It's incredible to think that the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired over 25 years ago now. It really doesn't seem that long, or does it? In any case, fans of the franchise must be extremely excited to hear that the franchise is now available on Blu-Ray, but is wasn't a simple port for CBS/Paramount. Indeed as the show was originally ported to tape for visual effects and editing the team working on this Blu-Ray release had to go back through thousands of reels of 35mm film, clean and re-scan the negatives and then recreate many of the visual effects for this release. It required a massive investment from CBS/Paramount, but the results are truly spectacular. You have NEVER seen Star Trek: The Next Generation look, or sound, this good.
To say that Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek franchise is an optimistic look at the future is quite accurate. Poverty is gone, the human race has spread among the stars, and we are the cornerstone of the "Federation" - a group of planets and races that aim to work together for common good. That's not saying there's no threats out there. Indeed in almost every episode of Season One new threats to the Enterprise crew are encountered - from Q, to the Ferengi, to unknown crystalline beings. It's all there.
There isn't really much more that needs to be said, to me, this franchise is one of my all-time favourites and if you're reading this, I assume yours too. If you've never Star Trek or indeed this series then this is the perfect way to start. While the series isn't consistently great as some of the later ones (there were 7 series of The Next Generation) there are still many classic episodes.
In terms of the actual content Season One, which aired in America from September 1987 and 1988 contained 26 episodes in total. These episodes (broken down by which disc they are as follows...
Disc One includes the two part series premiere "Encounter at Farpoint" which not only introduces the new Enterprise crew, but also the recurring omnipotent being named Q, followed by "The Naked Now" where the crew becomes infected with a contaminant that moves gives them a "drunken" state, and "Code of Honor" where Lt Yar is forced to fight to the death after being abducted by an alien race.
Disc Two includes "The Last Outpost" (an alien threat immobilises the Enterprise - the Ferengi), "Where No One Has Gone Before" (one of the best episodes which sees the Enterprise flung 2,700,000 light years across the other side of the galaxy), "Lonely Among Us" sees an alien entity possessing several members of the crew at a crucial time when transporting delegates from two feuding races, "Justice" which sees Wesley Crusher facing the death penalty for breaking a local law and finally "The Battle" which sees Captain Picard suffering severe headaches after a Ferengi captain returns the abandoned Stargazer ship,
Disc Four includes five episodes starting with "11001001" which has Bynars upgrade the Enterprises computer while Riker and Picard become distracted by a realistic holodeck character, "Too Short a Season" sees the enterprise transport a legendary geriatric Admiral in peace negotiations, "When the Bough Breaks" sees a planet, only known in legend, uncloaking and requesting help from the Enterprise, "Home Soil" is the seasons eighteenth episode and has the crew discovering a crystalline life form that only wants to committed murder, "Coming of Age" sees Wesley taking a Starfleet Academy exam, while the senior staff of the Enterprise are placed under Starfleet investigation
Disc Five contains five more episodes from this first season and they include "Heart of Glory" in which fugitive Klingons attempt to hijack the Enterprise. "The Arsenal of Freedom" is next and sees the away team becoming the unwitting participants in the demonstration of an advanced weapons system while "Symbiosis" has Picard trying to mediate a trade dispute between two planets one of which supplies a vital drug to treat a fatal disease on the other planet. "Skin of Evil" puts the lives of Enterprise crew in danger when an evil tar-like creature holds Troi hostage. Finally "We'll Always Have Paris" has Picard meeting and old flame, whose husband is being affected by a dimensional experiment.
Disc Six contains the two final episodes in Season One. First up is "Conspiracy" which sees Picard uncover a conspiracy in Starfleet (which follows on from the earlier episode "Coming of Age". The final episode in the series is "The Neutral Zone" in which the Enterprise finds cryonically frozen humans in a satellite while on a mission to investigate destroyed outposts near Romulan space.
Something impressive about this release too is that prior to playing each episode you can play the original preview for each episode. While it contains spoilers, if you know the episodes it's worth watching first so you can see just how well improved the episodes are on Blu-Ray.
From a technical perspective each episode is encoded with the AVC MPEG-4 codec in the show’s original 4:3 aspect ratio with a bitrate that, according to our PS3, typically hovers in the 15-20Mbps range and while that sounds low the level of sharpness and detail has never been seen in these TV shows before. Visual effects too have come up remarkably well. Some are completely new CG created while on other occasions the originally filmed effects elements are reused.
