Monday, April 24, 2023

Star Trek The Next Generation 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc Box Set Review.

Star Trek: The Next Generation is as classic a television series as Star Trek: The Original Series and even though there will always be fans who prefer one incarnation to another, the thing I feel most admirers of Star Trek will agree to is the series earned it’s spot in the greater pantheon of galactic heroes and stories of discovery where no one has gone before that is Star Trek. In fact Star Trek is the rare franchise that legitimately fits into both the science fiction and more fantasy oriented sci-fi sub-genre with the occasional touch of space opera mixed in for good measure. The four feature films in the Next Generation Movie Collection on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc cover a time when Star Trek was at the height of it’s popularity in the mid 1990s to when the franchise on television began to lose popularity as trends in genre storytelling favored less fantastic elements like elaborately made up aliens and characters that were clearly defined as heroes or villains to a less flashy, but definitely dramatic form of space opera or sci-fi that came to define the 2000s decade with shows like the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, LOST, Smallville, Heroes, and whose influence can especially be seen new shows like Stargate: Universe, which was completely unlike it’s predecessors.

The trend changed again in the 2010s with more traditional space operas like Star Wars: The Clone Wars changed the perception of the brand and ushered in a generation that thinks of Star Wars as as television property even though like Star Trek, it is truly a multimedia franchise and streaming has created more avenues for genre television to be explored as can be seen in very menus of streaming television services like Paramount Plus and Disney Plus. The third and final season of Star Trek: Picard proved to be so respectful to the franchise that spawned it that it retroactively made the series better because it undid all of the mistakes the first two seasons made. The closest comparison I can make is Star Trek: Enterprise, which ended it’s fourth season with mini story arcs that were more reminiscent of the episodic storytelling of The Original Series while respecting the overarching cannon that existed before it hence when one asks for a comparison I think  Enterprise and Picard will be remembered as two series that ended better than they began and in the case of the third season of Picard, I think if you stuck that in a box with the entity Next Generation TV series, the movies and just the third and final season of Picard  in one limited edition 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc box set for the holidays, most fans would not miss seasons one and two of Picard. 

Thus in some ways the four Star Trek: The Next Generation Motion Pictures are a bit of a time capsule just as the TV series that launched the movies reveal as much about the time in which it was made as Star Trek: The Original Series carries elements reflecting both the nature of the kind of dramatic television programming that had been a staple of popular culture from the 1950s, the western, and also tackle subject matter related to what was going on in the late 1960s. 

In fact holding up a mirror to the world around it and exploring it through science fiction conventions has always been an element that has made the genre profound and it is something that Star Trek in all of it’s incarnations has done arguably better than it’s contemporaries. This is just one of the elements that has made Star Trek stand the test of time to be discovered by new generations with each passing decade.

Star Trek: Generations was noteworthy at the time of its release because it gave viewers their first onscreen meeting between the characters of Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and James T. Kirk (William Shatner).  Malcolm McDowell is the main villain of the film. He plays a mad scientist whose family was wiped out by The Borg and subsequently has become obsessed with entering a strange ribbon of energy that travels the galaxy known as The Nexus. With the fate of an inhabited star system in the balance that Dr. Soran (McDowell) is willing to destroy so he can enter the Nexus, Picard finds himself drawn into the Nexus to where he discovers Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and convinces him to return to the 24th Century with him to foil Soran’s plan.

Star Trek: Generations fulfills a prophecy Kirk made about his fate in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, though not quite as he may have expected. Malcolm McDowell is one of the better villains in the feature film series and I think a missed opportunity the film should have shown was what the temporal Nexus was for him since it basically gives the being inside a fantasy world where their wishes could come true and death is only a dream. 

The Borg would make their big screen appearance in the next film in the series, which of all The Next Generation movies is perhaps the best, Star Trek: First Contact. Here Picard and crew follow the Borg back in time to the mid twenty-first century to prevent the Borg from preempting the official first contact with an extra terrestrial species following Zephram Cochran’s (James Cromwell) first warp space flight from Earth. Alice Krige adds great dimension to her character as The Borg Queen, who is as seductive as she is menacing. The film has been referred to as the first true Next Generation Star Trek movie because it is the first one not to feature any actors from The Original Series.

