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page added: 7/23/12

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

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

Buy this Blu-ray now at Amazon!

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season One
1987-88 (2012) - CBS (Paramount)
Released on Blu-ray on July 24th, 2012
TNG previously available on DVD


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

[Editor's Note: There are some reports of audio issues with this Blu-ray set - specifically character dialogue being mixed not just in the center but front left and right channels on some episodes. It's not something I noticed initially (as naturally none of the episodes I've watched thus far are among the problematic ones), but we're looking into it and will post an update as soon as possible. FYI, we're told that CBS is already investigating...]

Here it is at last: Star Trek: The Next Generation has arrived on Blu-ray Disc. After more than a year of rumors that it was happening - followed by CBS's official announcement confirming it and their recent Blu-ray sampler disc to give fans a taste of what to expect - we finally have in our hands the first complete season of the newly-upgraded series on Blu-ray. I'm very pleased to say that it's everything we'd hoped it would be.

I've been a fan of classic Star Trek for as long as I can remember. Watching The Original Series with my parents is literally one of my earliest memories. Like many Trek fans, I was thrilled by The Next Generation when I first saw it back in college. But having revisited the series a few times in recent years, viewing selected episodes on DVD, it's kind of shocked me how quickly (and just how badly) the series became dated. So when I first started hearing rumors that CBS was considering a high-definition upgrade of the series on the order of that done to TOS, I was immediately and immensely skeptical. Anyone familiar with TNG's late-analog/early-digital post-production immediately knew that nothing short of a complete ground-up rebuilding of the series episode by episode was going to get the job done. Simply put, the show was the product of an obsolete era of television. What company in their right mind was going to be willing to risk the money and effort necessary to overhaul it the right way, especially in penny-pinching Hollywood?

Apparently... CBS! Building on lessons learned during the TOS re-master, and using all the original elements from which TNG was produced in the late 80s and early 90s (from archived camera negatives to analog tape audio stems), the team at CBS Digital has performed what I believe is a literally heroic feat in this era of classic TV series on Blu-ray. They've done it, folks. They have meticulously reconstructed each episode of The Next Generation's first season in HD... and they've done it right.

So how do these episodes look and sound on BD? Here's what I said about my first viewing of CBS's sampler disc back in January:

"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!"

That about covers it, except that I'll add that when the Enterprise drops out of warp and you hear it race over your shoulder in 7.1 DTS MA, it's just that much better. Having now seen six complete episodes of the first season (and sampled the rest), everything I said before still stands. I never thought I would EVER want to watch some of these early episodes again. And yet, here I've been not only re-watching them but enjoying the hell out of them! There's something that just draws you in about TNG in high-def in a way I couldn't have expected. Even given their 1.33:1 TV aspect ratio, the A/V quality here is just so good - the colors so lush, the detail so engrossing - that you're drawn in as though you're watching a movie. And the bigger your screen and better your surround sound system, the more you're sucked in.

That doesn't even begin to take the extras into consideration! Here's what's good: Everything that was included on the original Season One DVD release has carried over here, including all the promos for each episode and all 4 DVD featurettes (including The Beginning, Selected Crew Analysis, Making of a Legend and Memorable Missions). Here's what's better: CBS has added (all in their original SD quality) 6 vintage promos for the series' launch and debut season as well as the long-bootlegged gag reel! And here's what's best: Producers Roger Lay, Jr. and our old friend Robert Meyer Burnett have created not just one but two HD documentaries for the set. The first, Energized: Taking the Next Generation to the Next Level, takes you behind-the-scenes for a look at the massive effort and challenges involved in upgrading this series to high-def, showing you every step of the process and including interviews with all the key team members. Curious as to why the show is presented in HD in 1.33:1 instead of a reframed 1.78:1? You'll find out here and there's a good reason. The second piece is a brilliant, 90-plus minute retrospective called Stardate Revisited: The Origin of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It's broken into three roughly 30-minute parts: Inception, Launch and The Continuing Mission. It's no joke to say that just about everyone still alive who could be interviewed about the launch of TNG is interviewed here, and those who aren't with us anymore are well represented in archive footage. You'll see incredible production photos and artwork, and hear amazing stories about the show that almost was and how it came to be the series we know and love. There is just so much good stuff in Stardate Revisited that I don't want to spoil a moment of it for you. It's a joy and a thrill from start to finish. Lay and Burnett have clearly poured a tremendous amount of love, experience and expertise into these documentaries and they deserve the highest possible thanks for it. They're just a treat - every fan of this series needs to experience them.

Maybe I've going over the top here, but I don't think so. I've seen a lot of impressive things on Blu-ray, but I don't think I ever thought anyone could get me to care about Season One of Star Trek: The Next Generation again. I mean... if someone had told me I'd one day re-watch The Naked Now and actually enjoy it, I've had told them to get their head examined. Yet I have and I did. The effort here - the sheer scale of the work involved in rebuilding this series in high-definition - is enormous. The entire team at CBS (and elsewhere) that worked on this set deserves a thundering ovation as far as I'm concerned. And this is only the beginning - the show's best episodes are yet to come!

Count me in. Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray is stunning, the restoration is surprising beyond expectation and the set and its extras are more enjoyable than I could possibly have imagined. Here's looking forward to six more seasons like this!

Bill Hunt
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