Star Trek: Deep Space Nine appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation started in an ugly manner, as the series progressed, the picture quality improved. Whereas I gave Season One of that series only a “C-“, my grades steadily improved until we got to the “B-“s of Seasons Six and Season Seven.
Since DS9 debuted during the sixth season of Next Generation, I expected the image quality to look virtually the same for both series. However, to my pleasant surprise, DS9 provided moderately superior visuals when compared to its sister series.
One minor improvement came in the area of sharpness. Next Generation tended to seem somewhat soft at times, and I occasionally noticed some issues in that regard during DS9; occasional images came across as just a little fuzzy or tentative. However, these occurred less frequently than I expected, and most of the episodes looked nicely distinct and well defined. Jagged edges and moiré effects popped up periodically but they didn’t present much of a distraction. I also failed to notice the light edge enhancement I sometimes saw during Next Generation, and other than a smidgen of grain in some low-light shots, the episodes seemed to be free of source flaws.
Colors provided a relative strength of DS9. While neither Next Generation or DS9 ever attempted the broad palette of the original series, the mix of aliens allowed for a variety of tones, and these came across fairly well here. Actually, DS9 looked like the darkest of the three series, and the hues seemed a bit more subdued due to that factor. Still, they worked fine for the most part, as the majority of the colors were clear and distinctive.
Black levels showed some variation. Sometimes they looked deep and dense, but other times they were a bit murky and inky. Shadow detail usually offered good definition to low-light shots, though some were a bit too opaque. Although Deep Space Nine didn’t offer stunning visuals, I thought the programs looked quite good, and their visual quality boasted a noticeable improvement over what I saw on Next Generation.
Picture footnote: if you simply sample the series’ pilot, you might wonder what I’ve been smoking. That episode looked substantially fuzzier and gauzier than those that followed. I don’t know why “The Emissary” presented such different visuals, but I thought I’d mention than it didn’t provide a representative example of the remainder of the year.
Although image quality varied and improved as the seven seasons of Next Generation progressed, the audio remained very consistent. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Deep Space Nine pretty strongly followed the blueprint of its sister series, though I thought it didn’t display quite as much sonic ambition. Soundfields remained fairly heavily oriented toward the forward channels, and they tended to favor general ambience. Music showed good stereo imaging, and the station setting demonstrated some good environmental activity. Elements seemed well placed and they integrated well.
Where DS9 suffered slightly in comparison with Next Generation related to its use of the surrounds. The older series made noticeable more active use of the rear speakers. During the first season of DS9, the surrounds mainly just supported the music and forward action, as I rarely heard anything terribly distinctive from the rear. In defense of the more restricted soundfields, however, I should note that DS9 enjoyed many fewer natural opportunities for dynamic use of the back channels. Most of the action took place on the station, which meant fewer instances of ships and battle. Those elements added many of Next Generation’s more involving scenes, so their absence meant that DS9 simply couldn’t replicate the broader environments of its sister series. The soundfields still worked fine for this material.
Audio quality remained solid. Speech seemed distinct and natural, and I discerned no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. The score sounded vibrant and bold, as the music appeared bright and dynamic. Effects presented solid detail and clarity, and they also offered nice low-end material at times. Bass response actually seemed slightly better than during Next Generation, though those elements sounded good during both series. Because Deep Space Nine presented a less involving soundscape when compared to Next Generation, I knocked down my grade to a “B”, but DS9 nonetheless presented positive audio.
Fans of the Next Generation DVDs will find similar supplements for the Deep Space Nine set. The majority of these come from six separate featurettes. We start with Deep Space Nine: A Bold Beginning, and 18-minute and seven-second introduction to the series’ origins. It mixes show clips, behind the scenes footage and images, and interviews with executive producers Michael Piller and Rick Berman, actor Avery Brooks, production designer Herman Zimmerman, scenic art supervisor Mike Okuda, senior illustrator Rick Sternbach, and concept artist Ricardo Delgado. Most of the interviews come from 2002, but some were taped in 1992.
After a quick look at how DS9 came to be and how the participants wanted it to differ from prior Trek series, most of “Beginning” follows the production design needed at the start. This relates how they came up with the design for the station itself and offers lots of good notes about those issues. It’s especially fun to hear about alternate concepts. “Beginning” starts this set’s series of featurettes on a strong note, as it packs a lot of useful information with only a little filler.
Someone needed to slap a “spoiler alert” on Crew Dossier: Kira Nerys. The 14-minute and 21-second piece offers the same mix of production footage, show snippets and interviews we find on the other featurettes. Though we hear a little from executive producer Ira Steven Behr, actor Nana Visitor dominates “Dossier”. Seen in snippets from 1992 and two separate occasions in 1999, she discusses her character and her arc.