Sadly the last two Star Trek films, while not horrible, never reached the notoriety of Star Trek: First Contact or Star Trek: Generations, not to mention most of The Original Series themed movies. Despite Jonathan Frakes returning to the director’s chair and the additions of F. Murray Abraham as the main villain and Anthony Zerbe as a misguided Federation Admiral, Star Trek: Insurrection feels like an extended episode of The Next Generation and not even a good one. In fact the premise was explored in part far better in The Next Generation episode “Who Watches The Watchers?”  Star Trek: Nemesis was supposed to be for The Next Generation cast what Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was to The Original Series cast. Unfortunately the film is little more than a whimper of a goodbye to fans with a substandard storyline and unnecessary exposition, some truly poorly choreographed dramatic and action sequences like the attempted long distance mind rape of Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) that kills the pacing of the film and even the apparent breaking of certain Star Trek trademarks like how phasers operate. In Star Trek up until this time, phasers are usually direct beams of energy that remain constant either according to how long the trigger or firing mechanism is touched or how the weapon was designed to begin with. In Nemesis, the phaser guns shoot like laser blasters from Star Wars. There are a few references in both Insurrection and Nemesis that relate to previous and ongoing events in the feature films and television series of the time, but while they help to broaden the scope of the Star Trek Universe, at times they just sound like lame dialogue to appeal to fanboys and girls. Ironically though Star Trek was toying with the idea of a cinematic universe both on the big and small screens long before the MCU. 

The ending of Nemesis continues to confound me because I honestly cannot figure why Picard has a smile on his face at the end of the film. I mean, what the hell does he have to be happy about? There were a lot missed opportunities to build upon the films with each installment, which was what the majority of the previous Star Trek films did, but ultimately what I think also hurt The Next Generation feature films as a whole is that they don’t stand well on their own for viewers not familiar with Star Trek.

The Original Series cast films had the benefit of years of syndicated reruns so that the generation that went to see the films was raised on Star Trek and their parents, who were fans too, introduced it to them at a young age. When The Next Generation films were released, Star Trek: The Next Generation had only recently completed it’s first run TV broadcast and there were other Star Trek TV shows referenced directly or indirectly in the films that meant nothing if you didn’t watch them. So as big as the Star Trek fan base is, non-Trek fans got little out of the experience of viewing The Next Generation motion pictures. It would not be until J.J. Abrams Star Trek premiered theatrically in 2009 that viewers familiar with Star Trek and unfamiliar with it as well, could sit down and mutually enjoy a film that paid respect to all that had come before it and blazed a new pathway for future features to follow. This makes it both a sequel and a reboot at the same time.

Most people who purchase this Blu-ray Disc set will be people who already own the films in some form on DVD and there are features from the DVDs that are carried over to these discs, but since they have already been reviewed and available for sometime now and for the interest of maintaining focus on this review, I will only cover the exclusive Blu-ray features that make the upgrade worth while. 

All four films are presented in their original (2.35:1) aspect ratio and are presented beautifully in both 2160p Ultra High Definition and 1080p High Fefinition. Digital copy codes for the four films are all included within the packaging. Since these four films are still relatively recent, they all look very good and benefit greatly as the films become more contemporary in part because of the improvements in film stocks and the digital revolution that has changed filmmaking forever now makes things possible in post production that would have required a lot more work in the days of analogue effects techniques and so forth.

 Thus the best looking films are First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis, but it should be noted that Generations still looks great. Probably better than it ever has and one can appreciate the work done to darken up the bridge of the Enterprise-D in the film for dramatic effect more than I think when I saw the original theatrical release. 

The first reveal of the bridge with crewmembers still in costume from the holographic promotion ceremony held for Lt. Commander Worf is a good scene to compare with the previous Special Collector’s Edition DVD to see what I mean. Great demo shots from the other three films include the Enterprise-E swooping over the Defiant as it’s shield’s block fire from The Borg cube vessel in the opening space battle sequence from First Contact. The view of the Enterprise swooping over the giant device that was designed to harvest the metaphasic radiation from the rings of the planet Ba’ku looks very cool and the big fight between the Reman Warbird Scimitar and the Enterprise-E with the assist of Romulan vessels fighting the Scimitar in a green nebula from Nemesis looks fantastic in both Ultra High Definition and true 1080p/24fps high definition. The 4K picture quality  excellent 2160p Dolby Vision (and HDR10) transfer.

