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Paramount Studios presents
"We are Borg."
DVD ReviewThe journey to Earth continues. Led by Captain Kathryn Janeway, the crew of the starship Voyager has been hurled into the unknown expanses of the Delta Quadrant, 70,000 light years from home. The series’ bold premise has fine potential for new adventure the likes of which Trek has not seen. However, previous seasons, though good sci-fi, did not meet the expectations provided by such an idea. For a primer on the series itself, and details on the crew’s prior adventures, look to my reviews for the first three seasons, for which I managed to write way too much about. No more. I will endeavor to provide you with a fine overview of the season which can be read in less than an hour (if you skim…).
Season Four does manage to maintain the positive energy that began in Season Three, opting for more daring, darker and edgy episodes. Wrapping up the stunning finale from Season Three, Scorpion, Part II is a fine effects-heavy adventure that features the popular, villainous Borg. Clearly a shot at gaining clout in the ratings, the Collective makes a fine agent of foreboding, adding a palpable tension to the taut storyline. Voyager must ally themselves with the Borg to combat the superior Species 8472, a race so advanced in their biotechnology, they cannot be assimilated. The debate between the strengths and weaknesses of collective thinking vs. individuality are front and center here, manifesting themselves in a bitter conflict of words between Chakotay and Janeway. As usual, the solutions to the predicaments at hand are too clean and easy, but this is a thrilling hour of sci-fi.
Of course, the most significant outcome of the season’s opener is the arrival of Seven of Nine (the talented Jeri Ryan). Armed with curves and a catsuit that would distract a Vulcan, her obvious sex appeal was no doubt another attempt to increase the popularity of the show. Though this “Borg babe” concept may have been the initial attraction to the idea, her character becomes one of the most interesting and meaningful of the season. Filling the “discovery of humanity” role once occupied by the likes of Spock, Data, and Odo, Seven’s exploration of her newfound humanity addresses some interesting questions, developing a powerful mother-daughter relationship between the former drone and Captain Janeway. This journey begins in The Gift and develops throughout the season (including The Raven, Revulsion, Scientific Method and One, among others).
The Gift marked the passing of a character, as well. Kes’ departure from the series was surrounded by controversy, and her final, telepathically explosive farewell is underwhelming here, not containing the kind of emotional weight or fond farewells that would be expected. Other relationships develop, including a lasting romance between Paris and Torres (Day of Honor)—a pair that began the series constantly at odds. Seven of Nine’s high episode count unfortunately detracts screen time from other undeveloped characters, such as Chakotay (Nemesis and Waking Moments are his only featured outings). Despite some neglect, character development is improved this season.
As I stated, dark, edgy adventure is the tone of choice, and it’s certainly welcome. There is a pair of bold two-parters that characterize this spirit. Year of Hell, Parts I and II is a guns blazing, dark and dirty “what-if” premise that pits Voyager against the Krenim, a time-traveling race that alters evolution by eliminating species from the timeline. Of course, the reset button makes an appearance (a necessary evil in episodic television), but this is simply great Trek action. Second, The Killing Game, Parts I and II is a bit less successful, but features the nemesis of the season, the combative Hirogen, who seize Voyager and place Seven, Janeway, Tuvok and Torres in a holodeck simulation of WWII. Our heroes are the French Resistance, and the Hirogen, the Nazi SS. These prey-hungry aliens also appear in Hunters and fittingly, Prey. Finally, Message in a Bottle and Hope and Fear are fine renditions of the ever-present “fast track back to Earth” episodes. These voyages do not fully overshadow the characters involved, or messages of importance, but there are tradeoffs.
Though bold adventure is the tone of choice throughout this season, there are some meaningful, thoughtful and powerful episodes—the kind of material that makes Trek worth tuning in for. Mortal Coil is a gripping look at Neelix’s beliefs in the afterlife, which are shaken by a near death experience. Random Thoughts deals with culture contamination, showing the effects of a violent thought on a telepathic race. Living Witness is one of the best entries. A culture finds archeological evidence that the crew of Voyager caused social injustice in their society. It is up to the only survivor, the holographic Doctor, to defend the long dead crew; indeed, there are some dark consequences to Voyager’s presence in the Delta Quadrant, inching toward the kind of material that would be more impactful. Exploration of the cosmos is less of a focus this time around.
Broken record time: Despite the fact that Season Four offers some high quality character moments and thrills that reach new heights of intensity, I can’t help but be reminded yet again of this show’s missed potential. There is always a part of me that will wonder what Voyager could have been if it had fully made use of its perilous premise. In the end, one must ask if these adventures really need to take place in the Delta Quadrant. Where are the broken rules, the risks, the unforeseen situations that should play throughout the run? Granted, this is one of the best seasons of a fine show, but it could certainly warp further into the unknown.
