This month, the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation became available on Blu-ray, with restored original special effects in HD. Please join TrekNews.net as John Tenuto offers his review of the discs and bonus features.
Season 2 contains at least two milestone episodes for the series, given special attention here on the Blu-ray collection: “Measure of a Man” and “Q Who?”. Both are good examples of how the process of transferring and reconstructing the discs from the original prints helps showcase the original effects. In fact, these episodes, while both expressing Star Trek ideals and philosophies, show the brilliance of how the TNG writers were able to use differing genre styles effectively. “Q Who?” has a great deal of action and adventure, with effects that again look very good in the new format, yet the episode also says something about humility and our relationship with the technology we invent. Using a completely different type of episode, one that is more of a quiet character piece, “Measure of a Man” shares ideas about friendship, what it means to be human, respect for others, and also our relationship with emerging technologies.
“Measure of a Man” is made more special by the inclusion of almost 15 minutes more footage, salvaged from the original edit of the episode given to writer Melinda Snodgrass on VHS tape. The story of how the episode got to be so (too?) long is intriguing in itself, but the additional footage is remarkable, providing genuine and new insights into favorite characters. Especially good is a conversation between Data and Picard that is not only expertly acted, but also provides an exchange between these personalities which shows why Picard would become a father figure to Data as the show progressed. At the recent theater event where fans could watch the episode on the big screen, it was difficult not to have a nostalgic cry in the last scene between Data and Riker. Most astounding, the visual transfer from Snodgrass’ almost 25 year old video tape is so much better than I expected.
Among the new bonus features, two stand out as exceptional from a historical perspective. First, the “Gag Reel” on Disc 3 has all the fun of the 1960s Star Trek bloopers that continue to be shown at conventions to this day. While hilarious, the reel also helps demonstrate the camaraderie and affection Patrick Stewart and company have for each other, which is also a major theme of the “Reunification: 25 Years After Star Trek: The Next Generation” cast interview on Disc 5 (to be discussed later).
Second, the inclusion of the 1988 Reading Rainbow TNG special is a welcomed surprise. It not only reminds viewers why Reading Rainbow was (and has recently returned as an iPad app) such a great “edutainment” program, but the vignette provides a genuinely fascinating look at how television episodes were made in the 1980s. Its inclusion reinforces how talented and creative the artists who made TNG really were, despite the budgetary, time, and special effects limitations of the era.
Of course, the centerpiece of the bonus features is arguably the “Reunification: 25 Years After Star Trek: The Next Generation” cast interview conducted by Robert Meyer Burnett. This is an intriguing interview of the entire regular cast (minus Denise Crosby) in which the actors discuss how they got their roles, their interactions on set with each other and various directors, the connection they have with each now, and the function of Star Trek in society. There are some genuinely emotional moments, especially revelations of how Data’s character helped those with Asperger’s Syndrome and how Star Trek affects the audience in general. Surprisingly, Burnett asks a question that could be interpreted as a criticism of Star Trek fans (odd because Burnett is usually a champion of Star Trek and a fan himself), classifying some fans as having a problem separating the actors from the characters, or in essence, the stereotype of the fans who are unable to differentiate reality from fiction. While this was likely not meant in the way some may interpret, the cast excellently deflects the question by talking about how intelligent fans are and how the show has inspired fans to do good things. Burnett does a good job asking questions that keep the conversation going and eliciting stories. “Reunification” feels like the audience is sitting in the room, having a conversation with their favorite actors.
Less successful is “Make it So: Continuing Star Trek: The Next Generation”. While there are nuggets of information here, including a rare interview with the gracious and talent Diana Muldaur, the two part documentary is generally muddled. The editing is distracting, with good ideas of interviewees being broken up with cutaways to moments from episodes. When used properly, this editing technique has value, but it is used too frequently and usually with questionable purpose or connectivity to the topic being discussed. This editing style means that ideas are disjointed and interviews are diminished. Also, some stories are started and not finished or does not connect to other ideas, although how much of that is a question of the answer provided is a fair consideration. For example, Brian Thompson talks about how he earned his role as Klingon Lt. Klag, yet the story doesn’t really have a conclusion that I could discern. Then there is the problem that interesting material, such as the cool Borg transporter effect tests footage, are shown but not discussed in detail — if at all. Burnett does a good job as editor and storyteller, and the first season version of this documentary was outstanding. We are hoping that season three reflects more of that talent and gives better information.
In addition to these new documentaries, the bonus features also include episode promos, a 1988 season two promotional video, deleted scenes from “Up the Long Ladder,” “Measure of a Man,” and “The Icarus Factor,” the original features from the previous DVD edition, and commentaries on “Measure of a Man” and “Q Who?”. There could really be no better companions while watching these episodes than special effects master Dan Curry, director Rob Bowman, Mike and Denise Okuda, and writer Melinda Snodgrass, and important voice in Star Trek’s history that finally gets some attention thanks to the commentaries.
While the first two seasons of TNG have some great episodes, they show the growing pains the show experienced. Yet, the Blu-ray releases have given fans reason to watch these episodes again. The improved picture is such that I find myself watching these episodes again more now than ever before. I’m excited about Season 3, and hope for continued rare images and interviews, in addition to a theater event to celebrate.
Could you imagine “The Best of Both Worlds” and “Yesterday’s Enterprise” at theaters?
Boldly go, indeed!
You can follow John Tenuto on Twitter at @JTenuto.
Photos: Brian Wilkins
Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on Star Trek’s history, and have been invited to present at venues such as Creation Conventions, ReedPOP’s official Star Trek 50th Anniversary Convention, the St. Louis Science Center, and to the towns of Riverside, Iowa (future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk) and Vulcan, Alberta, Canada. They have appeared in episodes of the Netflix TV show “The Toys that Made Us” and in the Decades Network documentary “Through the Decades: Star Wars 40th Anniversary.” They’ve written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their research has been featured on BBC Radio, WGN News, CBS News, and in the USA Today and WIRED Magazine.