Unfortunately, that means we hear a lot about episodes that some of us – that’d be me – haven’t actually seen. This reveals twists in future seasons. Not only does this mean that much of the information lacks relevance for the neophyte viewer – that’d be me again – but also it takes away some of the surprise that should later occur. The damage doesn’t seem harmful, and for those who already know DS9’s subsequent seasons, “Dossier” offers a moderately superficial but still decent look at the character. Nonetheless, since it emphasizes future programs, its placement here seems inappropriate and annoying.
Happily, the same concerns don’t affect Michael Westmore’s Aliens: Season One. In this 10-minute and nine-second featurette, we get remarks from make-up designer Westmore as he discusses his work. He covers these species: Bajorans, Cardassians, Tosk, Wadi, Miradorn, Tailheads, Kobliad, and Boliad. The combination of Westmore’s insightful comments and compelling footage from the set helps make “Aliens” a very interesting program.
Although it doesn’t offer as much depth as its title implies, Secrets of Quark’s Bar still gives us a fun look behind the scenes. The four-minute and 47-second featurette presents Star Trek archivist Penny Juday as she gives us a quick tour of some props located in Quark’s Bar. She also reveals some notes about the origins of the items, such as the candleholders she turned into glasses. The program seems light but engaging.
Similar material appears in Alien Artifacts: Season One, a two-minute and 51-second visit with property master Joe Longo. Like Juday, he shows us some of the series’ physical tools. Unlike Juday, he doesn’t tell us much about them beyond their names; a smidgen of additional information appears, but not much. That makes “Artifacts” fairly pointless.
The final obvious featurette, Deep Space Nine Sketchbook runs five minutes and 23 seconds. It includes statements from senior illustrator Rick Sternbach as we see images of concept drawings created for DS9 props. Sternbach provides some good notes about design issues and his work, and “Sketchbook” provides a reasonably useful piece.
On the surface, the DS9 set ends with a Production Photo Gallery. This package of 40 pictures offers a mix of shots from the set, publicity and behind the scenes snaps. These seem moderately interesting but nothing terribly stimulating appears.
In the last paragraph, I used the qualifier “on the surface” because DS9 includes many Easter eggs. Referred to as “Hidden Files”, we get ten of these strewn throughout the two screens of the DVD’s extras menu. These clips last between 91 seconds and 194 seconds for a total of 24 minutes and five seconds of footage.
Each of the “Hidden Files” concentrates on various DS9 characters, and we find interviews with actors Rene Auberjonois, Terry Farrell, Colm Meaney, Avery Brooks, Siddig El Fadil, Nana Visitor, Cirroc Lofton and Jennifer Hetrick. The latter was taped in 2002, but all the others come from 1992. Most of these pieces act as quick introductions to the characters, but some add anecdotes and additional notes. They don’t provide much that seems scintillating, but they still add a nice little bonus to the package.
Speaking of the package, Deep Space Nine came in materials that differed from the boxes used for Next Generation. Instead of that series’ cardboard-housed sequence of foldout sleeves, this one went plastic fantastic. A plastic slipcase contains a plastic frame with six plastic discholders, each of which opens like the pages of a book.
I don’t know why Paramount switched the packaging, but I definitely preferred the old system. The DS9 set seems cheap and flimsy. The glue that holds the sequence of cases to the plastic container detaches easily, and one of the discholders already shows a big crack. I treat my DVDs really gently, so I know these didn’t occur due to personal abuse. I suppose we’re stuck with this packaging for the whole run of DS9, but I don’t care for it at all. Hopefully Paramount will do something to improve the durability of these materials.
Positive interface note: as usual with Paramount DVDs, all the extras include English subtitles. Paramount remain the only studio that does this as a given. Negative interface note: if you use chapter skip to bypass the opening credits after the end of each episode’s starting sequence, you’ll often wind up farther into the show than you’d like. Chapter two should always begin immediately after the conclusion of the opening credits, and this inconsistency seems annoying.
Season One of Deep Space Nine also seemed inconsistent and periodically annoying, but the series came across as generally interesting and enjoyable. I expect that the show will improve during future years, as it definitely progressed significantly as this season continued. Despite the erratic quality of the episodes, none appeared genuinely bad, and the elevated levels of quality witnessed during the year’s second half made season one much more acceptable.
As for picture and sound quality, both seemed good for the most part. Nothing about either element came across as stellar, but I also detected little than presented a deficit. The set’s smattering of extras also gave us a modicum of useful and interesting information about the series. Fans of Deep Space Nine should feel pleased with the quality of this release – other than the flimsy packaging – and folks new to the series should give it a look. It’s not classic Trek, but it seems entertaining and intriguing, and I look forward to future seasons of DS9.
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