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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 3/26/02

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season One
1987-88 (2002) - Paramount

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season One Program Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/A-/C

Specs and Features
Approx. 1,183 mins (26 episodes at 46 mins each), NR, full frame (1.33:1), 7 single-sided, dual-layered discs (containing 2-4 episodes each - bonus content on Disc Seven), custom "clam shell" case with inner gatefold packaging, 4 "behind-the-scenes" featurettes (The Beginning, Selected Crew Analysis, Making of a Legend and Memorable Missions), booklet insert, animated program-themed menu screens with sound effects and music, scene access (8 chapters per episode), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

"These are the voyages of the Starship... Enterprise."

With those familiar words, Star Trek: The Next Generation arrived on TV screens in September of 1987, marking a new revival of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek legacy and beginning a seven year run that would make it the most successful Trek incarnation ever. The Next Generation was the last Star Trek series to feature the significant creative input of Roddenberry, who died during the show's fifth season. And that's important to note, because it shows. Despite the mini-skirts and pajama style uniforms, the occasional bit of Sci-fi cheese and the fact that the Enterprise bridge looked like a living room... The Next Generation was deeply infused with Roddenberry's own brand of idealism and optimism about the future - something that was at the very heart of the original series. And while Deep Space Nine and Voyager added interesting storylines and characters to the Trek cannon, a whole lot of fans of Star Trek (myself included) eventually abandoned them for lack of Roddenberry's vision. To me at least, they felt like shows created by a studio desperate to keep the franchise alive. Gene was badly missed.

Thankfully, this is a good time to be a fan. Star Trek is FINALLY feeling fresh and new again. The latest series, Enterprise, is at last based on our favorite starship again... but at a time when humans are just beginning to reach for the stars. As a result, that sense of optimism and idealism - the the sheer joy of exploration - is back in spades, making the show the most accessible Trek in ages. A new feature film, Star Trek: Nemesis, is now in production and looks to be a great big screen adventure. I've read the script, written by scribe John Logan of Gladiator fame, and it's a real rip, with great drama and the most exciting villain since Khan. And Paramount is finally bringing Star Trek: The Next Generation to DVD, starting with the show's complete first season.

The 26 episodes included in this first DVD collection (in a boxed set of 7 discs) are as follows: Encounter at Farpoint, Part I, Encounter at Farpoint, Part II, The Naked Now, Code of Honor, The Last Outpost, Where No One Has Gone Before, Lonely Among Us, Justice, The Battle, Hide and Q, Haven, The Big Goodbye, Datalore, Angel One, 11001001, Too Short a Season, When the Bough Breaks, Home Soil, Coming of Age, Heart of Glory, The Arsenal of Freedom, Symbiosis, Skin of Evil, We'll Always Have Paris, Conspiracy and The Neutral Zone. I won't go into the episode stories here - you can visit the official Star Trek website for complete summaries of each.

But there are some important comments to be made. While the first season of any show is always a struggle to find the right dramatic tone, the fit and identity of the characters and the overall story direction, The Next Generation's first year accomplished all of these things very well indeed. There were certainly episodes that were not so good, most notably the silly Naked Now. But there were many more decent episodes, and a few real stand-outs too, among them The Big Goodbye, the first look at the Klingons in Heart of Glory, the very dark (even gruesome) Conspiracy and the first appearance of the Romulans (as well as the first hint of The Borg) in the ominous season-ender, The Neutral Zone. By the end of Year One, each character had become familiar, and the relationships that would come to define the series were all comfortably set. This was a family that had endured many difficult tests (including a surprising and unexpected death). More importantly, it was a family that all but the most skeptical Trek fans had connected with on a personal level.

Star Trek: The Next Generation is presented on DVD in its original full frame aspect ratio, and the video quality is generally very good... with a few limitations. The Next Generation was one of the very first TV shows to use heavy digital video post production and special effects, meaning that the final masters were on videotape - not film. That's standard practice today, but it was a new way to do things back in 1987. As such, the series (particularly the early episodes) has a very "digital" look about it, which can be noticed particularly in special effects shots and the show's credits. Also, the state of the art in physical videotape storage back in the late eighties was still largely analog, meaning that these early episodes can appear a little soft or "muddy" at times, with occasionally crushed blacks. But this is probably picking nits. Color reproduction is generally excellent. And these episodes, if not exactly reference quality, certainly look better than you've ever seen them before. All but the most picky videophiles should be quite happy with them.

The audio on these discs is the real surprise. All of the episodes, like the previous Original Series episodes, have been remixed in full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound for DVD. Finally, you'll hear the whoosh of warp drive as the Enterprise flys by, the screaming thud of a photon torpedo spread and the atmospheric ambience of computers on the Bridge. Dialogue is clear, there's plenty of directional sound play, music is well balanced and there's nice use of low frequency for sonic reinforcement. The remixed sound gives these episodes tremendous new life and adds a ton of fun factor back into the viewing experience. The original stereo audio option is also available and it sounds fine. But my advice is to select this only if you're not yet 5.1 ready (and these discs are a fine reason to upgrade your audio system if that's the case).

If this boxed set has one weakness, it's in the extras department. All you get are 4 featurettes that are included on Disc Seven. The Beginning (18 mins) looks at the genesis of the show and its early development. Selected Crew Analysis (15 mins) examines the characters and the actors who play them, from a first year perspective. Making of a Legend (15 mins) takes you behind-the-scenes on the production design and the special effects. And Memorable Missions (17 mins) features the cast and crew talking about interesting first season experiences working on the show. All of these featurettes feel solid and substantial - there's good material here and some of this interview footage of the cast and crew, particularly the clips with Gene Roddenberry, appears here for the first time. But I can't help wanting more. Using Fox's The X-Files sets as an example (which include deleted scenes, audio commentary on selected episodes, episode trailers, special effects clips and much more), Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season One looks pretty lean. Surely, there are numerous deleted scenes that could have been included. What about trivia or fact files, starship model fly-arounds, crew dossiers, a look at the props, a tour of the sets? And every good Trek fan has seen blooper reels from the various Star Trek shows at conventions. Sadly, none of the above is included here. Don't get me wrong - Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season One is a great first step to this collection on disc. But to satisfy fans thirsty for substantial DVD supplemental material, Paramount's got some work to do on future sets.

The packaging for this set at first seems cumbersome, but it quickly grows on you. The discs themselves come in a custom fold-out affair, similar to what Fox uses for The X-Files. But while those sets are then enclosed with a slipcase, Paramount here uses a silver foil embossed, cardboard "clam shell" style case. It looks fairly good and I'm sure the decision to go with cardboard helped keep the costs down. It does have a tendency to not stay closed, but that's my only real complaint. The discs use an animated menu system that is designed to look like the computer interface on the Enterprise. It's simple and easy to use.

If you're a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, this DVD boxed set is easily a must have. The quality is definitely here, and while I'm hoping for a lot more in terms of extras from future sets, what you get is solid. Just the fact that Paramount's finally started compiling complete seasons of Trek into boxed sets makes this a much better value than those 40-odd Original Series DVDs. Beam it up and enjoy.

Bill Hunt

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