TV Review – Star Trek TNG: The Next Level (2012)
After a successful transfer of the original series to Blu-Ray which not only drew rave reviews from long time fans but also critics who were floored by the pristine transfer was there any question that CBS was not going to proceed to do the same quality work on subsequent Star Trek series? At first glance one would think that transferring Star Trek The Next Generation to Blu-Ray would be an infinitely easier process merely because the show is much newer than the original series yet in reality the issues in doing so are remarkably different and just as steep.
For the uninitiated, one of the biggest hooks to entice consumers to buy the original series on Blu-Ray (or even HD-DVD) was the inclusion of new visual effects that replaced the now dated ones seen back in 1966-1969. At the same time, unlike someone like George Lucas who decided to basically never release his original movies anymore and only provide the newer cuts that, in some cases frustrated fans to no end because they radically changed certain scenes (I’m looking at you Greedo!), the folks at CBS and Paramount placed both versions of each original series episode onto the Blu-Ray discs meaning those who wanted the new effects could watch them while other purists could just launch the episode with the original effects.
This time around with The Next Generation the team is not going back to remake the visual effects but rather to clean up the picture and bring it to high-def levels which should be much easier since the show was shot on film stock. However, when the show was broadcast there was no such thing as high-def TV so the episodes were basically down-converted to TV resolution meaning they looked fine when they were broadcast but are now incredibly fuzzy if seen on newer 1080p flatscreens. Thus, the only way to present ST:TNG onto Blu-Ray was to go back to the original film negatives and basically re-edit each episode from scratch, a daunting task considering how many thousands of feet of film the team would need to go through to recreate the seven season show. Luckily, the results are nothing short of astounding.
First off, as anyone who knows me by now, I am a long time Star Trek fan so this sampler disc is a no-brainer for me to purchase. I also have no doubt that other diehard Trek fans have already bought this without caring to read a single review. At the same time I am also fully aware that ST:TNG basically had two very uneven seasons before the show finally hit its stride in season 3 and began firing on all cylinders. The reason I bring up this point is that this gap in quality is incredibly apparent when one watches the three episodes included on this sampler Blu-Ray as I actually found it painful to re-watch the series pilot, Encounter At Farpoint, which I have not seen in its entirety for almost twenty years.
Additionally, many people who discover that I am a Trek fan often tell me that they would love to get into Star Trek but are initially flabbergasted by the sheer size of the franchise that spans four live-action TV shows that lasted 3-7-7-7-4 years. Total that up and you have 28 years of TV which can even be extended to 30 if you decide to include the two seasons of the Star Trek animated series. Throw in six movies featuring the original cast, four from TNG and J.J. Abram’s newest hit and one can certainly feel hesitant at wanting to even start to watch the show.
The reason I bring this up is that for a long time the easiest answer I gave for new potential fans was to watch Star Trek The Next Generation as it the best of the “new” Trek shows which came after the original series. With superlative acting coupled with generally excellent storylines the show was perhaps one of the rare examples of a sequel TV show that managed to recapture lightning in a bottle to equal or surpass the original program. Unfortunately, those first two seasons are real dogs, filled with incredibly wide-ranging in quality episodes that either were decent or outright disasters that rivalled the now reviled original episodes such as “Spock’s Brain” which makes only for a good laugh when completely inebriated. For the longest time my friends and I would regularly shout out some of the cringe-worthy lines of dialogue just to have a laugh and even to this day some of the ridiculous overacting or plain awkward performances are liable to send me into uncontrollable fits of laughter. “There shall be NO vaccine!”
Regardless, ranting aside, this sampler disc would not make a very good introduction to the Next Generation as the three episodes included are completely unrelated and culled from totally different seasons. As mentioned earlier the pilot episode, Encounter At Farpoint, bats lead off here and in my opinion it is easily the worst of the three because virtually none of the actors show any real chemistry with each other. Nevertheless, scholastically the episode is certainly interesting for fans to rewatch because it actually provides a better glimpse into how Gene Roddenberry and his team must have planned and imagined the show would evolve. For instance, it is obvious watching the pilot that Command William Riker is following the Kirk mould and is certainly being groomed to perhaps take over sometime in the future while Captain Picard is much more gruff and in-your-face to the point of almost being a jerk at certain points in the show.
At the same time the entire episode spiritually and visually harkens back to the original show with some really awful sets that look as if they belong in the 1960s especially some of the shots of the Bendi settlement with the orange backdrop so much so that one sometimes expects William Shatner to appear instead of Jonathan Frakes. Additionally, there is a kind of stilted acting by everyone where when they need to emphasis reaction everyone seems to suddenly go bug-eyed as the musical score ramps up in the background almost to the point of distraction.
