Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 5
Release Date: November 19, 2013
Blu-Ray Disc • 6 Discs
CBS Home Entertainment
We're boldly going into high-definition yet again with another stellar release of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray. I suspect I won't encounter too much opposition in suggesting that Star Trek: The Next Generation's fifth season didn't have quite the same high proportion of heavy-hitting episodes as the previous two years. This isn't to say that there isn't a healthy sprinkling of Star Trek gold throughout Season 5, it just feels as if the average quality is less skewed in the direction of "amazing" and more broadly distributed this time around. There are the five-star unforgettable adventures that fans will turn to over and over again ("I Borg", "Cause and Effect", "The Inner Light", "Power Play"), followed by a collection of "inbetweeners" - those that fall shy of a five-star accolade but don't quite deserve to be lumped in with the poorer outliers ("Silicon Avatar", "Conundrum", "The Game", "Unification"). Jumping to the lower end of the spectrum, we have that collection of mediocre episodes which are still fun to watch once-in-a-while, but fall short compared to the rest of the bunch ("Cost of Living", "Imaginary Friend", "The Masterpiece Society", "New Ground").
Season 5 certainly tried hard, and managed to strike a nice balance between character-driven episodes and adventure-filled exploration. At the same time, the show started to depend more on its own canon, revisiting ideas that had come before (The Borg, Wesley Crusher's character arc, Sela and the ongoing Romulan political situation). Couple the tried-and-tested TNG formula with a number of amazing coups for guest stars (Leonard Nimoy, Ashley Judd, Matt Frewer, Kelsey Grammer) and the show's fifth represents another thought-provoking and action-packed exploration into the unknowns of the 24th Century.
Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra - "Darmok", Season Five
It's hard to believe that I'm now discussing the fifth release of this groundbreaking remastering project. As time has progressed, the team at CBS Digital have streamlined their techniques so much that the final results come across as beautifully effortless. It's so easy to lose sight of the fact that this group of people are literally rebuilding a 25-year old TV show frame-by-frame from original camera negatives in a project which was considered impossible just 5 years ago.
After CBS Digital's third season remastering efforts met with critical acclaim from fans worldwide, I'm more than thrilled to say that the fifth season features more of the same high quality work and - in certain areas - even surpasses what we've seen previously.
I. Live Action Footage
In transferring a show like TNG to high definition, the process of searching through hundreds upon hundreds of film reels to identify a specific take which may only last seconds is horrendously complicated. CBS Digital's Sarah Paul works a lot of the time on the edge of her seat - she takes her film-hunting job seriously, so when elements can't be located she doesn't rest until she's exhausted all possibilities. Thankfully - and against all the odds - the first four seasons of the show have been mostly spared (give or take a few seconds) from lost footage which must then be upscaled. Sadly, the fifth season doesn't fare quite so well and a total of 2 minutes and 20 seconds of the original camera negative could not be found. "The First Duty" required 37 seconds to be upscaled (at the start of the episode) while "Power Play" has 1 minute 41 seconds of Ten-Forward scenes ported over from the SD.
Naturally curious, I played back the upscaled sections expecting the worst but was left pleasantly surprised at the extent to which the SD footage had been blended in to match (as close as possible) with the native HD. By paying close attention to matching grain levels and color balance, CBS Digital have made these upscaled sections fit in as well as they possibly could. If anything, the shots in question look as if the camera just pulled a soft focus (TOS female guest star-style) and certainly doesn't jar to an extent where viewing enjoyment is compromised.
While the original SD broadcast version (and DVD) of TNG's fifth season isn't quite as uneven in terms of color timing as the fourth, it is marred with the same muddy appearance which makes you want to start playing with your TV's color balance to set things right. For those of you picking up the new Blu-rays, there's no need. CBS Digital's color timing guru Marvin Hildebrandt has yet again worked his magic and given the newly scanned footage just enough of a boost to make the show pop. This certainly isn't a cut-and-dry job, as Marvin tries to strike a balance between making the show visually appetizing but at the same time not overly saturated. The issue of blacks being slightly overwhelming and crushing out detail is still present, however the issue is so minor that it hardly warrants being mentioned.
