DVD+Digital: Cyborgs, Shakespeare and Star Trek: The Next Generation

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  • courtesy of Paramount Home Media

If you only pay attention to what cycles around to Redbox, Netflix or your old-school video rental place, you might get the sense that only a handful of new home video titles get released each week.

Not so. While the high-profile Hollywood titles get the most attention, new DVDs, Blu-rays and digital releases in any given week number in the dozens — new movies, old reissues, TV series collections, independent films, documentaries, foreign films and a disturbing number of Hallmark Channel original movies.

If you're willing to spend an entirely disproportionate amount of time in front of the TV — and I am — you can find some odd gems. To wit: The archivists at Paramount have started rolling out Blu-ray season set editions of the enduring syndicated classic Star Trek: The Next Generation. The series' third season is being released this week, with all 26 episodes plus some nice bonus materials, including a writers' reunion hosted by Seth MacFarlane. (Several ST: TNG writers went on to create shows like Battlestar Galactica, CSI and 24.)

They've also released the frankly awesome one-off Blu-ray special The Best of Both Worlds, a feature-length presentation of the series' high-water moment: The two-part cliffhanger in which Captain Picard is kidnapped by the nefarious cybernetic villains known as the Borg. I geeked out on this Blu-ray before the plastic wrap hit the floor.

For the uninitiated, the Borg are one of science fiction’s all-time great villains, a collective hivemind of cyborgs who fly around the universe in a giant cube, “assimilating” any culture they come across. In the two-episode story arc presented here, the Borg abduct Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and subsume his consciousness into the collective.

Rewatching these episodes, I was reminded how good ST: TNG could be. The show often explored sophisticated themes, relying on strong sci-fi premises and, especially, Patrick Stewart's commanding performance as Picard. Stewart brings a Shakespearean dignity to the role. You never catch him winking or nudging, even when the dialogue gets ridiculous. His performance in ST: TNG suggests that the best performers can find something true in any story. ST: TNG didn't always have great scripts — the episodes can get awfully talky — but it usually had strong ideas.

In the two-part Borg arc, Picard is transformed into hybrid cyborg Locutus ("He Who Speaks"). The story explores notions of collectivism and freewill, but in a sideways and pulpy manner. A major subplot involves Riker, Picard's second-in-command, taking the reins of the starship Enterprise and of his own destiny as a Starfleet commander. If you look for it, you can find some sophisticated storytelling techniques as the writers parallel Picard and Riker, and their respective dilemmas.

You can also find some interestingly prescient prop design. I haven't watched this stuff in years (the series ran from 1987-1994) and I was amazed to see that the crew's communicators don't just look a little like smart phones and tablets — they look exactly like smart phones and tablets.

The retail Blu-ray packages have maximized image and sound specs, and bundle in some nice extras, like gag reels and that writers' roundtable. But unless you're a really rabid Trekkie, it's relatively disposable stuff. Anyway, Netflix subscribers can get to all the back episodes online. If you want to check out the Borg two-part cliffhanger, click to episode 26 of Season Three and episode one of Season Four.

Also New This Week:

On balance, Silver Linings Playbook may be my single favorite movie of last year. The DVD/Blu-ray combo pack features a digital copy of the film for mobile devices, plus deleted scenes, some making-of material, Q&As with the cast and crew and details on the film's big dance number. The extras are uncommonly generous — almost two hours of material, all told.

Odd couple Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen headline the mother-son road comedy The Guilt Trip.

Sopranos creator David Chase makes his feature film debut with the nostalgic Not Fade Away, concerning rock and roll in 1960s New Jersey.

Mark Wahlberg stars as desperate private eye in Broken City, with Russell Crowe as mayor of New York City.

The Criterion Collection has issued a new Blu-ray edition of director David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch, based on the William S. Burroughs novel.

The fun and very sexy Chilean film Young and Wild was awarded the World Cinema Screenwriting Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

Plus: The Details, Little Red Wagon, Manborg and Shelter Me.

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