Blu-ray Review Chain of Command

Starfleet-Sanctioned Blu-ray Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation - Chain of Command

June 27, 2014Ben MK

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The measure of a man

By Ben Mk

With its mandate to boldly go where no man has gone before, Star Trek has long been about presenting viewers with a window into their own world and the issues of the day, by reflecting them in the show's futuristic, science fiction veneer. It's a practice that began with Gene Rodenberry's original series and continued with The Next Generation. In fact, some of the series' most socially-relevant and thought-provoking episodes were broadcast as part of the latter's 7-year run. And out of all of them, you'd be hard pressed to find a storyline as compelling as Chain of Command.

Originally broadcast in December of 1992, Chain of Command begins as many a Star Trek episode would: with the Enterprise rendezvousing with another Federation ship, the USS Cairo, and Picard meeting with his superior, Vice Admiral Alynna Nechayev (Natalija Nogulich). But things quickly take a surprising turn, as Nechayev reveals the real reason for their meeting: to relieve Captain Picard of his command of the Enterprise.

But it's not because of something Picard has done, it's for something he's about to do — or rather, because of a mission that Starfleet Command has decided to send him on. The specifics have to do with Starfleet Command's suspicions that the Cardassians are developing a metagenic (biological) weapon that uses a theta-band subspace delivery system. With subspace emissions detected near the Cardassian planet of Celtris III, Picard (along with Lietuenant Worf and Doctor Crusher) have been tasked with covertly infiltrating the installation situated deep beneath the planet's surface and destroying the weapon, if it indeed exists.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise, under the temporary command of the Cairo's hard-nosed commanding officer, Captain Edward Jellico (Ronny Cox), is off to rendezvous with a Cardassian ship called the Reklar, to engage in talks with its Captain, Gul Lemec (John Durbin), about the ominous mobilization of Cardassian ships near the Federation border. However, things quickly go south on both fronts, after Picard is taken prisoner on Celtriss III — tortured, both physically and psychologically, for information by a sadistic Cardassian officer named Gul Madred (David Warner) — and Lemec accuses the Federation of mounting an unprovoked assault on Cardassian territory.

The storyline certainly doesn't mark the first time that Captain Picard has been captured by the enemy. In The Best of Both Worlds, he was taken prisoner by the Borg, absorbed into the Collective and bestowed a new name: Locutus. In that two-parter, Picard was literally robbed of his humanity, and in Chain of Command, history repeats itself. Only this time, it's through the dehumanizing treatment he receives at the hands of Gul Madred. It's difficult subject matter for network television (even by today's standards), but the way that Warner and Stewart, who are both Shakespearean-trained actors, tackle it helps the episodes avoid coming off as patronizing or exploitative. Because at its core, Chain of Command highlights the atrocities of human rights abuses, and, as such, it serves as a stark and powerful reminder of how relevant the issue still is today.

Paramount brings Chain of Command to Blu-ray with a stellar A/V presentation, retaining the original broadcasts' 4:3 aspect ratio but besting the original broadcast quality. As with the Blu-ray releases of The Best of Both Worlds, Unification and Redemption, both halves of the two-part storyline are presented as one continuous, 86-minute feature, with the only alterations (editing-wise) being the excision of the opening credits from the start of part 2 and new (all-encompassing) opening credits at the start of part 1. The high-def transfer exhibits a very film-like texture, with a visible amount of film grain overlaying the image, and commendable detail, as can be seen in the Cardassian makeup prosthetics and the nuances of the starship models used for exterior shots. Likewise, color contrast and saturation are also top-notch, especially the reds, blues and yellows of the Starfleet uniforms and the orange exterior of the Reklar. Audio-wise, the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack offers a nice upgrade from the original stereo broadcast, but it's overkill at times, considering the front-loaded soundstage. Still, dialog is always highly intelligible, phaser blasts resonate with the appropriate ferocity and the show's orchestral score never sounded better.

Although Chain of Command, parts 1 and 2, are also included in the Blu-ray release of Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Six, all of the bonus material related to these episodes is exclusive to this standalone release. That includes 14 minutes of Deleted Scenes (one from part 1 and eight from part 2), two 30-second Episodic Promos and an episode commentary by actor Ronny Cox, director of photography Jonathan West and Mike & Denise Okuda. There's also a brand new making-of documentary, titled The Privilege of Rank: Making "Chain of Command", which runs 29 minutes long. In it, the show's cast and crew (including producer Ronald D. Moore, Supervising Producer Frank Abatemarco, Patrick Stewart and Ronny Cox) share their stories about the production of these episodes and discuss the genesis of the storyline, its themes and the characters, with episode clips interspersed throughout. All of these special features (save for the episodic promos) are presented in HD.

Star Trek: The Next Generation's sixth season is full of entertaining episodes, but among them, Chain of Command, parts 1 and 2 are two of its most compelling. Not every story arc deserves a standalone release, but with subject matter as topical as this, it's clear why Paramount thought Chain of Command worthy. And with an excellent A/V presentation (the best these episodes have ever looked and sounded) and some insightful, brand new bonus features, fans should feel the same way about Star Trek: The Next Generation - Chain of Command on Blu-ray.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★★
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★½
Special Features  —  ★★★½

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