Star Trek: The Next Generation’s mid-season two-part episode has been edited together to create a seamless movie experience and the results are good. With each season (beginning with season 3,) CBS has produced a special release containing a combined two-part episode into a ‘movie,’ The Best of Both Worlds, Redemption, and Unification have all received the treatment, arriving with a small collection of special features unique to the release. Chain of Command works better than the previous releases as a seamless experience (though the swell of music and turn of the camera to emphasize the drama of the cliffhanger moment can still be spotted easily,) as the overall action level is more muted in favor of more dramatic machinations. The collection of special features here are good, if not spectacular.
Distributed By: CBS
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Other
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 26 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-rayStandard case with slipsleeve
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 06/24/2014
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
“THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!”Captain Picard, Lt. Worf and Dr. Crusher are selected for clandestine mission into Cardassian territory to determine if the reports of the Cardassian’s development of a deadly metagenic weapon, and a potential invasion of Federation space, are true. While absent of command, Picard is replaced by Captain Jellico, a man with a very different command approach to Picard, and with a great deal of history and experience dealing with the Cardassians as a chief negotiator for their withdrawal from Bajoran space. When Picard’s mission fails, he is captured and is subjected to unacceptable treatment in the hands of a malicious captor.
“Chain of Command” is superb dramatic television. The startling command shakeup as Captain Jellico assumes captaincy of the Enterprise when Picard is chosen to lead a daring mission into a secret Cardassian installation (with Lt. Worf and Dr. Crusher as his team), is potently played out. Superbly paced in the opening episode – with energy and speed – it is given space to breathe and allow the powerful performance by Patrick Stewart, captured by the Cardassians, to play out unfettered during Part II.
Dramatically speaking, a sharp-shift in command has been explored before when Commander Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy) joined the Enterprise during “The Best of Both World’s” two-part episode. But here the shift ripples through the entire senior staff, each suffering the seismic shift in expectations and directives from an uncompromising Captain Jellico (Ronny Cox.) Ronny Cox, undoubtedly hired to role based on his callous, evil corporate leader appearances in Robocop and Total Recall, is well-written for and provides a strong performance. Fortunately, Cox’s character is afforded a little more nuance here than the straight bad-guy roles he excelled at in director Paul Verhoven’s science fiction films. Though he serves as the spoil, Cox delivered enough equivocations in his “my way or the highway’ veneer that his feather-ruffling function in the story earns genuine sympathy.
“Chain of Command” goes to great lengths to set a tone for the Cardassians in preparation for their expanded role (and antagonistic presence) on the, at the time, soon to be launched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And it does so well. With David Warner given a further opportunity in the Star Trek universe as Gul Madred (beyond his wasted turn in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier as St. John Talbot, and his far better turn in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country as Chancellor Gorkon), menace and cunning are woven into this species character.
The A and B stories are equally engaging, with the turmoil aboard the enterprise playing only slightly second to the journey and battle of wills engaged by Picard and Gul Madred. There is a genuine darkness running through Picard’s capture and torture. In terms of all that had come before and all that came after in The Next Generation, “Chain of Command” is unusually dark at times – and that harshness is deeply satisfying, dramatically speaking. The standoff, as Gul Madred tortures Picard to force his submission, to say that there are five lights when in fact there are only four shining hard upon him, is a memorable element in the episode and in the series.
Patrick Stewart, a longtime supporter of Amnesty International, researched torture and sought, through his performance, to lay bare the brutality of torture and bring attention in some way to its unwelcome presence in the world. Having a deeply personal connection to the mission of Amnesty International (having lived with an abusive father,) his work here is superb. Working on a closed set he performed several scenes actually laid bare, nude and strung up performing as a beaten and exhausted prisoner subjected to the type of abuse that can seep the humanity (if you’ll forgive a human expression) out of all of us.
The sets, the lighting, the writing, the performances and the direction are all top-tier television and set “Chain of Command” among the finest episodes of The Next Generation produced over the seven-year run.
Framed correctly at 1.33:1, Chain of Command works very well as a single movie narrative, despite the sharp shift in focus of the two original halves. The re-compositioning of the entire series (just season seven to go) has resulted in Chain of Command filled with fine detail, bright and bold colors (on the Enterprise) and a set-design and lighting accomplishment for the scenes between Picard and Gul Madred appearing the best they have ever looked.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
As mentioned in my season six review. Patrick Stewart’s stressed and drained appearance in Chain of Command is subtly effective, and the harsh lighting revealing of great detail.
Chain of Command, as with the season it is pulled from, comes with a solid 7.1 DTS-HD track.
Audio Rating: 4/5
A brief phaser battle between Picard and team and a few Cardassian soldiers provides the major exercising of the audio (beyond the standard hum of the Enterprise and the audibly sparse room where Picard is held.) And Jay Chattaway, scoring both halves, of the original episode format, delivers a fine score not punctuated by anything particularly memorable, but effectively subtle where it needs to be.
Audio Commentary by Ronny Cox, Jonathan West and Mike & Denise Okuda: Another fine and informative commentary track notably for Ronny Cox’s perspective on his role as spoil for the crew of the Enterprise in Picard’s absence (he rather sees himself as a good captain, just different) – and his fondness for his experience and working with the cast. Technically, Jonathan West (Director of Photography) provides a number of good pointers (for the uninitiated), while the Okuda’s work quite well in moving the conversation along, and mixed with their trademark heavy dose of TNG trivia.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
The Privilege of Rank: Making “Chain of Command” (28:35) (HD): Hearing Ronny Cox discuss his craft with joy, coupled with contemplative comments and earnest reflection, is perhaps the high point of this light special feature. Other actors are given space to share their perspective of their time on the show, in these episodes, with their characters, and others, including the supervising producer Frank Abatemarco and writer of the first part, Ronald D. Moore.
This making of feature doesn’t delve as deeply behind the scenes though there are important touches on the torture plotline and Patrick Stewart’s dedicated performance.
Deleted Scenes (HD): A number of deleted scenes, including a battle of wits between Captain Jellico and LaForge, a lack of apparent compassion between Counselor Troi and Jellico, and others between David Warner’s menacing Gul Madred and Captain Picard.
Episodic Promos: Part I and Part II
Chain of Command works very well as a single movie experience (perhaps the best of similar releases that have come with each season’s debut on Blu-ray,) and it remains a fine entry in the library of Star Trek creations. The cold, still menace of David Warner’s Gul Madred playing opposite a weakened, almost frail Picard performed with such vulnerability by Patrick Stewart is genuinely excellent work. Ronny Cox’s sole appearance in Star Trek is also surprisingly memorable and equal to the quality of the two-parter.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Neil Middlemiss
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