Review for Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season 1-7
Of all the things I told myself that I wouldn’t do when I bought a Blu-ray player, I wasn’t going to go on a double-dip frenzy, and I was certainly not going to buy all those long running TV shows over again, after all, most of my favourites were transmitted in fuzzy NTSC video quality, pointless in high definition. So here I am, double-dipping as if I was upgrading from VHS to DVD all over again, and I now have The X Files and this, Star Trek The Next Generation on Blu-ray to watch. I have no impulse control (warp drive control maybe). Star Trek was an unlikely upgrade for me, given that I am no longer the rabid Trekkie I was twenty years ago, but there were a couple of factors that made me give in and buy this collection.
The first thing is that I re-watched those DVDs scaled up to HD, and they were poor to say the least. It’s not so much the resolution, although that is bad, but the fact that The Next Generation was not shot as overscan safe. DVD episodes that looked perfectly fine on a CRT TV now had boom mikes visible, crew and equipment at the edges, gaffer tape marking actors’ marks on the floor at the bottom of the screen. That isn’t a problem with the subsequent shows, DS9 or Voyager, but it is significant in TNG, particularly in the earlier seasons.
The second thing was that Paramount/CBS went the whole hog with bringing TNG to Blu-ray. Not for them something as tacky as an upscale or a mix of HD live action and scaled up effects. They went to the archives and pulled out all of the original film elements for The Next Generation (the show was shot on 35mm film, and only edited and composited with effects on video for NTSC broadcast and distribution), effectively reconstructed the episodes, redoing the effects in HD where necessary. Incidentally this isn’t the mauling that the Original Series received for its re-mastered effects shots, but remaking the Next Generation effects identically to the original, but for HD resolution.
The third thing was price. I paid through the nose for the DVD season collections, three figures apiece for the earlier seasons, before I discovered online shopping. I wasn’t going to pay that again, no matter how good the show looked, and at first Paramount CBS seemed to have the impression that fans would indeed shell out again. The TNG Blu-ray season sets were initially priced at over £100 RRP each. They didn’t sell. Paramount then tried a complete collection of all seven seasons at around £200, a significant discount. That didn’t sell either. I got that collection on sale for £55, less than what I paid for Season 1 on DVD back in 2001. It can be had for even less now if you shop around, or wait for a sale. Consumers have moved on, and now want their HD content piped down the Internet, and aren’t too bothered with extra features, which is a shame as the TNG BD collection is a treat in this regard. The downside of all this is that the TNG Blu-rays didn’t do the business that Paramount CBS wanted and hoped for. They also had planned Blu-ray versions of Deep Space Nine and Voyager contingent on the success of this series. You won’t be seeing those any time soon.
I’ve reviewed the series content for the DVD releases, so I’ll just link to those reviews, and take a look at what’s different about this release. One thing across all seven seasons is that you can now watch the HD episodes with or without the SD episode promo at the start. The extra features and disc content is linked in a separate article below the season links.
Episode Distribution and BD Extra Features
Star Trek the Next Generation gets a 4:3 pillarboxed transfer at 1080p resolution, preserving the original aspect ratio. It will take you 26 episodes before you notice any significant issues with the visuals. To my knowledge, Star Trek: The Next Generation got the most extensive restoration ever given to an SD television show to make it suitable for HD presentation. They basically did everything except reshoot the thing. They went back to the original 35mm camera negatives, restored that footage, and re-edited the episodes, and where necessary, they recreated the special effects and matte paintings from scratch at HD resolution. Given that most of The Next Generation’s starships were models, that was comparatively easy, but when CGI started being used, that added a whole lot of work. It was all so much work that the initial plan was for the odd numbered seasons to be restored in-house by CBS Digital, and the even numbered seasons outsourced.
Most of the series looks fantastic, clear and sharp, proper HD, with infinitely more detail than those soft, NTSC sourced DVDs, and warm, rich and vibrant colours. You really do begin to appreciate the cinematic quality to the storytelling that the TNG creators managed to put out on a weekly basis. And then there is Season 2, which was outsourced to a company called HTV Illuminate. They had a rough gig to begin with, as Season 2 was shot on rather poor film stock, comparatively far grainier than the rest of the show, and replete with contrast issues, but it seems that little was done to compensate, and Season 2 offers less in the way of detail, and more faded colours than the rest of the seasons. They also skimped on the work when it came to recreating the effects shots for high definition. Season 2 is the only place that you’ll still see The Next Generation’s original pastel balls for planets, whereas the rest of the run has full, high definition worlds to marvel at. There are a few episodes where the effects work does shine, particularly the introduction to the Borg in Q Who, but generally Season 2’s effects work leans more towards an upscale of the original effects work rather than an HD recreation. Subsequently, CBS Digital did much more heavy lifting with Season 4, which was outsourced to a different company for completion, and in the end they kept Season 6 in-house along with seasons 3, 5 and 7.
Annoyingly, a couple of errors inevitably snuck into the Blu-rays, and CBS Digital have gone back to correct those... for TNG’s HD Netflix streams. Don’t expect to see the fixed episodes on Blu-ray any time soon. Also, not all of the original camera negative could be found, and there are a handful of episodes with scenes scaled up from the NTSC source. Across the collection that amounts to 5 episodes, and 2 minutes 25 seconds of SD footage.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround English, DD 2.0 Stereo English (for the original TV experience), and DD 2.0 German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Japanese, with subtitles in these languages as well as Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish.
