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Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Four
Release Date(s)1990-91 (July 30, 2013)
Studio(s)Paramount Television (CBS)
If the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation was arguably the show’s best, Season Four was a worthy follow-up. After the previous year’s dramatic cliffhanger, The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, the show’s ratings and critical notice had never been greater. What’s more, the writing room had finally solidified under show runner Michael Piller, with such familiar names as Ron Moore, Joe Menosky, Jeri Taylor, Brannon Braga and René Echevarria all making significant contributions to the season’s stories.
What’s perhaps most interesting about Season Four though is that its unifying theme seems to be one of character exploration. After the season-opening denouement of the Borg invasion, deliberate effort is made to deal with the emotional fallout for the characters in Family, which specifically explores Picard’s reaction to the ordeal. We meet his brother and learn more about his backstory, while also seeing Beverly’s late husband (and Wesley’s father), Jack Crusher. The episode even introduces us to Worf’s adopted parents when they come to visit their son aboard the Enterprise. Then in Brothers we meet Data’s creator, Noonian Soong, as well as his ‘brother’ – an earlier prototype version of Data called Lore. In Legacy, we meet the late Tasha Yar’s younger sister (later in the season we’ll meet Tasha’s daughter of sorts too). Wesley finally comes into his own as a crewmember in Final Mission and then leaves to join Starfleet Academy. Data’s Day even explores the life of a thus far minor character, Chief O’Brien. We also see the Cardassians for the first time in the Season Four episode The Wounded. My favorite of the season is actually The Drumhead, in which an overzealous Starfleet Admiral (played with zeal by Jean Simmons) goes on a witch-hunt aboard the Enterprise as part of an investigation into the events of the first season episode Conspiracy. Finally, we’re introduced to Worf’s son and see significant exploration of both Worf’s family background and Klingon culture overall in Reunion and the season finale Redemption, Part I.
CBS’ new Blu-ray upgrade of Season Four delivers very satisfying HD video and lossless audio quality that represents a massive improvement over the previous DVD release. CBS Digital did much of the season’s remastering work in house – though they did farm out some work to Modern VideoFilm, the company did a fine job overall. CBS also handled the final conform on the episodes themselves to ensure a consistently high quality level. Image detail is abundant here, with highly nuanced texturing and little digital artifacting evident. Colors are rich and accurate, and contrast is excellent with deep blacks and nicely detailed shadows. The visuals are matched by a new 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that’s natural and dynamic, with good clarity and staging that creates a fine sense of atmosphere and immersion.
The extras included on the Blu-ray are once again excellent. As always, all of the previous DVD features carry over, including the 2 Best Buy-exclusive bonus featurettes (Select Historical Data and Inside the Star Trek Archives). As always, though, there’s much new material too. There’s a 3-minute gag reel (in HD), 22 minutes worth of deleted scenes (from 8 episodes – again in HD – there’s a particularly funny moment with Geordi and Worf “high-fiving” in the background of one scene), and new audio commentaries on the episodes Reunion (with co-writers Ron Moore and Brannon Braga, and Michael & Denise Okuda) and Brothers (with director Rob Bowman and the Okudas).
There’s also an hour-long HD documentary, Relativity: The Family Saga of Star Trek: The Next Generation, that goes behind the scenes on the making of the season – it’s split into two parts of about 30 minutes each. There’s been some suggestion that the documentary isn’t quite as good as the ones on previous seasons, but I don’t know if I agree. Essentially, the reason for this impression may be that it was at this point in the series that things finally settled down – there was no real controversy, no behind-the-scenes turmoil. As a fan, though, what’s not to love here? There are still some fascinating revelations, including the difficulty Ron Moore and the other writers had in exploring character backstories – because of Gene Roddenberry of all people. He didn’t like, for example, Picard having disagreements with his brother because “humans have evolved past petty conflict” at this point. He was still hanging on to this idea of the Federation (and specifically Earth in the future) as being a utopia of sorts, which was frustrating to the writers. The studio was also against serialized storytelling, as local TV stations didn’t like to have to air syndicated episodes in any specific order. (“What’s so hard about running the episodes in the order listed on the cans?” asks Moore.)
The other great piece on this disc is In Conversation: The Star Trek Art Department (in HD), which runs a little over an hour. It’s essentially Doug Drexler sitting in his living room with Herman Zimmerman, Rick Sternbach, Dan Curry and the Okudas to discuss their artistic contributions to the Trek franchise over the years. It’s a little awkward in that there are boom mics in the shot, and they talk as much about Deep Space Nine and Enterprise as they do about TNG, but none of that matters – the discussion is terrific. At one point, Zimmerman nearly chokes up talking about the moment he and the design team finally honed in on the look of the Deep Space Nine space station, with its Cardassian design ethic. It’s really something – you see just how much he loved his work and how proud he is of his involvement with Star Trek. There’s also another great moment where Mike Okuda turns to Drexler and says (essentially – I’m paraphrasing), “I remember the day you call me after you’d just gotten your first iPad…” and Drexler jumps in with, “It’s Rick’s PADD!” It’s funny, because I’ve always found it somewhat absurd to see Apple and Samsung fighting these legal battles over which company really conceived the idea of a an iPad or iPhone – hell, the first time I ever remember seeing one was on The Next Generation (although you could argue that 2001: A Space Odyssey had one too)! Maybe Sternbach should get a little piece of that action.
Anyway, Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season Four is another fine Trek TV Blu-ray release from CBS, and should be an easy purchase for anyone who’s already collected Seasons One, Two and Three in HD. Don’t miss it.