Hasslein Blog: BLU-RAY REVIEW: Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Three Remastered


Hasslein Blog

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

BLU-RAY REVIEW: Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Three Remastered


Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season Three Remastered

By Rich Handley

When Star Trek: The Next Generation hit the airwaves in 1987, I was hooked. "Encounter at Farpoint," despite some cheesy dialog, weak acting and typical Trek clichés (not to mention a blatant ripoff of the Decker/Ilia relationship from The Motion Picture), was a solid story featuring some great new characters and impressive production values. And so I kept tuning in, happily devouring each week's new episode, and grateful to finally, after more than a decade, have new Star Trek on television, 13 years after the animated series' cancelation.

By the end of that first season, I knew something special had arrived, but felt that it hadn't yet lived up to its potential. Despite some gems, such as "The Big Goodbye," "11001001," "Heart of Glory" and "Conspiracy," the season was also putting out embarrassing clunkers like "Code of Honor," "Justice," "Angel One," "When the Bough Breaks" and "Skin of Evil." Still, I'd had one hell of a ride, and looked forward to what the following year would bring.

Frustratingly, a writer's strike nearly torpedoed the series during year two, resulting in outings that were just as weak, if not weaker—"The Child," "Where Silence Has Lease," "Time Squared" and "Up the Long Ladder," for instance, as well as stories entirely derivative of prior episodes, such as "Unnatural Selection." After only two seasons, TNG was already beginning to seem stale. Wouldn't it ever prove itself worthy of the Star Trek mantle?

Then season three began.

And fans collectively sighed. Now THAT's more like it.

Whereas the first two seasons of The Next Generation comprised a variety of mediocre to bad episodes with just enough unexpected gems thrown in to keep us coming back for more, season three completely reversed that trend. Almost every episode of the season was great, while many were downright masterpieces. Consider this episode list:

"Evolution": Nanites escape Wesley's lab and form a collective intelligence.

"The Ensigns of Command": Data must persuade a colony to evacuate, in order to save them from dangerous aliens.

"The Survivors": The Enterprise finds two people living on an annihilated planet, with only their garden and house intact.

"Who Watches the Watchers": Two primitives from Mintaka III glimpse a Federation observation team and conclude that Picard is a god.

"The Bonding": A mysterious entity comforts a boy when his mother dies in an accident.

"Booby Trap": When the Enterprise is caught in an ancient starship booby trap, Geordi consults a hologram of Federation engineer Leah Brahms—and falls in love with her.

"The Enemy": Geordi and a Romulan soldier must work together to survive on a hostile planet.

"The Price": Troi falls for a charming negotiator bidding on a newly discovered wormhole (and providing story fodder, years later, for an episode of Star Trek: Voyager).

"The Vengeance Factor": Riker must stop an assassin from carrying out an ancient blood feud amid peace talks.

"The Defector": A peace-seeking Romulan officer defects to warn Picard of his Empire's invasion plans.

"The Hunted": A genetically modified soldier reveals social problems on a world joining the Federation.

"The High Ground": Terrorists kidnap Crusher to help them, as their technology is detrimental to their own health.

"Déjà Q": The Continuum strips Q of his powers and leaves him aboard the Enterprise, a mere human.

"A Matter of Perspective": With Riker accused of murder, the holodeck reconstructs events from various perspectives.

"Yesterday's Enterprise": The Enterprise-C arrives from the past, altering reality and resurrecting Tasha Yar.

"The Offspring": Data creates an androids daughter, but an admiral tries to claim her as Starfleet property.

"Sins of the Father": The Klingon High Council declares Worf's father a traitor and a Romulan collaborator.

"Allegiance": Aliens replace Picard with a duplicate so they can study the Enterprise crew.

"Captain's Holiday": Picard takes shore leave and becomes involved with a beautiful treasure seeker.

"Tin Man": A neurotic telepath comes aboard to help establish first contact with an unknown vessel.

"Hollow Pursuits": Barclay's addiction to using the holodeck as an escape from reality interferes with his duties.

"The Most Toys": An obsessed collector tries to add Data to his private collection of unique items.

"Sarek": As Spock's father suffers from an incurable disease, Picard must mind-meld with him to complete Sarek's final task as ambassador.

"Ménage à Troi": The Ferengi kidnap Deanna, Luwaxana and Riker, and force the women to remain naked.

"Transfigurations": The Enterprise rescues a humanoid with amnesia and incredible healing powers.

"The Best of Both Worlds": Picard is kidnapped by the Borg as a precursor to an invasion of Federation space, culminating in the Best. Cliffhanger. Ever.

