Keeping to their impressive release schedule, Paramount Home Entertainment has made all twenty-six episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION SEASON FOUR available on DVD in a seven disc boxed set for an approximate retail price of $149.98. After having found its definitive voice in season three, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION smoothly sailed into its forth season by producing a number of high caliber episodes, including the most eagerly awaited cliffhanger resolution in the series history. Season four episodes also offered a number of the characters a chance for growth, as well as the opportunity to explore their histories. Sure, there were a few weaker episodes in season four, but the overwhelming majority of the stories in that forth year shined like the stars in the vast expanse of space.
Disc one contains the episodes The Best Of Both Worlds, Part II, Family, Brothers and Suddenly Human. The Best Of Both Worlds, Part II is the follow up to the series finest episode. With Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) abducted and assimilated into the Borg collective, it falls to Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and the crew of the Enterprise to stop the Borg invasion force before they reach Earth and begin their mission of assimilating the entire Federation. Family finds the Enterprise in space dock after their latest encounter with the Borg, which gives Picard and Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn) the opportunity to for somewhat uneasy reunions with members of their respective families. In Brothers, Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner) comes face to face with his creator Dr. Noonian Soong, as well as his evil android twin Lore. In Suddenly Human, Captain Picard is faced with the choice of returning a human teenager to his true family or leaving him with his adoptive father from an alien race.
Disc two contains the episodes Remember Me, Legacy, Reunion and Future Imperfect. In Remember Me members of the Enterprise crew begin disappearing at an alarming rate, with Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) being the only person cognizant that those individuals ever existed. Legacy takes the crew of the Enterprise on a mission to the home planet of Tasha Yar, where they encounter the sister of their fallen comrade. Reunion brings Ambassador K'Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson) on board the Enterprise for a diplomatic mission to the Klingon Empire, at which time she introduces Worf to their son. In Future Imperfect, Riker awakens sixteen years in the future to discover that he is now the captain of the Enterprise and that he has a child that he cannot remember.
Disc three contains the episodes Final Mission, The Loss, Data's Day and The Wounded. Final Mission gives many Trek fans what they have been clamoring for since the first season- the departure of Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton), who undertakes one last mission with Captain Picard before leaving to attend Starfleet Academy. The Loss paints the character of Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) in an unflattering light, when she loses her empathic abilities and begins drowning in her own self-pity, that is, until an emergency on board the Enterprise makes her take stock of her Starfleet training. Data's Day offers a glimpse into the life of the sentient android, by following him during a hectic twenty-four hour period on board the Enterprise, in which he participating in the wedding of two of his very human and very emotional shipmates. The Wounded introduces a new federation adversary in this tale of a renegade Starfleet Captain who brings the federation to the brink of war with his unsanctioned attacks on the Cardassians.
Disc four contains the episodes Devil's Due, Clues, First Contact and Galaxy's Child. In Devil's Due, Picard arrives on the planet Ventax II, where he goes head to head with a seemingly omnipotent, but very beautiful woman named Ardra, who has made the assertion that she is the devil come to collect on a generations old contract for the entire planet. Clues has the crew of the Enterprise awakening after an encounter with a strange phenomenon. Although Data claims that only five minutes have passed, various crewmembers discover evidence to the contrary and suspect that the android second officer is lying about what really happened. First Contact finds Riker injured on a planet that has never had any contact with alien species and in need of rescue before knowledge of his existence causes a planet wide panic. In Galaxy's Child, Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) meet the real version of the woman's whose holographic image he once fell in love with, and the real thing turns out to be nothing like the Holodeck version. However, LaForge and his lady are forced to work together when a space-fairing creature attaches itself to the Enterprise, thinking that the Starship is its mother.
Disc five contains the episodes Night Terrors, Identity Crisis, The Nth Degree and Qpid. Night Terrors finds the Enterprise trapped in a space phenomenon, with the crew on the verge of nervous collapse due to dream deprivation, all except Counselor Troi, who is suffering from a reoccurring nightmare. In Identity Crisis LaForge meets up with former shipmates who, along with him, are the only members of an away mission from five years prior that haven't mysteriously vanished. The Nth Degree marks the return of reoccurring character Lt. Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz), who in this installment, finds his IQ vastly increased after an encounter with an alien probe. However, things take a dramatic turn when Barclay's ever-increasing mind becomes fused with the Enterprise's main computer. The omnipotent Q (John de Lancie) pays his annual visit to the crew of the Enterprise in Qpid, a tale in which he decides to teach Picard a lesson about love by casting him in the role of Robin Hood.
