STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION: SEASON 1 – DVD review

Warner Bros. has Batman and Superman. MGM has James Bond. Fox has “Star Wars.” So what? Paramount has “Star Trek,” a franchise that has spawned 9 feature films (and counting), 5 television shows (and counting), and a pop sub-culture with world-wide penetration. No other telefilm series has such a continuous and evolving presence in the eyes of the world, and no other science-fiction programming avoids cheesiness and awful production values quite as successfully as “Star Trek.”

Before any fans of “Star Wars,” “Babylon 5,” “Farscape,” or other such creations send me flaming e-mails, allow me to offer a disclaimer: I am not a Trekkie/Trekker. I have never watched the show as religiously as I do, say, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but I respect the serious purposefulness of “Star Trek.” Even the oft-campy original show (and cast) had their moments of philosophical peaks. Yes, it may be naïve to think it possible to achieve world peace or the elimination of the desire for material goods, but “Star Trek” offers a certain stoic nobility that few things have in our glibly post-modernistic age.

Paramount Pictures has released the first nine “Star Trek” movies on DVD (in reverse order), but they were all relatively bare-bones. The studio seems intent on working its way through the movie series again with special edition re-releases, and it’s also gotten around to releasing the TV shows on DVD.

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” Season 1 finally arrives on DVD, five years after “TNG” went off the year and four years after the DVD format first hit consumer markets. The entire season is included in an attractive silver box set. This is a pleasant departure from the way Paramount released the original “Star Trek” (two episodes each on 40 individually-sold discs!). All 7 seasons of “TNG” will be sold as box sets in matching boxes, and I assume that future releases of “Deep Space 9,” “Voyager,” and “Enterprise” will be treated similarly. (By the way, if you do the math, Paramount could’ve squeezed the episodes onto five or six discs and charged the same price, but the studio had the good sense NOT to sacrifice sound and image quality by including no more than four episodes on each DVD.)

Disc 1: “Encounter at Farpoint” Parts 1 and 2, “The Naked Now,” “Code of Honor.”

Disc 2: “The Last Outpost,” “Where No One Has Gone Before,” “Lonely Among Us,” “Justice.”

Disc 3: “The Battle,” “Hide and Q,” “Haven,” “The Big Goodbye.”

Disc 4: “DataLore,” “Angel One,” “11001001,” “Too Short a Season.”

Disc 5: “When the Bough Breaks,” “Home Soil,” “Coming of Age,” “Heart of Glory.”

Disc 6: “The Arsenal of Freedom,” “Symbiosis,” “Skin of Evil,” “We’ll Always Have Paris.”

Disc 7: “Conspiracy,” “The Neutral Zone.”

“TNG” Season 1 does not have a big story arc. Rather, the filmmakers were content to create self-contained episodes and to focus on establishing the characters as clearly delineated individuals. In a sense, as the crew of the newly-commissioned USS Enterprise tentatively begins to explore the universe, the show is finding its “space legs,” too.

A couple of episodes stand out from the rest. In “DataLore,” Data discovers that he has an evil brother who has an emotion chip that Data lacks. The conflict between Data and Lore continues in the other seasons. “Symbiosis” examines the philosophical issues concerning providing medicine to the ill. In “Skin of Evil,” a principal crew member meets her end, and there is a poignant memorial service that encapsulates the humanism of the show.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is trying to show his crew and Starfleet that he deserves to command the Enterprise, the latest incarnation of a ship with a legendary history. Lt. Cmdr. William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is a rising star in Starfleet who has to do his best to avoid letting his Lothario-ways from getting him cashiered. Other beloved characters include the Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn), security chief Natasha Yar (Denise Crosby), the visor-wearing Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), the android Data (Brent Spiner), Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), and ship counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). Yes, there’s also Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton), so hated by some that he actually spawned “Die Wesley Die” clubs and websites.

You know what I like most about the performances? When Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, and Michael Dorn get to shout dialogue with their commandingly deep voices, lol.

Video:
“TNG” Season 1 appears on DVD in its original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 (full-frame on 4:3 monitors). For the most part, the video image looks crystal clear and stable. Colors are natural (and realistic, a reflection of how well the show’s costumes and sets were designed to avoid looking too cheesy, too comic-bookish, or too cartoonish). There are some moments with digital specking, and I noticed a “hair” or two, even. However, on the whole, the video quality is exceptional.

(Oddly, some scenes exhibit a noticeable amount of grain, but I suppose that one could attribute the grain to the fact that the budgets for the show weren’t too conducive to obtaining the best film stocks.)

Audio:
For the DVD release of the TV show, Paramount rejigged the audio for each episode and created new Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) sound mixes. I was very surprised by the high-quality of the new audio tracks. The true separation of audio effects to the five speakers immerses the viewer in the onscreen action. Courtesy of the rear surround channels, you can hear the soft pulsing of the warp-core reactor when the action takes place in Engineering. When the crew visits “natural” locations, you can hear the occasional animal/insect sound or the rustling of foliage. The bass can be quite powerful, especially when the Enterprise jumps to warp speed and booms off the screen.

Each episode also comes with DD 2.0 (English) tracks, and depending on the discs, these tracks are either matrixed surround tracks or simple stereo tracks. The bonus materials come with DD 2.0 surround audio. English subtitles support the audio.

Extras:
There are four newly-created featurettes to accompany Season 1. These extras appear on Disc 7, and they are: “The Beginning,” “Selected Crew Analysis,” “Making of a Legend,” and “Memorable Missions.” The featurettes contain interview footage of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the “Star Trek” franchise. Mr. Roddenberry is no longer with us, so his appearances in these mini-documentaries are most welcome.

“The Beginning” provides a glimpse of the creation of the show, including the construction of the sets as well as casting the principal cast members. “Selected Crew Analysis” gives the actors an opportunity to discuss their experiences in being cast in a show that’s a part of a cultural phenomenon. Production staff members talk about their favorite episodes in “Making of a Legend,” and they reveal many behind-the-scenes secrets concerning special effects and make-up. Finally, in “Memorable Missions,” cast and crew members reminisce about key episodes and events.

A glossy insert fold-out provides a note from Rick Berman (one of the executive producers of the show), a few comments about the principal characters, Airdates and Stardates for each episode, and a mini-mural of the cast members.

Entertainment Value:
As I’ve noted previously in this review, Season 1 does not have a storyline that bridges all 26 episodes, unlike later seasons. True, Q’s appearances indicate that the crew of the Enterprise will face more than just troubles with alien races, and the final episode sets up the possibility of war with the long-missing Romulans (and the Borg). Still, as episodic as it is, “TNG” Season 1 provides the groundwork for the entire run of the show. I had fun watching it again.

One last thing: I’ll always be fond of the first season of “TNG” because it has my favorite character–Lt. Natasha “Tasha” Yar. Denise Crosby is some kind of wonderful. Heck, even Gene Roddenberry said that she reminded him of Grace Kelly.

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