When they first announced Next Gen on Blu-ray last year, the 15 year-old inside of me became giddy with anticipation at the prospect of seeing a pristine HD transfer of the show that I love so dearly. Some of my favorite memories from my awkward teenage years involve watching TNG. It connected with me like no other show has.
I’ll admit, I did have some minor concerns at first. As I’ve grown up, I’ve witnessed beloved cinema become hacked, slashed, rebooted, restarted and generally fucked with. I can’t help but view the world, and particularly mass media, through a slightly more cynical lens. Yet, somewhere deep inside me there’s a part that clings onto hope that one day I’ll be able to relive, or even continue, the fictional journeys that have defined the person I’ve become.
I think that day has finally come.
Hover over the images in this post to compare the SD and HD versions. Click on an image to view the full-sized HD version in all it’s glory!
I’m here to say that Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray has been treated with the loving care and respect it deserves. You can think of this as a partial review for Season 1, because much of what I say can probably be generalized for all the Blu-ray transfers. These releases have not only sparked a feeling inside me that I long forgot, but are technical masterpieces that any fan cannot go without seeing.
Beyond what I talk about later in this post, the best part of all this is that I get to re-watch the show in it’s entirety. My friend and I have made a Friday night ritual of drinking a few beers, watching a few episodes, and cracking several jokes (but only out of love.) Season 1 is slightly embarrassing, but in the “looking at old high school yearbook photos” kind of way. Season 2, however, is when the cast and crew find their groove, and some of the best episodes of the entire series reside within.
The Clean-Up & Transfer
I’m going to paraphrase a bit here from the documentaries I watched, but it’s worth mentioning the daunting process they went through to hunt down all of the original film reels. Yes, they used film. Digital recording didn’t really exist back then.
Most of what was shot of the series was sitting in boxes on storage shelves in some dusty Paramount warehouse. In many cases scenes from one episode were mixed together with another episode in the same box, and the reels in general were poorly labeled. The effort they went through to gather and organize the entirety of the series is mind-boggling. But in the end, all that hard work allowed for the best possible quality transfer. Up-converting the DVD releases just wasn’t going to cut it.
It’s worth noting that while the show was shot on 16:9 film, it was framed in the standard aspect ratio of the time, 4:3. All televisions were 4:3 then. I know this goes without saying, especially to fans, but some might consider it a negative. They explain this well in the documentaries in Season 1. If they used 16:9 framing for these releases, you’d end up seeing the crew, lighting, microphones, cameras and all the other crap that was never intended to be in frame. So now you know.
Also, it’s hard to believe but there’s no unnecessary, out of place CGI anywhere. Every one of the original composite shots were cleaned up and re-composited it HD, allowing you to see clearly all the little lights and ship markings on those beautiful models. Only the special effects that were drawn directly on the original film, or shots using the primitive CG they had at the time were re-done with modern CG. This includes things such as phaser fire, shields, or holograms. But, it is all very subtle and blends seamlessly. It makes the show almost looks like it was shot today.
A good example of this (though not from Season 2) is in the Season 1 episode “11001001.” There’s a point at which Picard and Riker set the ship to self-destruct. I remember this scene well, because there’s a shot of a crappy looking LED countdown clock that appears. It looks like the shot clock at a basketball game, and it really stands out.
I was almost certain they were going to muck with that and make it some fancy CG element. Hell, I’d do it. But they didn’t touch it. It’s a testament to the fact that all the work they have done in these releases has been to make the show look better without changing what they don’t need to. You can tell the people who made this happen love the show as much as we all do.
While everything looks great in this release, particularly visually pleasing episodes include include “Q Who”, “Time Squared”, and “Peak Performance.” Basically, anything with the Enterprise doing something in space. Once in a while, with non-space scenes, you will see a bit of film graininess. But it comes and goes very quickly, and only lasts a matter of seconds. This is due to the quality of the original film they transferred from, some scenes being in better shape that others. It’s never distracting though, and on the whole you’ll barely notice.
Ironically, there are also some unintended consequence of the crew of the Enterprise being in HD. Once in a while you’ll see some snafus, like the lines in Brent Spiner’s make-up, or that the black star-field in ready room scenes has the tiniest bit of texture to it. Things you could never see in the 480i broadcast of the day. But really, it’s just endearing to witness now.
You’ll actually spend most of your time picking out intended details you never noticed before, like the pattern in Deanna’s headpiece, the list of programs in the Holodeck menu, or the tiny text in the LCARS readouts. There are some great easter eggs in there, some which I’m convinced the creators never meant for us to see.
Overall, in watching this release, it’s like someone finally wiped the smudges off the lens. Or gave you prescription glasses. With greater than 20/20 vision. And put you right on the bridge. That’s a long analogy.
While I don’t have a 7.1 surround sound system, I do have a 5.1 system and the DTS Master Audio track is amazing. It’s a far cry from a watching the show through a tinny TV speaker. The ambient sounds effects – the hum of the Enterprise, the beeping of computer consoles – are crisp and clear. I was also surprised to notice how much detail I was able to hear in the highs and lows of the original music, which I think will become even more pleasing in later seasons.
I couldn’t help but sit back and enjoy the booming base as the Enterprise swoops in the opening credits. There’s not much else to say here other than it’s an aurally pleasing experience.
You won’t be disappointed here. One of the big highlights is the gag reel on Disc 3. You may have watched it online already, but if you haven’t, you need to. I almost died laughing. Additionally, there are two extended cuts of “Measure of a Man.” The first is a “hybrid extended” version, pieced together from HD footage and a VHS tape (I’m not kidding) that writer Melissa Snodgrass had.
It apparently was the only existing copy of the some of the rough-cut footage that was never used. It’s a little jarring to watch since the VHS scenes have no music or sound effects, but it’s worth seeing.
A must-watch however is the “HD extended” version. It has HD quality deleted scenes, and some different angles than were originally used. It’s really interesting to see more of Riker’s stance on having to prosecute against Data, and makes one of the best episodes even better.
On Disc 5, you’ll find “Reunification”, an hour-long roundtable with the original cast (sans Denise Crosby). It’s slightly sad to see how old everyone has gotten (except Stewart, he hardly ages), but it’s a real heartfelt discussion and made me a little teary at a few points. The only downside is that Marina Sirtis talks way too much, and kind of carries the conversation at some points. I don’t hate her, but I would have rather heard more from the others. Michael Dorn is a hoot, though.
Say, do you remember that old episode of Reading Rainbow where LeVar gave a behind the scenes look at the show? Well, it’s on Disc 1, and even has the non-interesting bits (the children talking) edited out. But you don’t have to take my word for it…
Finally, there are tons of documentaries, commentaries, and interviews spanned across all 5 discs, so even when you finish the season you won’t run out of things to watch anytime soon.
I trust if you’re a fan reading this review, it’s made you think about buying this release, and all of the TNG Blu-ray releases for that matter. I hope, and imagine, that sales have been fairly solid, and I can’t wait for the upcoming seasons. Star Trek as we know it may have effectively died in recent years, but The Next Generation lives again, and better than ever. Also, think about it – maybe one day we’ll get the same treatment to Deep Space Nine.
In conclusion, I probably sound cheesy, but watching these episodes is like reuniting with an old friend. A friend who, over the years, has gotten super hot and wants to make sweet, sweet love to you. And yes, her name is Ms. Enterprise.
Now, for your patience, please enjoy some more beautiful comparison shots.