(NOTE: many embeds and images used in this article are cribbed from YouTube and various other sources. They should not be seen as in any way indicative of picture or sound quality evidenced on the actual STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION Season One Blu-ray set...)
I vividly recall the coming of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION back in 1987. The possibilities of what could be seemed limitless, my apprehensions about what it might become were equally vast. Would it work at all? Could it work at all? Either way, what would it feel like? Would it have the heart, soul, and energy of, say, The Original STAR TREK series...or gravitate towards the more clinical sensibilities of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE? The one feature film which was heavily influenced by TREK overlord Gene Roddenberry - the one feature film which suggested his updated perception of TREK was considerably less spunky than it once was.
There was so much to take in...so many elements to mull and conjure as TNG approached...I frequently felt overwhelmed. I remember sharing countless hours of discussion, debate, and anticipation with my endlessly curious friends and my understandably skeptical parents. I remember being overjoyed when rumors of the crew beaming around the Galaxy (instead of having a ship) were disproven (although this was apparently considered at one point). In those wild and woolly days before the info-rich Internet we now know and love...before the immediate dissemination of news, rumors, images and clips on a global level shaped our perception as it does today...I sat dutifully in front of my television. Patiently searching for and awaiting every little morsel I could gather about this show. And when I did, I saw promos like these...
...and watched stuff like this Entertainment Tonight report over and over again, freeze-framing and studying every inch of revealed costumes and sets, as fully as that thing called cumbersome format called VHS would allow.
THE NEXT GENERATION arrived on September 28, 1987...launching a seven season series which would spin-off four feature films, and pave the way three other STAR TREK shows (DEEP SPACE NINE, VOYAGER, ENTERPRISE).
This alone makes TNG a hugely successful undertaking - its admitted inconsistencies not withstanding. By ‘admitted inconsistencies’ I mean: in no way, shape, or form am I attempting to sell you on the notion that TNG, on the whole, was perfect in every regard. It was not. The people who made it would apparently agree with this assessment, to some degree, at least. Their honesty on the Season One Blu-ray set, which RELEASES TODAY from CBS Home Entertainment - may be best exemplified by this quote from Rick Berman:
“You never really had the time to sit back and think about what an amazing track of luck you were on. You just worked, and hoped you could keep up the level of excellence that you had from the beginning. And I think in some ways we succeeded, and in some ways we fell a little short.”
...which points towards the extras on THE NEXT GENERATION S1 Blu not being filled with shameless ass-kissing. Rather, this product, on the whole, is very much an immensely classy, level-headed yet profoundly affectionate celebration of one of Science Fiction/Adventure’s most meaningful television undertakings - presented with a visual potency never before afforded by this series, or many shows for that matter.
With each episode being re-built (red-edited, etc.) from the ground up via camera negatives (the only way the series could be presented with the desired image quality), the STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION Season One Blu-ray is, quite simply, a standard setter. I’d even say it establishes the Gold Standard for undertakings of this nature. The loving and painstaking treatment afforded TNG for this Blu-ray presentation represents a quality of execution - and a profundity of ambition - to which all Blu-ray restoration efforts should aspire. And I hope they do. If so, the production of these TNG Blus, even their very existence, could well portend a new era in the recovery and HD restoration of countless television series - be they “hard to restore” titles, under appreciated shows, or just plain forgotten series. Technology and capabilities such as the ones brought to bear on these TNG restorations don’t just generate Blu-rays we can buy...they help preserve the history of television, perhaps the most influential medium or world has ever known.
From The Arsenal of Freedom - (l -DVD, r -restored Blu-ray)
From 11001001 - (l -DVD, r -restored Blu-ray)
But S1 also brought forth a few true gems:
-- 1001001, in which Enterprise is taken by interesting little guys called Binars, brought us the truly stunning Carolyn McCormick as a Holodeck construct called Minuet. She may be the sultriest TREK babe in the show’s vast history, memorably played and...agreeably... presented.
-- The Last Outpost introduced proto-Ferengi - this race would go on to play a major role in the subsequent STAR TREK universe, and had a very cool looking ship. This is not one of the more popular episodes amongst fans, but I’ve always appreciated the style and tone of this one - it felt like smartly assembled “classic” TREK, and inducted Armin Shimerman (who would later play Quark on DEEP SPACE NINE) into the TREK verse. I love the attention to detail in this one - the naturalism of character's reaction shots, how the respond to each others and situations, and so on.
-- The Big Goodbye won the series a Peabody Award and hinted at a chilling moral question of whether Holodeck ‘life’ is self-aware. This notion would be picked up on in later TNGs, and would prove to be one of TNG’s more interesting thematics.
