Last year, Paramount Pictures and CBS Home Entertainment announced it had begun a restoration and clean-up effort of the beloved Star Trek: The Next Generation. Fans and the curious were teased with a sample disc containing a selection of episodes from several seasons in January of this year, then in July, the full Season One of the show made its debut. The inaugural season of the new Galaxy Class starship helmed by the smart, serious Captain Picard was mesmerizing in High Definition and came with the promise that future seasons would follow at a brisk but reasonable pace. And here we are, near six months later, ready to pounce on the sophomore season.
The majority of Star Trek: The Next Generation fans point to the third season as the moment in the series’ run when the stars seemed to align. The third season was a high quality solid season topped off with one of the all-time greatest television cliffhangers in The Best of Both Worlds Pt. 1. But that ascension to full-groove television naturally had its seeds sewn in the first season but it was nurtured and evolved purposefully and with success during the sophomore season. Exemplary hours of television with ever stronger performances were unveiled, building upon the edict of Rodenberry’s vision of the future, faithful to the legacy of the Original Series, but very much becoming its own, unique entity.
Studio: Paramount Pictures/CBS
Year: 1988- 89
US Rating: Not Rated
Film Length: 998 Minutes.
Video: MPEG-4 AVC 1080P High Definition
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English/French/Spanish/German/Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Japanese, German, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Release Date: December 4, 2012
Review Date: December 2, 2012
“The victors invariably write the history to their own advantage. There is an unfortunate tendency in many cultures to fear what they do not understand.”
Star Trek: The Next Generation is the most successful of the now five Star Trek series, and for good reason. It was serious minded, exciting, and bolstered by wonderful visual effects for a Television show (thanks to ILM’s terrific stock effects and other talented folk) and an earnest dedication to the evolved sensibilities of our possible future created by Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry. The cast ranged from superb actors to moderately skilled, but each added a flavor and distinctness that are every bit an integral element in the fabric of the show. Patrick Stewart stars as the English accented, French born Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Jonathan Frakes as the handsome first officer, William T Riker, Brent Spiner as a unique and beloved android Commander Data, LeVar Burton, with his special visor as a mechanically gifted Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge, Marina Sirtis as a half-betazoid, half human ship counselor Deanna Troi, Michael Dorn as the interesting and impressive Chief of Security Worf (the lone Klingon aboard), Diana Muldaur appearing during the second-season as Dr. Kate Pulaski, and Wil Wheaton as the often ill-placed Wesley.
The crew, captained by Jean-Luc Picard, explores space in the Enterprise D, a Galaxy Class starship, housing over 1000 crew and their families. They encounter evolved beings, mysterious anomalies, aggressive and amenable species and other assorted magnificent wonders out in the great unknown. The stories from the seven seasons for which this show ran feature impressive, intelligent and exciting tales that deliver allegorical thought-provokers and good old fashion science fiction fun. It is a show that has grown and prospered from the success of what the original series (in syndication and in feature films) provided. The Next Generation was different from the days of Kirk, Spock and McCoy in tone, technology and tenor – but fundamentally born of the same spirit of exploration, tolerance, social stories and intellect.
Season Two has always been a collection of episodes that represent a mix of episodes exhibiting growing pains with those offering the bright light of the series brilliance. It wouldn’t be until Season Three that the cast and production had fully matured into its own entity, stepping out of the shadows of the legendary Original Series. The second season saw the writer’s flex more of their dramatic muscles and play to the franchise’s strength in telling allegorical stories (rights, conflict resolution, etc.). Perhaps no episode proved this strength better than Measure of a Man, featuring a delightfully restrained performance from Brent Spiner who, portraying Data, must challenge his status as a sentient member of the crew and not merely property of Starfleet. An impassioned performance by Patrick Stewart solidified his bona fides as a serious actor capable of nuanced dramatic performances (and less so the physical presence that William Shatner’s Kirk had).
