Hasslein Blog: Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation Remastered, Season One


Hasslein Blog

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation Remastered, Season One

Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation 

Remastered, Season One

By Rich Handley

Sometimes, you just don't realize how much you need something until it's handed to you.

Take the microwave oven, for example. For thousands of years, mankind got along just fine cooking at the speed typical for placing food above a heat source and occasionally stirring, turning or flipping it. It never occurred to most people, throughout all those centuries, that they were suffering because they lacked the ability to simply stick the food in a box, hit a few buttons, go pour a glass of lemonade, and then walk back to the box in time to remove and eat the fully cooked food, two minutes later. Then came the microwave, and overnight, having to set aside an hour to cook a meal seemed painfully slow by comparison.

This month, Star Trek fans were finally able to devour The Next Generation's much-anticipated remastered first season on Blu-ray. From a visuals standpoint, this new ST:TNG is one heck of a microwave oven, providing a feast for ravenous fans who, until now, had consumed a Star Trek prepared over a 25-year-old, single-burner hot plate. The meals always tasted great, sure, and fans were perfectly satisfied with the cooking medium's inherent limitations. But once presented with the remastered cuisine they never knew they craved in the first place, many will find it difficult to ever cook using the original recipes again.

OK, enough with the food metaphor. I think the point has been made: The remastered version of The Next Generation is simply delicious.

When TNG debuted in 1987, watching television was a very different experience than it is now. For many people, a 26-inch TV was considered BIG, and some still watched their shows in black-and-white. So even if a series' special effects, lighting, costuming, set work and sound utilized state-of-the-art technologies, it wasn't always apparent to viewers just how amazing the finished product was—the medium didn't yet make that possible. And few even realized it, so we were blissfully unaware of what we were missing.

The show was at the forefront of televised science fiction, not just in terms of writing, but also effects; when it debuted, Trek fans were mesmerized. But "Encounter at Farpoint" admittedly had some problems in terms of characterization and acting, and it was more than a little derivative—yet another holier-than-thou alien species judging and condemning humanity, with a little Trelane thrown in for good measure (back then, we had no idea just how cool Q would turn out to be).

As fun as the episode was, and though responsible for ushering in 18 continuous years of televised Star Trek, "Farpoint" had its flaws—but the visual and audio elements were not among them. From Q's "chain-link fence" space forcefield to the design of the Bandi city, to the look of the alien lifeform and its mate, to the barrage of the Old City, to the 24th-century transporter effect, to the new Starfleet uniforms, ST:TNG's pilot was an amazing sight to behold.

And yet…

The version we were all watching and hearing was missing a lot of existing brightness, detail and vibrancy. That extra information was right there all along—but we simply couldn't see or hear it due to the constraints of 20th-century mastering and playback methods. It was as if we were viewing the series through a cheese cloth, with cotton swabs stuck in our ears. It's hard to believe, I know, given how fantastic the show looked and sounded, even back then, but it's true.

I was admittedly skeptical, from the first time I'd heard of this project, about whether remastering The Next Generation was even necessary. Last year, I watched the remastered Original Series on Blu-ray, and it was one hell of a ride. That series never looked so fantastic. But TOS was produced in the 1960s, so there was no doubt that it could benefit from a facelift. The Next Generation? A show with modern effects, utilizing model work and lighting equivalent to what one might see on the big screen? Surely that would just be an unnecessary cash-grab, capitalizing on the success of the previous remastered sets, right?

In a word: no. The effort made to remove the cheese cloth from our eyes and the cotton swabs from our ears is evident in every remastered episode—even the awful ones. The vibrant colors, the crisp lines, the astounding details never before visible, particularly on Enterprise's outer hull—it's breathtaking. I had always noticed that TNG's coloring looked a bit muted, that its lighting seemed a bit dim, that its planets and spaceships lacked details, and so forth. But, as with the proverbial cook unaware of microwave ovens (so much for dropping the metaphor), I never saw that as a problem—it seemed entirely normal to me, as someone who'd grown up watching TV shows produced using the technology of that era. It was just how '80s Star Trek was, and I loved it.

PR types like to over-use such terms as "lovingly crafted" and "painstakingly authentic" and "with the greatest attention to detail" when planning out press releases or marketing materials. But this is one case in which such superlatives actually ring true. As one watches the bonus materials, one thing becomes abundantly evident: Those who put this set together gave a damn about doing it right. And that effort has absolutely paid off. Now that I've seen what's been done to clean up these episodes, I can't imagine watching the older versions again.

