Star Trek TNG: The best of all episodes and the best of all seasons come to Blu-ray
By Jim Bray
Overly talky and liberal or not, Star Trek: the Next Generation offered some darn great stories, and it can be argued that Season Three was not only where the series really hit its stride, but that it never got any better than the third season.
It was a great year, full of excellent Trek that not only kept you interested and entertained, but also (heaven forbid!) made you think.
But the best episode of all, and in my never humble opinion the best Trek TV episode of any series including the original (though overall I think the original series was still the best), was the season-ending cliffhanger "The Best of Both Worlds." This episode, which spilled over to the beginning of the fourth season, combined action, great cast interaction, adventure, marvelous special effects, and some pretty thoughtful moments as well.
Someone must agree with me, because Paramount in its wisdom (or greed, or thoughtful consideration of the show's fans, or whatever) has not only released Season Three on a terrific Blu-ray collection, it has also spliced both "Best of Both Worlds" episodes together into a single feature and unleashed it on its own, single disc Blu-ray.
And if you're a real purist who'd rather not see the two parter made into a one parter, the first part is offered on the last disc of the six disc Season Three set. Talk about the Best of Both Worlds!
ST:TNG started off pretty well, though the first season had its share of growing pains and these continued into the second season. But by the third, the series was firing on all warp nacelles. The cast was comfortable in its roles and with each other (though we learn on the supplementary materials that Patrick Stewart had actually been thinking of throwing in the leisure suit), the writers were cranking out some fine scripts, and everything just plain worked for the most part.
And so we have terrific episodes such as "Who Watches the Watchers," a fantastic tale in which the Federation violates the Prime Directive and, to set things right, Picard and his merry band have to violate it even more. "Booby Trap," sees Geordie getting some love action – kind of – as he and his little CG friend work together to save the ship, and other episodes that give each of the cast regulars a chance to flex their thespian muscles, something that didn't always happen.
We also learn more about what makes the characters tick, their motivations and the things that freak them out. There are also new alien races introduced (such as the ones in "Watchers"), while others (Ferengi, Q, Romulans) reappear to threaten the good ship Enterprise again.
But the baddest of the bad aliens were the Borg, and it's in "The Best of Both Worlds" that they return, invading Federation space with their plan to assimilate the human race (and its little alien friends) and make their distinctiveness part of the Collective.
This episode really stands out. I remember being blown away when it first aired, then sitting on eggs all summer waiting for the second part to kick off what turned out to be a much inferior fourth season (though part two of BOBW is still pretty great). We even went to an all-geek party to watch part two air, which actually worked against the enjoyment of the episode because there was so much Trek nerdiness on hand it was hard to concentrate on the TV. But it was fun!
The season three package comes on a six disc set featuring all 26 episodes, and it looks and sounds fantastic! I haven't seen the first two seasons' Blu-rays, but have heard there were some issues with them. Not here, I'm thrilled to say. This is TNG presented as well as you could hope – with one possible exception. I wish Paramount had converted the episodes to 16x9 widescreen.
Don't get me wrong. I've complained many times over the years about studios painting moustaches on their Mona Lisas by altering them, usually by slicing the sides off and panning around the resulting 4x3 aspect ratio picture. I prefer the original nearly every time.
But then I saw a few episodes of the original Star Trek series broadcast in high definition – and it was in widescreen! Despite my aversion to messing with the original, I PVR'd one episode and ran it side by side with the Blu-ray version Paramount released a few years back. And I was amazed to find that I preferred the widescreen version! It doesn't look manipulated (except for the closing credits) or cropped and, when coupled with the fantastic restoration and new digital effects, looks almost as if it were shot yesterday. Except that Shatner had hair.
The purist in me still loves the original version with its original effects, but I also love the new effects, which were done lovingly to recreate rather than redo the originals – and Paramount wisely offers both versions on the Blu-ray sets. Now I find myself wishing they'd offer the widescreen version as well – and knowing Paramount I wouldn't be surprised to see this additional dip in the well coming (and I, and undoubtedly many other Trekkies, will be standing in line to get them).
So they've proved they can do a widescreen conversion without tearing the product and their credibility to shreds. And since Paramount has done such a wonderful job of presenting these Next Generation episodes in their native 1.33:1 aspect ratio, I wish they'd have given it the same kind of loving "widescreenization" and then offered both versions on the Blu-ray set.
But it was not to be.
The good news is that the 1080p picture is fantastic even in its original aspect ratio. It's razor sharp, with excellent color and exquisite black levels – so good you can make out the textures of stuff like Data's thick makeup as well as the uniforms, sets, and the like. And the remastered effects look great as well. A fine job, indeed!
Likewise, the audio is also completely up to snuff. It's presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and fills the home theater wonderfully. The ship's sounds – whether the rumble of the engines or the various effects of instruments and gadgets – and of course the weapons – come through brilliantly. Dialogue always comes through well, mostly via the center channel (but not exclusively) and the rears provide wonderful ambience and nicely enveloping effects.
In short, the audio and video are just what Trekkies expect, but apparently don't always get.
Naturally, there are also extras, including episode promos that do a nice job of reminding aging memories of what's coming (I sure found them handy!). But there's lots more, too.
There are "archival mission logs" that focus on a specific facet of the year's production. Disc One's is an interesting overview of the season, while the second disc delves into the crew members' characters. The third disc features cast and crew talking about their favorite episodes, while disc four features behind the scenes looks at stuff like the writing and effects.
You also get five audio commentaries spread over the season, a gag reel that's actually pretty interesting – and the final disc gets a full length documentary on the season.
And that isn't all!
The separate "Best of Both Worlds" disc also features an audio commentary, a pretty neat featurette on the production and a gag reel.
So is the one part "Best" better than the two parter? I must admit that putting the two pieces together loses a bit of the excitement where the first part ended, removing the cliffhanger (it's now just a quick fadeout and "fadebackinagain" like at any other commercial break) and losing the swelling music and "To Be Continued" title that drove us all nuts with frustrated anticipation. But it's also a neat, feature-length episode that's actually better than most of the Next Generation theatrical movies, so that works in its favor.
And of course if you want part two of "Worlds" separately as it aired originally, you have to wait for Season Four – as well as spend extra cash on the whole shebang. I have a feeling that won't be an issue for a lot of Trek fans, however.
Naturally, buying both seasons and the standalone version is the prime way to get "the best of both worlds."
Copyright 2013 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.