After an outstanding job with Star Trek: The Original Series, I was looking forward to what Paramount would do for The Next Generation. A few clips of before/after work has been shared, to the amazement of many. As a further prelude to the complete first season release, eager fans can purchase "The Next Level," which includes three HD-ified episodes.
Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Next Level is a literally just a sampler for the upcoming first season, due out sometime this year. For avid fans of Star Trek, this is an interesting release to whet your appetite. It's little more than that, but it doesn't try to be anything more. That said, in addition to a short intro video about the project, you get three episodes on this disc:
1. “Encounter At Farpoint”
2. “Sins Of The Father”
3. “The Inner Light”
"Farpoint" is the series' pilot episode, and runs about an hour and a half. It introduces us to the crew and to the omnipotent being known as Q, who would be a returning character to challenge the crew and, in a way, humanity itself. "Sins of the Father" is a Klingon-centric episode. The honor of Worf is brought to question by the Klingon Empire when he is charged with treason. Finally, "The Inner Light," considered by many to be one of the series' best episodes, presents the fascinating idea of Picard living the complete life of another being on a planet long dead, and nearly long forgotten.
That said, if you're interested in this disc, you're probably more so curious about the presentation quality and what extra features are included. There's nothing exciting about the features here -- besides the brief intro video there are just a couple of promo ads. The whole point of this release is the HD presentation though, and it's nothing short of impressive. I would call it 100% impressive, 90% of the time. In other words, for the vast majority of the scenes on these episodes, they're a joy to look at it, and listen to. But, there are handful of scenes where the image quality suffers to essentially DVD-level quality. The most obvious example of this I noted was a few shots of Picard talking with Q in the boisterous courtroom scene. Not only is the video quality low here, but some kind of object is blacking out the top half of Picard's face. I don't have a DVD copy of TNG to see if it has the same issues, I presume it does, but it struck me as odd. There are a few other very brief scenes or one-off shots that look out of place in the otherwise superb picture, but none of these is enough to make the overall episode, much less the overall product, a letdown.
For when the image quality is at its best, it is mighty good. The clarity of the skin and uniforms, the crisp letters and colors on the computer display, and the CG effects, are all quite marvelous, and something even the most hardcore Trekkie can get excited about. Other than being in a 4:3 frame, the video quality is on par and beyond what you would expect from a high quality HD production filmed today, which is really quite an achievement for Paramount. The 7.1 audio only adds to the experience, and while it's hard for me to say that it is as impressive as the image quality, it's excellent regardless.
This is a straight-forward review of what is really a basic, sampler disc of something very special yet to come when the seasons for TNG start rolling out to Blu-ray. Let's get to the summary...