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Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Disc review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Next Level (Blu-ray Disc)

Buy this Blu-ray now at Amazon!

Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Next Level
1987-1992 (2012) - CBS (Paramount)
Released on Blu-ray on January 31st, 2012
TNG previously available on DVD


Program Rating: B
Video (1-20): 19
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras: C

The wait is finally over. Star Trek fans have for more than a year been hearing rumors of an effort by CBS to upgrade the wildly popular Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series to high-definition, following in the footsteps of their previously successful HD upgrade of the original Star Trek. Now, the first sampler Blu-ray of that effort is here at last.

I'll be honest... I'm a longtime Trek fan and I really loved The Original Series remastering project. But having gone back to revisit TNG in recent years on DVD, I have to admit that I've been a little worried that the show was just too dated to sustain a similar HD re-polish. So it was with no small amount of skepticism that I put this sampler disc in my player and set it spinning.

Well... I'm fairly surprised and relieved to say that my concerns were largely unfounded. Trust me when I say that there is a special kind of geek thrill in seeing this series in high-definition, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. The old analog/overly-digital look of the show is simply gone. In its place now is the look of nuanced and richly-textured film, scanned by CBS from the series' original camera negatives. Simply put, you have never seen this series looking as real, as immediate and as (strangely) relevant as it does on this Blu-ray. Sure, it's still cast members walking around in mini-skirts and pajamas, but the detail improvement is truly stunning - the sets, models, make-up and costumes (though originally intended for analog TV viewing) really hold up well. Contrast is superb with deep, dark blacks. Color is lush and vibrant. All of these things suffered in the original analog TV broadcasts, but they really enhance the viewing experience on Blu-ray. Perhaps best of all, the condition of this original camera negative is nigh perfect. Late-80s hair styles aside, it's as though this series were produced yesterday. I can't tell you how cool it is to see that giant model of the Enterprise-D in high-definition film quality as ILM shot it. In the 2-part Encounter at Farpoint, it's a rush to see that model cruising past digitally-enhanced planetscapes. And the opening shot of The Inner Light is just gorgeous, as the Enterprise drops out of warp and the rainbow-streaked stars fall into place around it. Lovely!

Some concern has been raised that the visual effects upgrade of this series for HD would go too far, but it appears to me that those involved have been VERY restrained in this respect. For example, in the later season episodes included on this disc, the opening credit sequence still includes the mismatched perspective on the moving stars when the ringed planet wipes the frame to reveal the Enterprise-D. It clearly could have been corrected digitally but was kept as a stylistic choice. Personally, I actually enjoyed the more aggressive visual effects upgrades of The Original Series: Remastered project and wish CBS would do more here. But those of you who don't will be pleased at the restraint in evidence here. The show's original 1.33:1 aspect ratio has also been preserved for Blu-ray, and I think that's the right choice (though it WOULD be cool if the BDs gave you a widescreen viewing option too). Concern has also been raised that a few shots in the other episode included here, Sins of the Father, are in upconverted standard-definition because a little bit of the original camera negative couldn't be found. But fans shouldn't fret. The shots are very quick - about 12 seconds of footage in all, of Dr. Crusher and Riker speaking and of a computer screen. They're so quick in fact, and so quickly return to HD, that they really aren't that troubling. And there is always the hope that, as the remastering effort continues, the missing film footage will still be found.

The audio upgrade is quite good too, if not quite as impressive as the visual improvement. Though the episodes have been remixed in 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (the original 2.0 stereo mixes are also available), as you'd expect from any TV show most of the action is in the forward portion of the soundstage. The rear channels are really only used for music and atmospheric fill, to smooth out and unify the sonic portion of the presentation. However, clarity is excellent and the experience is nicely immersive. It's very much on par with the audio experience of The Original Series Blu-rays.

The only extras on this sampler are the original teaser trailer for this TNG: Remastered effort, a 90-second trailer for the TNG: Season One Blu-ray set (due later this year) and a promo for the Star Trek PADD iPad App, all in HD. I would have liked more of a sizzle reel of upcoming visual effects footage, but the Season One trailer does at least give you a little bit of that. I should also note that the menus feature the show's familiar LCARS computer interface - an entirely appropriate choice.

For $15 on Amazon, this is a pretty cool little demo disc. It would be nice if CBS and Paramount offered some kind of discount on the TBA Season One Blu-ray set for fans who purchase this sampler. In any case, I've gotta tell you... I'm mostly sold. Star Trek: The Next Generation - Remastered looks like it's going to be just as much fun as The Original Series was. I know that I can't be alone in my excitement for episodes like Q Who, The Best of Both Worlds, Yesterday's Enterprise and All Good Things in 1080p. I don't know if CBS is going to continue this effort in the future with HD upgrades of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, but my feeling is that they'd be very shortsighted not to at least release Enterprise and The Animated Series on Blu-ray, as those shows are high-def ready now. In the meantime, TNG on Blu-ray looks to be a thrill that - while probably not for everyone - is very hard not to recommend to Trek fans of all ages. Engage!

Bill Hunt
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