Never would have I expected this 25 year-old TV show to look so good with an amazing level of sharpness and clarity the result of painstaking work from CBS and Paramounts technicians. Hats off to them for a fine effort.
Like the video the audio has been reworked to take advantage of today's latest audio technology - in this case DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 - and the results are impressive indeed, certainly far surpassing the Dolby Digital 5.1 448kbps audio on the DVD sets. Working from the original analogue recordings and samples the sound has been remixed and the results are quite delightful. While dialogue and effects are still quite front heavy the surround sound channels get a decent workout and it brings a level of life to the production.
It is important to note too that while the American release of this set contained some episodes with audio errors (and CBS/Paramount have put a full disc-replacement scheme into effect) Paramount Australia were able to recall all sets before they hit shelves. This caused the 4-week release delay, but also guarantees that every set has the corrected discs. We have the pre and post-release sets and can confirm the audio issue is now resolved.
Besides the phenomenal remixed effort this Blu-Ray set contains each episode in the English Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192kbps, and it more accurately represents the original sound mix from each episode - some purists may actually prefer this option. Other options include German, Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192kbps.
Subtitles are provided in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Danish, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish. We sampled the English track and found the subtitles accurate to the dialogue.
EXTRAS There are quite a few extras included in this set - the best of which includes an all-new 24 minute look at the restoration process, and a new 90 minute retrospective documentary that looks at the first seasons creation and production. Extras from the DVD sets are also included.
Energized: Taking the Next Generation to the Next Level (23:46/HD): Now this is one of the best documentaries we have EVER seen on a Blu-Ray disc as it details the lengthy process of restoring this TV series for HD. First up this featurette looks at the SD presentation, the upscaled presentation to HD which was scrapped in favour of the full HD restoration from the 35mm film elements. Beyond that this featurette looks at sorting through the thousands of boxes of reels in the vault, to finding lost footage (which includes the 13 seconds missing from the Sampler Blu-Ray released in America), to transferring to digital form, the decision to remain in a 4:3 aspect ratio rather than opening out to 16:9 (and remaining at 4:3 is correct in our opinion), making some small tweaks to improve the visuals and recreating the visual effects (as these were created in low resolution originally), and finishes with remixing the audio to 7.1 audio.
Part 1: Inception (28:09/HD): This first documentary segment focuses on the announcement of Star Trek: The Next Generation, putting the key people in place to make the show, creating the look of the Enterprise, set and props and then touches on the casting with a focus on the role of Captain Picard.
Part 2: Launch (32:13/HD): In this second part Sir Patrick Stewart, Johnathan Frakes, Rick Berman, John A. Wentworth, LeVar Burton, Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden, Will Wheaton, Michael Dorn, Denise Crosby, Marina Sirtis, David Livingston, Michael Westmore, D.C. Fontana, and the Okuda's are interviewed about being cast in the series and creating their characters. The great thing is that this featurette includes brand new interviews as well as clips from around the original air dates and includes some makeup and wardrobe test footage as well as on-set bloopers.
Part 3: The Continuing Mission (32:42/HD): This third part of the documentary looks at the continuing development of the franchise through the first season including battling budgets, creating the visual effects, how Gene Roddenberry pushed the series and ordered rewrites, and upset people in the process with last minute rewrites, which resulted in the loss of some staff and a key cast member during the first series, general conflict within the shows production and elements of sexism in the show before it was renewed. It's a nice, brutally honest, look at the commencement of what would become the hit series we know and love.
The Beginning (18:01): This is a great featurette about the creation of the series made some years ago (including a lot more behind the scenes footage including filming the models (with ILM) then in the new documentary) as well as interviews with key cast and crew. Definitely worth a look.
Selected Crew Analysis (15:18): Here we have a detailed look at the actors, their casting, and their roles in the series. All main actors are interviewed for this documentary segment.
The Making of a Legend (15:27): This featurette focuses on the production design, makeup (including Worf's prosthetics), the orchestral musical, and the numerous visual effects used throughout the series. Back in 1987 CG wasn't available and everything had to be done practically with impressive results.
Memorable Missions (17:04): In this featurette cast and crew discuss their favourite episodes from the first Season.
Review By: Dave Warner