-- Where No One Has Gone Before lived up the promise of each week’s opening narration and introduced the Traveller character who would eventually elope with Wesley Crusher.
WNOHGB also succinctly encapsulated a wondrous existential conceit which I would adopt later in life (not cross-associating it with this episode when I did so): that time, space, and thought are intricately entwined.
-- Conspiracy dared to suggest that Starfleet was decaying from within due to an infiltration of alien parasites, and had one of the best endings of any STAR TREK, ever. An ending, which...regrettably...was never followed-up on in the show. This episode is noteworthy for its graphic violence - which admirably pushed an edgy envelope that, one might argue, didn’t get pushed enough on TNG and subsequent TREK series.
-- Heart of Glory, an admittedly well-made tale, and a favorite of many fans, although it was never my cup of tea. I’m not crazy for the “House of ____” Klingon subplots and machinations -- I ‘get’ why stories like these are interesting to people and respect that they are, but it’s not how I’d prefer TREK to be spending its time.
A few other episodes, The Arsenal of Freedom (pictured above) being one example, sported better ideas than execution (in that case, however, how can one resist the notion of Vincent Schiavelli as an arms dealer?), but the stories listed above...for my money...potently defined the dramatic and intellectual potential of TNG on the whole, and pointedly raised the bar for subsequent seasons to meet or exceed.
The STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION Season One Blu-ray set is spread across six discs. After a brief, Okuda-esque language selection prompt - the first disc launches directly into this promo for the Season Two Blu-ray set...mastered in amazing HD...
Disc One extras include:
ENERGIZED! TAKING THE NEXT GENERATION TO THE NEXT LEVEL
..featuring insight from:
-- Michael Okuda (Scenic Art Supervisor)
-- Denise Okuda (Scenic Artist)
-- Craig Weiss (Director of Visual effects, CBS Digital)
-- Rick Berman (Executive Producer, TNG)
-- Wendy Ruiz (Head of Mastering and Resolution, CBS Digital)
-- Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry (Gene’s Son - Roddenberry Productions)
-- David S. Grant (VIce President, Multimedia, CBS Television Distribution)
-- Sarah Paul (VFX Coordinator, CBS Digital)
-- Ryan Adams (Director, Multimedia, CBS Television Distribution). He looks like Lazarus from TOS and appears as if he could kick many of our asses.
-- Niel Wray (3D Supervisor, CBS Digital)
-- Wade Felker (Film Transfer, CBS Digital)
-- Eric Bruno (Lead Compositor, CBS Digital)
-- Max Gabl (Digtal Matte Artist, CBS Digital)
ENERGIZED! Explains in some detail why the series is not presented in 16x9. In short, it wasn’t possible to do so without recomposing a great many effects shots, and making other changes which would deviate from the intent of the show’s makers.
Do I wish TNG was being brought to us in 16x9? Absolutely. And the samples of what this could look like are tantalizing to say the least. HOWEVER...the show, as presented via this extraordinary restoration and in its original aspect ratio...is immensely satisfying as is. Once you see TNG in HD on your own sets, you may quickly come to understand why the “no 16x9!?” complaint doesn’t hold much water. The presentation here works just fine.
Disc One also features vintage material pimping the coming of the show:
-- Introduction to the Series
-- Promo #1
-- Promo #2
-- Season One Promo
Many of these spots will seem comfortably familiar to those steeped in TNG Geekdom.
Discs Two - Five primarily contain episodes. All episodes offer a toggle which, if selected, precedes each episode with the memorable “Next tiiiime on STAAAARR TREK: THE NEXT GEN-ER-A-TION” promos which previewed that episode the week before.
Disc Six includes a stunning three part (roughly 95 minute total) documentary look at the development and production of the first season of TREK: TNG. Installments of this STARDATE REVISITED series will eventually span the entirety of TNG’s seasonal Blu-ray boxed sets, chronicling the trials, tribulations, and general happenings of the show's television lifetime.
This particular set offers three parts...INCEPTION (28:09), LAUNCH (32:13), and THE CONTINUING MISSION (32:42), which collectively include...
-- Vintage perspective from Gene Roddenberry
-- Rick Berman (Executive Producer). How he became involved with the show, and left his job as Vice President of Current Programming at Paramount to join the production crew of TNG at Roddenberry’s behest. (new and vintage interview)
-- David Gerrold (Program Consultant, TNG). How he came onboard TNG, and why he left later in its first season (new and vintage interviews)
-- Robert H. Justman (Supervising Producer, TNG - 1987 interview)
-- D.C. Fontana (writer/Associate Producer, TNG)
-- Andrew Probert (Consulting Senior Illustrator) - re: designing Enterprise.
