Star Trek: The Next Generation did something considered impossible. It brought an iconic franchise back to television at a time when neither science fiction nor made-for-syndication shows were finding much success. Not only was it a huge commercial success, but it went on to win 18 Emmys over its seven-year run. However, that first season has always been a bit of a sore point for fans, who’ve had to apologize for the poor video and special effects quality. With this Blu-ray release, fans can finally show off those early episodes without shame. It may not make “The Naked Now” any less (amazingly) awkward, but it does make it far prettier.
The first season of every television show is fraught with peril. Writers and showrunners are figuring out their working relationships as well as the world of the series. Actors are finding their ground with the characters and being on-camera. All of this and more is true of TNG‘s first season, which is often ridiculous or uneven. Picard starts out crankier and stiffer than his character would prove to be, and it’s often easy to spot many of the new-to-television actors adjusting to the medium. Still, this season does hold a number of gems (“The Big Goodbye” won a Peabody Award) and important foundational items for the rest of the series: Data’s relationship with Tasha Yar, Worf’s conflict between being Klingon and being a Starfleet officer, Dixon Hill, and Q.
The technicians involved in the restoration and conversion of The Next Generation went back to the original 35mm film and essentially rebuilt the season from the ground up, and the difference between the original broadcast quality, or even the original DVD upversions, is rather remarkable. Viewers like myself who had simply assumed the poor quality of the episodes they watched on television or Netflix was due to the era will be shocked to see how good the show looks when you go back to the original film. Facial detail is strong, colors are bright, and the quality feels much closer to feature films of the time or later seasons of the series. As many effects as possible were rebuilt based on matte paintings, model footage, and so on, supplemented with digital recreations (for things like phasers) or finishing touches where necessary. While these recreations sometimes feel a little too crisp, even when compared to the high-def footage (as is the case with some of the planets), most remain appropriately cheesy but integrated well within the HD aesthetics. You can finally see how beautiful and detailed the models for ships and creatures like those in “Encounter at Farpoint” are, and the Crystalline Entity actually looks like it might be made of a solid substance.
The special features include a three-part documentary about the genesis, casting, and production of TNG throughout its first season (“Stardate Revisited: The Origin of Star Trek: The Next Generation”), a documentary on the HD conversion process (“Energized: Taking The Next Generation to the Next Level”), original broadcast promos for every episode, original series premiere promos, and featurettes from previous DVD releases (not HD). Selecting the option to watch the original promo before each episode is both utterly hilarious (The ’80s! SO BOSS) and a constant reminder to be thankful for this HD conversion. There is also a gag reel, but, unfortunately, it seems to have been pulled straight off a crappy VHS and you have probably already seen it online.
The two documentaries are both in HD and are well worth viewing. If you’re as fascinated by film preservation and the conversion process as I am, you’ll enjoy watching technicians reassemble the episodes layer by layer in “Energized.” The documentary takes viewers through the process, from the shot-by-shot breakdowns of special effects by the Okudas (who represented the original staff during the process) to finding all the disparate film negatives and the digital tweaking. In case you feel like complaining that the episodes on the Blu-ray aren’t widescreen, “Energized” explains that, as well.
Die-hard fans may already know much of the information in the three-part “Stardate Revisited,” but it’s still interesting to watch the cast, crew, and producers talk about how and why the show came into existence. The featurette also includes a lot of original costume, make-up, and set decoration camera tests that appear to have also been converted to HD from the original film, and some of which are funnier than the bits on the gag reel.