Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1 Review
Please note that there is a Region comparison paragraph at the end of this review. Also please check out Colin's excellent full review of the R2 release here
Can open… worms everywhere. That’s exactly how I feel approaching this review. People who are interested in buying this set already know the series and in some cases will know it a lot better than I do. Also I know that any Trek-related factual inaccuracy is likely to be pounced on immediately so I have to be ultra careful when quoting my Trek trivia. Please feel free to point out the inaccuracies and I will correct them as necessary. Please note that this review is an early one and as a result I haven’t yet watched all of the episodes (although I have watched them many times in the past on TV and VHS). I have watched enough to enable me to score the picture and sound and I have of course watched all of the extras. This review will be updated when I have watched all of the episodes in order to add mini-reviews of each episode.
I will make no attempt to hide the fact that Star Trek: The Next Generation is my favourite Star Trek series. I was 16 when it came out and as a result I still have a real soft spot for it despite its faults. I have been waiting for these boxsets with bated breath and I am very pleased with Paramount’s release schedule.
Star Trek: The Next Generation was developed by Gene Roddenberry and his team in 1986 when it became clear that the movie franchise was becoming a big success (we can thank Star Trek IV for that). It was decided that it was time for Star Trek to return to the small screen. Rather than dust off his ideas for Star Trek: Phase II Roddenberry decided to go with a completely new crew in the 24th Century. The new crew needed a new ship and instead of a new name we got a new Enterprise, the Galaxy class Starship NCC-1701D. The series was budgeted at $1million an episode (a large amount in 1987). The first episode premiered on the 28th September 1987.
The plot remained pretty much the same as Star Trek. A varied crew are aboard Enterprise and they are boldly going where no one had gone before. However this time the crew were more touchy-feely and less inclined to shoot every alien they saw (although they shot their fair share). Having a mild mannered and diplomatic captain played with authority by an English Shakespearean actor reinforced the concept of a more peaceful mission. Also to this end the ship gained a Counsellor who is also an empath (Troi). In making TNG, Gene Roddenberry was determined that races that had been covered extensively in Star Trek should take a back seat for TNG. As a result there is no Vulcan officer aboard and so the android Data was drafted in to provide the logical counterpoint to the sometimes-emotional crew. Also the Federation is at an uneasy peace with the Klingons in TNG and Lieutenant Worf (Dorn) was the first Klingon to take a position on a Starfleet vessel. Other changes included having a female doctor as love interest for the captain (Crusher), a blind man as the engineer (LaForge), a woman as Security Chief (Yar), A second in command (Riker) and a mildly irritating kid to save the ship occasionally (Wesley Crusher). Looking back it all seems a little too PC for its own good
Each week we’d meet a new alien/anomaly/holodeck incident and each week it would be resolved neatly by the end. The writing for the first season was patchy at best and in some cases (the drug speech by Yar in Symbiosis) it was positively cringe worthy. Despite the shaky writing there are some excellent episodes here… Conspiracy, Encounter at Farpoint, Datalore, The Last Outpost and Hide and Q to name but 5. Unfortunately these are tempered by 11001001,Code of Honour and Symbiosis which are all less than impressive. Some of this can be put down to it being a new series but the fact that writers were coming and going rather rapidly didn’t help. The reason for this instability was Roddenberry’s insistence on rewriting a lot of the scripts that landed on his desk. He put a lot of noses out of joint and many of the writers left. The result is a show with no core to drive it and therefore character arcs suffered.
The acting throughout the season was also very variable. Marina Sirtis (Troi) started off very poorly indeed in Encounter at Farpoint but she didn’t have much to work with. The character of Deanna Troi was so weak to begin with that it was almost dropped altogether during season 1. Jonathan Frakes (Riker) was fairly wooden throughout the season as was Gates McFadden (Crusher). Michael Dorn (Worf), Denise Crosby (Yar) and LeVar Burton (LaForge) were all fairly average. However Patrick Stewart (Picard) and Brent Spiner (Data) pretty much held the show together even though they had their weaker moments. Wil Wheaton (Crusher) was heavily criticised and is almost universally loathed by the TNG fans, I have to say he isn’t that bad really. Overall this was a group of actors growing into their roles as the season went on and the acting in the last few episodes was far better than the acting in the first few.