This is my biggest disappointment with the Next Generation Blu-ray collection. I mean, what price QC? Sure, most of the episodes sound great through a home cinema, the 7.1 remix immersing you in the 24th Century the way the stereo television broadcasts never could. But we’re talking sound sync issues here; four kinds of sound sync. The first kind is that sound sync hard-baked into the programme, which is noticeable in the season 1 extra features, and one documentary on season 6. Thankfully none of the episodes are so afflicted, or so I believe. The second kind of sound sync is that which becomes a risk when you are rebuilding the episodes from the ground up as happened in this collection, re-editing from the original film negatives, re-compositing with the audio, getting everything lined up. There’s a possibility that a scene’s audio might not match up as it should. It happened in The City on the Edge of Forever when the Original Series Blu-rays were released, and I have no idea if it happens in The Next Generation.
That’s because of the third and fourth kind of sound sync errors, those that arise from player incompatibilities. I watched The Next Generation Blu-rays on my Panasonic Home Cinema, and a significant minority of the episodes had a constant sound sync delay, most notable in the first and second seasons, but occasionally appearing in the subsequent seasons as well. The second season had pretty much all of the episodes out of sync. Then there are the episodes that drifted in and out of sync during playback, even more of nightmare. For the former, I could conceivably spend my time fiddling with the player’s delay trying to figure out how much to add to re-sync the audio for each problematic episode, although I’d end up with an Amaray case full of post it notes, but that wouldn’t work with the latter. The solution... turn off the home cinema audio and pipe it through the TV’s speakers and all of the episode audio is magically in sync again, but which renders the 7.1 remix a total waste of time. You’re supposed to check these discs so that they work on the majority of set-ups, and while you may not be able to account for every combination of player and AV separates, an integrated home cinema ought to be a standard set-up to check against!
One big chipboard box with an abundance of green, Star Trek imagery and logos contains two mega-fat-pack Blu-ray Amarays. They contain the discs in removable cassette holders, Seasons 1-4 has 23 discs, Seasons 5-7 has 18. There is also a 12-page booklet that has an overview of the seasons.
I don’t know why it is, but Star Trek: The Next Generation really has dated for me. I can’t say the same thing about the Original Series, and maybe it’s because that show was done and dusted before I was born. It was always history for me, and I can see it outside of the sixties context in which it was produced. But I lived through Star Trek: The Next Generation’s broadcast run, and for me it’s very much part of the era in which it was made. I see a meeting around a conference table, the sets a profusion of beige, people talking about their feelings to the ship’s therapist, and it just screams eighties at me, particularly in the first couple of seasons. At the same time the episodic storytelling seems twee. I’d say that, but I can’t say the same about Deep Space Nine, set in the same universe, with the same storytelling style, from the same producers, made concurrently for two years with The Next Generation.
It took The Next Generation 3 years to find its identity, and the episodic nature of the show meant that even once it had established itself, there were episodes that had you scratching your head, wondering what the writers were thinking. Season 1 may have had the utterly abysmal Code of Honor, but season 7 threw us stinkers like Sub Rosa and Masks. For some reason, the bad episodes have a tendency to stick in the mind, even when there were so few of them compared to those that shone. And even after all these years, I can’t think of a single television series that had as perfect a final episode as All Good Things was for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Dated in tone it may have been, but there is still much more to appreciate about TNG than not, and it is still the defining sci-fi show of the eighties.
Comparing this Blu-ray collection to the original DVD release is mostly a joy. The low quality NTSC picture on those DVDs, made worse by boom mikes and gaffer tape when you turn overscan off, meant that this was a show that needed a re-mastering for the 21st Century, and given that the creators were essentially making a 45-minute movie each week, the show looks astounding in high definition, and it sounds great too, when the audio is synced up.
But I am not totally happy with Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray. Given the way that the home entertainment industry is going, the producers had just one shot to get the Blu-rays right, and they blew it. Season 2’s HD re-master was outsourced to the equivalent of a government contractor, doing the bare minimum of work to get the season HD ready, compared to the labour of love that CBS Digital put in. On top of that, little errors in re-mastering crept in elsewhere, errors that have now been corrected for the Netflix streams, but will forever exist on Blu-ray. I’ve already whined about the audio experience I had with the discs, variable to say the least. And in the final analysis, CBS/Paramount decided to play silly buggers with the extra features. There is a cornucopia of riches with this Blu-ray release, extensive documentaries, deleted scenes and gag reels, and audio commentaries, which were sorely missed on the DVDs. But if you want all of the commentaries and documentaries, you not only need this collection, but you need to get the single disc releases of the TNG TV movies, those two-part stories that were re-edited by taking out the credits and recaps into TV features. The most mercenary action was leaving the third part of a three part documentary in season 4 on the Redemption standalone release. Not all of those standalone discs were actually released here in the UK, and you’ll have to import some of the later ones.
This could have been, this should have been the definitive release of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray, but in the end, it’s anything but. It’s just another version to own until something better comes along, and let’s face it, that has been Paramount/CBS’s approach to Star Trek right from day one. 4k TNG anyone?