Each shot of Star Trek: The Next Generation remastered (both live action and VFX material) is carefully color-corrected by CBS Digital's colorist Marvin Hildebrandt, shown here working on Season 5 (Image: TrekCore Exclusive*)
Those of you who have read my reviews on previous seasons may recall the praise I heap on the remastering quality of episodes which feature outdoor on-location shoots. Season 5 is no different, and I was left amazed while watching the outdoor scenes on El-Adrel IV in "Darmok" and Starfleet Academy in "The First Duty". Green tones were grievously savaged when the show was originally transferred to videotape resulting in a green/yellow mess which - over 25 years - has become the norm. In that sense, watching episodes like this on Blu-ray really is like seeing the show for the first time.
The remastered high definition print of "The First Duty" shows off the beautiful Tillman Water Reclamation Plant location used for Starfleet Academy
Low-lit scenes (normally when our heroes are stuck in caves or some hellish planet) have consistently benefited the most from this remastering project. Following Picard and Data into the underground caverns of Romulus and dimly lit Klingon Bird-of-Prey bridges ("Unification") is now a joy. Hitherto obscured details and shadowing are finally visible and scenes like these are transformed from a muddy mess to delightfully atmospheric moments. I remain a huge advocate of retaining a healthy amount of the original film grain, it adds a dimensionality to the final transfer which makes things seem all the more realistic. Thankfully CBS Digital have a great eye for what constitutes the "right amount" of grain - something I wish Paramount had considered when they issued the original Star Trek Motion Pictures on Blu-ray.
My appreciation for the original costuming and set-dressing is yet again bolstered by seeing the work presented in high definition. These artists had such an eye for detail when the show was originally in production, I can only imagine it was very disheartening for them to see so much of it lost due to the limitations of standard-def. Romulan civilian dress, bizarre holodeck aliens ("Cost of Living"), a rather cool looking time-ship and more of Guinan's hats are just a few of the things that had me freeze-framing to sit back and marvel at the detail.
The interior of Rasmussen's time-ship from "A Matter of Time". The iridescent detailing on the ship's walls really jumps off the screen in HD
II. Visual Effects
Visual effects remain the lion's share of the remastering workload as well as the share that CBS Digital are most paranoid about getting right. Recreating them from scratch for a show as complex as Star Trek: The Next Generation was never going to be a walk in the park. The project has certainly had it's VFX missteps, but thankfully very few can be attributed to CBS Digital who have refined a look for the show which continues to draw huge praise and recognition from fans.
Once again at the helm of shaping those strange new worlds, Max Gabl has given us a whole raft of new planets to gawp at as the Enterprise goes on her merry way. I've been a huge fan of Max's work in the remastering of both TOS and TNG, and continue to be impressed at how varied his style can be. Without a doubt, half of the fun is seeing how far Max can push his work artistically while remaining true to original style and intentions. Season 5 serves up another nice selection of planetary eye-candy, with shout-outs due for Mab-bu VI from "Power Play", Tessen III from "Cost of Living" and the Argolis Cluster's fiery sun in "I Borg". My singular disappointment lays with Devidia II in "Time's Arrow". Originally in SD, Devidia was an obscure, blurry globe yet somehow the HD remaster lacks the Gabl-pizzazz and flair I've come to expect. Still, it's a solitary blip in an otherwise solid line-up of alien worlds.
|From the stunningly verdent Penthara IV with a newly regenerated atmosphere in "A Matter of Time" to the rather muted Devidia II which seemed to lack the normal flair of artist Max Gabl in "Time's Arrow"|
Eric Bruno and his fellow compositors at CBS Digital have a habit of stretching my ability to come up with new compliments. Their work never ceases to impress me and you'll be pleased to hear that Season 5 continues the trend. Despite so many concerns that the much-lambasted 4-foot Enterprise model would look terrible in high definition, Team Bruno keep making the thing look good! It's never going to take on the sleek beauty of the 6-footer, but it comes promisingly close in this remastering. There's so much to talk about here, so I'm going to limit this part to the most noteworthy shots. The work on display in "A Matter of Time" when the Enterprise initiates a chain reaction in the atmosphere of Penthara IV is simply phenomenal. The complex energy beam emitted by the deflector dish had to be recreated from scratch, yet is virtually identical to the original sequence. Likewise, the compositing of the newly refurbished CG model of the Enterprise we see in "Unification" is breathtaking. When I first saw the shot, I thought I was looking at a physical model. Despite the huge workloads involved in creating new CG sequences, a small part of me hopes that more footage of the ship is lost necessitating the creation of jaw-dropping shots like this!
