Saturday, July 5, 2014

'Star Trek: The Next Generation' Season 6 [Blu-Ray] (1992)

Starring Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner
Created by Gene Roddenberry
Executive Producers Rick Berman and Michael Piller

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The starship Enterprise continues its adventures patrolling the outer reaches of space, safeguarding the Federation and discovering strange new lifeforms. This sixth season contains some true high points, such as the second of the two-part episode "Chain of Command," but also some real lows - like the Troi-centric and painfully bad "Man of the People."

The first season produced entirely after the death of series creator Gene Roddenberry, Season Six shows the writers breaking out into some new territories that they had been forbidden to approach previously. A few familiar faces return, including John De Lancie's trickster Q in two episodes, Robert O'Reilly as Gowron, as well as Data's twin brother, Lore (Brent Spiner).

Though there are a few episodes that aren't up to snuff, the show is still firing hard when it gets going. Episodes like "Tapestry," "Chain of Command, Part II," "Starship Mine," "Lessons," "The Chase," and "Face of the Enemy" are examples of a show that, even six years in, still knows how to craft a top-notch hour of television... even if it is uneven, as a whole.

For my full review of the season's episodes, click here.

Now then, how does the high-definition remastering look? Once again, this is a complicated question. In pure terms of the HD remastering work, this release is pretty flawless. The only problems actually come from the show's original production, which in Season Six suffered from some rather poor design choices. The lighting aboard the Enterprise is painfully bright and flat, the result of someone's thought that the show previously looked too dark or something on television.

Unfortunately, what this means is that now that we are seeing it in such better quality than the original episodes looked, that choice is coming back to bite us in the ass.

Detail, as always, is razor-sharp. The texture of skin and alien makeup is easily evident. In fact, it's so good that you can see where the fake Klingon beards are glued on. This is only occasionally distracting. Clothing and costumes have never looked better. Some of the costumes Troi wears in "Man of the People" probably would've made censors' eyes bug out if they saw back in 1992 what we're seeing today.

The wild-west holodeck adventure "A Fistful of Datas" and the season finale "Descent, Part I" feature location shooting that looks gorgeous. The season premiere, "Time's Arrow, Part II," however, features location shooting that looks... terrible. And here's where we get back to how the original production hamstrings the HD remastering.

All the sequences taking place in 19th century San Francisco in "Time's Arrow" feature a ton of hazy soft-focus, obliterating all the detail in the sets and costumes that should be dazzling, as period pieces often are. It was probably done on purpose to set those sequences apart visually from scenes aboard the Enterprise, but it's disappointing to watch in HD.

Throughout the rest of the season, other episodes share similar fates due to the lighting design choices being made. "Chain of Command, Part I" in particular looks very poor compared to Part II. The lighting and colors in Part I feel flat and dull, while Part II exhibits wonderful depth and boldness. Even the dark surroundings of Gul Madred's (David Warner) torture chamber feature wonderful color and detail. The image truly comes alive, visually, in Part II.

Other episodes where the directors play with the lighting aboard the Enterprise fare better, too. "Starship Mine" deprives the ship of most of its primary light sources as Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) runs around the abandoned vessel fighting space pirates. The shadowing is dramatic and looks spectacular, even in the darkest scenes.

Ultimately, this flat lighting has one major drawback: It makes the show look cheap, even though it was one of the more expensive ventures on television at the time. While this season still has a lot to offer, visually, it's also a major step downward from earlier years. Again, this is not the fault of the restoration team, but of the original production.

Special note should be made that in this season we get a brief look at Deep Space Nine in high-def, thanks to the episode "Birthright, Part I." Several scenes take place aboard the station's Promenade set, which looks incredible and vibrant in HD. The exterior of the station reveals colors and details that I never saw in the standard-definition episodes. This tease makes me yearn desperately for CBS' next project to be DS9 on blu-ray. Please, CBS, make that happen!

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