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Josh Enjoys “The Best of Both Worlds” on the Big Screen!

In a very cool effort to promote the release of Star Trek: The Next Generation on blu-ray, Paramount/CBS/Fathom Events have held a few events screening some of the newly-remastered episodes on the big screen, in select theatres around the country.  I wasn’t excited by the two season one episodes they chose to screen last year, and while I wanted to see the two season two episodes shown in the fall, I wasn’t free the night of the screening.  But when they announced a few months back that they would be screening the two parts of “The Best of Both Worlds,” edited together into a movie-length presentation, I made damn well sure to arrange my schedule so that I could be there.  This past Wednesday night, I was delighted to join fellow Trek fans in enjoying one of the high-points of televised Star Trek, gorgeously presented on the big screen.

Part one of “The Best of Both Worlds” was the moment when Star Trek: The Next Generation exploded.  Star Trek had never before done a season-ending cliffhanger, and while some shows certainly had before (the famous “Who Shot J.R.?” being one of the most well-known examples), those sorts of cliffhangers where no where near as ubiquitous back in 1991 as they were today.

After two shaky seasons, in its third year Star Trek: The Next Generation really came into its own.  Under the hand of new show-runner Michael Piller (who deserves almost all of the credit for the lasting success of Next Gen) and a group of phenomenal new writers, many of whom would go on to extraordinarily successful careers in Trek and elsewhere (Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, Ira Steven Behr, Rene Echevarria, Naren Shankar, and more), suddenly The Next Generation transformed itself into a confident, ambitious sci-fi series.  Season three of Star Trek: The Next Generation is arguably the best season of a Star Trek show ever.  (In fact, back in one of my very first blog posts for this site, I sang the praises of Next Gen season three!)  There is not a clunker in the bunch, and many of the very best Next Gen episodes come from this season.  There’s “Sins of the Father,” in which we visit the Klingon homeworld for the first time as Worf returns to challenge the accusation that his dead father committed treason.  There’s “The Offspring,” the heart-wrenching story of Data’s failed attempt to build an android child for himself.  There’s “Deja Q,” in which Q becomes mortal.  There’s “The Defector,” a phenomenal Cold War-type tale of a possible Romulan defector.  There’s “Hollow Pursuits,” the episode that introduces the wonderfully flawed, holodeck-addicted Lieutenant Barclay.  There’s “Sarek,” in which Spock’s father appears and the show finally begins to draw connections to the Original Series (and in which Patrick Stewart delivers one of his very best monologues, buffetted by the torrent of Sarek’s volatile emotions after a mind-meld).  And, of course, there is “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” one of the first and very best of Trek’s alternate-universe stories, in which the Enterprise C travels through a rift into the future, altering the timeline and creating a dark universe in which the Federation is being brought to its knees during a protracted war with the Klingons.  All those episodes in one season!!

But the season-ending “The Best of Both Worlds” part I topped everything that had come before.  The Borg, the unstoppable cybernetic creatures the Enterprise had encountered in a far-away sector of space in the season two episode “Q Who?” enter Federation space.  The Enterprise’s attempts to repel the cube ship are immediately defeated with complete ease by the Borg, and when several Borg drones beam over to the Enterprise, they kidnap Picard, stealing him back to their vessel.  An attempt to rescue their captain results in the revelation that Picard has been altered by the Borg — he has been assimilated into the collective, becoming the Borg’s mouth-piece named Locutus.  With only moments before the Borg will escape their reach, the newly-promoted Captain Riker brings the Enterprise’s new anti-Borg weapon on-line, a weapon that they believe will be capable of destroying the Borg ship, but at the cost of their captured captain’s life.  As the music rises, Riker declares: “Mr Worf… fire.”  To Be Continued!

“The Best of Both Worlds” is a magnificent episode.  Right from the beginning of the show, in which the Enterprise encounters a colony world that has been completely destroyed by the Borg, it feels like everything has become more serious, more intense.  The music is somber (the score by Ron Jones is incredible, one of the best scores of any Trek episode ever, in my opinion), and two compelling new characters are added to the mix.  Admiral Hanson, a gruff old mentor of Picard, and his young go-getter assistant, Lieutenant Shelby ,rendezvous with the Enterprise to confer on how they can attempt to defeat the seemingly unbeatable Borg.  We learn that Riker has been offered a Captaincy on another Starfleet vessel, and when Picard discovers that Riker has declined the promotion, he orders his first officer to reconsider his decision.  Meanwhile, Shelby is clearly gunning for Riker’s current position as first-officer on the Enterprise, and she and Riker but heads from the outset.  Not only is it great to see the show actually address the idea that Enterprise characters could get promoted to other ships (I love the scene in which Picard, giving his Number One some tough love, bluntly declares that “the Enterprise will go on just fine without you.”), but it’s great to see some tension between the Starfleet officers, something that was almost always verboten on Next Gen.  

It’s fun seeing the always-heroic Enterprise officers faced, finally, with an enemy they know they can’t beat.  There’s a hopelessness that pervades “The Best of Both Worlds” part 1, and I love all the scenes of strategy on the Enterprise, in which our heroes are forced to confront the fact that theri best efforts most likely will not be sufficient to defeat this new enemy.  There’s a great Guinan-Picard scene in which she confronts Picard on his outlook (“Yes, but Nelson never returned from Trafalgar…”) and I adore the homage to Star Trek II in the moment in which the Enterprise tries to hide from the Borg in a nebula.

Then there is that cliffhanger.  Hoo lord, I remember seeing that for the first time like it was yesterday.  It blew my mind, and that summer waiting for Part Two to air was a very loooong summer indeed.   Star Trek fans really wondered what was going to happen when the show returned.  Was Picard being written off?  Was Riker now going to be the captain, with Shelby as his first officer?  It really felt like the whole show had been tipped on its head, and no one knew what would happen the next year.

