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Featured TV on DVD Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Level

January 31st, 2012

Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Level - Buy from Amazon

A few years ago, Star Trek, the original series, was released on high definition, first on HD DVD and then on Blu-ray. At the time, a lot of people were wondering when Star Trek: The Next Generation would come out on high def. However, folks at the studio said using the video stock would produce an inferior end product, while using the film stock and redoing the special effects would cost way too much compared to the size of the high definition market. They have recently decided the market as grown enough to warrant full upgrade. The first season comes out on Blu-ray next fall, just in time for the show's 25th Anniversary. But first, we get a taste of high definition with a single-disc, four-episode Blu-ray called The Next Level. So what episodes are on it, and is it worth picking up?

The Show

  1. Encounter at Farpoint
    First of all, the theme song sounds different. I can hear details I missed all of the times I've seen the show before. So far I'm liking the new 7.1 audio track. Second of all, wow, the Enterprise looks awesome in the opening credits. Already I'm sold on Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray, and we are only 90 seconds into the first episode. As for the actual episode... We are introduced to the new Galaxy Class U.S.S. Enterprise and the men and women who will be the crew, which is led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard. He is to lead his ship to Deneb IV, one of the furthermost outposts, and uncover the mystery of Farpoint Station. But before they can even get there, they run into Q, who tells Picard that humans have traveled too far into the galaxy and they are to turn back or die. Despite the danger, they push on.
    I'm a really big fan of the Star Trek franchise, mostly. Understandably, there were more than a few missteps in the show's 45 year run, including much of Voyager and Enterprise, a few of the movies, and unfortunately, very early The Next Generation. Like many TV shows, this one's pilot was not one of the best episodes. The double-length episode had to introduce too many characters, many of which were not fleshed out at the time, while the overall plot can be described as a little silly at times. It did lay the foundation for the series, by introducing new characters, technologies, alien races, political allainces. Plus it had John de Lancie as Q, one of Star Trek's most popular recurring characters. He is great in this episode.
  2. Sins of the Father
    This third season episode begins with Captain Jean-Luc Picard describing an officer exchange program the Federation and the Klingons have taken part in, in order to strengthen their alliance. After William T. Riker served aboard a Klingon ship, a Commander Kurn is to serve aboard the Enterprise. Commander Kurn requested the Enterprise specifically, which Picard and Riker take as a compliment to the ship and her crew. Commander Kurn wants to bring discipline and order to The Enterprise, but while he is hard on the entire crew, except Lieutenant Worf, whom he is coddling, much to Worf's dismay. Is this just Klingon rivalry, or is there something more going on?
    Seasons one and two were a little hit and miss, but the show hit its stride during the third season and it is no surprise they would include an episode from that season on this Blu-ray. This episode is better than all but five or so first and second season episodes. On the other hand, there are five or so third season episodes that one could argue are better than this one. The Defector, Déjà Q, Yesterday's Enterprise, The Offspring, Sarek, and The Best of Both Worlds: Part 1 spring to mind, although the last one is maybe a bit unfair, as it is the first part of a two-part cliffhanger episode. Overall it is certainly one of the better episodes in the show's seven-year run and has high replay value. This is especially true if you like the Worf in particular, or Klingon Culture in general. Also, Tony Todd is excellent in his guest appearance.
  3. The Inner Light
    The episode begins with a string of technobabble that is not directly translatable into English. Simplified, they found a strange probe and don't know what it is or where it came from. While scanning it, it scans them, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard is rendered unconscious ... and suddenly he's in the arms of a strange woman. ... Anything more than that is a spoiler. That's right, we don't even get to the opening credits and we are already too deep into spoiler territory to say anything more.
    If you were to ask 1000 Star Trek fans to name their favorite single episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation, I would be willing to bet the most common answer would be The Best of Both Worlds, but that's a two part episode, so that's not really fair. If you were to ask those same 1000 Star Trek fans to name their five favorite episodes from the series, The Inner Light would be on most of their lists. It takes a rather normal beginning, and creates a mystery that is instantly engaging and will hold your attention throughout the episode. This is a sci-fi story that will work, even if you don't like Star Trek.

The Extras

There are no real extras on the Blu-ray, just some promos, including some for the upcoming Blu-ray releases.

As I already mentioned, I was sold on the high definition conversion before the opening credits were over. Granted, the show doesn't quite look as good as some TV on Blu-ray releases I've reviewed, but it is among the best, especially when you take into account the age of the source material. There are some minor issues, but this is clearly better than it ever looked. The improved special effects look great, but don't stand out as obvious additions to the show. That is to say, they look very natural, like this is how the TV show was shot in the first place. The audio is also good and the dialogue is always clear, but there are not as many places where it can show off. There's quite a bit of ambient sound from the ship, Q's courtroom scene is very well done as well. I suspect when we get episodes with plenty of space combat, it will really shine.

The Verdict

Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Level costs $15 for four episodes. That's about $90 for a full season. There's no way the full season sets will cost that much, at least not after Amazon.com's discount. If you can't wait till the fall, then rent this Blu-ray, but save your money, because over the next three years or so, there will be seven full-season sets you will want to add to your collection.


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