Reviews by Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits
Star Trek: The Next Generation Motion Picture Collection
1994-2002 (2009) - Paramount
Released on Blu-ray Disc on September 22nd, 2009
Also available on DVD
Film Ratings (Overall): B-
Video (1-20): See Review Text
Audio (1-20): See Review Text
New Extras (Overall): C+
As with Bill's previous review of the original movies box set, I'm not going to spend time talking about the individual films. We've reviewed them all before in some detail here at The Bits. Rather, I'm going to look at what's new and improved over the previous 2-disc DVD releases.
Here's the good news: From a video standpoint, there's no question that anyone on the fence about this upgrade should do so. The improvements (after A/B-ing key sequences of each film against the DVDs) are always noticeable, and often dramatic. Gone is the macroblocking and compression from the previous transfers. The ships - particularly the physical models - show off their fine detail beautifully, with all the fine lines, panels and lifeboats achieving real depth and scale for the first time on disc. The elephant in the room unfortunately is that - like the previous feature film Blu-rays - noise reduction has been applied to these HD transfers. Fans can take heart however, that the filtering is much lighter this time around. Higher budgets, newer film stocks and a more recent vintage all seem to have helped in this regard. The result is a much more satisfying (if still flawed) HD image. For whatever reason, First Contact and Nemesis both appear to be far less blotchy and smoothed than their companion films, occasionally offering some really nice HD pop and fine detail. The other two, Generations and Insurrection, suffer much heavier levels of noise reduction. The former definitely has some issues with artificial sharpening that some may find distracting, particularly on the holodeck ship scene. Of all the movies, Insurrection probably fairs the worst with consistently high levels of DNR that dull the beautiful landscapes on the Ba'ku planet. Ultimately, casual viewers and those with screens smaller than 65" probably won't notice the filtering. Those with larger screens, or highly-refined eyes for HD video, will be less pleased. Still as I said, these transfers are significantly improved over the previous DVDs, and somewhat better than the older films on Blu-ray.
Unlike the video, no one should have any issue with the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD tracks present on each disc here. There's a consistency that just isn't heard in most of the previous movies on Blu-ray, thanks to these newer films having been mixed in 5.1 from the start. Star Trek: Generations' DTS laserdisc soundtrack was an early favorite among home theater enthusiasts, because of its dynamic sound design. That should carry over here: The saucer crash, Borg booms and Nemesis battles bristle with split and panning rear channels. Combined with the fantastic scores all of these films carry, this is avery, very good surround sound experience.
In terms of overall A/V quality, here's my grades for the individual films. Keep in mind that on our comparative grading scale (of 1-20), perfect looking (and sounding) DVDs would clock in at a 10 and the perfect Blu-rays would be 20:
Star Trek: Generations
Video - 16.5
Audio - 18.5
Star Trek: First Contact
V - 17.5
A - 18
Star Trek: Insurrection
V - 16.5
A - 17
Star Trek: Nemesis
V - 17.5
A - 18.5
In terms of bonus features, each disc carries over virtually all of the extras and Easter eggs from the previous 2-disc DVDs (save for the Okuda text commentaries), then adds approximately 30 minutes of new video-based material per film (most of it in HD). The new extras start with brand new commentary tracks on each film: Director David Carson and Enterprise producer Manny Coto on Generations;Trek Movie's Anthony Pascale and Damon Lindelof (producer of the new Abrams film) for First Contact; Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis on Insurrection; and Michael and Denise Okuda on Nemesis. As for the commentary experience, Carson and Coto have a history of working together and make a good team. Frakes and Sirtis are close to an old married couple and are loads of fun to listen to as well. The Okudas are a treasure trove of Trek knowledge, so their track is great too. Matching Lindelof and Pascale is a bit of a mystery however. Lindelof is obviously a bit lost (no pun intended) in the world of hardcore Trekker lore. While Pascale works diligently to offer comments of real substance and interest, Lindelof's lame attempts at humor constantly derail the track, and it gets a bit old. (Our hats off to Anthony for a game effort!)
The set's new video content starts with a new interview with actor Brent Spiner (Data) spread across all four discs. In roughly 8-minute chunks, he talks about his life, philosophy... and occasionally the movie with which the piece shares disc space. It's obvious that Spiner never wants to return to Data, and that's understandable, but as a fan it makes me a little sad. Trek Roundtable puts writer Larry Nemecek, the aforementioned Pascale, the Planetary Society's Charlene Anderson and Geek Monthly editor Jeff Bond together for about 10 minutes per movie, discussing their favorite scenes and the individual film's impact on the franchise as a whole. While fun, there really isn't time for it to be anything more than a disposable entertainment, which is disappointing after the superb Captain's Summit from the last set. Also contained on each disc are more Starfleet Academy Briefings. These feel like they belong on a mid-90s CD-ROM encyclopedia more than a 2009 Blu-ray, and contain little information you probably didn't just get from watching the movie. While I appreciate the concept, throwing a few scientists on to discuss the theoretical concepts would probably have been more enlightening for the same investment of time and money.
