Sunday, November 21, 2010

New Star Trek: The Next Generation Series Pack On DVD Offers Little New For Fans!

The Good: Great characters, Some astonishingly good performances, Philosophy, Some special effects, Saves space
The Bad: Abandonment of philosophies, Lack of DVD commentaries, New bonus disc punishes loyal fans.
The Basics: Despite the occasional dud episode, Star Trek The Next Generation remains a strong science fiction and dramatic series and picking up the whole collection is a great choice!

With all of the pressures put on Gene Roddenberry to create a hit with Star Trek, one of the enduring debates among Star Trek fans will be how much of his vision actually made it onto the screen. After all, Roddenberry was a humanist and a pacifist and frequently claimed that StarFleet was not military, yet Captain Kirk once boldly declared, "I'm a soldier, not a diplomat" ("Errand of Mercy"). And Kirk was known to smack an enemy around, fire a phaser and basically be a cowboy in space, with occasional philosophy thrown in. Without network pressures, it's arguable that Star Trek: The Next Generation embodied the ideals of Gene Roddenberry more closely than the original Star Trek.

Star Trek The Next Generation - The Complete Series is not merely a bundle pack of the previously released DVD boxed sets. As there were only seven seasons, this gets the entire series in one fell swoop. This is a nice, space-saving repackaging of the forty-nine original discs sold to collectors in the original DVD release. As in the original season boxed sets of Star Trek The Next Generation, none of the episodes have commentary. Instead, there are featurettes dealing with the arcs of the season, highlights from specific episodes - including some easter eggs on producing certain segments sprinkled throughout the various discs - and interviews with all the main cast spread out among the seasons (usually one cast member per season). These are usually on every seventh disc and the latter seasons include the bonus material that had been previously released on bonus discs at select retailers. That's a nice touch, to get that. Unfortunately, at least for those of us loyal customers who supported the show and bought right away. Paramount saw fit to bilk its fanbase for more money by including brand new featurettes for the 20th Anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation. There are three new featurettes, providing only about eighty minutes of additional content and they are not terribly indispensable for fans as they deal with the impact of the series over the twenty years and feature a conversation about the special effects. Still, it would have been decent to offer these bonus features to those of us who shelled out our cash at the outset.

For those who have never heard of or seen Star Trek The Next Generation and are considering buying the entire series at once, Star Trek: The Next Generation is the story of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise and its crew. Its seven years in space follow the Enterprise crew exploring new worlds, dealing with social issues, interacting with one another and trying to establish enough peace and harmony in the galaxy to allow all people to live free. The show is episodic, for the most part, so largely the characters do not grow and change and with a few notable exceptions (Picard, Data and Worf, primarily) the consequences of character's actions in episodes do not usually impact their actions in later episodes. The series is more about where the Enterprise crew finds itself each week than growing the individual characters.

This is not to say that the characters on Star Trek: The Next Generation do not grow and change over the seven years of the series. That's not true by any means. However, most of the characters are simply slowly fleshed out by their encounters with alien races and strange spatial phenomenon as opposed to having hard character study episodes. The mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-D is to explore strange new worlds in the 24th Century and it carries out that mission quite well.

Over the course of the seven years, the U.S.S. Enterprise encounters various alien races and cultures and finds ways to work with, defeat, outsmart or outmaneuver them. The crew of the Enterprise is plagued by an omnipotent being known solely as Q that seems all powerful and judges them. They have dealings with their tenuous allies, the Klingons, one of whom is a member of the crew. The Enterprise encounters the villainous Romulans, a conniving race that seeks to maintain a powerful position in the Alpha Quadrant (the part of the Milky Way galaxy that most of the series occurs in) by breaking their isolationist traditions and becoming a more aggressive power. The Enterprise finds themselves dealing with a race of merchants called the Ferengi who are entirely capitalistic and driven by greed. And the crew has multiple run-ins with a menace unlike anything humanity has ever seen, a group of cybernetic organisms that share a hive mind and rampage through the galaxy absorbing technology and individuals to add to their Collective, known as the Borg. On a more personal level, the crew is hassled occasionally by family members, most notably the mother of the ship's counselor, a telepath named Lwaxana Troi whose appearances alternate between the absurdly comic and the most powerful social commentaries the series tackles.

As well, the Enterprise crew encounters several unique life forms and spatial phenomenon. For example, the Enterprise encounters a race called the J'Nai, an androgynous race where gender definition is considered an aberration. They get trapped in a time loop that results in the destruction of their ship when a ship from the past is thrown into the future in their path. The Enterprise crew is involved with experiments to move stellar core fragments, develop new propulsion methods and fight diseases they encounter in space.

The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, 1701-D, encounters aliens ranging from the strange and scientifically curious to the obvious social commentary. Like its predecessor series, Star Trek, Star Trek The Next Generation uses the science fiction setting to explore many dramatic concepts and socially relevant issues ranging from the death penalty to the use of torture to the right of a woman to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. For the tenure of Roddenberry's involvement on the show, the crew of the Enterprise is essentially a group of explorers and philosophers reaching out into the galaxy to better understand the mysteries there and to understand themselves better as well.

