August 22, 2012


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.

star-trek-the-next-generation-season-one-blu-ray-castIt’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.

star-trek the next generation blu rayThose 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.

star-trek-the-next-generation-blu-ray-before-and-afterHigh 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.

star trek the next generation blu ray cover

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  • Michael Horne

    You mention “a few notable hiccups” and then only specify one – no digital copies. Are there any other hiccups (I don’t count the variable episode quality – that’s just television!)?
    Any restored scenes particularly worth mentioning?

  • Joseph

    No digital copies doesn’t really sound like a legitimate gripe to me; it’d be hard to cram 25 episodes onto any mobile device unless you have one completely devoted to TNG (which is not a bad thought). Naturally you’d have to pick certain episodes and that’s a slippery slope, which would ultimately lead you to insulting a few fans who didn’t get their episode as a digital copy. You can’t please everyone, so you either accept that or eliminate the argument altogether by not having it period. That said, if the only gripe with this is that there’s no digital copy then it sounds like I should pick one up ASAP….

  • Shaun

    “It started with the characters, who dripped with potential but remained stuck as one-note gimmicks for the bulk of the initial run.”

    Ultimately, this is why DS9 quickly eclipsed TNG for me. Don’t get me wrong, I was a huge TNG fan by the show’s third season and I realize TNG laid the groundwork for what DS9 ended up doing. Also, Patrick Stewart was amazing. But Stewart also did a lot of the heavy lifting for TNG, and DS9 simply did a better job of writing for an ensemble most of the time. They also took a lot more chances than TNG and most of the time those chances paid off wonderfully.

    Anyhow, I may take the plung on TNG blu-rays when season 3 comes around. The first two seasons aren’t something I’d watch much, and they just aren’t worth it for me. Seasons 3-6 are worth it, and maybe season 7 (at least for “All Good Things”).

    More than anything, I’d love to see them do the same blu-ray treatment for DS9 someday but given how underappreciated DS9 was I have my doubts that will ever happen.

  • Shaun

    Also, having some “Resident Evil” character come walking across the screen as I’m trying to read this review is really annoying. Obtrusive ads like that will simply drive me away from this site. Sadly, I can’t load Ad Block to my work computer.

  • maxxflash

    So far I have only come across one teeny, tiny portion of upconverted footage. The scene when Q first appears on the Enterprise during “Encounter at Farpoint”; there is a moment when he freezes “red shirt of the week” who had pulled a phaser on him. The close up scene of that person’s face being swirled about with snow is upconverted. So far, if that’s it, that’s pretty good. I still haven’t managed all the episodes yet; I think I have about 8 left, honestly, I’ve fallen asleep during several. Anyway, considering the TLC they have done, going back to the original 35mm prints and essentially re-cutting every single episode and scene. They are amazing! I mean, CBS finding the original handdrawn pencil animation of the briefing room that was used during the opening credit Enterprise flyover and adding that back in; awesome!! And the illusion is something the Talosians would be proud of!

  • Brian

    When I have a 60 inch TV in my living room, I have no desire to watch things I purchase on a 3-5 inch screen so the digital copy thing is a pretty ludicrous complaint. Watching any form of entertainment over 30 seconds on a screen that small is just plain dumb anyway. I thought people that wrote on this website especially would realize that….but that’s 2 articles in a row that have made me question ever visiting this website again. I pre-ordered this set and have been watching an episode here and there and I have to say it’s fantastic. What a great transfer, a bit pricey for one season of a TV show, actually very pricey since it’s 25 year old television, but hey it looks and sounds fantastic.

    • Brian

      Plus, people are buying this because of that logo on the top of the case…you know the one that says “Blu-ray”.

  • Chindogu

    No mention of the audio glitch on some of the episodes? In the surround mixes an authoring error caused the centre channel on a few episodes to be spread across all three front channels. I believe there is an exchange program in the works for the affected discs. For more info you can check over at The Digital Bits.

    Other than that the Picture and Audio quality are nothing more than a revelation when compared to the SD releases.