Blu-ray Review Sci-Fi

A Captain's Blu-ray Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Seven

January 3, 2015Ben Mk


The final frontier...

When Captain Picard and company first hit the airwaves in 1987, it had been nearly two decades since fans last saw any new stories from Gene Roddenberry's original series. Fast forward 178 episodes later, and not only had The Next Generation spawned the spin-off, Deep Space Nine, but another prime-time series, Voyager, was also in the works. Needless to say, TNG has played a pivotal role in rejuvenating the Trek franchise. And while its seventh and final season may not be as fondly remembered as those that came before, it still contains enough memorable episodes to make it worth revisiting on Blu-ray.

   

The Show Like the past three seasons of TNG, season seven of the show commences with the conclusion to the previous season's cliffhanger finale: "Descent, Part II" pits Picard (Patrick Stewart), La Forge (LeVar Burton) and Troi (Marina Sirtis) against Data (Brent Spiner), his villainous twin brother, Lore, and the fan-favorite Borg, while also serving as a pseudo follow-up to the season five episode "I, Borg".

It's a thrilling kick-off to the season — if only because we get to see Lore and the Borg one last time — and it even proves relevant to one of the subplots of the subsequent feature film, Star Trek: Generations. From there, the show's writers — including Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga and René Echevarria — under the guidance of showrunner Jeri Taylor, take the season's remaining 25 episodes in a familiar direction, sending the crew of the Enterprise-D on a series of mostly standalone adventures, all in the lead-up to the two-part series finale, "All Good Things..."

The show's tried-and-true formula is in full effect for this final batch of storylines. Each episode generally shines the spotlight on one of the principal cast members in particular, resulting in episodes like "Sub Rosa", which focuses on Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden), "Parallels", which centers on Worf (Michael Dorn), or "The Pegasus", which showcases Riker (Jonathan Frakes). In addition, there are a couple of episodes — namely "Journey's End" and "Preemptive Strike" — that bring back former characters Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) and Lieutenant Ro (Michelle Forbes) for a proper send-off.

This season also marks the first time that the show scored an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series. And though many may consider season seven to have fewer noteworthy episodes than its predecessor, there are still a number of memorable storylines that rank among the best of the series' entire run. These include the aforementioned "Parallels", which sees Worf trying to reconcile being caught between multiple quantum realities; "Gambit, Parts I & II", which has Picard infiltrating a band of mercenaries in order to track down a mysterious and powerful Vulcan artifact; and, of course, the series finale, "All Good Things..., Parts I & II", which literally brings the show full-circle, by picking up on the narrative threads of the pilot episode, "Encounter at Farpoint, Parts I & II".

So, why then is the seventh season of TNG generally not as highly regarded as earlier seasons? Perhaps it's its overall lack of a central story arc, or the fact that it does little to further develop the characters. Truthfully, there are no outright terrible episodes among the bunch; all of this season's storylines are, at their worst, fun and entertaining (take, for example, "Genesis", a make-up effects extravaganza in which the crew revert to different primitive lifeforms). Some, like "Emergence" and "Force of Nature", are even quite thought-provoking as well.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Star Trek: The Next Generation beams onto Blu-ray for one last time, and the results are just as spectacular as previous seasons. Once again, CBS Home Video has done an outstanding job remastering each and every episode, as the improved picture quality of these 1.33:1 Blu-ray transfers reveals a wealth of never-before-seen fine detail, such as the fabric textures on the Starfleet uniforms, the intricacies of the make-up effects for the various alien races and other nuances in the show's meticulous production design. And aside from a few minor instances of errant noise, the hi-def picture is essentially flawless, with excellent color saturation levels, strong image contrast and inky blacks. Sound-wise, the experience is just as immersive, as the discs' DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack brings these final episodes to life like never before. Dialogue is consistently intelligible, the show's orchestral score is clearer than ever and sound effects like phaser blasts, photon torpedo fire and explosions are riveting. For audio purists, the show's original Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks are also included.

Special Features Paramount's six-disc Blu-ray release boasts quite the extensive supplemental package, including over 3 hours of standard-definition content carried over from the previous DVD releases and another 3 hours of brand-new hi-def extras, plus audio commentaries for a few select episodes.

The SD special features include 34-second Episodic Promos for all episodes, the 11-minute Closed Set: A Tour of the Real Enterprise (in which Mike and Denise Okuda give viewers a tour of the TNG set, via photos and rare home video footage), the 45-minute Journey's End: The Saga of Star Trek: The Next Generation (a 1994 television special hosted by Jonathan Frakes, which recaps the show's seven-year run) and 2 hours of Archival Mission Logs.

Mission Overview Year Seven is a look back at the production of season seven, from the perspective of the writers, producers and cast; A Captain's Tribute is composed of interview clips of Patrick Stewart recalling his time on the show; Departmental Briefing Year Seven: Production focuses on the episodes directed by Gates McFadden and Brannon Braga, as well as the show's visual effects and its female roles; Starfleet Moments and Memories reminisces about the camaraderie between the show's cast and crew; Special Profiles examines the characters of Q (John de Lancie) and Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett); in Inside Starfleet Archives: Dressing the Future, Marina Sirtis and costume designer Robert Blackman give viewers a tour of TNG's costume department; and The Making of "All Good Things..." is about the making of the final two-part episode, with a focus on the writing, the cast and the visual effects.

As for the new HD bonus features: There are 47 minutes of Deleted Scenes (for the episodes "Descent, Part II", "Liasons", "Gambit, Part I", "Gambit, Part II", "Dark Page", "Inheritance", "Parallels", "Sub Rosa", "Thine Own Self", "Masks", "Genesis", "Journey's End", "Firstborn", "Bloodlines" and "Preemptive Strike"), a 5-minute Gag Reel, a 42-minute roundtable with Supervising Producer David Livingston, Director James L. Conway, Director of Photography Jonathan West and Camera Operator Kris Krosskove titled In Conversation: Lensing Star Trek: The Next Generation (in which they discuss their work and their experiences on the show) and The Sky's the Limit: The Eclipse of Star Trek: The Next Generation, an 89-minute, three-part documentary.

Part One: Umbra covers the writing behind the final season, the passing of the baton to the other Trek series, the fictitious science of the show, characters brought back for the final season and memorable storylines. Part Two: Penumbra touches on the show's familial atmosphere, the nature of episodic television, make-up and visual effects, set design, the show's legacy and how it has inspired other filmmakers and the science fiction genre in general. And Part Three: Antumbra has the cast reflecting on their experiences with the show and its final season, discussing certain storylines, guest stars, the show's representation of minority characters and the appeal of the franchise.

Finally, we come to the trio of audio commentaries: there is a 2008 commentary by Brannon Braga for the episode "Parallels"; René Echevarria and Mike & Denise Okuda provide commentary on "Lower Decks"; and there is a commentary track by René Echevarria, Naren Shankar and Mike & Denise Okuda for the series' penultimate storyline, "Preemptive Strike".


The Bottom Line Looking back on Star Trek: The Next Generation as a whole, seasons three, four and six are undoubtedly series highlights. However, season seven is no slouch in and of itself: this twenty-six episode collection may not represent the pinnacle of TNG's seven-year run, but it's far from a low point for the show. On the contrary, those who grew up on TNG will find that it contains some of the Enterprise-D's most memorable adventures. And when you factor in the incredible audio and video presentation, not to mention the exhaustive special features, on Paramount's Blu-ray release, that makes the complete seventh season of Star Trek: The Next Generation one Blu-ray die-hard Trekkers shouldn't miss.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Show  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  





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