Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2 Blu-Ray

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2
Release Date: December 4, 2012
Blu-Ray Disc • 5 Discs
CBS Home Entertainment

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Many people unfairly group the first two seasons together when they talk about the “uneven start” of Star Trek: The Next Generation. For me, Season 2 has always stood apart from the first season, the show feels different – the actors and the writing are more confident and despite the troubles and politics going on behind-the-scenes in 1988-1989, TNG’s sophomore year manages to bring forward a large number of unique and memorable episodes which still captivate fans 25 years later.

Between seasons, the ship’s main players have been re-shuffled into more familiar postings. Both Geordi and Worf switch to their familiar mustard-colored uniforms, gaining promotions to Chief Engineer and Chief of Security respectively, Troi is out of her Season 1 jean-suit and finally gets to let her hair down (literally) and the crew welcome Diana Muldaur’s Dr. Katherine Pulaski and Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan on-board. Everything just feels more comfortable for the viewer. Perhaps it’s the reduction in clunky awkward dialogue, or maybe it’s just Frakes’ beard – either way, this is the TNG we all know and love.

CBS once again took on the monumental challenge of remastering the full season into high-definition, returning to the original 35mm negatives of the show and editing the episodes together as they were originally presented back in the late 1980s. After seeing the first season and becoming accustomed to the high-definition image, it’s all too easy to forget what the show looked like in its original standard definition broadcast and DVD release.  In the last few months we’ve published a range of articles describing just what an unimaginably huge undertaking this remastering process represents. The challenge of reassembling the show from the ground up to match the original episodes is by no means easy, yet CBS have somehow managed to locate every second of film from the live-action footage and transfer it to high-definition.

Remastering Star Trek: The Next Generation was always going to be a risky venture. A process as complex as this was never going to be cheap, but coupled with the fact that Star Trek fans are some of the most particular and discerning viewers in the world made it even more important that CBS did the job right and engaged with the fan community.

After it became apparent just how much work (and therefore time) was involved in remastering any one season of the show, CBS took the decision to split the workload between two teams: their in-house visual effects and design studio CBS Digital and an independent post-production house, HTV-Illuminate. As a result, Season 2 was handled by HTV-Illuminate with extra guidance and help from members of the original VFX team who worked on the show, including Mike and Denise Okuda, Doug Drexler, Dan Curry and David Takemura.

So how does Season 2 shape up? Firstly it’s worth mentioning that Season 2 uses a different film-stock to the first season – the image is less glossly, less saturated and more matte and filmic in appearance. I love both looks for different reasons, but I love them even more in high definition. Over the past few days I’ve found myself going back to the DVDs of the show often to remind myself how much of an upgrade this set represents. The HD live-action footage continues to blow my mind in so many ways. Textures in fabrics used for costuming are revealed for the very first time and the detail is simply beautiful. Viewers can finally appreciate the intricate craftsmanship that went into creating the Klingon and Romulan uniforms, Guinan’s hats and everything in between. This is detail that has never been seen before, always lost in the blurry murk of a standard definition transfer, and I never get tired of seeing it.

The intricate detail in the Romulan uniform on Subcommander Taris from 'Contagion' jumps off the screen in HD - the designer's craftsmanship can finally be appreciated in all its glory.

Particular mentions are due to episodes such as “Elementary, Dear Data”. These are the shows that I feel benefit the most from a high-definition transfer. The details on the sets are breath-taking to see – I almost felt like I was walking through Holmesian London WITH Data and Geordi. I was totally immersed in the episode like never before and found myself staring at the most benign details on those sets which had hitherto been obscured in SD. Another shout out is owed to “A Matter of Honor”. Klingon episodes always suffered the worst in SD on DVD. The dark shadowy sets and stark red lighting were rendered terribly and resulted in blurry messes when the camera would pan across the set. In HD this episode looks unbelievably good – we can see layers of shadow and texture that make the Klingon Bird-of-Prey set feel so three-dimensional and realistic. These episodes are surely a marvel to behold.

The remastered scenes on the Klingon Bird of Prey from 'A Matter of Honor' look amazing in HD - textures and shadows never before seen leap off the screen. Very immersive!

Visual effects elements which were originally created at videotape SD resolution - planets, transporter effects and the like – had to be recreated from scratch by the team at HTV. There has been a lot of debate by fans on the quality of the visual effects from Season 2 and how they compare to those done by CBS Digital for the first season.

CBS Digital set the bar incredibly high with Season 1, going beyond the call of duty in many ways and adding “extra love” to shots. Artists such as Eric Bruno and Max Gabl worked hard to add a sense of realism to shots – creating rich intricate textures for planets whilst respecting the original design ethic and then at the same time making the Enterprise look like it belonged in a scene – reflecting light from the newly rendered planets onto the orbiting Enterprise’s hull. Their work is undeniably stunning.

