Some of you will be able to cast your minds back to the time when BBC2 first played host to the interplanetary adventures of an all-new cast of Starfleet officers, still obsessed with that quest to boldly go to the places man has yet to tread. Star Trek: The Next Generation was a genuine TV phenomenon and would go on to spawn a number of equally successful spin-offs and big-screen adventures (breaking that long-held Star Trek odd/even film quality statistic in the process, with 2002’s woeful ‘Nemesis’).
Maintaining many of the elements which made the Shatner-era show so special (a Spock-like android forever trying to unleash his inner human, a second officer with more than a hint of that Kirk ruggedness), the makers also had an ace up their sleeves by acquiring the authoritative, RADA-trained talents of one Patrick Steward as Captain of the Enterprise-D Galaxy-class ship, Jean Luc Picard. The man oozed gravitas from every pore, and brought a dramatic weight and conviction to each adventure, however ridiculous the scenario may have been (he had the means of turning a pool of black alien gunk into a formidable antagonist). As the show’s title suggested, this was the return of a beloved sci-fi franchise intended for a new era of audience.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Trek Mk.2 and to celebrate the occasion, the series is being re-launched via Blu-ray. Like a doomed red shirt-wearing member of the landing party, HeyUGuys recently beamed down into the darkest, hostile region of the delta quadrant (Soho) to attend a screening of the first (feature-length) episode, Encounters at Farpoint.
Bypassing much of the usual elaborate clean-up operations required when older material is given the digital transfer, the makers instead have gone back to the vault and used the original, pristinely-stored prints (the series was shot on film) for the restoration process. That time dedicated to preserving the series has paid dividends as the results are fantastic and the quality of image is very impressive, with the series benefiting considerably from not having to go through unnecessary and noticeable cosmetic touches. Even the (pre-CGI) effects are pretty great, and are a timely reminder of just how effective good model and matte work could be (even on the small screen) in that decade.
However, no amount of sprucing up can ever disguise the fact that the Enterprise’s bridge still looks like a drab 90’s sofa showroom, and that’s only one of the many tell-tale signs which act as a reminder of how far TV drama has progressed in that quarter of a century since the series was first broadcast. The show has a very stagy look and feel to it, reflected in both the laboured editing and ridged camerawork. Stewart (who looks incredibly lean in his Starfleet onesie) still stands out as he tackles every line as if delivering yet another Shakespearean soliloquy, but many of the cast (particularly Brit ex-pat Marina Sirtis as psychic Deanna Troi) give extremely stilted and mannered performances, appearing staid and lifeless in scenes where their characters are supposed to be in moments of great peril (and invoking unintentional moments of comedy as a result).
Strangely, it’s these very issues which somehow end up furnishing it with the same corny appeal as the 60’s series presented for TV viewers in that time, and for a knowing, pop-culture-savvy crowd, decades later. Production values were obviously of a marked improvement, yet for this first episode in particular, many familiar Trek touches are evident. Those intense, operatic music cues are deployed in unnecessary moments, and the same far-reaching philosophical questions are explored within a budget which struggles to support them (it comes as no surprise to see original Trek creator, the late Gene Roddenbery, credited as co-writer here).
It’s helpful to bear in mind that this was a pilot episode where everyone (cast and crew) had yet to find their Trek groove (later series grew increasingly darker and serious due to the addition of Picard’s greatest foe, The Borg) but much of the fun here results from recognising, via hindsight, that the cheese quota has clearly filtered through the generations of Star Trek. For those approaching the show with that caveat, this should be a fun trip down memory lane, while younger viewers discovering it for the first time (much like those who fell in love with the exploits of Kirk and Co. in the decades following it’s original transmission) may get a kick from the kitsch on offer too.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level, a 3-episode taster of what’s to come (featuring ‘Farpoint’) is available now. Click here to order your copy or click here to enter our competition to win one.