Let me say right up front, I am a huge STAR TREK fan. Starting in my childhood, I was glued to the television set everyday watching reruns of the original series. I also went to see all the movies and have watched and continue to watch all the new Star Trek television series that come our way. When it comes to STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, I am the first to admit that I loved the series- because it brought STAR TREK back to television. Now as a fan, I also have to admit that Season One of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION was the weakest in terms of stories and characterizations. However, the show was in the process of finding its voice during that first season, and it did produce a number of very fine episodes that really shine in comparison to those that I’ll deem as somewhat weaker.
Despite the weaker episodes in that appear in the first season, I have to say that I was absolutely ecstatic to be holding the STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION SEASON ONE ($150) DVD Box Set in my hot little hands. Season by season box sets are the only way to collect television programming on DVD and I am so glad that Paramount is doing it right with STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. Heck, they are not only doing it right, they are doing it fantastically well with a release schedule that will bring all seven seasons of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION to DVD before the end of 2002. Inside the very cool packaging that simulates a brushed metal box, one will find a foldout inner sleeve that contains the seven DVDs that contain the twenty-six episodes that comprise season one, as well as the set’s supplemental materials. The DVDs are arranged four episodes to a disc, except for disc seven, which offers only two episodes, as well as the supplements.
Disc one contains the episodes Encounter at Farpoint, The Naked Now and Code of Honor. Encounter at Farpoint served as the series pilot, and was shown originally shown as a two hour movie, but was broken up into two separate episodes for repeats in syndication. Encounter at Farpoint takes place roughly eighty years after the exploits of the Classic Trek characters and introduces the crew of a new Federation Starship Enterprise NCC-1701D, commanded by Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). The ship’s first officer is Commander William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes), the android Lt. Cmdr. Data (Brent Spiner) is second officer, Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) serves as ship’s counselor, Commander Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) is the chief medical officer, Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) is in charge of security, Lt. Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) is the ship’s "blind" pilot, Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) is the only Klingon in Starfleet and Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) is the doctor’s hyper intelligent son (and chief annoyance to many a STAR TREK fan). Encounter at Farpoint also introduces the reoccurring character of Q (John de Lancie), an omnipotent alien that places the crew of the Enterprise on trial for the past aggression of the human race. The Naked Now revisits the premise of an episode from the original series; one that has the crew of the Enterprise fighting off a contagion that causes them to act in an irrational and potentially deadly fashion. Code of Honor finds Tasha Yar caught in a domestic and political conflict, when she is chosen to replace the wife of a planetary chief.
Disc two contains the episodes The Last Outpost, Where No One Has Gone Before, Lonely Among Us and Justice. The Last Outpost introduces the money grubbing alien race known as the Ferengi, in a story of the Enterprise and a Ferengi vessel becoming disabled near a mysterious planet. Where No One Has Gone Before catapults the Enterprise outside the known universe, when a warp engine experiment goes horribly awry. Lonely Among Us finds Captain Picard becoming merged with an alien entity after passing through an energy cloud. Justice is almost laughable as an episode because of its premise of Wesley Crusher facing a death sentence on an alien world for the equivalent of disobeying a "keep of the grass" sign.
Disc three contains the episodes The Battle, Hide and Q, Haven and The Big Goodbye. In The Battle, the Ferengi make Picard a gift of his former ship The Stargazer, which was lost in battle with the Ferengi. Hide and Q marks the return of the omnipotent alien entity, who offers Riker the opportunity to share in his godlike powers. Haven introduces the reoccurring character Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry), Deanna’s madcap mother, who arrives on the Enterprise to inform the ship’s counselor that the time has come for her prearranged wedding. In The Big Goodbye, Captain Picard seeks a little R&R on the holodeck- losing himself in the world of 1940’s gumshoe Dixon Hill, until a computer malfunction turns the fantasy program deadly.
Disc four contains the episodes DataLore, Angel One, 11001001, Too Short a Season. DataLore is certainly one of season one’s highlights and commences with the discovery of a second android named Lore, who is seemingly identical to Lt. Cmdr. Data, except for his more humanlike personality, facial tick and several other "quirks." Angel One brings the Enterprise to a planet in search of survivors of a federation freighter that went missing seven years prior, but instead find a society where larger females dominate the smaller males. In 11001001, the Enterprise is being upgraded by a race known as the Bynars, whose computer dependency causes them to hijack the Starship, while Picard and Riker are otherwise engaged by a very special and very beautiful holodeck program. Too Short a Season requires an elderly admiral to negotiate a hostage situation on the same world he negotiated a peace treaty forty years earlier. Unwilling to let age or infirmity stand in his way the admiral overdoses on a youth drug, which has amazing results.
Disc five contains the episodes When the Bough Breaks, Home Soil, Coming of Age and Heart of Glory. In When the Bough Breaks children from the Enterprise are kidnapped by a sterile race, as a means of perpetuating their society. Home Soil finds the Enterprise visiting a terraforming station, which is in the process of transforming a seemingly lifeless world into a habitable planet, that is, until the planet’s indigenous life form begins rebelling. In Coming of Age Wesley Crusher takes the Starfleet Academy entrance exam, while an old friend of Picard’s makes the captain aware of his suspicions that a dangerous conspiracy growing within Starfleet. Heart of Glory tests Worf’s loyalties as he torn between commitment to Starfleet and his birthright, after several other Klingons are transported onboard the Enterprise.
