Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level Blu-ray review

A selection of three classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes arrives on Blu-ray in remastered form. Here’s Mark’s review of The Next Level…

As a pre-emptive strike for their release of Star Trek: Next Generation on Blu-ray, Paramount has released what can only be described as a teaser disc.

It contains three episodes, including the show pilot, and it’s been remastered from the original film stock the series was shot on, and some of the effects have been tweaked. Which begs the question, is this a blast from the past, or just mildly stunning?

Before I get into the technical enhancement of glimpsing this series in high definition, I should start by mentioning that the disc does contain a very interesting mix of episodes.

The logic of putting on the pilot, Encounter At Farpoint, is clearly intended to remind us where Next Generation began, although even hardcore fans might argue it’s not the best beginning any series had. What’s interesting now is that a number of elements, like the Battle Bridge, appear in this that didn’t really make it into the next seven years of the Enterprise 1701-D adventures, although saucer separation was reused in Star Trek: Generations.

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There are also a good many odd costumes, and dialogue that didn’t get used again, mostly because it didn’t work. At one point Troy says, “The board is green”. What does that mean? She never said it again, I’m sure.

Those things said, the pilot does introduce the key players, along with the lyrical Q, as played wonderfully by John de Lancie, and creates a number of interesting parallels between this series and the original. There’s also a nice handing-over-the-baton scene where DeForest Kelly comes onboard as a very senior Admiral Leonard McCoy. They give him what appears to be a Star Fleet cardigan, and make him wear the same tucked in trousers from the original series.

Viewing it again for the first time in a while, I noted that while Data and Riker seem most like their normal characters, Picard is overly dramatic and less thoughtful, and Troy is far too passive. Obviously, the exact nature of some characters, like Worf’s, didn’t really evolve until much deeper in to the series, and some, like Tasha Yar, hardly ever did to any degree.

Encounter At Far point is probably most important for introducing the Q, and as such lay groundwork for the Borg, and also for creating a level of uncertainty that while the Enterprise and its crew were amazing, they couldn’t handle everything they might encounter.

Logically you’d think that the disc might include a season two and three episode to go with the pilot. But it appears that those who control the assets of the show accept that season two isn’t the peak of Next Generation, which I think only really started to fully engage towards the end of season three.

Therefore the second episode is Sins Of The Father, which was number 17 in season three, and a seminal Worf story, where Riker gets to be part of a Federation/Klingon exchange program. There’s lots of fresh Gagh for him to eat, but the real focus of the story is how Worf is forced to accept discommendation in the Klingon council, effectively admitting his father’s guilt as a traitor. It introduces Worf’s brother Kurn, and sets in sequence events which rumbled on through The Next Generation, and ultimately into Deep Space Nine.

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The Klingons are always value for money in Trek, but I think Sins Of The Father has been chosen to show off some of the replacement effects work rather than its narrative value.

But at the entirely opposite end of the scale is possibly one of the best science fiction stories that Next Gen ever brought us. The Inner Light is a marvellous episode that’s almost entirely a performance by Patrick Stewart, which quite blew my mind when I first saw it. It was written by Morgan Gendel, who got a Hugo Award for this simple but stunningly symmetrical story about what happens to Picard when he’s zapped by a space probe that transports him to a distant world to live out a totally different life.

The ideas in Inner Light are so powerful that they even bound this narrative into the end of the Generations movie, where Picard returns to the wrecked 1701-D to retrieve just one thing from his quarters – the flute he learned to play during his other lifetime  on Kataan. As a nice piece of trivia, Batai, the son of Picard’s alter-persona Kamin, is played by Daniel Stewart, the actor’s real son. The Inner Light was a late season five episode, jumping over the epic Borg stories of season four.

Disc

Those are interesting episode choices, and show the series in a number of radically different moods. But the question on all Trek fans’ minds is surely, what of the quality?

It’s a slightly mixed bag, for me. I was slightly disappointed that it’s in 4:3 ratio since, as they shot it on 35mm, I’d assumed they’d used widescreen framing. But then it’s easy to forget that it was DVD that drove the move to wide aspect, and this series started in 1987.

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It’s also a little grainy in places, where they didn’t deliver enough light for the speed of the film stock they were using. Considering how much film they must have chewed through in 178 episodes, I can see why they didn’t use faster stock, but some scenes suffer a little.

That said, what really smacks you in the face with this new transfer is the clarity and the colour, both of which make the DVD releases look like they were shot through onion soup. They are so vibrant on occasion that they look wrong, because we’ve been so used to the murky broadcast versions, where lots of texture and detail also went missing. The opening title sequence shows what can be done these days without altering it in any meaningful way from the original.

Most of the new or revamped effects are nice, though nothing earth shattering. Often they just look much sharper, which fits better with the clean and bright live action work. Some sequences have been entirely rebuilt, using CGI ships, and these look really good. Sound is also excellent, with the audio remastered from stereo into 7.1 DTS mix that creates a much wider aural stage for those with the equipment to experience it.

While they gave the user interface a suitably LCARS appearance, there isn’t any disc extras as such, other than a trailer with well known Trek artist Michael Ukuda pumping the wider season one release. I guess they want to keep what documentary material they have for the box sets, understandably.

Overall, the Enterprise 1701-D is spectacular inside and out, and I can’t wait to see Best Of Both Worlds and Yesterday’s Enterprise in this level of quality.

You can get this disc for just £6.99, which would be a bargain if it just had The Inner Light on it. If you intend to buy all seven seasons then, there possibly isn’t any point in purchasing this, but for those of you who’d like to reminisce, this is excellent opportunity to go boldly once more.

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Rating:

2 out of 5