'Star Trek: TNG' Season 6 On Blu-Ray Review: Don't Expect Any New Special Features
The sixth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) is considered by many fans, writers, and cast members, to be the best written and acted of the series. It contained action, relevant stories, and strong character development that defined the series during the Michael Piller era. Season 6 also boasts the most TNG classics of any season, and every cast member was given as least one episode spotlight. The character/performance based episodes like “Tapestry” and “Frame of Mind” are thrilling to watch and heartbreaking to know Patrick Stewart, John de Lancie and Jonathan Frakes were ignored by the Emmys. Theme heavy episodes like “Rightful Heir” and “Chain of Command” are still as good as you remember and are eerily more relevant now than they were then. There are still some misses — most notably “Aquiel,” “Rascals” and “Lessons” (there exists no special effect or remastering device that could save them) but they’re flanked by episodes that not only stand up as the best of the season or the series, but as the best of the franchise as a whole, making the season nearly perfect.
Given the occasion — a beloved season finally being given an HD digital transfer — one would assume this would be loaded with interviews and commentaries and sweetened nostalgic reminiscence of everyone still alive to tell the story of the best season from their favorite job. Well, think again. Despite the bloated price, and despite having more special features than the initial DVD release, The Next Generation Blu-rays continue the tradition of giving you something pretty to look at, but little else.
First and foremost, the transfer is simply beautiful. One of the problems Star Trek shows suffered with consistently was a lack of a budget. This transfer to high definition has given the colors a much-needed boost making everything clearer and brighter, but not so much so that we can see the strings on the stuntmen. A great deal of care has gone into recreating the visuals of the series while also keeping it grounded (in other words, this isn’t the Star Wars re-releases from the 90s), so the episodes are clean and modern and no longer look like the faded murkiness of a well-worn memory.
However, certain things that could have — and should have — been changed remain. Battles still largely remain off-screen, and the visible battles are lethargic and still utilize reused effects from previous entries to save money. That is, they’re exactly the way they were in the original airings. Some years ago, when The Original Series (TOS) was given Blu-ray transfers, steps had been taken to add special effects and bonus action that was simply impossible to do in 1966. The changes were made carefully, so it would look as if these effects had always been in place; they weren’t gaudy, but they made a difference: they added layers to the story, often ratcheted up the tension, and created a greater sense of adventure. Each episode also came with an option: you can watch the original cut or the remastered cut — both available on the Blu-ray; unfortunately TNG is not afforded this service.
The Next Generation was a victim of these budgetary limitations on a larger scale. Often Captain Picard would order a phaser or torpedo spread. “Fire!” The camera remains on the bridge silently until Worf breaks the quiet with “Direct hit.” Yeah, real dramatic gold here. In fight scenes, characters are repeatedly stabbed, yet there is no blood on the weapon and only the tiniest bit on the victim. I understand the need to keep the material sacred — Star Trek has certainly been elevated decades ago to a deified status within geekdom — but here was an opportunity to rectify a problem that has plagued the franchise since the sixties.
The season 6 Blu-ray was advertised as having commentary by Morgan Gendel, writer of the famed “Starship Mine,” as well as a director’s roundtable discussing the season from a visual and storytelling standpoint. However, a “tight deadline” kept this from happening. Instead, the “Beyond the Five Year Mission” documentary was expanded from two to three parts which only makes the entire documentary about twenty minutes longer, and those twenty minutes are archival footage discussing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, not the actual content of this Blu-ray release.
Nowadays, season/series box sets contain commentary tracks on every episode. This became a trend around 2007 or 2008. Usually, the director of the episode will do commentary along a group of available cast members and occasionally the episode’s writer(s). Three out of twenty-six episodes in this release contain commentaries. None of the commentators are the episode’s actors or writers, and while it is nice to again hear commentary from Michael and Denise Okuda, their commentaries are nothing we haven’t heard in years past (or in the DVD releases ten years ago).
The worst part about this isn’t even something you would notice immediately. A special thing that the TNG Blu-rays have taken to doing is releasing its best two-parters as separate, feature length productions. They’re still on the season releases, just in regular episodic form. Season six’s “Chain of Command” is given the feature length treatment. Included in the individual release are a commentary track by writer Frank Abatemarco, episode trailers, a making-of/retrospective documentary and nearly ten deleted scenes. None of these are available if you purchase the season 6 Blu-ray. Essentially, you have to purchase the episode twice in order to get the special features. As a matter of fact, it’s like that for all the special, feature length episode releases. You need to spend more money needlessly. This is, after all Star Trek, where the intent is to bleed you for as much money as possible because they know fans will complain but end up buying it anyway. There’s an easy solution to this, but you’ll never listen, so CBS will continue to rob you at gunpoint while you hand over your money with a smile. Enjoy.
The “Beyond the Five Year Mission” feature is the main attraction, which is unfortunate. So much of it is actually re-released material of interviews from the 90s. Only about half of the footage is recent, and not all the cast members and writers were apparently available to say more than two sentences before cutting away to episode footage or back to Naren Shankar who is the MVP of the doc. At the same time, however, we are given some archival never released footage from an interview with Michael Piller. It’s largely from the early nineties but contains some great morsels of information and trivia; his enthusiasm for the show was clear, and highlights what a shame his early passing was. There are also many sidebars with TNG’s other Executive Producer, Rick Berman.
Berman is as controversial a figure to Trek fans as J.J. Abrams is. Berman’s long tenure was rife with horrendous decisions regarding character conflict, serialization and score; he often attempted to cut Deep Space Nine off at the knees for being too dark, and is largely to blame for the franchise’s oversaturation in the late 90s which led to its downfall by 2002. At the same time, he also hired amazing writers, saved TNG by hiring Michael Piller, and was the man running the franchise during its most profitable and creative Golden Age. It’s fun to see a number of people in this documentary discuss Berman; almost all of them begin their sentences with: “You know, for everything that’s been said about Rick…” At the same time, the documentary does bring to light certain unknown truths about Berman that were positive, including creative decisions that helped the franchise avert minor and major disasters. While Berman was responsible for some profoundly imbecilic moves, the man does deserve to be credited with the positive things he did for Star Trek and “Beyond the Five Year Mission” goes far in establishing both the triumphs and the mistakes Berman made without casting him as the irredeemable villain that many fans have over the years.
It’s difficult to assess this Blu-ray. Content-wise, the episodes are mostly among high watermark of Trek, yet the bonus features are terribly underdeveloped. The digital transfer is masterful, clear and bright — every bit the future that Gene Roddenberry envisioned, yet the cheap and bloodless fight scenes remain; either that adds to the folksy charm of TNG’s original run or reminds us how limited they were — your mileage may vary, of course. The special features aren’t particularly special and have largely been featured elsewhere. There’s very little, outside of the transfer, for the established fan.
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