The second season saw a blip in the casting as Gates McFadden, who played Dr. Beverly Crusher, was replaced by Diana Muldaur’s grumpy, fastidious Dr. Pulaski. Clearly modeled after DeForest Kelley’s cantankerous Dr. McCoy (Bones), Muldaur brought a more mature actor to the cast but was never able to shake the fan’s discontent with missing Gate’s McFadden’s Crusher Character. She would of course return for season three and stay with the series and through the jump to the big screen.
Changes in season two extended beyond the change of casting for the ship’s doctor. Geordi LaForge was promoted to Chief Engineer (and given his gold uniform), Worf’s role of Security Chief was made permanent, Commander Riker sports his beard for the first time, and Whoopi Goldberg joined the cast in a recurring special guest role as the enigmatic Guinan (tending bar in the new Ten Forward set).
The season began under the shadow of a writer’s strike which reduced the season’s episode order from 26 to 22 and gave rise to the pilfering of old Star Trek Phase II scripts (The Child) and, the worst of any Star Trek episode, a clip show in Shades of Gray. Besides Shades of Gray, Season two has a number of weak episodes, including the bizarrely old-fashioned and culturally stereotypical Up the Long Ladder, the irritating Wesley focused episode The Dauphin (containing some dubious creature effects), and the meandering and wasted concept opportunity The Royale. These episodes represent the more weighty missteps in an otherwise earnest season and are backed up by several meandering episodes, including Pen Pals, The Icarus Factor and Unnatural Selection. Despite these weaker moments, the season was ripe with terrific episodes, including these highlights:
The entertaining time-travel tale Time Squared features a time anomaly producing a replica of Captain Picard from 6 hours in the future. A time-travel story on such a small scale produces far more mystery and intrigue than many broader tales that jump years ahead or behind. A microcosm of a time-travel idea, which originally began as a Q episode, may not have an ending that holds up to too much scrutiny, but an enormously satisfying episode nonetheless.
Elementary, Dear Data gave us the first of many dedicated Sherlock Holmes tales with Data donning the renowned literary crime-solver’s deerstalker hat and Geordi as his trusty accomplice, Dr. Watson. The episode guest stars Daniel Davis as Moriarty in a superbly tacit performance of mischievousness, imbuing his holographic version of Holmes’s arch nemesis with subtlety and courteousness. The set design, costumes, lighting and direction are all top-notch (and beautifully revealed in HD).
The Emissary is a wonderful Klingon-centric episode featuring the lovely Suzie Plakson as K’Ehleyr, former lover of Worf and emotional spoil whose presence would bring some level of tumult to Worf’s life again in the future. A clever story that has a pre-alliance Klingon K’t’inga-class sleeper ship poised to awaken and wreak havoc on allies the Klingon ship would view as enemies. The argument of striking early to eliminate the threat versus a riskier but more measured approach plays out through the episode before wrapping with Worf getting a great moment to shine.
In the episode Q Who?, the crew of the Enterprise D are introduced to what would become their most formidable nemesis, The Borg, and comes with another great appearance of the popular character, Q (performed with continued glee by John de Lancie). What a great and foreboding episode and a teasing promise for a superbly organized foe.. John de Lancie’s portrayal of Q segues to a more playful side even as he seeks to let the air out of the positive-viewed Starfleet balloon.
One of the finest episodes of the entire series, Measure of a Man, appeared relatively early in the season; a legal drama dissecting the status and rights of Commander Data. Data resigns his commission in protest of Startfleet’s command that he submit to an examination by dismantling by an unpleasant scientist. Genuine dramatic weight and thoughtful dialogue examine themes central to Star Trek; what are we, who are we, how we can define ourselves – and be defined – by how we treat others, especially those different from ‘us’. A standout episode in all regards.
Other episodes of note are Loud as a Whisper featuring deaf actor Howie Seago as negotiator Riva seeking to bring peace to parties who have warred for centuries; The Schizoid Man guest starring frequent Star Trek guest actor W. Morgan Sheppard as the irascible Dr. Ira Graves who seeks to extend his life by downloading his accumulated life knowledge into a computer, but fate chances him a more mobile alternative; and A Matter of Honor that gave the series another solid step into Klingon Culture and gave Jonathon Frakes’ Riker a chance to demonstrate some serious command prowess (and finally gave Colm Meaney’s trusty Transporter Chief, Miles, a last name).
