Friday, August 3, 2012

The Next Generation Season 1 Blu-Ray Review

I've been waiting until I had viewed each episode, including extra features, to review the set for the blog.

In a word, it's spectacular. But in more words (what did you expect?) here are my detailed thoughts.


Well, it's Season One. If you peruse our reviews and look at our season recap, you'll see that Kevin and I thought it was average to maybe just a tick below average. Having watched the whole thing about a year ago for our reviews, I can say that certain episodes (Symbiosis, for instance) do not hold one's attention very well. On the other hand, other episodes (Justice, if you can believe it) really benefit from the HD upgrade, making them more appealing as a whole.

If you are somehow a new fan to the series, I still think you should buy this, with the proviso that things get markedly better even with Season Two, and certainly are totally cooking by Season Three. Season One is still a vital piece of TNG, introducing scads of characters and backstories. And there are still some superb episodes to be found (Encounter at Farpoint, Where No One Has Gone Before, Conspiracy, among others), and plenty of average shows, too.


But these reviews aren't for new fans, are they? The question is - is it worth spending $60 or more to buy something you already own? Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes. Yes!

To start with, overall detail has seen a huge boost, on a comparable or better level with the TOS Blu-Ray set. During facial close-ups, small hairs, pores, beads of sweat, and makeup details are easily visible. Costumes take on a new level of 80s cheesiness, with every crenelation, pleat, sequin, jewel, and bead being crisply defined. Buttons and displays leap off the screen. There is a stable sheen of film grain in most shots, which should make you happy, because it means that we're getting most or all of the detail present on the original negative. Color is another area that is light years ahead of the DVD. The DVD had a mushy, muted color scheme. Here, uniforms are bright, lipstick is ruby red, and spacescapes take on a whole new life.

The two areas of the biggest upgrade are any shots with visual effects in general, and space shots in particular. The way that the show was put together in the 80s, video compositing, led to a huge loss of detail, and the introduction of all sorts of jagged edges and blur. Pieces of 35mm film were essentially run through a VCR and cobbled together at that video resolution (480i). Here, all of the original individual film elements, including live action, visual effects, and model shots, have been rescanned separately and re-composited with modern technology. The result is astounding. Visual effects no longer lead to a degradation of the image. Space shots that were swimming with jagged edges and moire now look as good as current movies and television. The detail on the models is superb - as good as the TOS movies. The happy result is discovering how good many of the effects were, especially on an episode like Farpoint that had the budget to back it up.

Now, some purists will dislike the fact that certain planets have been replaced with CG versions. I know Kevin won't complain, because he disliked many of the early planets, saying they looked phony. Well, they look great, now. I think it was a good move, because the planet images in question were really the only "bad" effects on the original, and they would have stuck out like a sore thumb on the Blu-Ray. As with the TOS remastered effects, these planets hew close to the original color schemes and whatever details were in the original. I do wish that the originals were available with an angle switch, but it's really not a huge deal. We're getting the original models and visual effects, just played out over a few new planets here and there. It's not obtrusive and the results always look good.

There are a few episodes (Heart of Glory, Lonely Among Us) that featured many dark scenes, and these don't look great. They still, however, are a big upgrade from the DVD. As a rule, the brighter the episode and the more location shots are featured in it, the more spectacular the show looks. Farpoint and Justice, to my mind, are the real lookers of the set. The average episode presentation is at least as good as any modern HD television show, which is a real treat. And, thank goodness, the episodes are presented in their original 4:3 aspect ratio. Yes, 35mm film is natively about 16:9. But the shots were framed and matted for 4:3, which means that the extra widescreen space would be filled with lights, boom mics, and hairy union worker ass-cracks. Do you really want to see those things? Not me.


Audio is presented in a new 7.1 channel DTS-HD mix. It sounds fine on my 5.1 channel set-up. I am not an audiophile by any means. What I want is an engaging presentation with some low frequency (bass) and surround sounds, but that doesn't drown out the dialogue. This fits the bill as far as I'm concerned. There are some reports of audio sync issues on a few episodes. I didn't notice it myself, but happily, CBS/Paramount is running a free disc replacement program for any users who desire it. Pretty cool if you ask me. Your mileage may vary.

Special Features and Packaging

The "Making Of" and Restoration documentaries would be worth paying ten or fifteen bucks for in a standalone release. That says a lot, I think, about the overall value proposition represented by this set. Both are presented in 1080p widescreen with subtitles. The Making Of doc clocks in at 90 minutes broken into three parts, while the restoration doc runs over twenty minutes on its own. Both are comprehensive and offer looks at things that even the hardest core fans (a class of which I consider myself a member) will not have come across before. The hair and makeup tests were a riot, and I loved seeing some of Andrew Probert's original concept sketches - such as a bi-level bridge with a conference table behind the captain's chair. Also very refreshing is some of the candor present in cast and crew interviews, with many reminiscing not just on the high points, but also the low points of getting Season One off the ground. The restoration doc goes into a very nice level of detail concerning how the original film elements were located and recomposited, what was done to alter certain shots (such as the planets) and why, and it provides copious before and after shots of the two editions.

What really shines through in these special features is the love that the creators and the restoration team had for the material. The whole production just oozes detail-oriented care, and really makes you, the viewer, who has just laid down some serious scratch for the set, feel good about what you've purchased. The icing on the cake is the inclusion of all the original DVD featurettes. So basically, you can sell your old DVDs on Amazon, donate them to an old folks' home, or use them as swank coasters.

The packaging is very similar to the TOS sets. The discs are in a blue plastic case with plastic "pages" holding discs. Irritatingly, the same flaw exists from the TOS sets - the discs do not list episodes on them, and the package insert only lists them on the inside, covered by discs in the case. I flipped mine around so that the episode list shows on the outside.

The package graphics are attractive. Picard, Riker and Data are inset on a Federation logo (no love for the ladies yet, alas), with some red graphics in the background. Presumably, the color scheme will match the DVD progression of colors, which will be nice for those of us who were used to them.


I think this is a must-buy for any fan with an HDTV, personally. The experience is markedly better than DVD, and light years beyond the original airing in the 80s and 90s. It looks better now than it ever has, and it looks comparable to a modern television show. The space shots especially look as good as most big budget movies. When you see the opening title sequence of Farpoint and the first in-episode shot of the Enterprise, you will be sold, I promise you.

The extra features are at a very high level of production and content quality, and lead to what I consider to be a strong value proposition. For the $60-$70 you're likely to find this for online, you're getting an extremely strong audio-visual experience, with enough new material to really feel like qa complete package, even for die-hard fans.

So, and you'll forgive me, if the question is "to buy or not to by," the answer is: make it so!

1 comment:

  1. I'll add I was particularly intrigued by some of the comments about the atmosphere of season 1. David Gerrold talked about how Rodenberry would unilaterally re-write things at the last minute, and said, "at his best he could made a bad script good, and at his worst, he could make a great script good." And DC Fontana said he treated everyone at points like they were the enemy. They never really talked about why so many people, like Fontana and Gerrold who helped birth the show walked away in the first season, and it's fascinating to see part of the reason why. Like anyone with a singular vision, it can have a down side, and it's really interesting to see them talk so frankly about it. I'm hoping the season 2 features delve into why Gates McFadden left.