For the better part of 2002, I have been reviewing Paramount’s massive output of “Star Trek” DVDs. With 6 seasons of “The Next Generation” and 2-disc special editions of “The Wrath of Khan” and “The Search for Spock” under my belt, I boldly did something that I had never done until this year–I went to a “Star Trek” movie on opening day. I saw “Generations” and “Insurrection” well into their theatrical runs, and I have yet to see “First Contact”. (I know, I know–so sue me, lol.) Well, all those hours filled with references to Starfleet and Enterprises and Romulans got me psyched to see “Nemesis”, and I’m glad to say that it gave me 2 hours of thrills, intrigue, and emotional rides. “Next Generation” cast members feel an intense bond for one another, and their sense of camaraderie is infectious.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I found “ST: TNG–Season 7” to be noticeably less entertaining than I thought that it would be. To me, everything felt as if the series’s handlers knew that the show was in its last year, so they tried to wrap up loose ends without as much care towards the overall feel of the season as they should’ve used. As one of the writers remarks in a featurette included in the DVD box set, every character seemed to have a family member appear just to resolve emotional threads. The over-use of relatives reduced the “Star Trek” universe to…a handful of people too busy to bother with the politics of their existence. In effect, “TNG” shrunk from space opera to interior drama. The seventh season may have received an Emmy nomination for Best Drama Series, but I feel that the nomination was given to the show as a farewell prize to the most visibly successful syndicated program on TV during its time.

The Season 7 box set matches the quality of the other box sets for the most part. Seven discs have been included in an attractive silver box (with lavender being the season’s signature disc color). As with the previous seasons, Year 7 does not offer a big story arc. Rather, it expands upon the narrative, character, and thematic threads found in previous years that helped the show to transcend the science-fiction genre and to rise into the realm of human-interest drama.

Disc 1: “Descent, Part 2”, “Liaisons”, “Interface”, “Gambit, Part 1”.

Disc 2: “Gambit, Part 2”, “Phantasms”, “Dark Page”, “Attached”.

Disc 3: “Force of Nature”, “Inheritance”, “Parallels”, “The Pegasus”.

Disc 4: “Homeward”, “Sub Rosa”, “Lower Decks”, “Thine Own Self”.

Disc 5: “Masks”, “Eye of the Beholder”, “Genesis”, “Journey’s End”.

Disc 6: “Firstborn”, “Bloodlines”, “Emergence”, “Preemptive Strike”.

Disc 7: “All Good Things…”

Season 7 begins with the conclusion to Season 6’s cliffhanger final episode. Season 6’s “Descent, Part 1” saw some of the Enterprise crew trapped on a planet controlled by Borg led by Lore, Data’s evil android brother. “Descent, Part 2” brings Lore to an end, but there seems to be no lack of Data prototypes as long as Brent Spiner is willing to pull double duty (as seen with “Nemesis”).

Ship’s counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) finally takes the bridge officer’s test that allows her to participate in duty shifts on the Enterprise. Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) quits Starfleet Academy in order to join The Traveler in journeys that disregard human comprehension of space and time. Worf (Michael Dorn) helps his human brother (Worf was adopted by human parents) move a group of pre-flight people from one planet to another via ingenious uses of the holodeck programs. Kirsten Dunst fans will want to keep their eyes from blinking during “Dark Page”. The actress, still very much a kid in 1993, appears as a telepath who unlocks Lwaxana Troi’s painful memories of a secret not known to her daughter, Deanna.

The Bajoran Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes) makes a return in “Preemptive Strike”. Although enjoying a rejuvenated Starfleet career thanks to Picard’s sponsorship, Ro’s undercover mission of posing as a Maquis freedom fighter forces her to re-evaluate her life choices. Growing up fighting Cardassian occupiers, Ro feels welcomed and at ease with the Maquis. Yet, her newfound respect for Starfleet and Picard’s values prevent her from easily leaving a career in uniform.

My favorite Season 7 episode is “Lower Decks”. The writers created a parallel structure that has senior officers such as Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Troi, LaForge (LeVar Burton of “Reading Rainbow” fame), and Worf playing poker and discussing possible promotions of junior officers while the junior officers in question play poker amongst themselves, too. It all leads to an either/or scenario that sends Ensign Sito, a Bajoran, on a dangerous mission meant to send a Cardassian double agent back to Cardassia Prime. Despite his gruff attitude, Worf gets to show that he, too, cares deeply about the welfare of people deserving his Klingonian respect.

