It’s been 25 years since Star Trek: The Next Generation hit the small screen. It was the week of my 14th birthday and I was excited to see it. I had grown up watching the original series with my mom. With the new series it felt like I would have my own Star Trek. As Wil Wheaton, who played the teenage Wesley Crusher, said in the special features, it did not occur to him that anyone might think the show would be bad. That thought didn’t occur to me either, perhaps because teenagers have a tendency to think that anything new must be better than anything old. It did not occur to me that some people might think the legacy of the original series was being trampled over by this update.
I enjoyed the first episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” meeting all the new characters, with the introduction of the omniscient Q (John de Lancie). My immediate favorites were Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), Data (Brent Spiner), and Wesley Crusher. In the years since the series ended, I have revisited various episodes many times, but I haven’t sat down and given the show an in-depth look since it left the air. The release of the first season on Blu-ray has given me that opportunity. Watching these restored episodes has been a revelation. The HD presentation makes the show look better than ever.
Re-watching some of my favorite episodes reminded me of how good the show was, and how much better it would get. “Datalore,” “Where No OneHas Gone Before,” “Hide and Q,” and “Coming of Age,” all stand out in my mind as great storytelling. “Datalore” may be my favorite of season one. We get to find out Data’s backstory, and the Crystalline Entity is a frightening threat. With each passing episode we learn more about the characters. “Hide and Q” offers insights about First Officer William Riker (Jonathan Frakes). “Coming of Age” provides a further glimpse into the personalities of Captain Picard and Wesley Crusher. In short, the first season may not be perfect, but it’s a great set-up for a series that would span seven seasons.
What many Trek fans will be wondering is, what is the The Next Generation experience like on Blu-ray? As I stated earlier, these HD transfers are revelatory. Each episode has been carefully redone in an effort to recreate the original vision of the show. The colors are vibrant, the effects sharp, and it looks more like a movie than an old television show. The process is explained in the special features, and it is truly fascinating. The effort put into restoring this series is almost beyond belief. The picture is presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Some people may find it disappointing that the picture has not been enhanced for widescreen TVs, but there is a reason behind this. Because the show was shot for the standard definition TVs of the time, the picture could not be enhanced without drastically altering it. An example in the special features shows negative scratches and film equipment along the sides of the full 35 mm frame, flaws that would be masked by the 1.33:1 broadcast ratio. Personally, I am fine with the presentation. I would rather have the picture preserved in the original way it was shot, than tinker around with it just to fit a wider screen.
For another look at the release, with a focus on the process of recreating the analog special effects in high definition, see Chaz’s reviewover at The Morton Report.
UPDATE: It has come to my attention that a few of the episodes on this Blu-ray were improperly mixed. At the time of my review I hadn’t watched enough of it to realize the scope of the problem. Seven episodes that are on discs 1, 3, & 4 (“Encounter at Farpoint,” “Hide and Q,”Haven,” “The Big Goodbye,” “Datalore,” “1100101,” “Too Short a Season”).