The special effects, sets and model work in this series were both expensive and state of the art for the time. Fifteen years later they are looking a little dated. The model work is still magnificent as is the warp effect, but the cost cutting method of reusing model shots was obvious and annoying. It is unfortunate that the ship separation shots were so expensive as this could have added a lot to the series as a whole. As for the non-space based effects… The phaser effects during away missions and the alien effects in Conspiracy were a little ropey. However the makeup work is exemplary, I know Trek usually gets criticised for its endless bumpy foreheads but there are some excellent alien makeups here without resorting to the usual forehead appliance… see 11001001, Lonely Among Us and especially the Benzite makeup in Coming of Age.
Overall this season was very rough and ready. A few of the stories were recycled Star Trek stories (The Naked Now) and some of the characterisation was a bit dodgy to say the least (see Deanna Troi in Encounter at Farpoint). In addition to this Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar) felt that her character was underused and wasn’t happy with the show generally and left before the end of Season 1, which is a real shame. Despite these shaky beginnings TNG moved forward and improved year on year. Personally I still think this is a good season of TNG, it is not of the same quality as seasons 3-6 but it is still enjoyable and watchable.
There has been a lot of discussion on websites and forums about the packaging used for these boxsets so I think my comments should start there. The box is made of stiff solid cardboard and resembles a Star Trek technical manual. It is a brushed silver colour with raised silver and burgundy text. It looks very swish and stylish on the shelf. The box opens to reveal a large digipack that must be extracted from the box to get to the discs. The inside cover of the box has a list of the episodes on each disc with their correct production numbers. Please note however that the episodes on the discs run in the same order as they were aired.. Once you remove the red and black digipack (with silver lettering) it unfolds to reveal the seven discs. I believe this digipack is similar to the X-Files sets, but never having owned one I can’t be sure (I have only seen pictures). The discs are held in place by sturdy plastic spindles that release the discs without a need for force. Finally there is a leaflet inside which contains some very basic information. There is a short introduction from Rick Berman (and I mean short) basically telling you what the package contains. Following this we get a one-paragraph description for each of the Enterprise crew (fairly pointless as if we are going to fork out for this set we will know who they are). A list of episodes is included in Alphabetical order(?) and a mention of which disc each one is on. The opposite side of the foldout leaflet contains promotional shots of the cast from Season 1 (don’t they look young). The leaflet is fairly insubstantial but it certainly adds to an impressive looking package. Some may say that the digipack may not last or that it looks tacky, personally I like the look of it. Obviously I can’t compare it to the forthcoming plastic boxes for R2 but this looks pretty good to me and it doesn’t look out of place on my shelf.
The menus are a superb collection of screens, which look exactly like the control panels on TNG. Along with Space: 1999 I have to say these are some of the best menus I’ve seen, simple, functional and attractive. There are 4 episodes on each disc except for disc 7, which only has 2 (leaving room for the extras). Each episode is split into 8 chapters, which are adequate given the 45-minute average running time. There is one exception to this. Encounter at Farpoint is presented in its original format of one long pilot episode running 91-minutes with 18 chapters.
The picture is of course non-anamorphic 4:3 as it was originally shown. The R2 boxset will obviously be in PAL and therefore will have to go through an NTSC-PAL conversion. The R1 doesn’t have this issue and as a result is a direct transfer of the NTSC video master. In the lead up to this release my sights weren’t set high as a lot of forum posters had stated that the picture quality wouldn’t be great due to the NTSC video master source. Well I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The picture seems clear and fairly sharp given its source. There is very little damage to the picture and grain is minimal. The black level and contrast is mostly excellent although scenes can be a little dark at times. The main criticisms are fairly minor ones. There is some colour bleed (especially noticeable during the credits). Also there is a certain amount of shimmering during space-based effects shots and some jaggies were noticeable. The transfer to DVD has been handled well with minimal artefacting, although I did note some in the darker/dustier scenes. Overall this is a good picture for a 15-year-old TV show. It is easily better than the picture on the Sky reruns recently and much better than the VHS tapes.
