STAR TREK TNG on the big screen

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This past Thursday, November 29, the folks at Paramount/CBS Video and Fathom Entertainment treated film goers with a unique viewing experience. To celebrate the release of the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG) on Blu-ray, fans were able to view two digitally restored episodes on the big screen in select theatres across the country. I was fortunate to attend this event. It was the first time I had seen these shows in nearly 25 years, although the series has been a fixture in syndication and on cable channels (BBC America, G4). It was quite an evening of nostalgia and an appreciation of the tech wizards that have logged countless hours sprucing up these shows for HD. The Enterprise-D group looks better than ever.

Here’s a brief bit of Trek history. ST:TNG premiered in first run syndication in September of 1987. Despite some uneven episodes in that first season, it was a ratings smash. Most fans believe that the show really hit its stride and began to emerge from the shadow of the original 60’s series in its second season. There were a couple of cast additions when it returned in the Fall of 1988. For many fans this was the year of the doctor switch. Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher was replaced in sick bay by original Trek series guest star Diana Muldar as Dr. Kathryn Pulaski (Crusher’s son Wesley remained on board and his Mom returned for season 3).A crew relaxation area (kind like the “Cheers” bar) known as Ten-Forward was introduced along with its mysterious alien manager/mixologist Guinan played by future Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg (a reoccurring character). Also, Chief Engineer Miles O’Brien, played by the wonderful Colm Meaney, was featured more prominently.

When I entered the theatre auditorium a pre-screening slide show had already begun. Most slides were frame blow-ups from episodes along with an occasional split-screen still with the original broadcast image on the right compared to the restored version on the left. Prior to the first of the evening’s episodes we were given a taste of one of the Blu-ray’s many bonus features. This was a “behind the scenes” look and remembrance of the second season beginning with a wrap party report from Entertainment Tonight. Clips, production sketches and photos, and new interviews with cast and crew comprised this segment.

After that trip down memory lane, the episode “Q Who” began. This adventure has a warm spot for Trek fans because it introduced perhaps the greatest menace to the Federation of Planets, those black-clad drones the Borg. When the all-powerful space scamp Q (John DeLancie) is rebuffed by the Enterprise crew after offering his services as a Starfleet officer, he hurls the ship several light years in the blink of an eye, into the path of a deadly Borg vessel. Later the Borg would be the menace in the first full Next Gen feature film STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, and would pop up in all the ensuing Trek TV series (Star Trek:Voyager would have a reformed Borg, Seven of Nine, as a member of the crew). The new enhanced sound enveloped the theatre while the crisp, clean visuals and digitally enhance effects added considerably to one of the season’s most exciting adventures.

Following this nail-biter, some selected bloopers puts us all in a relaxed mood. Then we got to enjoy a few moments from another bonus feature. It was a roundtable reunion with all the original cast members that was recorded earlier this year, backstage at the Calgary Trek convention. Everyone was in high spirits,delighted to see each other once more. They joked and teased each other while telling great on-set stories and unusual encounters with fans. Seems like they had a blast zipping through space those 7 years!

And then it was time for the final episode, “The Measure of a Man”. This was truly unique as this was 12 minutes longer than the episode that’s been seen all these years (this might be called a director’s cut). It’s also a more cerebral show than “Q Who”. The Federation wants to re-assign the android Commander Data to a scientist that wishes to dissect him in order to build duplicates. Captain Picard objects, fearing that this could change (even lobotomize) Data (he’s not enthused about the idea either). A makeshift courtroom is set up on the space station to decide whether Data is Starfleet property (a “toaster’) or a sentient being who can choose his own fate. Like some of the best of the original series, this story tackles a serious message in a futuristic setting. And it’s very entertaining. As one fan magazine described it, ” A FEW GOOD MEN and a helluva’ android”. Not many flashy space scenes in this one, but sound and picture quality are equally impressive. The years have no dulled this story’s impact.

Reversing the format of moviegoing, we were treated to a preview for the finale! A look at the third season concluded the evening. Season three is legendary for having the greatest cliff-hanger season ended since JR Ewing was shot-“The Best of Both Worlds” with the Borg capturing and assimilating Picard (let’s hope that will have another special screening for this!).  A great topper for a special look back at a beloved show. If you’re searching for the perfect holiday gift for the Trek fan or sci-fi fan or just a fan of superb, thoughtful dramatic television, than the second season Blu-ray is the ultimate stocking stuffer (especially if the giftee has a sweet new home entertainment system)! They’re beaming down to retail outlets on Tuesday, December 4! As the Captain would say, “Make it so!”.

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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