Disc six contains the episodes The Drumhead, Half A Life, The Host and The Mind's Eye. The Drumhead features guest star Jean Simmons as a Starfleet Admiral who comes out of retirement to spearhead an investigation into an explosion onboard the Enterprise, one that disintegrates into a witch hunt when she is unable to find any evidence of conspirators behind the incident. Half A Life features a non-comic appearance by Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry) in this story of an alien scientist on the threshold of a great scientific breakthrough, who is returning to his home world because he has reached the age at his people commit ritual suicide. In The Host, Dr. Crusher falls in love with an alien mediator who is mortally wounded by an attacking ship. While trying to save his life, Crusher learns that the man she loves is actually a symbiotic organism living inside a humanoid host. LaForge is kidnapped by Romulans in The Mind's Eye and is brainwashed into becoming their instrument in a plot to split the alliance between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.
Disc seven contains the episodes In Theory and Redemption, Part I. In Theory is another one of those intriguing episodes in which the android Data comes a little closer to understanding humanity and their emotions. When a female crewmember expresses a romantic interest in Data, the android creates a new program to express the expected behaviors. Redemption, Part I proves to be another great season ending cliffhanger episode. Just as a new leader is about to ascend to the leadership of the Klingon Empire, another faction within the Empire threatens civil war. Worf is drawn into the intrigue in an effort to restore his family honor, and when his overture is met with success the Security Chief decides to resign his Starfleet commission so he can explore his heritage.
Paramount Home Entertainment has made all of the episodes from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION SEASON FOUR available on DVD in their proper full screen aspect ratios of their original broadcasts. Just like the previous box sets, every season shows signs of improvement in terms of video quality. I would imagine that this is attributable to the shows increasing budget and improvements in the technology used to produce the show’s special effects work. Sequences shot on film that do not utilize any special effects appear very crisp and nicely defined. Those sequences that include effects, appear slightly weaker, but not to the degree that they did in the earlier seasons of the show. Colors appear stronger and cleaner than in previous seasons as well, plus flesh tones are rendered in a more true to life manner. Blacks are solid and whites appear stable. Contrast is at that episodic television level, but generally looks smooth. Shadow detail is good for this particular type of material. Like the previous sets, four episodes per dual layered disc don’t bring about any truly noticeable instances of digital compression artifacts.
The soundtracks for all the episodes have been upgraded to Dolby Digital 5.1 channel mixes, the results of which are quite nice. For its day, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION was a well-recorded show, so moving the original matrix surround stems into the discrete format produces a cleaner, tighter sound than it had in the past. Fidelity is very good, with nothing ever sounding canned or compressed. The forward soundstage tends to dominate each show’s sound design, with surround usage being limited to occasional effects, musical fill and reinforcement of the ship’s engine sounds. The bass channel is pretty solid, and it too, goes a long way to reinforcing the rumble of the Enterprise’s engines. Dialogue is always crisply rendered with excellent intelligibility, except when the show’s penchant for techno-babble goes into overload. English Dolby Surround soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVDs, as are English subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD’s interactive menus, which utilize an interface reminiscent of the Enterprise’s computer systems, although they appear slightly altered from the earlier releases. Through the menus, one has access to individual episodes and scene selection within the episodes, as well as each disc’s set up features. The menu system on disc seven also provides access to season four’s supplemental materials, which are similar to those found in the previous sets, but with some variation. Under the title of Mission Logs, one will find the following programs: Mission Overview, Selected Crew Analysis, Departmental Briefings: Production, New Life And New Civilizations and Chronicles From The Final Frontier.
Mission Overview: Year Four runs about sixteen minutes and offers a series of new and old interviews cast and crewmembers discussing the season as a whole. Clocking in at another sixteen minutes is the Selected Crew Analysis, in which cast members discuss the evolution of their characters, with the main focus being Wil Wheaton's decision to leave the show that year. Another sixteen-minute program is Departmental Briefings: Production in which we are offered a look behind the scenes at various things including Brent Spiner’s Data makeup and Jonathan Frakes and Patrick Stewart discussing their directorial opportunities with the show. New Life And New Civilizations runs thirteen minutes and looks at the challenges of creating a 24th century production design on a small 20th century budget. Chronicles From The Final Frontier is an eighteen-minute program that looks at the writing of the series and the direction that the creative team wanted to take the show.
Once again, Paramount delivers the goods with STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION SEASON FOUR. This is another solid season of the now classic television series, plus the DVDs looks and sound great. If you are a fan, then picking up the DVD box set should come as a no brainer.
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