There are two soundtracks available. The first is a new DD 5.1 remix. This is a vibrant mix with atmospheric use of rears. In terms of aural quality the track is fairly clear with some minor pops and crackles that I noticed. Overall this is an accomplished 5.1 mix. However I nearly always prefer original soundtracks and I was pleasantly surprised to find the DD stereo track included on the disc. This track is of similar quality to the other with exactly the same amount of pops and crackles on the source. It’s a shame Paramount didn’t clean these up. The dialogue and music on both tracks is audible and clear for the most part.
The extras are an interesting package. They are all on the seventh disc and consist of 4 featurettes totalling 65-minutes. Normally the term “featurette” is enough to make me want to run screaming however these are pretty good.
The Beginning. This 18-minute piece covers the conception and thoughts behind TNG and how it came about. It has interviews with all the cast and crew including Roddenberry. The interviews are a mixture of new and archive footage. They include behind the scenes shots of the model work and also some interviews with ILM about their work on the series. There is a lot of information imparted here, which will be new to some of us.
Selected Crew Analysis. This 15-minute section covers each crewmember and how their characters developed. It starts by talking about their auditions and how they came to get the parts they did. Then it moves onto the characters they play and how they approached them and indeed how they changed their approach as the season went on. Again this covers the entire cast but some characters get more screentime than others. Stewart, Spiner and Sirtis get the lion’s share of this piece. This is well put together and a fascinating piece to watch.
The Making of a Legend. Here we have a very tight 15-minutes that cover all aspects of the Production Design of TNG. We talk to the visual effects men, the model makers, the makeup people, the painters and even the people who make the tea (maybe not the last one). There is a huge amount of information packed into this piece. The standouts for me are the pieces on the visual effects where they show you how the lack of CGI made the optical effects work even more inventive. This is my favourite piece and I just wish it could’ve been longer.
Memorable Moments. This piece, lasting 17 minutes, shows the cast and crew’s favourite moments and scenes from the first season. Highlights are Frakes’ encounter with black slime, Crosby’s final bow and Armin Shimerman’s memories of the first Ferengi appearance. This is another excellent piece that shows a bit of the lighter side of TNG, which is arguably missing from the other featurettes.
Overall the extras are an above average package. An hours worth of extras may not seem like much but when you watch them you realise that Paramount have to ration out the extras between 7 boxsets. If there is an hour on each set that will give us 7 hours of extras in total, which isn’t to be sneezed at. Two black marks spring instantly to mind. Firstly that there are no commentaries and I would have thought that at the very least there would be one on the pilot. Secondly the featurettes, whilst very good, seem a little tight in places and could have had more in them. They skated over certain areas that could have been covered more extensively.
I am never going to give TNG a below average mark because I feel it has always been above average and in most cases way above average. The first season was shaky with internal wrangles and a cast trying to get to grips with their roles. Despite all this I enjoy season 1 immensely and would recommend it to any Trek fan. As for the set, well the picture is probably as good as it could be whilst the sound is well treated with a vibrant 5.1 mix and the original stereo track is also present. The extras package is above average and the menus and packaging are very well put together. This is a qualified pat on the back for Paramount, I just wish these sets were a bit cheaper.
Region 2 Comparison
First of all I must thank Andy at the R2 Project for his R2 disc. As a joint effort we swapped our pre-release discs and each did a comparison review. His comparison and excellent review are HERE.
This is going to be a short comparison as the discs and their contents are pretty much identical. As far as I can tell there is little or no difference between the picture and sound on the two discs. The NTSC-PAL conversion seems to have been done very well as the picture seems almost identical to the R1 version. The sound is also pretty much identical with both 5.1 remix and the Dolby stereo tracks being available on both discs. The menus and extras are the same in both packages.
The only substantial difference is the subtitles, which are available in Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, German, Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian, English and English Hard of Hearing on the R2 version whereas the R1 only has English subtitles.
To be honest the only tangible differences between the two are the packaging and the price. Just ask yourself whether you prefer cardboard packaging or a plastic outer box and then check the prices.