In terms of plot there are a lot of traditional Star Trek themes here and the full narrative thrust of the show that features an omnipotent being called Q who appears and wants to basically condemn humanity for past transgressions is not without merit. In fact the episode does have a lot of redeeming qualities such as Q himself who regularly returned as the series progressed since he seemed to quickly create some needed acting camaraderie with Patrick Stewart. Stewart himself is quite ill-at-ease in the pilot and doesn’t seem totally in command of his performance but a lot of this can be chalked up to some questionable editing and basic jitters that any show goes through. However, there’s enough gravitas here to make one realize his true worth as an exemplary actor and it doesn’t require rocket science to understand that as Stewart settled in to the role that he became the anchor for the entire show.
The second episode included in Sins of the Father which is a Worf-centric episode that features a political storyline where Worf has to return to the Klingon homeworld to challenge the charge that his father was a traitor who collaborated with the nefarious Romulan race to attack the Khitomer space station leading to thousands of dead Klingons. The episode itself will make precious little sense to non fans that have no context as to who and what Worf is or can understand the difference between a Klingon and a Romulan. For fans the episode is certainly not in the upper echelons of greatness yet it presents a rather intriguing look into how honour works in the Klingon Empire and how it can be perverted to meet the needs of the chosen few.
The final episode is fan favorite, “The Inner Light,” which ranks as one of, if not, the best episodes in the entire series and it is no surprise it is a Picard centric episode as Patrick Stewart turns in a fabulous performance that marks an emotional high point in the show. The Enterprise is suddenly confronted by an alien probe but before anyone can figure out what it is it somehow uses a power to apparently attack Picard whereby he suddenly wakes up on an alien world apparently now known as someone else. Thus he spends the episode re-living virtually his entire life on this alien planet thinking that his time on the Enterprise was nothing but a dream. To say the ending is powerful would be an understatement as I personally know many fans were moved to tears the way the episode plays out.
In terms of how every episode looks there can be no question that this Blu-Ray release is of the highest calibre as virtually every single frame is filled with details never before seen in such clarity. As an example I dare any fan to pause during the opening credits while the USS Enterprise is flying by and not marvel at the intricate details in the ship’s physical model. Additionally, elements which were always there but were hard to make out are now fully apparent such as the people moving in the back of the bridge on the saucer section as the ship flies by which I never really noticed when watching the show on TV.
There is one very glaring example of the difference between the standard def of the original broadcast episodes and this new high-def one and it comes in the second episode, Sins of the Father. The folks at CBS doing the work on the show admit that though they tried with all their might that they could not locate the original film stock of about 16 seconds of this episode thus they were left with only one option which is to use the TV definition feed for this short segment. Anyone watching the episode will immediately notice when these 16 seconds appears as the pristine image suddenly becomes a fuzzy mess as the resolution drops before going back to the new print. The effect is completely jarring and provides an excellent example of just how clean and relatively artifact free this new Blu-Ray high-def project has managed to achieve. Hopefully, the team at CBS doesn’t find too many instances where the original film is missing or else there might be potential issues ahead especially if the picture quality keeps vacillating widely in a short time frame.
At the same time the improvement in audio is readily apparent especially if one has a decent surround sound system. Generally, the audio is much clearer without any background noise or general fuzziness and though I am no expert it certainly appears to me that some effects have a much more powerful impact than when I watched/heard them all those years ago on TV.
About the only real downside to this sampler disc are the bonus features of which there are only a few trailers detailing the new high-def remastering. Then again I can’t exactly fault them since this is only a sampler disc showing fans and critics the level of quality they have achieved and certainly enticing consumers to at least realize that the full series is soon to be released. As such it does its job and impresses in all technical factors. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that this release isn’t meant for anyone but fans of the show as newcomers are going to feel like they are up a creek without a paddle. At the same time the pilot is not at all indicative of the later quality episodes although, as I have alluded to, the first two seasons are really uneven and I always shudder when I recommend non-fans start watching The Next Generation from the start fully aware of this roller-coaster ride in quality. However, there is just no way to tell new viewers to skip two years worth of episodes and start on season three as there is just too much contextual knowledge that would be missing.
*** out of ****
2012, USA, 182 Minutes, Paramount Pictures
Patrick Stewart: Captain Jean-Luc Picard
Jonathan Frakes: Commander William T. Riker
LeVar Burton: Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge
Michael Dorn: Lieutenant Worf
Marina Sirtis: Counselor Deanna Troi
Brent Spiner: Lt. Commander Data
Gates McFadden: Doctor Beverly Crusher
Majel Barrett: Enterprise Computer
Wil Wheaton: Wesley Crusher
Denise Crosby: Lieutenant Tasha Yar
© 2012 The Galactic Pillow
Star Trek TNG Blu-Ray Comparison Video: