The Best of Star Trek: The Next Generation – DVD Review

Until the premier of Ronald Moore’s BATTLESTAR GALACTIC A reboot, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION was easily the most intelligent sci-fi show on American television. Prior to its premiere in first-run syndication back in 1987, we remember not having much faith in the concept. The strength and reason of Kirk was divided between Picard and Riker, while Data would cover the same ground as Spock, etc. But the strong performances of Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner helped the show through the shaky first season, allowing other regulars like Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, and particularly Michael Dorn to develop and sharpen their characters’ personalities (we don’t know whose idea it was to kill off Denise Crosby’s character in the middle of the first season, but it robbed the show of one of its most interesting performances.) The writing on  STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION continued to improve throughout its 7 seasons until its final episode, the feature length “All Good Things” – giving the series that rarest and most enviable of things, a finale that encompasses the very best of the show.

As part of Paramount’s marketing blitzkrieg centering on JJ Abrams’ new feature, we have a 4 episode “best of” compilation of TNG episodes. We take issue with leaving out the superior Spock-oriented “Unification” – or even “All Good Things” – if only because the Borg just never really captured our imagination.

The Best of Both Worlds” (Parts I & II)
Capping season 3 and beginning season 4, this represented the second contact with the Borg, a race of cybernetic beings who travel through the universe inside giant cubes that look like square computer chips. The Borg seek to assimilate other life forms into their own “collective”, absorbing the knowledge of the cultures along the way (the concept is such a ripe metaphor for communist infiltration that it’s hard to believe that it was written after the fall of the Berlin Wall) the Enterprise’s weapons are useless until newly arrived Lt Commander Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy) figures out a way to adjust the power frequency of the phasers to inflict minor damage to the Borg hull. The Borg’s intentions are to kidnap and assimilate Picard to use as a human face for their eventual conquest of Earth, forcing Riker to attempt a rescue of Picard before implementing Shelby’s plan to destroy the Borg ship. The Borg would go on to serve as the bête noir for the Star Trek universe throughout the ensuing television series – even getting their own film, Star Trek First Contact – which is a major reason for our eventual tuning out. A nearly faceless, emotionless enemy is exactly that, and we could never muster much interest in an ongoing battle with walking circuit boards. That being said, these episodes give Picard some nice moments while fighting to allow his humanity to show through, giving Riker a turn in the “big chair” and fighting his more rash qualities in Shelby. It’s an effects heavy go, and the series’ video-processed effects range from acceptable to dicey (we wonder when Paramount will spring for an effects facelift similar to what was done for the original series)

Yesterday’s Enterprise
Another 3rd season episode, this time the Enterprise comes across an unusual displacement in space. Just as what appears to be a ship begins to emerge from the distortion, the Enterprise bridge transforms into a more darkly lit, threatening interior with all bridge personnel now armed. Tactical Officer Worf is gone, and in his place is none other than Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby, making the first of several well-written reappearances) but the biggest surprise is the ship that has now fully exited the rift is none other than the USS Enterprise NCC-1701C, having been badly damaged in an encounter with several Romulan craft. In a nifty bit of screencraft, it turns out that the Enterprise C was on its way to assist a Klingon outpost under attack by Romulans and was yanked out by the space rift just before the ship would have been destroyed. Historically, the sacrifice of the Enterprise C to save a Klingon outpost was to have been the deciding factor in forming a truce between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, and without that sacrifice, a 20 year war ensued that has cost the lives of billions of people. Only Guinan (frequent guest star Whoopi Goldberg in excellent form) senses that something is very wrong with the timeline, and informs Picard that the Enterprise C and her crew must return through the rift and give their lives to prevent the war. It might have been more interesting to have the captain of the Enterprise C be somewhat more reluctant to return and sign the death warrants of her crew, but the inclusion of Yar was a narrative masterstroke, giving Crosby her best moments of the series – particularly when Guinan tells her that not only should she not be alive, but that her death in the alternate timeline was a meaningless one. It’s also nice to see guest star Christopher McDonald get the chance to play a heroic character for once, as the First Officer of the Enterprise C, who leads the ship back into time.

The Measure of a Man
The earliest episode offered in the set, season 2’s best finds the Enterprise docked at a star base and Lt. Commander Data under orders to report to Captain Maddox (Brian Brophy) to be disassembled for clues to the workings of his posotronic brain. After speaking with Maddox, Data doesn’t believe that he possesses the knowledge to put him back together after the procedure, and refuses to submit, citing the importance of preserving the work of his creator, Dr. Noonien Soong. Data attempts to resign from Starfleet, but the move is blocked by Maddox on the basis that Data is the property of the Federation and not a human being with rights. This cumulates in a hearing where Picard appears on Data’s behalf, but due to a lack of experienced senior officers on the base, Riker is forced to appear for the prosecution along with Maddox. Usually touted as a showcase for Spiner, it’s actually Frakes who has the best moments, forced, not just to humiliate his friend, but to prove that he isn’t human. The moment when Riker reaches behind Data and shuts him off by flipping a switch, grimly announcing “Pinocchio is broken – the strings have been cut” is quietly devastating. We weren’t thrilled with the over-humanizing of Data in later seasons, as Brent Spiner was quite capable of hinting at emotions without the introduction of the silly “emotion chip”, but this episode presents the character’s crisis of humanity with intelligence and sensitivity.

DVD DETAILS

No HD release of The Next Generation has been undertaken, and the episodes here look much like the broadcast masters that have been running for nearly 2 decades. Though we’ve read that the show was shot in 35mm, it always looked far closer to Super16, with effects shots processed on video. This puts it in an odd position with the original series; cheap cardboard sets and dodgy optics aside, the show was handsomely lit by the same production company that was turning out Mission: Impossible just across the lot and looks magnificent when properly remastered. Ironically, it’s TNG that now looks threadbare and desperately in need of attention. That having been said, this SD-DVD offers the same transfers that have been previously released on the TNG season sets, and short of a pricey dressing of the original negatives it’s the best that the series currently looks on home video.

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About the Author

Drew Fitzpatrick

By day, Drew Fitzpatrick toils at publishing in the black heart of Manhattan. But by night, he dons a pair of fetishistic black leather gloves and grinds out the "Internet’s only horror-themed Blog": The Blood-Spattered Scribe.

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