains the remaining two episodes along with a lot of the newly produced special features. A slipcover that matches the rest of the seasons is also provided.
Well, here goes nothing. Needless to say there have been some ups and downs in the quality control of these releases. CBS has done a masterful job when they're in charge, but farming out the season two video restoration to a third-party proved to be a mistake. Then there are the purists that don't want anything retouched and if a something is slightly changed or modified from its original version, message boards light up with screenshot comparisons and righteous indignation. While it's part of our job to point out things that may seem odd or unsightly, the main reason for our reviews is so you can know if you're getting your money's worth. It's a general overview of the entire season. Nit-picking every single recreated CGI scene could take forever. So we're not going to do that, thankfully.
Now that we've got that out of the way let's dig into season four. It's presented in 1080p and framed at its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. My general overview of how the season's video quality is decidedly great. Does it have a few problems here and there? Sure it does. Although, it's not feasible to expect that through 24 episodes every scene is going to be flawless eye candy.
Like season three, season four features some striking detail. Sometimes it calls attention to makeup effects that weren't created with the idea of high definition in mind. No matter, the picture looks great. There are facial features like freckles, age lines, and Picard's extra shiny dome that you probably haven't noticed before. The fabric textures of the crew's Starfleet uniforms are particularly eye-catching.
Colors do, indeed, pop every chance they get. Blacks are, for the most part, deep and resolute. There are times where black areas feature a little bluing around the edges. There are other times where shadows aren't as inky as they should be, causing minor crushing sometimes. Some noise can be spotted in the darker scenes. These few quibbles are easily dismissed in light of the goodness of the whole.
I know we said we wouldn't really dive into the numerous CGI changes and upgrades, but there is one large difference that should be noted. The new animation for the Cesarean birth of the creature in "Galaxy's Child" is wildly different, but not much of an improvement in my opinion. Granted the original animation of the birth looked flat and uninspired, but that was when CGI technology was basically nonexistent. The new animation is updated, but still looks flat and uninspired even though plenty of "texture" has been added. Noise is visible at times, but grain stays pretty consistent throughout. It usually has high spikes during darker scenes.
Honestly, there isn't much about this video presentation that can be classified as a problem. Nitpickers will always find something to complain about, but none of the ugly problems that persisted in the season two video presentation are seen here.
The flub with the first season, and Paramount's subsequent disc replacement program was the last time we had to deal with audio issues associated with these releases. One hopes that the subsequent releases are just as error free as this one is. Sporting another DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, 'Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 4' has never sounded so bold.
The soundscape in 'TNG' is so varied and this engaging mix is able to capture all of its nuances. One of my favorite things to notice is how the beeps and bloops of the nodes on the Bridge are constantly buzzing around the soundfield. It's an ambience that is unparalleled in many other day-and-date Blu-ray television offerings. The rear and side channels offer so much depth to the audio mix that it's hard not to feel like your hurtling through space with Picard, Riker, and the rest of the crew.
Dialogue is mixed succinctly in the front and center speakers. I didn't notice any instances of badly mixed speaking at all. Directionality is precise depending where people are located on screen. The show's iconic music blasts through every channel. The opening credits are especially formidable, offering some of the deepest whooshing bass in the season. It's another very solid 7.1 mix that makes the viewing experience so much better than it ever has been before.
I'd like to say in advance, in order to get this review out in a somewhat timely manner, I wasn't able to listen to all of the commentaries.
Season four, like every season of 'TNG,' has its laughter inducing episodes that are more corny than good. Though, those are few and far between. Mostly this season is built on the foundation of strong familial concepts permeating the crew. We get a lot of character development from some of our favorites like Worf. We say goodbye to a regular in Wesley. And in the end we love 'TNG' just a little more. The video and audio are pretty spectacular considering the age and the amount of work that went into the restoration. The new special features are definitely worth purchasing these. Season four comes highly recommended.