For Season 2, HTV have taken a different approach to visual effects. In all honesty, I found the second season to be a somewhat mixed bag of hits and misses with these shots. Some work is truly stunning – the new digital matte painting for the Borg Cube interior is a work of art: we are treated to steam rising from vents and Borg drones walking around the cube as the camera pans out. It’s clear an awful lot of time and effort went into that. On the flip side, a lot of work just doesn’t meet the (admittedly high) standards set by CBS Digital in Season 1. Whilst I respect the team’s intention to remain ardently true to the original show, as I made my way through the season I started to question why some planets have been created with blurry textures (almost appearing like they’ve been upscaled from standard definition) which jar so much with the beautiful HD renders worked on by Max Gabl and CBS-Digital for Season 1.

We like.... Iconia from 'Contagion'. Beautifully remastered, rich textures, authentic cloud cover. We dislike.... Starbase 6 from 'The Schizoid Man'. Blurry and unrealistic, almost looks upscaled from SD.

Additionally, the compositing on display in many of the VFX shots seems exceedingly flat and characterless. I was left with the impression that certain shots were rushed to meet deadlines and that the team could really have benefited from someone like Eric Bruno to deliver that “extra love” which permeated through Season 1. I have no doubt that HTV and the artists involved delivered their best work on the schedule they were given, however I can’t help but wish that CBS had stuck with the decision to remaster the whole show in-house with CBS Digital.

We like... the new Borg Cube interior from 'Q Who'. Stunning new digital matte painting, recreated with love and care. A joy to see. We dislike... Enterprise probe launch from 'Where Silence Has Lease'. Plastic, flat and unrealistic recreation with no grain.

I should stress that this is by no means a deal-breaker for Season 2. It would be remiss of me not to mention the differences, but at the same time the episodes presented are still jaw-droppingly beautiful in so many ways. The enormous leap in quality from standard to high definition is more than enough to outweigh the different style taken with the visual effects.

Bonus Material
Excitement for the TNG Remastering project is somewhat segmented for me. One half of me craves to see my favorite episodes brought into crisp sharp high-definition, the other half is completely and utterly addicted to the outstanding work of filmmakers extraordinaire Robert Meyer Burnett and Roger Lay Jr. Robert and Roger have once again worked their asses off to bring us some of the best bonus content we could wish for.

A couple of months ago I was trailing Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 2 as having the best bonus content of any Star Trek home video release. Period. I continue to stand by that assessment. TNG is 25 years old, and when a show has been off the air for so long the process of putting together interesting, fresh content for bonus features becomes increasingly difficult and more challenging.

“Making it So: Continuing the Next Generation” picks up where “Stardate Revisited” left off in Season 1. The documentary is split up into two parts, “Strange New Worlds” and “New Life and New Civilizations”.

    • “Strange New Worlds” dives straight into the Season 1 wrap party and ties up all the loose ends from the first year of production. Expect more candid opinions from the cast and crew of Next Gen including Rick Berman acknowledging the animosity he engendered from some fans and a reflective Michael Dorn confessing he considered quitting the show early on. Burnett & Lay have brought us some great interviews this season with a variety of people we don’t often hear from. It’s a pleasure to listen to Rob Bowman’s story of his first experience directing “Elementary, Dear Data” and Melinda Snodgrass recounting how her script for “The Measure of a Man” was accepted. Especially noteworthy is the touching montage at the end voiced over by Diana Muldaur and Rick Berman… I won’t spoil it, but I challenge anybody not to be moved by the words.

The new interview with Diana Muldaur almost didn't happen, but it's a testament to the dogged determination of all involved that we're able to hear Diana's views - and she's a total joy to listen to!

    • “New Life and New Civilizations” covers a lot of the major changes in the second season. Diana Muldaur and John de Lancie are both heavily featured here and it’s a joy to hear about their Next Gen experiences. We also get to hear Gates McFadden discussing her controversial exit from the show which, in the words of Patrick Stewart “horrified and appalled” the cast. Whilst the team weren’t able to interview Whoopi this season (I understand a new interview will be included in a later season), there are archival interviews and cast reactions about the introduction of Guinan. This segment also features a wonderful collection of early test footage from “Time Squared”, “Q Who” and Nagilum from “Where Silence Has Lease” alongside rare new interviews with Dennis Madalone (stunt coordinator) and Cosmo Genevese (script supervisor).

