The best Star Trek ever? How about the least cheesy of the bunch? Certainly, there will always be a place in my heart for Shatner and Nimoy, but Patrick Stewart’s bunch might be my favorite for their more developed acting. Sure, there are some special effects that are better in 2012 than they were in 1987. But this Blu-ray set takes all twenty-five episodes of the premiere season and restores them from the original film (rather than converting from VHS). Don’t understand? Let me try and explain.
Starting with Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Piccard is a different kind of leader from Shatner’s Kirk; he’s less impetuous, more thoughtful, and more of a delegating leader. His second is Jonathan Frakes’ William Riker with Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), psychologist Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), and navigator Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) filling out some of the more important roles. They were still going boldly where no one had gone before, but they were doing it differently. And the special features here make the episodes even better.
You can catch the additional technical wonder in “Energized! Taking The Next Generation To The Next Level,” the first disc’s most special feature. I’d never really seen all of the steps that the animation/film people used to break down or “stack” the visuals so that the show will actually be in 3D. Some of the things which they had filmed in the late 1980s were actually models or built in 3D, so the technicians digitally recreated them to match the first. It wasn’t intent on recreating but actually restoring. That in itself was a lesson from watching: what we have often isn’t bad but it needs tweaks, or pruning. Our lives often need that, even when we can’t see the difference.
That’s the big takeaway from TNG Blu-ray Season One: you don’t know what you were really missing in the standard. The people who made the show didn’t or couldn’t even see it because the technology wasn’t there yet! And this collection adds to our ability to appreciate the episodes, and recognize the beauty of the sights and sounds, the creativity of those involved, and the wonder of space exploration. Watching the footage of SD versus HD, we’re able to watch the scenes as if a veil is lifted, so that our appreciation of the Blu-ray increases. Often, our lives are like that: until a “moment,” we take it for granted or breeze by, when instead we should recognize the wonder of God’s creation or the grace of our human relationships.
The other “major” special feature is “Stardate Revisited: The Origin of Star Trek: The Next Generation” which epically brings the commentary of the major participants from the show (from in front of and behind the camera) now as footage of the show plays interspersed. The three-part feature includes: “Inception” (how the idea came to fruition, including Gene Roddenberry’s blessing), “Launch” (showing screen tests, remembrances by the actors, etc.), and “The Continuing Mission” (how they made the show look and feel the way it did). These are pretty excellent displays of what TNG was, and it shows the heart of the show as well as the people who brought it to life.
Now, of course, if you’ve never seen the show, there are significant differences from the original William Shatner series. You’ll notice that there’s a Klingon onboard: Worf signals that time has changed things (more than seventy-five years have passed in Star Trek time from the original), as old enemies have become friends and new enemies rise up to take their place. You’ll meet Data (Brent Spiner), an android who echoes Bishop from the Alien series, but with more feeling. And then there’s Will Wheaton’s Wesley, who I disliked then, but dislike even more thanks to my Big Bang Theory bias.
To be fair, let’s take a look at those alien enemies. Q (John de Lancie) emerges as one of the “best” villains Picard’s crew faces, messing with their reality in the pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint” and again in “Hide And Q.” The Ferengi appear in the fifth episode, “The Last Outpost,” and their influence will continue throughout Star Trek from that time foreward (especially in Deep Space Nine). The crew will also deal with Data’s evil “twin,” the Riker-Troi relationship, and Worf’s place in the Federation world; Wesley’s Starfleet application also plays a role. Of course, most of these are “self-standing” but the development of the TNG universe meant that things were “sticking,” gathering steam and progressing.
Overall, this is a classic collection, and the two main features are worth watching for sure. Watching the stories again and the behind-the-scenes material that went into them, the appreciation for the show, and the exploration of the great mystery of space (and creation) can only grow. High definition space? That was the icing on the cake.