Disc 1: Scorpion, Part II, The Gift, Day of Honor, Nemesis
Disc 2: Revulsion, The Raven, Scientific Method, Year of Hell, Part I
Disc 3: Year of Hell, Part II, Random Thoughts, Concerning Flight, Mortal Coil
Disc 4: Waking Moments, Message in a Bottle, Hunters, Prey
Disc 5: Retrospect, The Killing Game, Part I, The Killing Game, Part II, Vis a Vis
Disc 6: The Omega Directive, Unforgettable, Living Witness, Demon
Disc 7: One, Hope and Fear, Special Features
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The image quality is on par with previous sets. Colors are bright and well saturated, and contrast is solid. The image is occasionally soft at times, but detail is very good. VFX shots, most of which are CGI by now, are not prone to the kind of “jaggies” that were common on past episodes of Trek on DVD. This is a gorgeous image to behold.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 audio blazes when called for. Crank up one of the more action-oriented episodes, such as Scorpion, Part II, and you’ll be immersed in the ambiance of Voyager and the Borg cube, dazzled by distinct directional effects during space battles, and rocked by some strong LFE. These are tasteful remasters that maintain the integrity of the original Dolby Surround mixes (also included), but add some extra oomph.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 208 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Trekkies 2
Packaging: unknown keepcase
Extras Review: The 26 episodes are contained on seven discs. The set's packaging is the same as before, housing the discs in a book-like arrangement of plastic disc trays, enclosed by two clear plastic pieces that fit over the top and bottom. The color of choice this time is a neon blue.
The quality of extras is going progressively downhill. This set contains the standard interview-based featurettes, but carries less volume than previous installments. I appreciate Paramount releasing these series sets in short order, but please try to infuse some more creativity into the content.
Braving the Unknown: Season Four (21m:07s) features interviews with cast and crew including Roxann Dawson, Brannon Braga, Jeri Taylor, David Livingston and more. Topics include the arrival of Seven of Nine and memorable, large-scale episodes. The departure of Kes is discussed, but ultimately glossed over. There’s really nothing new offered here, but it’s nice to see some of the crew’s reflections on where the series was heading.
Time Capsule: Seven of Nine (13m:44s) features an exuberant Jeri Ryan, showcasing her enthusiasm for her new role. She dissects the complexity of her character, the costume and makeup. Vintage interviews and video from modeling and publicity shoots populate some of the piece.
Time Capsule: Harry Kim (14m:09s) contains a brand new interview with actor Garrett Wang, who discusses his characters progression, or lack thereof, throughout the series. Harry Kim always seemed to be picked on by the writers. The piece also contains Wang’s home video footage from a Star Trek cruise in the Caribbean. Sounds dangerous.
The Birth of Species 8472 (09m:35s) is a look at the conception and development of the CGI creature seen throughout the season. Interviews with visual effects supervisor Dan Curry and animator John Teska reveal the extensive design process that went into the tripedal creature. Concept art and final CGI renderings are shown, including a funny gag.
The Art of Alien Worlds (10m:42s) is a fascinating piece. Matte artists are the unsung heroes of visual effects. Many of the best effects shots in the classic films and televisions shows we love have been partially created by these amazingly talented artists who paint photo-realistic landscapes on glass. Artists Syd Dutton and Rob Stromberg prove this through a tour of his studio and comments on his contributions to Star Trek.
A photo gallery and a trailer for Trekkies 2 rounds out the listed extras. A coupon for up to $25.00 off admission to up to 5 attractions ($5 off each attraction) to the Borg Invasion 3-D ride at the Star Trek Experience is included in the package.
Finally, there are six easter egg featurettes, Lost Transmissions from the Delta Quadrant, easily found throughout the Borg-themed Special Features menus: Jeri Ryan discusses her new fame (01m:05s); Tim Russ talks about directing Living Witness (03m:23s); Jeri Ryan returns to mention the warm reception she recieved (00m:56s); Ethan Phillips talks about playing both a Talaxian and a Klingon (01m:26s); Brannon Braga reveals the genesis of Seven's name (01m:30s); Director David Livingston discusses the Hirogen warriors (02m:50s).
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsSeason Four is one of the series’ finest, containing a darker, edgier tone of adventure, paired with some meaningful, memorable themes. The departure of a main character and the arrival of another infuses some fresh development. Paramount’s a/v presentation is stellar, but their extras fall short.
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