Easily on their way to being as recognizable in mainstream culture as the intrepid crew of the Enterprise from the original Star Trek, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-D consisted of a variety of individuals who were (generally) well defined, intriguing characters. The crew of the Enterprise for the bulk of the series includes:

Captain Jean-Luc Picard - Leader of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise and commander of the ship, he is essentially a philosopher king in space. Usually confined to the ship unless leaving the Enterprise poses no foreseeable danger to him, Picard administrates the crew and deals with the burden of being a leader that children aboard the ship look up to. He has a complicated past with Dr. Beverly Crusher and goes out of his way to help guide her son Wesley. As well, he is forced to rely on his first officer for extensive knowledge of cultures, activities and phenomenon outside the ship. Highly educated and deeply human, Picard soon takes to aiding the android helmsman Data in his quest to become more human, forming a deep and lasting bond with the Lieutenant Commander,

Commander William T. Riker - First officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, he is Picard's "go-to" guy who executes the orders and keeps the ship running as efficiently as possible for Picard. He has ambitions to run his own starship, but puts them on hold to apprentice under Picard's tutelage. He has a prior romantic relationship with the ship's counselor, Deanna Troi and that often causes him conflicts as he is a bit of a ladies man. He befriends Data, finds much to admire in Worf and becomes a father-figure to young Wesley Crusher. But mostly, he spends his time becoming a more efficient officer and slowly rebuilding a friendship and love with Troi,

Lt. Commander Data - Second officer, Chief Helmsman (supposedly Science officer, originally . . .) and an android he balances his duties aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise with an ongoing quest to become more human. Unable to feel emotions, Data often blunders into situations with the best intent, but a lack of understanding of social mores or the effects his indifference can have on others. He befriends the blind navigator - later Chief Engineer - Geordi LaForge, is often challenged by Riker and soon finds himself a close confidant of Captain Picard, when his quest to become more human might pan out,

Lt. Worf - Navigator, Security Chief of the U.S.S. Enterprise, he is a Klingon whose parents were killed by Romulans and subsequently was raised by humans. The first Klingon in StarFleet, Worf is challenged to grow following the death of Security Chief Tasha Yar by becoming the new head of security and taking on more responsibilities. An outsider in both human and Klingon societies, Worf finds his true home on the Enterprise. As he discovers more about his Klingon heritage, Worf finds himself more in need of guidance and more at home on the starship,

Dr. Beverly Crusher - Chief Medical Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise and a woman whose husband once served with Picard and died, she is raising her son Wesley on her own. She is cool, calm and professional and works hard to be around Picard without various emotions - ranging from blaming him for her husband's death to a romantic inkling - complicating their friendship. She bonds with Deanna Troi and spends most of her time tending her son and caring for the crew's medical needs,

Counselor Deanna Troi - Mental health specialist for the U.S.S. Enterprise. Her role is spread among dealing with the StarFleet and civilian populations on the starship. Charged with keeping an eye on the psychological well-being of the crew, with special emphasis on the senior staff, Troi is an invaluable asset to Captain Picard. As well, Troi is 1/2 Betazoid and as such is empathic; she can sense the emotions of others. She often uses this skill to give Captain Picard an edge in his relating with new alien life forms. She also has a long history with Commander Riker and while she occasionally has a romance outside the ship, she and Riker remain close friends throughout,

Lt. Geordi LaForge - Chief Navigator, then Chief Engineer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, he was born blind, but is able to see beyond normal human ranges via a device called a VISOR. As Chief Engineer, Geordi is responsible for maintaining the engines of the ship and making sure the starship can do what it's supposed to (and usually a bit more!). He is a good friend to Data, is unlucky with women and more often than not, the character that takes a beating when enemies invade or situations break out,

and Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher - Child prodigy and son of Beverly Crusher, he has a unique insight into how the universe works and proves himself invaluable to the Enterprise, saving it several times. He is adventurous and intelligent, but lacking in confidence, though the senior officers take him in and usher him from childhood to a very functional adult.

In addition to the main crew, Whoopi Goldberg periodically guest stars as a wise, almost-immortal character named Guinan. Guinan is an old friend of Captain Picard and serves as his guide and as a bartender in the ship's lounge, known as Ten Forward. Guinan's people were almost wiped out by The Borg and she journeys around the galaxy with the Enterprise making herself useful. She also has an uncanny sense of time, noticing when the timeline has been altered and usually having an idea of how to set things right.

Part of what makes the show work so well is the acting. Many of the actors suitably impress the audience with their range and depth in performing their characters. Distinguished actor LeVar Burton plays the competent, but lacking-in-confidence Geordi LaForge. Brent Spiner, who has traditionally been a comic actor, portrays Data without any emotions for (most of) the seven years of the series. Young actor Wil Wheaton exhibits promise as the articulate young Wesley Crusher. Michael Dorn lends power, poise and one of the most impressive voices in show business to create Worf. Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, and Gates McFadden round out the cast, all providing wonderful performances that embody the best of humanity's future.

But it is Patrick Stewart who plays Captain Jean-Luc Picard who consistently shines at the top of the cast. Stewart evolves Picard slowly from a grumpy philosopher king to a slightly less serious artist, poet and starship captain. He slowly softens Picard's posture over the years to be a more casual leader and imply the trust his officers earn. And he has terrific range, playing Picard as everything from an action hero to a torture victim to a robot to a stern paternal figure. No one on television while Star Trek The Next Generation was on the air had the range of Stewart and few have since!

Even years later, the stories of Star Trek The Next Generation are compelling, the characters are still vibrant and the acting is still . . . stellar (sorry, folks!). It's a must-have series for any true fan of science fiction, essential for a Trekker, and there is no better way to get it than all together; once you're hooked, you'll want to keep watching! If you haven't previously purchased Star Trek: The Next Generation on DVD, this set is possibly the best as it does allow for greatest savings (over buying individual seasons), the greatest economy of space with its sleeker package, and the additional bonus features not otherwise available. But if you already own the set, don't upgrade to this; the bonus features exclusive to this set are not that extraordinary.

For more information on exactly what this boxed set entails, check out my reviews of the individual season DVD sets of Star Trek The Next Generation which are bundled together to make this set, at:

Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5
Season 6
Season 7


For other Star Trek DVD set and episode reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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