Star Trek: The Next Generation appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall I felt these episodes looked a lot like those in prior seasons, though they showed some moderate improvements over the earlier years.
As usual, sharpness came across as somewhat erratic. Most of the time, the picture looked fairly distinct and detailed, but that varied during many occasions. Not surprisingly, wide shots seemed the most problematic, but even close-ups remained inconsistent and could appear moderately soft. Shimmering and jagged edges showed up periodically but less frequently than in the past. Edge enhancement created some minor concerns, and those also decreased from prior seasons.
Unlike some of the earlier years, Season Five demonstrated few print flaws. Mostly I noticed a few periodic speckles, but that was about it. The streaks, marks and other issues that marred the earlier years disappeared, and the shows generally came across as clean.
Colors appeared somewhat erratic. At times, the colors looked nicely rich and distinct, but they also came across as dull and murky for parts of the shows, and some red light was somewhat runny. In general, the hues were acceptable but unspectacular.
Similar elements marked the black levels, which seemed reasonably deep much of the time, but they also could be a bit muddy on occasion. Shadow detail tended to be somewhat murky. Shots could come across as heavy and flat at times, though the images stayed fairly solid.
Interestingly, I felt that picture quality improved noticeably with the two parts of “Unification” and the rest of the season usually maintained that stronger level of visual material. I can only speculate that this may have occurred due to the desire for better production values to accompany Leonard Nimoy’s guest appearance. Let’s us remember that “Unification” clearly acted as a tie-in to the then-upcoming theatrical release of Star Trek VI, so perhaps the producers wanted to make sure they impressed the home viewers new to The Next Generation. Whatever the case may be, Season Five displayed a small but nice upgrade in visual quality.
While picture steadily improved over the years, Season Five demonstrated Dolby Digital 5.1 sound that appeared similar to that heard during the first four years. I regarded that as a good thing, since those earlier episodes offered solid audio. These shows were originally mastered with Dolby Surround mixes, and the new 5.1 mixes helped broaden those nicely. The soundfields of the various shows seemed pretty engaging. The forward spectrum dominated, and it offered fine stereo imaging for the music as well as a strong sense of atmosphere. The front speakers provided a clear and vivid environment, and various elements like ships and phaser fire panned cleanly across the channels. Planet environments often came across nicely, as they offered lively and engaging audio. The storm heard during “Power Play” showed especially nice involvement.
For the most part, the surrounds offered general support of the front speakers. The surrounds mostly gave us a good sense of environment, and they also added musical support. Although the rear activity during Season Four seemed a little subdued, Season Five made things a bit livelier; I noticed slightly increased usage of the surrounds. In any case, the 5.1 remixes didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they opened up the tracks nicely.
Audio quality seemed quite good for its age. Throughout the shows, the lines remained distinct and natural, and I heard no significant problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Music was nicely vivid and bright, as the quality of the music remained consistently clear and bold. Effects showed good clarity and accuracy, and they displayed very few signs of distortion. All elements provided fairly solid nice bass response, as low-end seemed deep and rich throughout the shows. All in all, I was very pleased with the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio of Season Five.
Though the content of Season Five’s supplements doesn’t really differ from that seen on prior sets, the package expands prior boundaries somewhat and offers the most extended batch of programs yet seen. All of these consist of moderately brief documentaries, and they reside on DVD Seven. Actually, Season Five includes programs that run longer than those in the past, but the content remains similar.
Although prior Mission Overview segments took general looks at those seasons, this one focuses on four different episodes. During this 18-minute and five-second program, we get show clips, stills from the set, and new interviews with actors Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Denise Crosby, Brent Spiner, and Jonathan Del Arco, scenic artist supervisor Mike Okuda, supervising producer/writer Jeri Taylor, executive producer Michael Piller, and producer David Livingston.
In “Mission Overview”, we hear about “Unification” and what it was like to work with Leonard Nimoy, “Darmok” and its language, Stewart’s acting challenges on “The Inner Light”, and the philosophical nature of “I, Borg”. The remarks tend to stay superficial; the participants tell us what fun it was to have Spock on the set but they rarely go beyond that. As with past “Mission Overview” pieces, this one seems moderately entertaining but it lacks much substance.
