Some 20 years after the cancellation of Star Trek: The Original Series and during the successful reinvigoration of the series with the feature film franchise, Paramount dared to raise the ire of Trekkers by creating a new franchise that didn't feature Captain Kirk. Continuing the larger Star Trek universe was an incredibly risky proposition, but one that paid off - even with a lopsided first season, which took a while to find its feet.
As the name implies, The Next Generation is set some 80 years after the events of The Original Series, featuring a new captain (Patrick Stewart), an entirely new crew (even if some cameos are made), a new Enterprise and a new assortment of aliens. The first season consists of a 26 episode run of 45 minute shows. In the context of the wider series, none are particularly classic and I've always detested the pilot episode Encounter at Farpoint, but there's enough to like in season one. Besides, you want the entire series, right? Still, episodes such as The Big Goodbye and Where No One Has Gone Before, directed by Rob Bowman of X-Files fame are relatively good episodes. For audiences who might only have a fleeting association with the Next Generation feature films, Season One feels like coming home.
Star Trek: The Next Generation Season One is presented in the series' original intended aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (4x3), encoded with AVC MPEG-4 compression.
Some fans have been disappointed that CBS has decided to frame the image almost exactly as the previous SD master and not use more of the extremities of the 35mm frame. Whilst I would be curious in seeing a 16x9 version in the future and it does seem that the new visual effects are being re-composited in 16x9 (likely for future broadcast), I feel that Paramount made the right call here. The Energized! feature on disc one discusses the logistical issues with converting the series to 16x9, but more on that soon.
As we probably all know by now, CBS and Paramount took the unprecedented step of scanning every bit of the original 35mm negative at 2K resolution, re-compositing the optical effects, laying in digital effects where necessary and building the entire episodes, just like they did back in 1987. Except for this time, rather than create a 480i analog master, a beautiful 1080p image is the goal. For fans of the series, this act breathes new life into the Next Generation franchise. It's almost a brand new show, with only some dodgy hair styles belying its 25 years of age. Compared to the DVD, its light and day. You're simply never going to want to watch them any other way again.
First up, there's film grain. At times, lots of it. But that's fine. Compared to the softness of the DVD, it's a welcome addition. The newly revealed contrast and colors are nothing short of a revelation. Take a look at the uniform of the Enterprise crew which practically glistens. It's simply astounding. Gone is the analog dot crawl, the yellow haze resultant from the crushed NTSC colour spectrum and the poorly rendered visual effects. The resultant image is one that doesn't look overly different to the Next Generation feature films and one that I never thought I'd be able to see.
My only complaint with the transfer is the relative frequency of film artifacts, in the way of small white dots which mar the image. I am not sure what causes this, but it has been suggested that this is resultant from emulsion that has disappeared from the film. Either way, this could have been corrected digitally by sampling before and after frames. I'm not sure why this opportunity wasn't taken. Still it's a relatively small complaint and compared to going back to the old DVD's, I know what I'd prefer.
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Star Trek: The Next Generation Season One is presented in DTS HD Master Audio 7.1, at 24 bits, and the original stereo audio tracks in Dolby Digital 2.0 (192 kb/s).
Originally presented in Dolby Stereo, the audio track has been expanded to full 7.1, by utilizing the original mag tracks. While not quite as breathtaking as the video benefits, this is by far and away the best the series has ever sounded and will likely ever sound. For those that prefer to listen to the original stereo audio tracks, they'll be pleased they are still catered for.
While the majority of effects are confined to the front soundstage, a reasonable effort has been made to throw general ambience along with somewhat infrequent directional effects to the rears. The subwoofer gets a reasonable look in when it is called for.
My review copy of the Australian version features the same faulty dialog mix for some eight episodes of the series, which was recently released in the United States and Europe. However, Paramount assures that by the time the set hits retail in a few short weeks that this will be rectified.
I'm very happy to say that for such a prestigious release, Paramount secured filmmakers and self confessed Star Trek nuts, Roger Lay and Robert Meyer Burnett to produce some exciting new extra features, in addition to the original promo TV spots and original DVD supplements. Let's jump in.
First up is the 24 minute long Energised! Taking the Next Generation to the Next Level featurette, which is a really exciting look at the not insignificant work involved with bringing the series into the HD world. I particularly enjoyed seeing the mammoth archives of film negative and hearing the tale regarding the hunt for missing film footage. Who knew 12 seconds of footage would be so elusive?
The three part, 90 minute long Stardate Revisited documentary is a real joy. It's not the flashiest documentary ever made, but certainly one of the meatiest and cohesively produced features on the creation of the show (and probably any show to be honest). Featuring new interviews with key personnel and fascinating insights from the cast, no Trek fan will want to pass up on the really great stories to be found in here.
Producer Robert Justman's Gag Reel is a real hoot, the first time such a feature has been officially released. The footage comes directly off VHS, so don't expect much in the way of quality, but these are really fun to watch and clear evidence of the fun that was had on the set.
Finally we have the archive of original DVD features. First up is the made for TV featurette Introduction to the Series, priming audiences for the series, The Beginning and Making the Legend utilize some updated circa 2002 interviews and vintage footage to briefly discuss limited aspects of the creation of the series. Memorable missions rounds up some of the cast and crew to discuss their favourite moments from season one. I'm confident the death of Lt. Yar at the hands of a glob monster don't rank high up there.