A rare glimpse at the original huge matte painting created by Syd Dutton for 'Q Who'. The painting had to be replaced for the remastering due to the visibility of brushstrokes so it's a treat to see the original in all it's glory.

“Reunification: 25 Years After Star Trek: The Next Generation”: One of the jewels in the crown of these bonus features has to be the must-see cast reunion which brings together the entire principal cast for an emotional roundtable chat moderated by Robert Meyer Burnett and coinciding with the show’s 25th Anniversary. Burnett avoids going into sudden fanboy meltdown (somehow) and presides over one of the most touching genuine displays of true camaraderie and friendship I’ve ever seen from Star Trek actors. The humor and interplay between them all is such a joy to watch. There are too many little nuggets to mention here… everyone poking fun at Patrick’s “25 years at the RSC”, Michael Dorn’s hilarious Patrick Stewart impression, the line about Dorn not being allowed on set because of his work on CHIPS… the list goes on. I can’t praise the material here enough – I could watch it over and over again without getting bored! It’s great how the actors still remember scenes they filmed right back in the pilot, and the stories about director Corey Allen are so much fun to watch.

Robert Meyer Burnett hosts the historic cast reunion with all the principal TNG actors (from left: Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Michael Dorn, Patrick Stewart, Gates McFadden, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Jonathan Frakes and host Robert Meyer Burnett.)

“The Measure of a Man” Extended Edition: CBS painstakingly restored almost 15 minutes of extra footage from one of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s finest episodes. The extended ‘Measure of a Man’ is a complete tour-de-force in every way. I won’t spoil the new scenes here, needless to say they add a lot of heart to the episode (one scene in particular) and remind me why I miss this show so much – because of the characters. We’ll be reviewing the extended cut separately after the blu-ray release date.

The extended edition of 'The Measure of a Man' features a number of very touching character moments. I don't want to spoil them, but this scene was especially well done!

“Energized! Season Two Tech Update”:  The shortened 8-minute segment focuses more on the artistic direction the crew took filming the show rather than remastering it. Mike & Denise Okuda and Dan Curry are the sole interviewees here, so don’t expect a behind-the-scenes look at HTV’s remastering on the same scale that we had with CBS Digital in Season 1.

“Reading Rainbow”: Also on the first disc is LeVar Burton’s original Reading Rainbow episode featuring a behind-the-scenes look at production in TNG’s first season. The episode has been doing the rounds on YouTube for years, but it’s nice to see it in a more complete form with better image quality and a fresh introduction from LeVar himself.

“Gag Reel”: I’m still in awe of the fact that CBS managed to find original 35mm outtakes and bloopers from a show that’s 25 years old now. The finished cut is a hilarious compilation of some of the best bloopers I’ve seen. Michael Dorn’s “Oh Jesus” will go down in history and needs to go viral as a soundbite. I won’t spoil the end, but it is emotionally charged and incredibly poignant. All in all… a magnificent collection.

The new HD gag reel is a wonderful inclusion on the set. Not only did it have me in stitches (you can watch it over and over without tiring), but there are some wonderful touching moments where the actors' deep friendship really comes across.

Audio Commentaries: The set contains two new audio commentaries on arguably the most popular episodes from Season 2 – “The Measure of a Man” and “Q Who”. Both commentaries give technical insights into the production of the episodes, although the “Q Who” commentary covers a lot of the same ground laid in the “Making it So” documentary and seems to be a bit tooorganized – I feel that more spontaneous comments and observations would have worked better.

Deleted Scenes: Almost 10 minutes of deleted scenes from “The Icarus Factor” and “Up the Long Ladder” are featured. The scenes are in rough cut VHS resolution which makes me wonder – if CBS were able to locate the original 35mm elements from the “Measure of a Man” deleted scenes to rebuild the episode, wasn’t it possible to do the same for “Icarus” and “Ladder”? Perhaps they tried and couldn’t find them – we don’t know, either way it’s still a treat to have these presented here in any format!

Yet again I have to laud the efforts of Burnett and Lay for the production of the bonus content, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that they are the perfect uber-fans for this job. They’ve both really upped their game for Season 2 and it shows. The content has become more polished and professional as they’ve settled into a unique style of presentation which fits so well with this project. I know they’re working on content for Season 3 as I type, and I’m left with no doubts that it’s going to continue with the same level of excellence on display here. Bravo!

So what’s the bottom line? All things considered, Season 2 of TNG on blu-ray is still another must-buy for all fans. Whilst the issues with the VFX does take the polish off the end-product in some ways, the lion’s share of the restoration looks simply glorious in HD and the bonus features speak for themselves in sheer epicness!

Adam Walker, November 26 2012

Order Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1 Blu-Ray today!

Order Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2 Blu-Ray today!