Tuesday, December 11, 2012

'Star Trek: The Next Generation' Season Two - 1988 [Blu-ray]

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

The massive, landmark project to restore Star Trek: The Next Generation in high-definition continues! In the show's second season, many elements of the show are cemented that would run through the rest of the series such as the new Ten-Forward set, Whoopi Goldberg joining the cast as Guinan, Riker's (Jonathan Frakes) beard, Worf (Michael Dorn) and Geordi (Levar Burton) promoted to their final positions, and more. The season also features several of the series' most revered episodes, including "Q Who," which introduces the Borg, and "The Measure of a Man," which features a hearing to determine whether Data (Brent Spiner) has rights as a sentient being.

While Season One was a revelation in hi-def, it was not without its problems. Indeed, CBS issued replacements of more than half the sets due to bad audio tracks and other tiny errors. Fans hoping that this situation wouldn't be repeated, and that the release of Season Two would go off without a hitch are going to be left wanting.

Much of Season Two on blu-ray looks incredible. The live-action photography in these episodes is gorgeous. Textures and details are wonderfully presented. You can see all kinds of detail in skin and clothing and hair. The new Ten Forward set looks incredible, with excellent lighting that makes every scene looking like a feature film. A demo-worthy episode is "Elementary, Dear Data" in which Data and Geordi play Sherlock Holmes and Watson on the holodeck. The old London sets and costumes are absolutely gorgeous, full of little details and textures. Lots of makeup work done on alien creatures also looks great.

Episodes that previously looked pretty awful are now visual marvels. In "A Matter of Honor," Riker participates in an exchange program to serve aboard a Klingon ship. In standard definition, the interior sets of the Klingon ship were red-colored smears in hazy darkness. Here, everything is finely delineated. Even the haze itself has detail and texture that is clearly discernible, and the bold red lighting gives the place real menace.

Sometimes, the restoration is so good that it reveals where the production had to cheat - very noticeable on the bridge are black cardboard panels taped to the various computer screens around the set to keep away reflections from all the stage lights.  Once, I even noticed a split seam on Worf's sleeve.

But that's the live-action photography.

Where this set falters is in its presentation of special effects shots. In Season One, the Enterprise displayed wonderful coloring and contrast.  In many episodes of Season Two, the ship is overlit in almost every shot, with black shadows turning light gray. In fact, the whole ship seems washed out.  The details on it are still sharp, but the ship almost never looks like it actually belongs in the shot due to poor compositing or color correction.

Season One featured some gorgeous new computer-generated planets that would lightly wash the Enterprise in whatever its dominant color was. When the ship orbited green planets, there would be a light green reflection on the hull that really helped meld the shot together.  Season Two only rarely attempts this, and when it does it usually does so by simply tinting the entire ship that color.  The planets themselves here are soft and aren't as sharply detailed as the planets in Season One, except the couple times when the planets are reused.

All of this is disappointing, but what's truly unforgivable are the obvious gaffes that were left in the final product. In one episode, "The Schizoid Man," the Enterprise is actually cropped too early as it leaves the edge of the frame.  It's painfully bad, the kind of thing that should never, ever have made it to the general audience.

The fan-favorite episode "Q Who" is supposed to be a demo-worthy episode, the one you show to your friends and have them marvel. It's a big episode with lots of action and special effects, and most of it looks amazing... but the times when it doesn't just ruin the moment. In one scene, a new matte painting had to be created to replace the original. In this shot, Riker, Data and Worf are composited walking around the deck of the Borg ship.  Alas, in this new HD version, half of Worf's body actually becomes semi-transparent because whoever was doing the compositing wasn't paying attention enough to properly meld the two elements.

Also in this episode, there are a few times when the Enterprise fires its weapons at the Borg ship, which produces massive explosions. The first time this happens, the restoration team replaces the original explosions with sharp-looking new ones. The second time this happens, they didn't, and the explosions look soft and muddled.  Why the inconsistency?

To balance things out, the episode "Peak Performance" is absolutely stunning. This episode also features a good deal of space combat special effects, which all look incredible. All the elements work here; with great contrast and coloring in all the shots. If only the rest of the season had looked this good, I'd be singing this season's praises to the heavens for all time.

Alas, while much of this season is downright amazing it's an obvious step down from season one because of the problems with the special effects shots.