We gave it a C+
To boldly risk offending Trekkers, the release of Star Trek: The Next Generation on video seems, at best, illogical. After all, new episodes of the series are still being produced, and syndicated reruns are running five nights a week in most of the country and can be recorded off the air for free. If that’s not enough, a new Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine, premieres on the tube this January. Now Paramount Home Video has released Next Generation episodes on tape (one show per cassette) in sequence, from the pilot (”Encounter at Farpoint”) through the 18th episode (”When the Bough Breaks”). But is there really any point to purchasing or renting them? Do they make it as collectibles?
The answer (even to this big fan of the series) is a definitive not quite. There are several reasons for this, the most salient being that the show had not yet found itself dramatically in the weak first season. Individual episodes stand out as exceptions, of course — most notably ”The Big Goodbye,” in which the crew inhabits a stylish holodeck re-creation of the world of a fictional Sam Spade-type ’40s detective. But most of them are essentially retreads of the original Star Trek series (like ”The Naked Now,” a virtual rewrite of ”The Naked Time”).
Worse, watching them again on tape, with the novelty of their big-budget production values having worn off, you grow increasingly aware of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s major flaw (more pronounced in the early episodes): the utter lack of conflict between the characters. Everyone here is so damned understanding and nice to each other that it’s like being stuck in some futuristic sensitivity-training seminar. Before long, you find yourself pining for the prickly id-ego-superego (McCoy-Spock-Kirk) tension that made the original show so endearing.
On the technical side, however, there are a few advantages to the tapes, the most crucial being the sound. The Next Generation features some of the best stereo available in prime time. But it’s a sad fact of life that most cable systems (not to mention most television sets) can’t do justice to it. On these tapes, the show’s sophisticated sound design comes across with bone-rattling clarity and terrific separation (assuming you have a reasonably good home-theater system). The show is superbly scored by any standard and the sound effects as important an element of the show’s overall impact as the special effects. Another bonus is the smooth transitions between the missing commercial breaks — far less jarring than I had anticipated.
Moreover, Paramount’s high-class film-to-tape transfers allow you to play some interesting freeze-frame games with Industrial Light and Magic’s justifiably celebrated effects. When a holodeck door appears out of nowhere, for example, you can stop-motion the sequence and see just how flawlessly executed it is; you can also discover (as I did using slow motion) that the miniature bridge crew members visible in the opening-credit Enterprise sequence are actually moving around.
Whether these diversions are worth $15 or $20 dollars a tape, however, depends on how big a Trek fan you are (or are willing to admit). I’ll probably start collecting the tapes once Paramount begins releasing some of The Next Generation’s later, better, episodes — particularly the two-parters (the return of Spock, for example) that play more like feature films than TV episodes. This batch of shows was fun to catch on their first fly-by, but, with respects to Scotty, they just haven’t got staying power. ”The Big Goodbye”: B The rest: C+