When Paramount first embarked on bringing The Next Generation into high-definition, the result of initial up-conversion techniques, using scenes from "The Best of Both Worlds," was deemed unsatisfactory, according to a fascinating behind-the-scenes special included with this new set. Instead, the company decided to allow its staff to do something unprecedented: It authorized them to hunt down and rescan all of the negatives. It was a massive undertaking, obviously—but until you watch the bonus features, there's no way to fully comprehend just how massive it was.

Countless hours were spent searching through underground archives (amazingly, only two seconds of season-one film were missing); identifying layers upon layers of effects, lighting and sound; and determining what needed to be adjusted, what needed to be re-created, and how far they could go while remaining true to the vision and intent of the show's creators. Having Michael and Denise Okuda guide them in these efforts was a huge boon, as the Okudas know more about Star Trek and the show's inner workings than most people alive.

Their involvement, as well as that of a team who cared about doing right by The Next Generation, resulted in a viewing experience that is extremely reverent and authentic to what came before, and yet measurably superior. Q's period costumes stand out beautifully. The scenes involving the Tkon Empire portal look fantastic (despite the Ferengi's rather stupid antics). The Klingon makeup is bolder. The area of space to which the Traveler brings the ship is more dazzling. And you really need to see the new Crystalline Entity to believe it; I actually yelled "Ha!" when I saw it.

If there were a single negative to this set, it would be that there are not enough bonus features. What's there is fantastic, but it's a short list. Plus, the packaging is bland. Still, there's a lot to enjoy about the extras that are provided: candid interviews with the entire cast, as well as the Okudas, David Gerrold, Rick Berman, actor Steven Macht (who'd been in the running for the role of Picard) and others; a hilarious blooper reel; and (much to my delight, since it brought me back to the '80s), the original "Next time on Star Trek: The Next Generation!" trailers for all 26 episodes, as well as several commercials that aired prior to the series' debut.

A quick aside: Some fans have noticed audio issues regarding the surround-sound track. Thankfully, CBS has offered to replace such discs for free, releasing the following prepared statement: "We have discovered an anomaly in the English 7.1 DTS Master Audio track in our Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1 Blu-ray boxset. There are some episodes that inadvertently had their front channel designations incorrectly mapped, resulting in an undesired playback experience when listening to them in a 7.1 or 5.1 Surround Sound environment. We are quickly working to remedy the situation. Replacement discs (disc 1, 3 and 4) will be made available free of charge. Please email phe.stng@bydeluxe.com for details regarding the replacement program. You may also call 877-DELUXE6 (877-335-8936) between 8 am to 6 pm Pacific, Monday-Friday."

The above problem aside, the quality of this set is undeniable. The real question, then, is this: Is it worth buying if you already purchased the DVDs at their exorbitant price tags? Before watching the Blu-rays, I would likely have said no. I normally see double-dipping as a waste of money, and I'm not one to jump at every new technology. My collection still contains far more DVDs than Blu-rays, and I see little reason to spend a ton of cash replacing them all. Besides, the episodic content hasn't changed—"Heart of Glory," "The Big Goodbye," "11001001," "Conspiracy," "Datalore" and "Too Short a Season" are just as fun as they are on DVD, while "Angel One," "Home Soil," "When the Bough Breaks" and "Justice" are just as badly written as ever. And "Code of Honor" is still awful.

But now that I've seen what Paramount has done to clean up season one, I have come full-circle from my initial stance. This isn't just a simple, underwhelming up-conversion, as one might expect it to be, nor does it involve controversial and unnecessary content changes, as was done with the Star Wars Special Editions. The work done was exactly what needed to be done.

To say that this remastering of ST:TNG is an improvement over the VHS and DVD iterations is like saying that flying over the ocean in an airplane is an improvement over paddling in a canoe. The show has simply never looked this good—or, more accurately, it always did, but we never knew it. I can't begin to count how many times I've watched and re-watched every episode of season one over the years, and yet, I sat agape, from one remastered episode to the next, astounded at how many details I had not been able to discern before, which now stood out exuberantly.

Sometimes, you just don't realize how much you need something until it's handed to you. And we needed this, even if we didn't know it. If you're debating whether or not to pick up this particular next-gen microwave oven, my advice is a resounding "Make it so."

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home