To re-create the magnificent hull-scraping shot in "Unification", CBS Digital first set to work retooling their CG model of the Enterprise before rendering out the different passes which were then composited in a similar fashion to the technique used with the physical model to produce some of the most realistic CG work I've seen on the project so far (Image: TrekCore Exclusive*)
When it became clear to CBS that the original CG-model of the Enterprise did not have sufficient detail to hold up to hull-scraping shots that had to be recreated in CG for Season 5, Niel Wray and his team decided to go back to the virtual-drawing board. Through an exhaustive process of refitting the CG model of the ship, they finally arrived at a new model which adopts the best features of both the 6-foot and 4-foot physical models. The sleek, beautiful hull lines of the 6-footer grace the surface of the ship, while a subtle relief of hull plating echoing the 4-footer is now visible.
CG challenges didn't end with the ship, as Niel's team was forced to tackle everything from the 3D Ktarian Game ("The Game") to complex graphical simulations ("The First Duty") in Season 5. While these shots may pass by in mere seconds on screen, they literally take the team weeks to lay out and render for the remastered version. It's this impeccable attention to detail that continues to make the TNG Remastered project so unique in the entertainment industry.
The complex Kolvoord Starburst Maneuver simulations shown throughout "The First Duty" had to be completely recreated by CBS Digital using CGI (Image: TrekCore Exclusive*)
A few final brief notes on some frequently asked questions which I often receive:
- The somewhat-blurred stock shot of the Enterprise approaching the camera which debuted in Season 4 and drew a moderate amount of criticism from fans has been retooled. Realizing they had to replace several similar shots, CBS Digital went back to the drawing board and wheeled out their new CG model to do them justice. The results speak for themselves - gorgeous work!
- The Enterprise explosion in "Cause and Effect" uses the original elements and has not been "souped-up" to the degree that the Borg Cube explosion was in "The Best of Both Worlds". This may perhaps be a disappointment to some, but I'm more than happy with the scene.
- The contentious misfiring torpedo launcher in "Darmok" has been fixed. The replacement shot was taken from "The Best of Both Worlds" and can be seen in our comparison video here. While the loss of the original shot (featuring an angle of the Enterprise which only ever appeared in this episode) may upset some fans, the replacement shot is now angled correctly and goes by so quickly that it's difficult to be that annoyed!
- Some minor continuity errors were fixed, including the incorrectly colored Galorndon Core ("Unification") and unexpected reflections of crewmembers in crystals ("Unification"). At the same time, some errors were not fixed, including the Kriosian ship in "The Perfect Mate" where it first appears as the Talarian observation craft (from "Suddenly Human") but then a few seconds later switches to a different type of ship - a Talarian Warship.
- The credits for "The Inner Light" have been redone to match the color and typeface styling of the rest of the season. The spelling error ("Telelay" instead of "Teleplay") has been fixed.
- Once again, a large number of LCARS computer display animations used throughout the season had to be replaced. Original elements for most (if not all) of these screens which were inserted in post-production back in the day were lost. The team have done a remarkable job of seamlessly incorporating the recreated animations which will have fans freeze framing to spot in-jokes and trivia for years to come!
So, what's the verdict? CBS Digital have knocked the ball clear out of the park with another stunning collection of remastered episodes. With so much quality oozing from the set, it's little wonder that it effortlessly receives five stars from this review.
They're back on form, guys! After hitting a bit of a rough-spot with the bonus features on the fourth season set, Robert Meyer Burnett and Roger Lay, Jr. are once again firing on all thrusters with the new content on offer here. There's a wonderful mix of emotional, hard-hitting documentary film-making on display in the new two-part documentary, "Requiem: A Remembrance of Star Trek: The Next Generation". At the same time, fans are treated to a terrific reunion of the main Star Trek composers alongside a delicious spread of audio commentaries, deleted scenes and bloopers. Time to delve in...
“Requiem” combines two thirty-minute documentaries, “The Needs of the Many” and “The Needs of the Few”.
- “The Needs of the Many” cleverly juxtaposes an archival 1981 Gene Roddenberry interview with fresh commentary from Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, Naren Shankar, René Echevarria and Morgan Gendel. "Gene's Vision" is a term regularly bandied about by people and often turns into a cliché, so it's refreshing to hear the Great Bird of the Galaxy talk about it in his own words. Gene's comments weave a delicate thread throughout the documentary and beautifully tie together the experiences and sentiments of TNG's writing staff. Never one to shy away from being frank, Ron Moore is vocal about his issues with Gene's idealistic vision hindering his ability to tell dramatic stories. The irony of ending this segment with Roddenberry proclaiming "We're so lucky to be alive now" certainly wasn't lost on me, and puts the viewer in a delicate emotional state as the second part prepares to reach the inevitable conclusion.
