Last night at 7 p.m. across America theaters showed a one-night only event–the world premiere of the remastered release of Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part episode “The Best of Both Worlds,” including specifically the cliffhanger Part 1, which arguably is the most important Star Trek episode and one of the best episodes of any TV series to hit the airwaves. Why the best? It featured a constellation of concepts that came together at just the right time, airing at the end of Season 3, the season where the NextGen cast and writers became comfortable in their roles and produced several incredible episodes, including “Who Watches the Watchers,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (the other contender for best NextGen episode), “Captain’s Holiday,” “Hollow Pursuits,” “The Most Toys,” and “Sarek.”
The stakes were never greater in a Star Trek episode than in “The Best of Both Worlds,” with the beloved Captain Jean-Luc Picard assimilated by The Borg, turned into the leader Locutus who had all of Picard’s memories and strategies to use against his shipmates. It also featured something we all wanted to see–Jonathan Frakes’s Commander Will Riker as Captain of the Enterprise-D. Its cliffhanger ending at the end of Season 3 created a devoted fan following who waited with bated breath all summer and came back for Season 4 and thereafter stuck with Star Trek as loyal fans to this day. The Star Trek franchise might not be as successful today were it not for this great two-part episode.
In last night’s theatrical showing, the slow and clumsy members of The Borg collective on the TV screen became even more menacing at 30 feet tall–we like these villains today because of what Patrick Stewart showed us portraying their cold-blooded leader. The surround sound emphasized tension in the episode’s score that took on an even greater meaning for viewers. The two most notable factors of the remastering process were LCARs panels you could almost read the letters from, and the detail of the Enterprise-D exterior shots–which are so clear they probably should have been redone to show digital people through the windows since the big screen version emphasized the look as painted squares. And we were reminded that this episode really belonged to guest star Elizabeth Dennehy, who as Commander Shelby, showed us one of the strongest female characters to appear on TV in an episode that is very much about promoting a woman in Starfleet despite some surprising bits of sexism infused from a 1990 sensibility (like Admiral Hanson discussing “an old man’s fantasies” with regard to Commander Shelby, and Riker and other male crew constantly commenting about Shelby in the ship’s corridors should make you wince). On the big screen scenes that may have skipped by back then really show how far we’ve all come in even twenty years. It’s no wonder so many tie-in novels have been written about Shelby’s tough as nails character in the more than two decades since Part 1 first aired on June 8, 1990. Worf (Michael Dorn), Data (Brent Spiner) and even Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) all come across as very funny on the big screen, too–you forget how the late, great Michael Piller’s writing was always so clever and sharp.
The Fathom Events series continued its great single night programming including parts of the Blu-ray features before and after the showing. One thing to be aware of if the single edition release of “The Best of Both Worlds,” Parts 1 and 2 is the same version shown last night–the TV series almost needs inserted commercials, especially at least some kind of break with Riker’s last word at the end of Part 1. Part 1 and Part 2 slid into each other so quickly the impact of Riker’s stunning cliffhanger line was lost to anyone viewing the episodes for the first time. Also, inserting a documentary in advance of the show which step-by-step revealed plot points of the show further would spoil the episodes for those dragging a friend along to see the episodes for the first time. But Dennehy’s interview and the blooper reel afterward were great additions. The crowd laughed loudly at every bit of the blooper reel. And the documentary that aired before the main feature included some fun interviews with cast members as well as master art designer Rick Sternback, make-up man Michael Westmore, composer Ron Jones, and special effects modelmaker Greg Jein.
With next week’s release of the Season 3 Blu-ray set it’s a great time to re-watch this superb season of television. Pre-release steep discount Blu-Rays of Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season Three are still available at Amazon.com as well as the discounted Blu-ray of Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Best of Both Worlds. Star Trek fans who missed last night’s screening really missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be dazzled by this key pair of brilliant episodes.