I was kind of surprised that DTS HD MA soundtrack options were not included for these Blu-ray Disc releases since the Special Collector’s Edition DVD releases included standard DTS soundtrack options for all four Next Generation two-disc sets. Of course the English Dolby True HD 5.1 Surround Soundtracks on all four films is as uniformly fantastic as one would expect, but since Paramount included DTS HD MA 7.1 Surround Soundtracks on their Blu-ray Disc releases of Star Trek: The Original Series, I find the exclusion of DTS-HD MA Losses Master Audio Theatrical Surround Soundtracks to be a bit of a disappointment. French and Spanish Language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Soundtracks have been included along with English Subtitles For The Deaf And Hearing Impaired and English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese Language Subtitles as options.

One thing neither the Star Trek: Generations nor the Star Trek: Insurrection DVDs ever included was Director commentaries so I was very pleased to listen to veteran Trek Writer Manny Coto and Generations Director David Carson discuss the making of the film and in particular the on location reshoots in the valley of fire where Picard and Kirk confront Doctor Soran to be quite enlightening. One should remember the fantastic directing job Carson did on the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiere episode “Emissary.” I think it is what won him the theatrical directing assignment for Generations. I really enjoyed Jonathan Frakes and Mirina Sirtis audio commentary because Jonathan Frakes is not afraid to point out his own mistakes, even so far as to say, “I hate this” on Insurrection. While listening to Frakes and Sirtis’ commentary on Insurrection, I thought there were hints of a possible fifth Next Generation feature film to give the crew of the Enterprise-D and E a better farewell than Nemesis had, but after hearing Michael and Denise Okuda’s audio commentary on Star Trek: Nemesis, I guess any hints I thought were given are just wishful thinking on my part. I’m not sure if certain scenes deleted from Nemesis would improve upon the film, but I can certainly think of some scenes that I wish never existed entirely. Damon Lindelof and Anthony Pascale provide an at times humorous commentary track for Star Trek: First Contact

The LCARS computer format used on The Next Generation and feature films serve as an interactive manner for getting information on things seen in the film in what is labeled as the Library Computer viewing option present on the discs and I liked the 24th Century Starfleet Academy briefings that cover Trilithium, Temporal Vortex, Origins of the Ba’ku and Son’a Conflict, and Thalaron Radiation respectively for the four films. Other features include ILM – The Next Generation, Greetings From The International Space Station, Spaceshiphone’s Historic Flight, Next Generation Designer Flashback: Andrew Probert, Westmore’s Legacy, Mariana Sirtis: The Counselor, Reunion With The Rikers, Today’s Tech Tomorrow’s Data, Robot Hall Of Fame, Stellar Cartography On Earth, Brent Spiner: Data And Beyond Parts 1, 2, 3, & 4, Trek Roundtable for all four films, and Star Trek I.Q. Trailers and TV spots for all of the films are included as well and the theatrical trailers are all in true 1080p/24fps high definition.

Farewell To Star Trek: Experience, Klingon Encounter, and Borg Invasion, are bittersweet featurettes showing the final days of the Star Trek: Experience attraction in Las Vegas with a look at the actors who appeared in the attraction for about a decade and then there are some grainy videos of the actual attractions within the Star Trek: Experience that gives the viewer an idea of what it was like. They reminded me a bit of what one might see at Universal Studios in California or Florida. Charting The Final Frontier is an interactive examination of all of the galactic locations visited in the first ten Star Trek movies. An I Love The Star Trek Movies roundtable wraps up the bonus features on the disc.

The interactive menus as well as packaging and design for the Blu-ray Disc set are in keeping with the previous Motion Picture Collection box set released earlier this year.  Star Trek: The Next Generation Motion Picture Collection is available on 4K UHD and full Hd Blu-ray Disc now at retailers on and offline courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment


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