Departmental Briefing: Production gives us a good take on a number of behind the scenes issues. During the 15-minute and 28-second piece, we hear from supervising producer Peter Lauritson, actor Patrick Stewart, actor/director Jonathan Frakes, makeup designer Michael Westmore, writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore, executive producer Michael Piller, and music composer Jay Chattaway. They cover the presence of Stewart’s son as an actor on “The Inner Light” plus insights into that show’s makeup and use of its flute. In addition, we get notes about writing for episodes like “The First Duty” and “Cause and Effect”. As with “Mission Overview”, the program concentrates mainly on a few different episodes. It doesn’t deliver a lot of depth, but it tosses out a smattering of decent notes.
Departmental Briefing: Visual Effects offers a similar show that focuses on the more technical side of things. The 17-minute and 58-second program includes remarks from visual effects supervisors Robert Legato and Dan Curry, supervising producer Peter Lauritson, scenic artist supervisor Mike Okuda, visual effects coordinator Gary Hutzel, and motion control technician Dennis Hoerter. Though we get some information about Season Five episodes, mostly this program examines the series’ visual effects as a whole. That makes it quite entertaining, as we learn how the effects dudes worked to overcome the series’ relatively low budget and high demand for material. They cover some general topics and reveal the nuts and bolts behind quite a few sequences. “Departmental Briefing: Visual Effects” provides the most informative and entertaining of the Season Five featurettes.
After a vacation from the Season Four DVD set, Memorable Missions returns here. In this 18-minute and 13-second program, we get additional notes about six episodes: “The Game”, “Hero Worship”, “The First Duty”, “Power Play”, “The Perfect Mate”, and “Disaster”. We find remarks from actors Marina Sirtis and Robert Duncan McNeill, visual effects supervisor Dan Curry, scenic artist supervisor Mike Okuda, producer David Livingston, stunt coordinator Dennis Madalone, music composer Jay Chattaway, and writer Ronald D. Moore. “Memorable Missions” exists largely as a repository for show trivia, and it offers some cool tidbits. Sirtis discusses her aversion to milk chocolate and how that helped her achieve one scene, and she also tells us of her unfortunate desire to do her own stunts. A few other interesting moments appear, but Sirtis’ material makes the show most worthwhile. Though not a deep program, “Memorable Missions” merits a look.
Since the series’ creator died during Season Five, we find A Tribute to Gene Roddenberry. This program lasts 28 minutes and 33 seconds and research consultant Guy Vardaman, executive producer Rick Berman, production designer Herman Zimmerman, visual effects supervisor Robert Legato, actors John de Lancie, Marina Sirtis, Majel Barrett, Wil Wheaton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Jonathan Frakes, and Whoopi Goldberg, scenic artist supervisor Mike Okuda, writer Ronald D. Moore, and supervising producer/writer Jeri Taylor. We also find 1988 interview footage with Roddenberry himself as well as footage from the 1991 dedication of the Gene Roddenberry Building on the Paramount lot.
Unsurprisingly, much of “Tribute” consists of fairly general praise for the man, but some more compelling moments emerge. Sirtis and Barrett provide nice personal recollections, and the shots from the 1991 dedication seem interesting. The piece ends with a most unusual tribute as well. Overall, the program doesn’t shed a lot of light on the life and career of Gene Roddenberry, but it manages to toss out enough useful material to warrant a viewing.
Note: as always with Paramount releases, all of the video extras include English subtitles. It’s a nice touch that too few other studios emulate.
Lastly, inside the DVD’s complicated foldout case, we find a small booklet with a smidgen of information. It includes a brief biography for Gene Roddenberry, and it also shows all 26 Season Five episodes listed in alphabetical order. Though Season Five still doesn’t stuff its discs with extras, these seem like the strongest from the Next Generation sets to date.
While Season Five of Star Trek: The Next Generation seemed less positive than the prior two years, it still managed to offer a lot of good entertainment. A few stinkers intruded on the set, but most of the shows appeared good or better. The DVDs presented visuals that achieved slightly higher quality than in the past, while audio maintained its usual positive standards. The package’s extras resembled those of prior affairs but also improved, as they ran substantially longer than usual. Season Five came across as a little average in regard to its programs, but it nonetheless stood as a good year, and Trek fans should like this DVD set.
Back to the review of Disc 1-5.