-- John Dwyer (Set Decorator)
-- Mike Okuda (Scenic Art Supervisor)
-- Denise Okuda (Scenic Artist)
-- Rick Sternbach (Illustrator)
-- Herman Zimmerman (Production Designer, new and vintage interviews)
-- David Livingston (Producer) - discusses the challenges of keeping the ornery TNG on budget, and how money flow between the production and Paramount worked out if this didn’t happen.
-- Stephen Macht (offered the captain’s role on TNG - was reluctant - fascinating perspectives)
-- Patrick Stewart (discusses his reluctance to take on the Jean-Luc Picard role and the insecurities he experienced once he did so)
-- Jonathan Frakes (William Riker)
-- John A. Wentworth (Executive Vice President, Communications, CBS Television Distribution)
-- Levar Burton (discusses that VISOR)
-- Brent Spiner (Data) - almost ditched the audition, make-up concerns
-- Gates McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher)
-- Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher) - discusses almost blowing his audition
-- Michael Dorn (Worf)
-- Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar)
-- Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi)
-- Sirtis auditioned for Yar (rather, I’m gathering she was up for the character who became Yar), and Crosby for Troi. Neither was quite right for the part, both actresses were liked. Roddenberry decided to switch their roles and see what happened...BINGO.
-- Michael Westmore (Make Up Supervisor)
-- Doug Drexler (Special Makeup Effects)
-- Dan Madsen (President and Publisher, Official STAR TREK Fan Club)
-- Gary Hutzel (Visual Effects Coordinator)
-- Dan Curry (Visual Effects Supervisor)
-- Ronald B. Moore (Visual Effects Coordinator)
-- Gregory Jein (Model Maker)
-- James L. Conway (Director Justice, The Neutral Zone)
Spread throughout all of this: original wardrobe and make-up tests, discussions of putting a Klingon on the bridge of Enterprise (?!?!), mentions of Troi having three breasts (?!?!) at one point in development, a glimpse at a pink Data (?!?!), developmental artwork, camera tests (sets, props, etc), discussions of to hairpiece or not to hairpiece Patrick Stewart, a look at the development and execution of various effects, etc.
Also shepherded by Roger lay Jr. and Robert Meyer Burnett, STARDATE REVISITED is brilliantly realized and affectionately approached. It’s a fast paced insight into the creation and execution of TNG, by a team which clearly holds vast appreciation for the source material - one even gets the sense Lay and Burnett love the very process of bringing this documentary to life. SR is touching, honest, fun, quick, and hugely informative. With STARDATE REVISITED, viewers don't have to be a STAR TREK fan to glean a great deal of understanding about how things worked, and why they worked the way they did, on this show. Taken on the whole, SR manages to be an education unto itself, in addition to being, perhaps, the most enjoyable, comprehensive, and informative documentaries on the making of STAR TREK I’ve ever come across. I’ve already watched it twice, and can’t wait to see what wonders future installments will bring our way.
It sounds like cheesy hyperbole to say “See STAR TREK :THE NEXT GENERATION” as you’ve never seen it before - but in this instance, it’s literally true. Across the board, the restoration efforts here have resulted in the revelation of visual subtleties and details which were not detectable when viewing TNG in its original televised and DVD iterations. Lighting, shadows, depth of color, and overall image clarity now convey a startling array of minute details which were not evident upon previous viewings - working in glorious accord wit a robust new 7.1 sound mix. Such subtlety hugely impacts the visceral nature of the show itself, and deeply alters our perception of what we’re seeing on-screen...and how we react to it. To be clear, these episodes are, fundamentally, the same as they ever were - but how we’re perceiving them has been boldly and meticulously re-shaped. In this regard, and in a very real sense, we’re not only remembering TNG Season One when watching it on Blu-ray, we’re also experiencing it for first time.
If you’ve any interest in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION whatsoever, or television history in general, I can not encourage you strongly enough to pick up these Blu-rays and give ‘em a spin. You may be quite surprised by how differently you end up reacting to many of these episodes once you’ve seen them presented in this way. At the very least, you’ll have some truly beautiful imagery and sound work to experience, enjoy, and hopefully cherish.
TNG’s recovery/restoration/documentary teams have knocked Season One out of the park. Through this set, their carefully weighed and lovingly considered efforts have placed STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION firmly on the cutting edge of video releases. And, when all is said and done, the cutting edge is exactly where STAR TREK deserves to be.
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION Season One is now available on Blu-ray HERE. Season Two is coming later this year.