Season Two holds up better than you might expect. A precursor to the fully matured and confident third season, the second season falters in part from the effect of the writer’s strike and the less than optimal introduction of Dr. Pulaski, but holds more than enough great stories, entertaining visual effects and solid performances to make up for it.
Where Silence Has Lease
Elementary, Dear Data
The Outrageous Okona
Loud as a Whisper
The Schizoid Man
A Matter of Honor
The Measure of a Man
The Icarus Factor
Up the Long Ladder
Shades of Gray
Filmed on a different stock, Season Two looks different; more film like, textured and without as much gloss and glean – all for the better. The new look gives the series a more refined look from my perspective. The HD upgrade continues on strong footing throughout the season. Interior shots offer wonderful details, especially for darker episodes like A Matter of Honor where the lighting of the Klingon Bird of Prey interiors have always been moodier.
Details of actor’s faces and sets and materials, Worf’s sash, Guinan’s outfits and Romulan and Klingon uniforms are all superb. Of particular note during the earlier episodes is the occasional stray hair on Picard’s head. As with season one, the odd scene here and there appears darker, grainer than others – perhaps the choice of lighting for that scene, but detail remains strong regardless.
Where season two doesn’t quite hit the highs of season one are the upgrades of some of the visual effects. As a reminder, transferring this series to high-definition is a mammoth undertaking. The show’s visual effects were shot on film requiring every visual effects element to be re-compositioned (rather than suffer an upconversion from videotape). This requires re-cutting over 25,000 film reels, meticulously rebuilding the episodes and preserving the original episodes in lush detail transferred to high-definition detail
For the first season, which was handled by CBS-Digital in house, many planets had been updated entirely, recreated using notes from Michael Okuda and with the intent of ‘bringing into focus the original matte images’. Season two, where the work was handled primarily by HTV-Illuminate (given the complexity and time-consuming nature of this undertaking, others were contracted), and it appears they have attempted to represent more of a native look resulting a many a planet being less distinct, at times soft and less focused (particularly as a backdrop to a sharper looking Enterprise). In other words, the planets aren’t as dynamic in appearance. And in the episode Where Silence has Lease, the enterprise launches two probes into a section of space where nothing appears to exist and the effect of the probe calls itself out – isn’t as natural to the scene.
Despite some minor unfavorable comparisons to the restoration work performed on the first season, there is plenty to celebrate, including my favorite moment during the reveal inside the Borg cube in Q Who?, as the camera pulls back to reveal the awesome size and scale of the interior – faithful and expertly rendered.
Season Two continues the audio strength exampled in Season One with another solid 7.1 DTS-HD track available for each episode. Once again Jerry Goldsmith’s abbreviated Star Trek theme, used first in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, trumpets a glorious pronouncement of adventure and wisdom, joining the Enterprise fly-by in filling the channels. Effects sounds – transporters, phasers, explosions and the growl of the occasional creature (The Dauphin) find space to come alive. These sounds are wonderfully crisp as is the hum of the bridge and the musical contributions of Ron Jones and Dennis McCarthy (the two primary composers for the entire season).
I will note that on Disc One I noticed what appeared to be a very minor synching issue where the audio follows just slightly after the action onscreen. It is ever so slight but noticeable enough to call out. Despite that, this is another winning audio.
Also included is a DTS-HD 2.0 track that more closely resembles the stereo presentation of its original airing.
4 / 5
5 Episode Promos: Archival promo’s from the episodes on disc one are available (the standard ‘next week on Star Trek: The Next Generation teasers’)
1988 On Air Season Two Promo: Short teaser.
Energized! Season Two Tech Update (7:58): A much briefer look at bringing the second season into the HD realm featuring Dan Curry and Michael & Denise Okuda.
1988 Reading Rainbow Segment with LeVar Burton Promo (17:00): Available on YouTube for a while now, LeVar gives a behind the scenes look at Star Trek: TNG to his young audience.
