Tuesday, August 7, 2012

'Star Trek: The Next Generation' Season One - 1987 [Blu-Ray]

Starring Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner
Created by Gene Roddenberry

I previously reviewed the first season of Gene Roddenberry's much-beloved "Star Trek: The Next Generation," so I won't repeat those comments here regarding the quality of the episodes.  This review will focus purely on the remastering efforts of this new Blu-Ray edition of the show.

First, a bit of background to explain what is happening with this show.  Way back in 1987, the show was shot on 35mm film, including many of the show's myriad special effects sequences.  But as a time and cost-saving measure, post-production was done on videotape.  This was common with many shows in the 80s and through much of the 1990s.  What this means, however, is that the final version of every episode only exists in a standard-definition video tape.  This is impossible to present in high definition, since the image resolution simply isn't there.

Now, however, in order to present the show in hi-def for blu-ray, CBS has gone back to the original film elements of every episode and is essentially putting the show through post-production once again.  Every episode is being edited together again from scratch, all the special effects scanned and composited digitally.

The result is, in a word, astonishing.  In standard definition, the show seems drained of life.  The image is fuzzy, at best, and its colors muted.  The special effects always looked, well, like TV-level special effects.  The Enterprise was a big, gray object moving through space that looked like just a deeper gray.    The ship lacked contrast as the compositing techniques of the time and the videotape mastering simply couldn't get that original photography to look as good as it should.

Now, however, the difference is like night and day.  The Enterprise is highly detailed, and now has proper contrast and coloring.  It looks far more dynamic and visually appealing as it moves through space that is now a deep, deep black (and even occasionally broken up by gorgeous blue and purple clouds).  The show's opening credits are simply gorgeous; you can now see that there are actually animated people moving in the windows of the ship as it passes!  It was a detail that was never visible in the standard-definition versions of the show, and just speaks as to how this release is finally, finally doing justice to how this show was originally made.

One thing that couldn't be simply remastered from the original film are shots of the various alien worlds that the Enterprise visits in its adventures.  The planets were originally created with 1980s computer graphics, and those graphics simply don't exist in high definition.  So, CBS has gone and created new planets.  In terms of the show's special effects, this is the biggest change that has occurred.  It's the only thing that has been, well, updated in the same sense as the remastered version of the original "Star Trek" - which featured new-fangled CGI special effects for every episode.

However, these new CGI planets actually do enhance the special effects immeasurably. The new planets mesh much better with the new detail visible on all the excellent model photography of the ships.  Indeed, one of the details now visible is that the Enterprise is now bathed in light from each planet - if the planet is red, there's a light red tinge visible on the ship, and so forth.  It really helps mesh the elements together, and now even a simple shot of the Enterprise in orbit of some alien world is positively gorgeous.

Moving beyond just special effects, the live-action photography of the show also looks incredible.  Close-ups show great detail and texture on skin and clothing, text printed on wall signs and computer displays is crisp and readable.  The Enterprise crew occasionally finds themselves in locales which are smoky or hazy, and while in standard definition this would look mushy and blank.  Now, detail is visible in the smoke.  Witness the opening scenes of "Heart of Glory," aboard a damaged freighter, as characters are still clearly defined even when moving through thick smoke.  In "11001001," Riker (Jonathan Frakes) visits a New Orleans jazz bar on the holodeck, which is bathed in a sort of steamy atmosphere, and it still looks fantastic.

Alien makeup occasionally shows flaws that were never visible in standard definition.  While certain creatures like the Ferengi look great, as well as the makeup for Klingon security officer Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn), there are occasionally aliens who look like, well, big plastic and rubber suits.  In the episode "Too Short a Season," old-age makeup is used on an actor who is rapidly growing younger.  The makeup goes through several stages until the real actor is finally shown in the episode's final minutes; but the old-age versions, while finely detailed, have a very shiny, plastic look to them - it simply doesn't look like human skin.

One of the biggest improvements is also in color reproduction.  The show's previously drab color scheme is suddenly vibrant and alive.  The crew's Starfleet uniforms are a mix of bold reds and blues, and deep blacks.  Episodes that involve outdoor location photography show incredible, lush green grass and blue sky.

Unfortunately, this blu-ray release is not without its problems.  Audio glitches exist on a handful of episodes.  It seems that the 7.1 DTS HD surround sound mixes were created improperly. In order to be able to understand the dialog, you have to switch to the standard stereo audio track.  It's really quite unfortunate that an error of this size managed to make it into the released product.  CBS has instituted a disc replacement program, which is free, so if you purchased the set and are disappointed by the audio glitches, be sure to check that out.  There's also at least one or two gaffes involving missing effects - a security guard is killed by an invisible blast in "Heart of Glory" that's kind of awkward looking.

Overall, though, it's hard not to recommend this set.  The restoration work is glorious.  "Star Trek: The Next Generation" has never looked or sounded this good.

See Also
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season One