Disc six contains the episodes The Arsenal of Freedom, Symbiosis, Skin of Evil and We’ll Always Have Paris. In The Arsenal of Freedom, the Enterprise goes in search for a missing Starship on a world that was once home to a race arm’s merchants, but instead finds the planet booby-trapped and the crew fighting for their survival. Symbiosis finds one alien race profiteering from the suffering of another, when the crew of the Enterprise discovers the drug used to cure a plague is also highly addictive. Skin of Evil was the first season swan song for Lt. Tasha Yar, since actress Denise Crosby was dissatisfied with the character’s development. During a rescue mission, Tasha Yar is killed by a malevolent being named Armus, who turns out to be comprised of evil tendencies of an entire alien race. We’ll Always Have Paris reunites Picard with an old flame, who is now married to a scientist that is conducting experiments that threaten to rip apart the very fabric of time and space.
Disc seven contains the episodes Conspiracy and The Neutral Zone. Continuing a storyline first presented in Coming of Age, Conspiracy offers a paranoid tale of a potential Starfleet takeover from within. Concluding with the goriest climax of any STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION installment, this suspenseful and well though out chapter of the series is not only one of the very best episodes from the first season, it is one of the best very best episodes period. Closing out season one is The Neutral Zone, an episode that combines a tale of reviving three cryogenically frozen humans from the twentieth century, with the reemergence of the Romulans, the Federation adversaries who haven’t been heard from in over fifty years.
Paramount Home Entertainment has made all of the episodes from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION SEASON ONE available on DVD in their proper full screen aspect ratios of their original broadcasts. The DVD presentation is an improvement over broadcast and even the Laserdisc releases, but some problems do remain. STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION was shot on film, but the series special effects were completed in the video realm, which is the cause analog video artifacts that appear from time to time. Some individual episodes do look better than others, with the quality getting better as the season progresses. Additionally, individual sequences within all of episodes can look very good or just adequate, depending on how the particular sequence was completed in postproduction. Video noise, grain and shimmer can manifest in individual shots, during the course of any given episode, but considering how the episodes were produced, this is as good as they can look short of having all of the postproduction work on the episodes redone in high definition.
Generally, the presentation is pretty darn good, offering an image that is far more pleasing than any syndication broadcast. The image can be quite sharp and nicely defined. Colors can be rather striking, or a bit subdued depending on how individual sequences were lit and shot. Flesh tones appear reasonably natural, although the lighting sometimes causes them to appear a bit too red. Blacks are accurately rendered and contrast is generally good, however the picture has the same flatness that one usually associates with television productions that are shot on film. Smart dual layer authoring precludes noticeable digital compression artifacts, even with four forty-six minute episodes per DVD.
All of the season one episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION have been upgraded for their release on DVD to great sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 channel mixes. In 5.1 the soundtracks have more breathing room and a better acoustics than they did in standard surround. The forward soundstage tends to dominate, as it did in television broadcasts and on Laserdisc, but the separation in the forward channels is cleaner and better defined. Surround usage can be a bit reserved by motion picture standards, but the ambient sounds, active effects and engine noises are generally well deployed and really enhance the episodes. Dialogue is very crisply rendered with excellent intelligibility. For the most part, music has a nice lively quality, although for some reason it sounds somewhat compressed and flat during the opening credits- the pilot episode does not exhibit this minor quirk. The bass channel is quite punchy; giving the Enterprise’s engines a nice deep rumble, as well as kicking in to enhance other sound effects and even the music. For maximum enjoyment of the 5.1 channel soundtracks, I recommend turning up the volume until the sound launches you into outer space. 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. Through the menus, one has access to individual episodes, as well as scene selection and set up features. Disc seven’s menus also provide access to the supplementary materials. Under the title of Mission Logs, one will find the following programs: The Beginning, Selected Crew Analysis, The Making of a Legend and Memorable Missions. The Beginning runs roughly eighteen minutes and through archival footage and interviews, it offers a look back at the creation of the TV series, sets, special effects and the casting process. Running a little over fifteen minutes, Selected Crew Analysis features interviews that show how the creators, writers and the actors developed the show’s characters across the first season. The Making of a Legend runs another fifteen minutes and offers a more detailed look at production design, including creating the sets, plus a look at the special effects, makeup designs and music. Clocking in at a bit over seventeen minutes, Memorable Missions allows the cast and crew to reflect back on their favorite moments from season one.
As a fan, I can say I can honestly say that I am absolutely delighted to have STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION on DVD. Paramount has done a fine job with the release, giving the fans exactly what they wanted- namely season-by-season collections. The DVD presentations look and sound pretty darn good, making the STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION SEASON ONE DVD Box Set something that fans will definitely want to own. I am looking forward to future seasons of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, as well as DEEP SPACE NINE, VOYAGER, ENTERPRISE and hopefully a revisit of the original series in season-by-season collections.
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