The set also contains a series of more original and interesting featurettes. Today's Tech Tomorrow's Data explores how close we really are to developing a positronic brain and artificial intelligence. Robot Hall of Fame covers Data's induction alongside other immortal fictional and real robots. I think my favorite new extra on the entire set is a shoot with Commander Michael Fincke, a NASA astronaut who recently served on the International Space Station. He spends his 10 minutes talking about how Star Trek inspired him to join the space program, and the rigors and dangers of real space travel. Finally, Spaceship One's Historic Flight tells the story of the real-life Zephram Cochran who took the controls for the world's first privately sponsored flight into space. (You'll have to use your imagination to spot him, but Bits editor Bill Hunt was present in the crowd gathered to watch the flight.)
For Trek übergeeks, the fun continues with Next Generation Designer Flashback, in which we catch up with Andrew Probert, designer of the movie refit Enterprise and the Enterprise-D. For some reason, however, he spends almost all of his time talking about the refit design and not the D, making me wonder if there were space concerns on the last set that kept it from being included there. Scoring Star Trek gives composer Dennis McCarthy a quick stint in the spotlight. ILM: The Next Generation mostly consists of archival footage from the refurbishment and filming of TNG's original 6-foot Enterprise-D model. The best of the new material is Reunion with the Rikers, in which Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis goof off in front of the camera about their personal friendship, and the sitcom they'd love to make featuring their characters. Finally, Westmore's Legacy gives an insight into the family of make-up pioneers that (among their many other accomplishments) spent close to 20 years bringing aliens to life in the Star Trek universe.
Exclusive to this box set is a special bonus disc called Evolutions. It contains a collection of fluffy throwaway material, much like you would find on the Next Generation Best Buy DVD bonus discs. The Evolution of the Enterprise is a superficial overview of the design of all 6 Enterprises, glossing over the differences and detail. The kind of people watching this disc are the same ones who have the technical manuals on their bookshelf, and they're VERY detail oriented. Surely, they could have asked Andrew Probert and some of the other designers to elaborate on their choices here and offer more details! It's a shame. Also disappointing are Villains of Star Trek and I Love the Star Trek Movies, each of which barely scratches its subject in any kind of interesting detail. These pieces would better serve a Trek-edition I Love the 80s marathon on VH-1 than a Blu-ray special edition.
As for the rest of the bonus disc featurettes... I've got a bit of a beef to share. I've never been to Las Vegas, but part of me has always wanted to go. I'd love to see Penn and Teller, I know I'd lose my shirt gambling, and I've ALWAYS wanted to check out the now-closed Star Trek: The Experience. So what I don't understand is how an almost 30-minute documentary on the last day of The Experience manages to say so little! It starts off well, with the performers backstage getting into makeup and costume, goofing around and saying their good-byes. But then, rather than documenting the full experience of Klingon Encounter and Borg 4D for fans for all time, we get just a fast sampling of the rides themselves! More time is given over to sad fans bemoaning its closure than the actual Experience. Very disappointing.
The final extra on the bonus disc, Charting the Final Frontier, is cool in principle... but I wish it was fleshed out more. It presents a series of space maps. (The style is immediately recognizable to anyone who owns a copy of Geoffrey Mandel's excellent book, Star Trek: Star Charts.) Clicking each movie indicator on the map brings up a fast video summary of the region in space where each movie takes place. As is the case with the Starfleet Academy Briefings, they really contain no additional information that a casual viewer hasn't already gleaned from just watching the movies.
Finally, this box set offers some fast-loading BD-Live content for those with properly-equipped players. Currently available on each movie is a trivia game called Star Trek I.Q.. There are pre-set question lists, but the really fun thing here is the ability to make your own question lists that can be uploaded and shared with others online. The ability to participate in ever-evolving content is really cool, and it's encouraging to see a studio continuing to exploit BD-Live as something other than a glorified chatroom and billboard.
Ultimately, Paramount's Star Trek: The Next Generation Movie Collection offers a very good video and audio upgrade over the existing DVDs. And if many of the new supplements feel like filler, there's enough good material here to push anyone on the fence over the top. I'm am a bit disappointed that some of the deleted scenes that still exist aren't included - like Quark's cut bit from Insurrection. But while it's by no means perfect, at a current street price that equates to a little over $10 a movie, this box set is still fairly easy to recommend.