That's quite a list, and it contains some of Star Trek's best episodes of any series—"Yesterday's Enterprise," my personal favorite Trek time-travel tale (yes, even better than "The City on the Edge of Forever"), which surprised the hell out of me by finally giving Tasha Yar (a character whom I never enjoyed) a fantastic storyline; "Sarek," which brought back Mark Lenard (always a good move) for a powerful and emotional Sarek sendoff; "Déjà Q," easily my favorite John DeLancie vehicle (alongside "Tapestry"); "The Offspring," with Data exploring procreation, and providing several tear-worthy moments between father and daughter; "Sins of the Father," a brilliantly written tale about Worf's Klingon heritage; and "The Best of Both Worlds," which needs no explanation. It's "The Best of Both Worlds." Its brilliance is right there in the name.

But it's not just the brilliant episodes that define TNG's third season. It's that even the average stories are above-average. In prior seasons, episodes that focused on Geordi, Troi or either member of the Crusher family tended to range from "Well, that wasn't so bad, actually" to "Meh, it was an episode" to "Please kill me now before I accidentally watch this again," with the unifying factor of their being disappointing for simply not centering on Picard, Riker, Data and/or Worf.

Season three, however, elevated every character's arc. As Wesley stories go, "Evolution" was actually very good. Despite being Troi tales, "The Survivors" was quite touching, and "Ménage à Troi" was one of the funnier Ferengi episodes (you know it's a great season when the stunning Marina Sirtis spends an episode nude, and yet I'm focusing instead on the episode's humor). "Booby Trap" gave Geordi his most endearing romance, while "The Enemy" was one of the character's finest moments. And Crusher's spotlights in "The Hunted" and "High Ground" offered relevant social messages to chew on.

The season contained some truly brilliant work, particularly in "Who Watches the Watchers" (which the writers of Star Trek: Insurrection clearly enjoyed, since they used parts of its plot for that film), "The Defector" (one of the best Romulan episodes ever written), "Tin Man" (featuring a mesmerizing performance from Harry Groener as Tam Elbrun) and "A Matter of Perspective" (any episode that gives Jonathan Frakes a chance to step outside Riker's usual veneer is always worth watching).

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that season three didn't have a single bad episode. Sure, some were better than others—but all of them were worth watching. Even what were basically filler episodes, like "Allegiance" and "The Price," had some wonderful moments in them. The writers were at the top of their game that year, and it's no surprise that many consider this The Next Generation's finest season, and one of the best in Trek's near-50 years.

Some have attributed this to Gene Roddenberry having been too restrictive on the writers during the first two seasons, until Michael Piller joined the team as the writing staff's creative director. Piller built a solid group of writers, and also accepted unsolicited scripts from outside his staff—an unconventional approach in those days, to be sure. (And it's a good thing he did, too, as Ronald D. Moore was among those hired.) Apparently, he knew what he was doing, as the results are undeniable: Season three is strange new worlds above seasons one and two.

Last month, the remastered Blu-ray of season three hit stores. I was quite impressed with how the first two seasons were handled, despite some problems with the second set's remastering (see my reviews here and here), and so I very much looked forward to this third release. As my favorite TNG season, it was the one I was most excited about seeing in stunning high-definition. A lot was riding on this release, as the studio change left some reviewers disappointed with season two's remastering, compared to the brilliant job done on season one. How would season three fare?

I'm happy to report that season three's remastering is fantastic. The effects and sets look amazing, just as they did on the season one set, and the show has never sounded better. What's more, the bonus features are great fun, particularly an hour-long roundtable discussion between writers Moore, Brannon Braga, Rene Echevarria and Naren Shankar, as well as Family Guy creator and unabashed Trek fan (not to mention controversial Academy Awards host) Seth MacFarlane. This special offers gratifying insight into how the writing team crafted such amazing stories, week after week, but also touches on some of the frustrations they faced in doing so.

I can't recommend this set highly enough. It's simply fantastic, and a huge step up from the quality of the recent video game release.

A variety of documentaries, scattered throughout the set's six discs, offer surprisingly honest commentary from cast and crew, giving us rare insight into what went on behind the cameras. It was sometimes a bumpy ride for those involved (as evidenced by the firing and re-hiring of Gates McFadden as Beverly Crusher), and it's fascinating to hear them reminisce. On a melancholy note, the set also includes several cut scenes of the late David Rappaport, an actor best known for his work on Time Bandits and The Bride, who committed suicide during the filming of "The Most Toys" and had to be replaced by Saul Rubinek in the role of Kivas Fajo. Rappaport was a wonderful talent, but an apparently unhappy individual, and while it was enjoyable to see the scenes he'd filmed for the episode, it was sad to be reminded of his unfortunate passing.

On a more upbeat note, I highly recommend watching the blooper reel, which (as with all TNG blooper reels) is hilarious. I frankly don't know how Frakes and Michael Dorn ever got any work done on the set, considering the amount of laughing those two did while trying to get through their scenes. It reminded me, once again, of why The Next Generation was such a wonderful series: because the relationships between the characters weren't merely manufactured—they were genuine. This cast loved (and still loves) each other, and it showed onscreen, week after week.

When you watch TNG's season three on Blu-ray, I guarantee you'll love them as well.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home