At first glance, the stand-alone release of Star Trek: TNG – The Best of Both Worlds on Blu-ray looks like typical double dipping. The Season Three Blu-ray includes the first half of the two-part episode, but not the second, forcing Trekkies the world over to either pick this set up or wait until later this summer for Season Four to arrive. Why not get a few extra bucks out of the folks who can’t wait? The set certainly doesn’t justify any extra expense… but it does make an easy option for more casual fans who don’t want to invest in two expensive season collections. Hit the jump for the full review.
And if you’re going to set one TNG adventure aside for stand-alone status, this is your horse. The two parts of The Best of Both Worlds remain the definitive conflict between the crew of the starship Enterprise and the Borg collective: a race of intergalactic space zombies bent on “assimilating” everything they see. Their first target is Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), who they abduct and transform into their cybernetic PR man before moving on to take over the Earth. The first half ended Season Three on a cliffhanger, common practice for TV shows nowadays but fairly novel for a non-soap back then. It kept fans on the edge of their seats until they could catch the conclusion the following fall. “You ruined our summer,” one family yelled at Patrick Stewart (an incident the actor gleefully relates in the Blu-ray’s extra features) and that’s not intended as an insult.
The go-for-broke qualities of Part I left some genuinely troubling possibilities. We could easily envision Stewart leaving the show, killing off Picard and setting up Riker (Jonathan Frakes) as the new Captain. More importantly, the Borg appeared to be utterly insurmountable, raising the legitimate question of how the hell the Enterprise gang was going to pull this one out. Writer Michael Piller planned on leaving at the end of the Season Three, and – in a bit of puckish mischief – wrote Part I with the belief that someone else would have to figure out a solution. He really didn’t know how the crew could triumph, and that uncertainty permeates every moment of the episode. (Piller returned after Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry personally asked him to stay, and subsequently found an excellent escape from the trap he created.)
That energy makes The Best of Both Worlds work marvelously as a stand-alone movie: better, actually, than a number of the Trek theatrical features. One of the Blu-ray’s big advantages is allowing us to see the whole story as one organic unit, without the second half credits interrupting the flow. It’s an amazing feat, made all the more impressive by how much of it occurs through inference and suggestion. For example, we never see the battle of Wolf-359 – the Federation’s do-or-die stand against the Borg incursion that wipes out the entire fleet. Instead, we witness the after-effects in a few well-placed money shots, with the Enterprise moving in mute horror through a graveyard of destroyed Federation ships.
Most of the drama takes place on the bridge itself, with old-fashioned tools like performers and dialogue to convey the stakes. Actor Elizabeth Dennehy makes a key addition in this regard, playing an expert on the Borg who not-so-secretly covets Riker’s position as second-in-command. From a Meta perspective, she escalates the possibility of Picard buying it, with Riker promoted and Dennehy’s Commander Shelby stepping in to his old spot. But it also provides some sand in the normally smooth functions of the Enterprise crew. Because the crew members work so well as a team, internal drama sometimes comes up short. A prickly outsider ups the conflict without deterring from the larger overall threat. As Dennehy explains in the disc’s outtakes, she was a complete novice to the Star Trek universe when she began, making her an ideal choice to shake up the mix.
The Blu-ray’s additional features are unique to the set as well, and while they’re not extensive, they still pull their weight. A behind-the-scenes doc takes a close look at the episode’s genesis, featuring comments from the entire cast as well as other key crewmembers such as the make-up and costume designers. The wonderful audio commentary includes insight from the episode’s director Cliff Bole, Dennehy and resident Trek experts Michael and Denise Okuda. A gag reel and the very 1980s promotional clips complete the set. They’re worth a look for those who don’t plan on picking up the season sets, though they probably don’t justify a double dip. The episodes themselves are the real juice. No matter how you choose to get them – either here or through the season collections – your Trek set isn’t complete any other way.