2012 Reading Rainbow iTunes Promo (17:00)
Archival Mission Log: Departmental Briefing Year Two: Production (17:30): A look primarily at the creation of the Borg, Klingon food and a few other key elements of the second season’s production.
4 Episode Promos
The Measure of a Man (HD Extended Version): The original cut of the episode ran 13 minutes too long and was carefully edited to preserve the core and weight of the show but meet the demands of the run time. This restored extended version restores the cut scenes – which flesh out moments, and character interactions – and provide an already stellar episode additional gravitas.
Audio Commentary with Melinda Snoddgrass and Mike & Denise Okuda: A great listen as the three discuss the original teaser (Data learning to swim) and the impetus for the many great character moments that exist throughout the episode. The participants ask each other questions to draw as much interesting information to the fore as possible, and the Okuda’s take the opportunity to share moments of restoration and they all share the newly inserted scenes.
The Measure of a Man (Hybrid Extended Version): Featuring and original rough cut of the episode combining the HD version with an early original VHS version from Melinda Snoddgrass’ archives.
5 Episode Promos
Gag Reel (10:29): Absolutely hilarious. What a wonderful glimpse behind the scenes at the camaraderie and playful nature of the cast.
Archival Mission Log: Inside Starfleet Archives: Penny Juday, Star Trek Coordinator (17:33): Profile of Penny Juday.
Archival Mission Log: Selected Crew Analysis Year Two (13:46): A look at several of the crew featuring archival interviews (and reminding us all of what the show used to look like before the wonderful HD upgrade).
5 Episode Promos
Audio Commentary with Dan Curry, Rob Bowman and Mike & Denise Okuda: Q Who? gets the commentary treatment, more technical in focus than the commentary for Measure of a Man, and a genuinely good listen.
Archival Mission Log: Departmental Analysis Year Two: Memorable Missions (16:32): A profile of some selected episodes recalling the actors, performances, wardrobe and other elements that contributed to their success.
3 Episode Promos
Reunification: 25 Years After Star Trek: The Next Generation (101:52): The real treasure of all the special features is the reunion of the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation hosted by Robert Burnett. What begins as a retread of familiar questions, quickly gives way to highly playful interactions (“I knew you but I didn’t like you”), and finally to some great reminiscing about the early days and working with each other. One of the finest moments is the discussion of the Pilot and the contributions of director Corey Allen. Priceless! This is a pure joy to watch.
Making it So: Continuing Star Trek: The Next Generation
§ Part One: Strange New Worlds (39:26): This covers quite a lot of ground – everything from Rick Berman talking of its triumphant beginnings, convention appearances, fans discovering the show, the cast reflecting upon the highs and lows of the series, Denise Crosby leaving the show, and much more (including test footage from Star Trek Phase II).
§ Part Two: New Life and New Civilizations (42:00): A surprisingly frank discussion of Gates departure in season two and Diana Muldaur’s arrival as her replacement. Discussions of guest starring spots from some great actors and much more are featured here.
Archival Mission Log: Mission Overview Year Two: This archival special feature focuses on the new additions to the cast and the changes to the sets (addition of Ten Forward).
Note: Several minutes of Deleted Scenes are available for The Icarus Factor and Up the Long Ladder (found with those episodes - and easy to miss when doing the 'play all' feature).
My love for Star Trek, and Star Trek: The Next Generation in particular has only grown stronger through the years. The release of The Original Series on Blu-ray, in glorious high definition, renewed my love for the show that introduced me to the wonderful possible universe created by Gene Roddenberry. With each film, great or not, I have been inspired and found continued reason to admire the pursuits of the United Federation of Planets. With the reboot of Star Trek under the guidance of J.J. Abrams, I have found excitement at the thought of Star Trek being birthed anew for a new generation and with Star Trek: The Next Generation’s rollout on Blu-ray, I am reminded of just what it is I love about the sincerity and significance of science-fiction born from great ideas. In short, it is releases like this one that continue to reenergize my love and excitement for this franchise. I strongly recommend picking this set up.
Overall (Not an average)