Star Trek: The Next Generation finally comes to Blu-ray, and if you don’t think that’s cause for rejoicing, you don’t have many Trekkies in your life. The series grappled with significant problems in making the leap to an HD format, thanks to its copious effects shots created in an era when high definition simply didn’t exist. They’ve finally cracked the code and the new Season One Blu-ray reaps handsome rewards as a result…. with a few notable hiccups. Hit the jump for my full review.
It’s hard to remember just what a chance Paramount took in resurrecting a Star Trek TV series with an entirely different cast. How could they show us this universe without Kirk, Spock and the gang as our guides? Even series creator Gene Roddenberry was reluctant to embark upon what seemed like sheer folly. Luckily, they had a plan. Paramount’s canny decision to syndicate the show helped them hedge their bets financially, while allowing Roddenberry and his staff to work without network restrictions. That gave the series a much-needed foundation upon which it could build… though for the first season, at least, its growing pains really showed.
It started with the characters, who dripped with potential but remained stuck as one-note gimmicks for the bulk of the initial run. Most of them could be summed up in two words or less – The Android, The Klingon, The Blind Engineer, The Mary Sue – and the scripts did little with them beyond marveling at their “neat-o” qualities. The game cast worked hard to overcome those flaws, but only Patrick Stewart really shone as stalwart captain Jean-Luc Picard.
Those flaws don’t necessarily make for frustrating viewing, however. Like a lot of Part Ones, this first season did a lot of unglamorous grunt work for the benefit of later entries. Watching the episodes here thus becomes an exercise in nostalgia, as well as a way of seeing the roots from which the rest of the series flourished. These episodes shook loose the most obvious story ideas for TNG’s beloved figures, laying bare the rich possibilities that subsequent seasons could properly exploit. They updated Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future – retailored to fit a 1980s outlook – and perhaps most importantly, they proved that you can, in fact, tell new Trek stories with different characters while still keeping the fan base happy. Credit a big chunk of that to Stewart, whose Picard came across as a thoughtful Renaissance man in stark contrast to William Shatner’s go-for-broke cowboy. Both characters found their own path to tread, yet both remained compulsively watchable… and Stewart ensured that we would keep watching long enough for the rest of the cast to get their due.
Furthermore, the 25 episodes in this collection don’t consist entirely of duds. John de Lancie livened things up in his first two appearances as the mayhem-inducing Q, while Brent Spiner made a meal out of an otherwise trite evil-twin scenario in “Datalore.” Shows like “11001001” and “Home Soil” delivered good notions with surprising effectiveness, and the unquestioned high point of the season – “Conspiracy” – demonstrated how dark Roddenberry’s bright and shining future could get. It posited a Body-Snatchers scenario featuring a race of parasites slowly taking over key members of Starfleet, and its chilling undertones opened the door for later sci-fi terrors like the Borg.
High points like that come less frequently here than they did in later seasons, but still paint a vivid picture of the first-rate sci-fi to come. And the Blu-ray’s gorgeous technical qualities constitute a selling point all on their own. CBS Entertainment knows that it can’t hustle the show’s smarter-than-the-average-bear fans, who would spot a bad upgrade a mile away. The producers went all-out to render the show in full HD and their herculean efforts pay off. The show looks gorgeous, and the sound quality is impeccable, rendering the TNG’s early digital effects a retro-joy rather than a painful embarrassment. To it, the producers added a fine set of behind-the-scenes documentaries – including two new ones that detail the genesis of the show and the steps taken to deliver it to Blu-ray. Each disc also includes early promotional material, commercials and other goodies to make the completionist’s heart swoon.
In light of its meaty technical specifications and the modestly cool array of extra features, it comes as a disappointment, then, that the set offers no digital copies. In this day and age, with mobile devices playing an increasingly large role in our entertainment, the oversight feels like a company drastically behind the times. Thankfully it doesn’t diminish the set’s generally strong qualities, nor make it anything less than a must-own for hard-core Trekkies and comparative newbies alike. A start this strong bodes well for the future… and with six more seasons to come, there’s a lot of future to look forward to.