Hasslein Blog: BLU-RAY REVIEW: ST:TNG—"The Best of Both Worlds"


Hasslein Blog

Friday, April 26, 2013

BLU-RAY REVIEW: ST:TNG—"The Best of Both Worlds"


Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Best of Both Worlds"

By Rich Handley

There are certain Star Trek episodes that end up on almost everyone's "best of" list, as their writing, direction and performances are so mesmerizing that they transcend personal tastes. Ask a large group of fans to list their favorites, and it's a good bet your compiled results will include "The City on the Edge of Forever," "The Menagerie," "Amok Time," "Journey to Babel," "Mirror, Mirror," "Yesteryear," "All Good Things…," "Tapestry," "The Inner Light," "Chain of Command," "The Measure of a Man," "Yesterday's Enterprise," "Trials and Tribbleations," "Far Beyond the Stars," "The Visitor," "Year of Hell," "Carbon Creek" and "In a Mirror, Darkly."

And at or near the top of that list will almost certainly be "The Best of Both Worlds."

In June 1990, the Borg returned to television, a year after the events of Star Trek: The Next Generation's second-season episode "Q Who." The arrival of a Borg cube in Federation space caused a controlled panic among Starfleet's upper brass, culminating in a disastrous battle at Wolf 359 that left an unprecedented number of starships destroyed (and set up Benjamin Sisko's backstory for Deep Space Nine in the process). With help from Borg expert Commander Shelby, the Enterprise crew worked feverishly to create a new weapon capable of defeating the cube.

Fans sat on the edge of their seats, jaws agape and eyes open wide, as Jean-Luc Picard was not only captured by the Borg, but assimilated—and not just as a Borg drone, but in a position of destructive power, serving as Locutus, a liaison overseeing the assimilation of Earth. In one of the most powerful cliffhanger endings in Star Trek's long history, Locutus demanded the Enterprise's surrender, informing Riker, "From this time forward… you will service… us." With only moments left of the episode, the camera slowly panned around Riker's face, the soundtrack built toward a tense crescendo and Will uttered a phrase that would burn in fans' minds until part two aired the following September: "Mr. Worf… fire."

Fade to black. "To be continued…" Music cue: "Bum bum bum! Bum bum bum! Bum bum bum!" Collective fan gasp: "NOOOOO!"

Given the overwhelming popularity of this two-parter, and the success of the recent Blu-ray season sets for The Next Generation and Enterprise, it's not surprising that "The Best of Both Worlds" would get its own separate Blu-ray release. And like those other sets, this one looks and sounds impressive. The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p, with English 7.1 DTS-HD master audio, English stereo surround sound and a variety of language choices. It includes an insightful commentary provided by Cliff Bole, the director of 42 episodes of TNG, DS9 and Voyager; Star Trek gurus, scenic artists and co-authors Michael and Denise Okuda; and actress Elizabeth "Shelby" Dennehy. Also included are a 30-minute behind-the-scenes featurette titled "Regeneration: Engaging the Borg" and a very funny gag reel in which, once again, Michael Dorn provides the lion's share of the laughs.

The documentary contains retrospective comments from not only the main cast, but also makeup designer Michael Westmore, supervising producer David Livingston, Free Enterprise and Malibu Comics DS9 writer Mark A. Altman, model maker Gregory Jein and others, and is quite well-produced. As for the commentary, Bole and the Okudas, as Trek mainstays, are a wealth of information, and it's great to hear what Dennehy has to say about Shelby, and how she approached the role as a relatively new talent. While it's always a pleasure to hear from the primary actors, the chance to learn from someone outside the "inner circle" allows for a fresh perspective. It's truly fandom's loss that the writers never brought back such a wonderful character.

There's no doubt that the set is well-made, nor that folks will enjoy watching it. I did. The Blu-ray re-mastering is admirably accomplished, with all but three seconds of the original film having been located and re-mastered for this release. What's more, the music, lighting and effects have never been better-realized. So purely in terms of quality, the Blu-ray gets top marks. But the only question that matters is this: Is it worth buying?

To be honest, I'm not so sure that it is.

Ultimately, it depends on the kind of fan you are when it comes to Star Trek. The type who would read a Blu-ray review on a site like TrekWeb is likely the type to purchase each season set as it comes out. The third-season set, also just released (review coming shortly), contains the first half of "Best of Both Worlds," while the impending fourth-season set will feature the conclusion. So anyone buying the series on Blu-ray will already own both halves, without having to spend extra money on this single-story release.

Unlike season two's "The Measure of a Man," the Blu-ray presentation of "The Best of Both Worlds" is not extended or in any way different from the televised version (other than its re-mastering), with only one exception: the removal of the "To be continued…" cliffhanger and the melding of parts one and two into a single 90-minute tale. On the one hand, the joining is flawless, providing a very smooth transition from one half to the next, with Riker telling Worf to fire and the weapon immediately failing to hurt the Borg, as though it had been aired that way in 1990 and the months-long hiatus between parts one and two had never occurred.

But on the other hand, this might actually be the set's greatest setback, as a large portion of part one's appeal IS that cliffhanger.

Any viewers old enough to have watched the series on television will remember the shock, thrill and anticipation that erupted among fandom as people wondered how the episode would end… whether rumors of Patrick Stewart's resignation were true… whether Riker would become the captain in season four, with Shelby as his first officer… and so forth. Although the combined episode is admirably re-edited, there's ultimately something missing without the cliffhanger—the musical cues, the black screen, the "To be continued…" and the feeling of "I need to see part two NOW!" The novelty makes the new version worth watching once, just to see what was done, but I can't honestly say I'll need to do so again, once I have season four on Blu-ray. I'm the type of fan who tends to marathon, and a single Blu-ray containing a two-part episode also featured on other, more complete sets makes little sense for marathoning purposes.

Perhaps this release might be good for casual fans just looking for a good story to watch, or those with limited funding who love the Borg but can't afford the season sets, or, conversely, completists with a lot of money who don't worry about double-dipping. But I have to wonder how well this will sell. Ultimately, it all boils down to spending nearly $30 for a half-hour featurette, a commentary and some bloopers. Is that worth it, especially considering the list price of $130 per season set, times seven seasons? Even at Amazon's current $52-per-season price tag, it still adds up. My gut instinct is that for many fans, the answer will be "no."

I'd like to be able to recommend this set, as I think CBS has done a fantastic job so far with its Blu-ray Star Trek library. The releases of The Original Series, the films, The Next Generation and Enterprise have been stellar, aside from a few hiccups here and there, and I look forward with great anticipation to someday seeing the Blu-ray treatment afforded to the animated series, DS9 and Voyager as well.

However, the Trek Blu-rays are not for the faint of wallet, and I have to take that into account. If you're not planning to collect every series, then individual episode releases, such as "The Best of Both Worlds," might be just the thing you're looking for. But if you do intend to pick up seasons three and four, then I see little advantage to also owning this two-episode release. Save your money—you'll need it to buy the season sets.

Come on, you know you'll buy 'em... resistance is futile.

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