There’s a famous story that Michael Piller wrote Part One with absolutely no idea how the story would resolve.  He wasn’t intending to return to Next Gen for season four, so he figured that some other writer would have the tough task of writing the show out of the corner Mr. Piller had written them into with part one.  But, of course, Mr. Piller DID return, and he took on the task of writing Part Two, the season four premiere.

There’s no question that Part Two isn’t quite as compelling as Part One, but that is hardly a surprise as it’s always a lot more fun to make the mess than to clean it up.  But while Part Two might not be as spectacular as Part One, it’s still a damn good episode and a great conclusion to the story.  There are so many great moments in Part Two, from the Enterprise’s encounter with the starship graveyard at Wolf 359 (where all that remains of the forty starships that Starfleet assembled to stop the Borg is lifeless wreckage and shattered starship hulls as far as the eye can see) to Guinan’s conversation with Riker in which she exhorts him to allow himself to let go of Picard (“If he was dead it would have been easier, but he’s not.  They took him from us, a piece at a time.”).  And ultimately, I love the solution by which the Enterprise crew is able to rescue their captain and stop the Borg cube.  I think it makes a lot of sense, and is a smart extrapolation of what we know of the Borg.

I remember when I saw Star Trek: First Contact, as much as I enjoyed that film, I felt that the two parts of “The Best of Both Worlds” were a far better Borg movie.  I am absolutely delighted to have finally had the chance to see “The Best of Both Worlds” as a movie — projected up on the big screen, and edited together into one seamless feature presentation!

What a great choice by the folks at Paramount/CNS/Fathom Entertainment to have chosen “The Best of Both Worlds” to show, and even though this event is intended to promote the release of Next Gen season three on blu-ray, I applaud them for choosing these two episodes to show together (even though Part Two is from season four).

The show looks dynamite on the big-screen.  The remastering effort for the blu-ray release, in which the show has been painstakingly re-assembled and re-edited, shot by shot, for the high-def release,nresults in a gorgeous presentation that held up very well on the big screen.  It’s not as sharp as an actual movie — as high-resolution as blu-ray is, it is still a lesser resolution than feature films.  But nevertheless, the show looks gorgeous.  The visual effects shots of the Big E are terrific, but so are all of the scenes with the actors.  The sets, the props, the costumes, the make-up — it all holds up astonishingly well when viewed on the big screen.  So praise must be showered not just on the team at CBS Digital who have restored and re-assembled the show, but on all of the original crafts-people and artists who worked on the show back in the 90’s.

Yes, I always crave more action in Part Two — I always wish we’d gotten to see some of the actual battle at Wolf 359, and as the Borg cube rushes towards Earth, I wish we got to see more shots of some of Starfleet’s defenses.  Surely even after the massacre of the fleet, there would be other ships, other defenses the Federation could muster as the Borg approached Earth?  We hear talk of the Borg defeating all of Earth’s defenses and breaking through “The Mars Perimeter,” but all we see is one short shot of the Borg cube zapping three tiny ships once it enters Earth’s solar system.  Oh well.  But the visual effects that we do get — though not that dynamic to a modern eye (I always laugh at Ensign Crusher plotting in a complex maneuver — “Riker Alpha” to evade the Borg tractor beam — when we then just see a shot of the Enterprise moving a little to the left) still look beautiful.  The model of the Enterprise D, in specific, is gorgeous.  On the big screen, you really got to soak in the beauty of all the model-work in the show.

I noticed one tiny shot in Part Two that seemed to be at lower resolution than the rest of the episodes — it’s a brief two-to-three second moment of Riker on the Battle Bridge.  Some on-line reading afterwards confirms that they were unable to find that one piece of footage, so that quick shot has been up-converted from the lower-resolution image they had from the DVD release from a decade ago.  Oh well.

It was cool seeing the two episodes edited together, but I must admit I missed the music crescendo and the “To Be Continued” card at the end of Part One.  To edit the two episodes together, they cut right from Riker saying “fire” to the shot of the Enterprise’s deflector beam shooting out (which was the opening shot of Part Two).  The edit is seamless, but without the big musical crescendo, a lot of the impact of that moment was lost.  Frankly I wouldn’t have objected to their keeping the original Part One ending, “To Be Continued” card and all, and then starting Part Two.  Or, failing that, why not pretend that was just a commercial break, keeping the musical crescendo and then fading to black — just without the “To Be Continued” card — before fading back into the first shot of Part Two?  I think that would have been more effective than what they did.

I was pleased that, in addition to showing the edited-together version of “The Best of Both Worlds,” we also got to see a documentary about the making of this seminal episode.  About 15-20 minutes in length (I believe this is a slightly edited version of the 25-30 minute documentary that will be on the blu-ray), the documentary is terrific, and we get to hear from almost all of the show’s cast, including guest-star Elizabeth Dennehy who played Shelby, the writers, and many of the behind-the scenes special effects people, the costume designer, the makeup artist, and more.  It’s a terrific documentary.  Then, after “The Best of Both Worlds” was over, we got to see an absolutely hilarious, wonderful collection of season three bloopers.  (Again, my understanding is we saw a slightly edited-down version of what will be on the blu-rays.)  There were a LOT of bloopers shown, and they were fabulous, funny and joyful as we got to see some of the laughs that the cast and crew had on set, all those years ago.  The bloopers were a highlight of the evening.

I had a magnificent time watching “The Best of Both Worlds” on the big screen.  I have heard they are planning to show some more of the show’s two-parters on the big screen in future events (I’ve read that the season-four Klingon-centric cliffhanger “Redemption” will be next).  Bring it on!!

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