Thursday, June 19, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Unification Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
unificationStar Trek: The Next Generation – Unification Blu-ray is a feature-length presentation of the fan-favorite, two-part epic adventure from the series’ fifth season.  Over 25 million viewers tuned into the original airing of the episode, making it one of the most-watched episodes of all seven seasons of the series.  In the episode, Leonard Nimoy reprises his iconic role as Spock as both he and Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) venture on a heroic mission in an attempt to unify the Vulcans and the Romulans.

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Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

The transition from Star Trek: The Original Series to Star Trek: The Next Generation was handled in steps along the latter’s syndicated run.  The passing of the baton started with Leonard McCoy’s (DeForest Kelley) on the Next Generation’s premiere episode and later when Sarek (Mark Lenard) came aboard the Enterprise.  All the while, the original cast continued to appear in their own series of movies and by the time Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was about to be released, an idea to bridge the series and to promote the movie was conceived which would bring back Spock to the new show.  This time, it wouldn’t just be a cameo like it was with McCoy, but two episodes with one of the most beloved characters from the original show.  This appearance would also help commemorate Star Trek’s 25th anniversary celebration as well.
It all begins with Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) being summoned to meet with Admiral Brackett who informs him that Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has gone missing on Romulus  which concerns Starfleet greatly.  Not only is Spock one of the most venerated members of the Federation, but he also could be a huge security risk considering all of the information he knows. Spock is believed to be working with a guerrilla group on Romulus and Picard is ordered to bring him back.  Picard takes the Enterprise to Vulcan to meet Spock’s dying father Sarek (Mark Lenard). Thanks to their previous encounter where Sarek and Picard engaged in a mind-meld, Picard is able to get through to Sarek even though the elder Vulcan is in the final throes of Bendii Syndrome which had left him an emotional wreck.
When Sarek hears that Spock is in trouble, he manages to become lucid long enough to suggest that Picard contact Pardek (Malachi Throne), a Romulan senator who Spock had befriended during the Khitomer Conference.  Knowing that the can’t take the Enterprise to Romulus as they are the Federation’s greatest enemy,  Picard next travels to the Klingon homeworld of  Qo’noS to speak to Chancellor Gowron about getting a ship that has a cloaking device.  Gowron, whose rise to power was greatly helped by Picard refuses to help until Picard reminds him of his debt to the Federation and the fact that the Federation could always shift their support to one of his rivals.  Gowron smartly relents and Picard and Data (Brent Spiner) travel aboard a Klingon Bird of Prey which while cloaked travels into Romulan space.  As they are venturing into enemy territory, Picard and Data change their appearance to look Romulan and it’s not long before they find Pardek who in turn takes them to meet Spock.
Meanwhile aboard the Enterprise, the crew discover the wreckage of the Vulcan ship T’Pau which was supposed to have been decommissioned years before.  That mystery leads them to the surplus dept at Qualor Two where theT’Pau was supposed to be but of course it isn’t.  They learn that a mysterious ship has been taking supplies in the place of a Federation ship so Riker orders the Enterprise to lie in wait on minimal power to trap whoever it is.  When a ship shows up and sees the Enterprise powering up, it fires on the ship but ends us getting destroyed when the Enterprise fires back and ignites their unstable cargo which makes the ship explode.
On Romulus, Picard and Data inform Ambassador Spock of the Federation’s concerns about what he is doing and he lets them know that the last time he tried “cowboy diplomacy” with the Klingons it almost cost Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy’s life as well as put the rest of their crew in danger, so this time he wanted to do it alone.  Spock is there to bring about the reunification of Vulcan and Romulus and he’s working with an underground group of young people to do it.  His goal is to convince the upper levels of Romulan leadership to consider the plan of reunification and he even has someone in place that seems to want to do it, but Picard feels like it may be a trap.  There is a lot more going on that either of them knows about and longtime enemies like Commander Sela who planning to make her own move against them.  It will take the efforts from both crews of the Enterprise to save Vulcan and to stop Sela’s plot.
It’s great to see both episodes combined into one feature length film which is the way to watch them.  I remember being very excited to see the return of Spock when these episodes aired originally as I’ve been a huge fan of the original series since I was very young.  I was also happy that this wasn’t going to be a quick cameo like before, as it was two episodes (even though Nimoy only appears in the last minute of the first episode).  I was worried that Spock’s appearance on the show would just be a gimmicky kind of thing, but the writers actually showed the character a lot of respect and also came up with a logical (no pun intended) progression of what he would be doing by the time of Next Generation.  Not only that, but they even referenced the events from The Undiscovered Countrywhich was cool.
Leonard Nimoy was perfect as Spock once again and I enjoyed seeing him interact with the Next Generation cast, especially Picard and Data.  With Picard, it’s interesting because of the tension between him and Spock because of the mind-meld between Sarek and Picard.  Because Spock and his father Sarek shared a lifetime of disagreements, some of that attitude creeps into his relationship with Picard as he feels that Picard shares his father’s viewpoints which makes for an interesting dynamic.  Even more interesting for me was seeing the interaction between Spock and Data and their scene together was brilliantly written by Michael Piller who captured their viewpoints brilliantly.  We see how the half-human Spock has endeavored to be more Vulcan than human while Data who is an android, wants nothing more than to be human.  This fantastic scene shows how both of them are far more human than they realize and it’s the best part of the show for me.    I’m always happy to see the casts from classic Trek and Next Generation get together and this was a good one that delivered on that promise.
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Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.33:1) transfer really surprised me as I’ve gotten used to the stellar presentation of the season sets and this one doesn’t measure up.  It’s strange but it may also be due to the fact that most of the running time’s scenes are spent in darkened areas like Klingon ships and Romulan caves.  In the few scenes that are in brightly lit areas, the picture quality improves quite a bit.  With that varying degree of quality, the picture veers from a good amount of detail to looking very soft and muted.  In the darker scenes there’s also a lot of noise present.  Judged as a single release this isn’t that bad but when it’s compared to the rest of the Next Generation season sets, it does seem lack in comparison.
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Audio (5 out of 5 stars) 