- “The Needs of the Few” will certainly challenge your ability to hold back the tears. Kicking off with archival Entertainment Tonight coverage of Gene's death, what follows is a series of raw, emotional interviews with actors from both the Original Series and TNG filmed back in 1991. Jumping back to the present day, fresh interviews with cast and crew including Marina Sirtis, Jonathan Frakes and Rick Berman recall the fateful day when Gene's passing was announced. Marina's words about Gene and Majel are incredibly potent and you'll be left wishing you can jump through the TV screen to give her a hug. The second half of this part hands over to discussing some of Season 5's more memorable episodes, including "Cause and Effect" (watch out for the amazing behind-the-scenes footage of Gary Hutzel's team filming the Enterprise explosion!) and "The Inner Light". It's also nice to see some time given over to Gates McFadden, reflecting on the departure of Wil Wheaton last season. Michelle Forbes and Colm Meaney are both discussed here, but sadly neither actor was able to contribute to the documentary.
Preparing to film the explosion of the U.S.S. Enterprise in "Cause and Effect"
“In Conversation: The Music of Star Trek: The Next Generation”: Star Trek music buff Jeff Bond moderates a reunion of all three major TNG composers - Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones and Jay Chattaway - which clocks in at just over 70 minutes. Bond certainly knows the material well, and he organizes this conversation-piece with almost military precision. Some fans may balk at this style, but I felt it was a good match. Ron Jones and Dennis McCarthy both have an acerbic wit which left me laughing out loud at some of their stories. Indeed, all three composers don't pull their punches when recalling the trouble they had with certain producers on the show - this piece is destined to have you switching between raucous laughter and disbelief as the trio recount their history scoring for Trek. Fans of the Star Trek soundtracks will be in their element here, as each composer sheds light on their art and inspiration. A great piece, and a big improvement on last season's Art Department Reunion.
Gag Reel: I was thrilled to find that this collection of bloopers and outtakes from the original 35mm camera negative runs twice as long as the rather diminutive installment found on Season 4. Clocking in at 7:30, the gag reel strikes a slightly different tone this season and features more "Day in the Life"-type material which works surprisingly well. You're going to love the way Patrick Stewart handles a disintegrating bridge-set while filming scenes from "Conundrum" not to mention Jonathan Frakes and the gang bursting out into song with their own version of the TNG theme tune in the middle of a take. The combination of material here shows that you don't have to solely rely on the typical gaffs and flubbed lines. Here's hoping a similar mix is used for future gag reels!
Audio Commentaries: The set contains four audio commentaries, newly recorded especially for this set.
- 5x18 "Cause and Effect" with Brannon Braga and Seth MacFarlane
- 5x19 "The First Duty" with Ronald D. Moore and Naren Shankar
- 5x23 "I Borg" with Rene Echervarria and Mike & Denise Okuda
- 5x25 "The Inner Light" with Morgan Gendel and Mike & Denise Okuda
Deleted Scenes: Yet again, this crop of newly discovered deleted scenes proves to be a highlight of the bonus material on this release. CBS have dug through the archives to unearth a range of deleted scenes from 7 episodes! There is some wonderful material here, so watch out for a future article in which we will review the content in full.
Overall, I was pleased to find that the new VAM on offer this season is closer in quality to the first three sets. From a behind-the-scenes perspective, Gene's death is undoubtedly the unfortunate milestone which marks TNG's fifth season and the two-part documentary manages to be both touching and objective at the same time. There's no sugar-coating Gene's "legacy" here, just raw emotion from the people who were closest to him.
The Bottom Line? The remastering here is as sublime as ever. The remainder of TNG is undoubtedly in safe hands thanks to the team at CBS Digital, and I eagerly await the final two seasons! Classic episodes, stunning remastering, great bonus features - it's not difficult to award this set five stars. A magnificent release - not to be missed!
- Written for TrekCore.com by Adam Walker, November 10, 2013
* A quick footnote - Images marked with an asterisk are exclusive to TrekCore and do not appear as part of the Blu-ray set. They are included for illustrative purposes only.