Year 7 ends with “All Good Things…”, a 2-parter that has Picard (Patrick Stewart) bouncing from past to present to future in order to figure out how he causes the failure of amino acids to develop into life-giving proteins on Earth waaaaay back in time. “All Good Things…” has what I think is the funniest “TNG” dialogue exchange:

Picard: “You’re going to deny us space travel?”
Q: “No–your existence!”

The episode also has one of the most heart-warming scenes of the series. At the very end, a relieved Picard (he just avoided preempting life’s beginnings, after all) joins his friends in Riker’s room for a round of poker. Poignantly, he observes that he “should’ve done this a long time ago”.

“TNG” Season 7 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 clear. Colors are natural and realistic. There are very few noticeable indications of scratches, dust, or hairs, and the sharpness is very refreshing. However, as with the previous seasons, some visual effects shots are noticeably grainy. Also, some shots look unstable, as if water and temperature had warped the film negative to wavy shapes.

For the DVD releases of “TNG”, Paramount created new Dolby Digital 5.1 English sound mixes from the original stereo surround stems. The new audio tracks are of high-quality, and the true separation of audio effects to the 5 main speakers immerses the viewer in the onscreen action. The bass can be quite powerful, especially when the Enterprise jumps to warp speed and booms off of the screen. You can hear the constant hum of warp engines, too. Music can be fairly enveloping, filling the room courtesy of lively rear channels.

Each episode’s original DD 2.0 surround English track can be selected, and the bonus materials come with DD 2.0 surround audio. Optional English subtitles and closed captions support the audio.

There are 5 newly-created featurettes to accompany Season 7. Older and more recent interviews comprise the majority of the footage in these featurettes. These extras appear on Disc 7, and they are: “Mission Overview: Year Seven”, “A Captain’s Tribute”, “Departmental Briefing–Year Seven: Production”, “Starfleet Moments and Memories”, and “The Making of ‘All Good Things…'”. These items each run between 10 to 30 minutes.

“Mission Overview: Year Seven” discusses pivotal moments in the “TNG” universe. For the most part, interviewees talk about working bridges between “TNG”, “DS9”, and “Generations”, which started filming right after the wrap of “All Good Things…”. In “A Captain’s Tribute”, Patrick Stewart gets a forum to talk about his favorite times with cast and crew members. “Departmental Briefing: Year Seven–Production” focuses on Gates McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher) and her first directing gig (the “Genesis” episode). McFadden and series writer Jeri Taylor also talk about how the female characters function as strong role models for young women watching the show.

In “Starfleet Moments and Memories”, everyone gets the chance to sound off about the great times enjoyed on the set. Even my fave gal, Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar and Sela), appears in this featurette. “The Making of ‘All Good Things…'” bears a self-explanatory title. It’s not a groundbreaking “making of” piece, but it’s nice to hear everyone talk about the circularity of the series pilot (“Encounter at Farpoint”) and the series finale.

Finally, there is a promo for the upcoming DVD release of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine–Season 1”.

A glossy insert fold-out provides a “thank you” note from series executive producer Rick Berman, Airdates and Stardates for each episode, and a mini-mural of the cast members. The box set also offers a $25 rebate offer for those of you who buy Seasons 5, 6, and 7.

Entertainment Value:
I think that Seasons 3, 4, and 5 were the best years of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. Still, there are some genuinely great moments in Year 7. Ironically, some of the best episodes were ones that introduced new aliens in order to support plot points in “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” (then in the early stages of development). These episodes, which expanded the fictional universe, balanced the “shrinking” feel brought about by scripts that dealt with so-and-so’s long lost something-or-other.

With “Nemesis” undeservedly fading quickly at the box office, it’s up to “Star Trek” fans to show their support for the franchise by buying “Star Trek: The Next Generation–Season 7” despite the fact that the gift-giving season is basically over. Besides, if you’ve collected sets 1 through 6, why stop now? 🙂