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Unification’s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 Audio 7.1 mix however is just as good as the season sets.  Dialogue is very clear and never drowned out by sound effects or the show’s music.  All of the channels are well used and the rear channels deliver some great atmosphere and highly accurate cross channel activity.  It’s always a thrill to hear the show’s opening theme music from Jerry Goldsmith in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 as it sounds incredible in this lossless mix.
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Extras (2 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

One of the interesting aspects of these single editions is the fact that they get special features that are specific to this release.  Even though these episodes are included in the fifth season set, these extras are not included there.  One thing to note is that unlike the previous single release sets (The Best of Both Worlds and Redemption), this one doesn’t come with an UltraViolet digital copy.  The only reason I can think of is that that’s because this wasn’t a season finale and premiere like the other ones.  I still think that they should have included that since these single sets don’t have a lot on them.
  • Audio Commentary - Supervising Producer Jeri Taylor and Scenic and Technical Design artists Mike and Denise Okuda talk about the origins of the episode, how it was intended to tie into Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,
    Leonard Nimoy’s involvement, and more.
  • From One Generation to the Next: The Making of Unification - This is an almost seventeen minute look back at the making of these two part episodes.  We see how the earlier episode of “Sarek” and Mark Lenard’s involvement in it led to this follow up as well as hear how Michael Dorn was able to star in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country with the original cast and how much he loved it.  We also learn about the process of showing Romulus for the first time and how they tried to set it apart through costumes, the sets, and more.  We also get to see the legendary mistake where a crew member could be seen in a glass sculpture which has been removed in this new version.
  • Deleted Scene - We get the short intro of Sarek’s second wife talking to Picard which leads into the scene that’s in the episode.  It’s not that important and it last about two minutes altogether.
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Summary (4 out of 5 stars) 

If you are a fan of The Original Series and of Next Generation then these episodes will be sure to interest you.  I don’t know if they need a separate release since they are already both in the season five set and don’t follow the pattern of the other single sets that contained the cliffhanger of one season and the following season’s premiere into one seamless presentation which makes more sense.  The video is good but I think the rest of the season’s episodes look better but the audio quality is incredible.  These extras can only be found on this set so if you want them, you’re going to have to buy this release since they aren’t on the season set.  I also wish that they had continued to offer the UltraViolet digital copy on this release like the other single sets, since it would give it more bang for the buck.
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