Friday, November 30, 2012

"The Measure of a Man" Expanded Edition Review

Last night I joined with Star Trek fans across the United States in attending the Next Generation Second Season Blu-Ray Event. While watching the initial appearance of the Borg on the big screen was a neat experience, the real treat of the evening was seeing, for the first time, the expanded edition of the classic TNG episode "The Measure of a Man". My review of this special treat follows the cut.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
“The Measure of a Man”
Remastered and Expanded Edition
Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass
Directed by Robert Scheerer

Here comes trouble...
Throughout the original Star Trek series it was an essential truism: when a commodore or admiral showed up, things were about to drop pretty deep into the hole for our heroes. In the early days of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the same story ethic held. Therefore, it’s no shocker when Admiral Nakamura arrives and, after some extremely perfunctory walking around the bridge, announces that Commander Bruce Maddox will be tinkering with Picard’s resident robot.

Fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation consistently rank Melinda M. Snodgrass’ “The Measure of a Man” high on their list of favorite episodes, and Entertainment Weekly pegged it as the sixth best episode of the series. And, to be truthful, what’s not to love? An engaging moral quandary, social commentary, some good, righteous indignation, and an ending that tells us what we, as enlightened fans, have known the whole time?

As originally aired, “The Measure of a Man” is a quintessential example of how to do Star Trek right. The original edit is well timed, well paced, and full of moments for reflection and consternation. Without firing a single phaser shot, there is a dramatic tension of battle present throughout the episode, one that only resolves as Captain Philippa Louvois accepts Picard’s invitation to dinner.

And yet, there was more…

As most of us know by now (if we’ve attended the screening or read any of the online coverage of the expanded version of the episode) the episode filmed out with a significant overage of footage which wound up on the cutting room floor. A rough cut of that episode was provided to Snodgrass on VHS tape, and, for basically twenty-four years, that was the end of the story. However, remembering that a longer version of the show existed, Michael Okuda and the CBS Digital team got a hold of Snodgrass’ copy, found original film elements, and put together an expanded edition of the episode.

To be honest, I was unsure of what to expect. I recall the first time I watched the ‘lost pilot’, “The Cage”, on VHS back in 1988. About a third of the episode was in black and white, with low quality audio, and a totally different voice for the Talosian Keeper. While I wasn’t expecting anything quite that primitive, when reading the descriptor of the video tape as including no music, foley, or effects, I had somewhat resigned myself to an experience similar to the first release of “The Cage”. Fortunately, I was extremely pleasantly surprised.

The team at CBS digital indeed restored the entire episode, provided plenty of background sound effects, and – I must assume – tossed in a few effects as well, because I found myself throughout having to remind myself of what was new and what I had seen before on the basis of my memory (I last saw the episode about 14 months ago). In the on-screen introduction to the episode, Snodgrass said that she was eager to find out if the character moments added to the episode or if the original television edit was superior. I can only weigh in with my opinion.

Snodgrass loves Star Trek… that much is certain. Her added dialogue feels, while appropriate and voiced to her TNG cast, like some of the heart-to-heart conversations that occurred in The Original Series. For the most part, the additions, indeed, worked.

The first major addition is an expansion of Admiral Nakamura’s visit to the Enterprise. We learn that an Ensign Picard served with Nakamura (then a lieutenant who hated Admiralty visits) aboard ‘the old Reliant’, and that Nakamura, like James Kirk, has learned that being an admiral in Starfleet isn’t all its cracked up to be. As the turbolift scene with Nakamura’s ruminations on the big chair progressed, I couldn’t help but think of Kirk’s speech to Picard in “Star Trek: Generations” concerning remaining firmly in the center seat. Looking back, one might be tempted to call Snodgrass’ scene derivative – but one must remember, it was written five years before Kirk’s similar speech in “Generations”. Who’s derivative now? The scene slows the pacing of the episode down, so it is really one of those take-it or leave-it aspects that could go either way.
That didn't work so well.
Two scenes in particular that did not work well at all. The first was the gymnasium scene when Riker and Picard debate the coming trial, likening it to swordplay. The entire exchange felt very forced and out of sorts for both Picard and Riker… and while I it was fun to see Picard fencing again, it’s inclusion in the cut served to unnecessarily bog the story down while seeking to exposit a story point that was much more effectively (though subtly) illustrated in Riker’s one-man scene of triumph and self-loathing when he discover’s Data’s off switch.

The second expansion that flopped was Pulaski’s brief snippet during the farewell party in Ten Forward. For whatever reason, Diana Muldaur’s acting in this particular scene seemed especially wooden, and it completely detracted from any kind of import put forth by her kindness towards Data.

Two generally positive additional scenes were included that brought genuine warmth to the episode. The first, a discussion of what kind of life Data and Geordi might live if not members of Starfleet takes place as Data gifts his Sherlock Holmes pipe to his friend. Both realize they are where they can best contribute, in spite of their broad range of skills and their mutual experiences. It serves to enhance the realization that Maddox’s experiment is messing with lives that have value and worth, and not just Data’s. Later, a shared moment between Riker and Troi find them debating Data’s essence. Once again, it is a touching addition that adds a layer of depth to the ongoing formation of the Enterprise family.
Three of the expansions, however, were absolutely superb.

First, Picard’s legal sit-down with Data could have been one of the golden moments of TNG. In this scene, as Picard looks to build a case for Data’s sentience, we see the direct dialogue, but also, behind it, the subtle nudging of Data beyond his programmed thought of self. As you watch the scene unfold, Brent Spiner’s portrayal of the mechanical automaton undergoes an ever-so-slight tick towards humanity. Though one particular pause lingers on Picard for a touch too long, the scene brings a lot of essential elements to the fore which enhance the remainder of the episode.

The additional scenes with Maddox
positively contributed to the episode.
Second, Maddox’s unwelcome arrival at the farewell party was prefect. The only thing missing from the scene was some music. Maddox, the righteous crusader, storms in to make his grand point in the presence of not only Data, but his closest friends. Maddox genuinely believes he is on the cusp of being one of the Federation’s greatest heroes, and his ego barely fits into the room with his body. The scene gives guest star Brian Brophy a chance to add a shining moment to his visit with the Enterprise crew, and it gives fans and equal laugh when Riker unceremoniously ushers him out of Ten Forward so that the party may continue in peace.

The perfect finish.
The final, and perhaps the best addition to the episode, however, was the expanded conclusion in the Observation Lounge between Data and Riker. Data goes on to make one of the great conceptual statements of Star Trek (and here I paraphrase): You put aside your beliefs in order to do what was necessary for someone else, even though it was terribly uncomfortable and injurious to you. This lesson, particularly in modern western society, is as important to convey (perhaps moreso today than a quarter century ago) as the anti-slavery message of the main story line. This expansion serves to elevate the “B” story – Riker’s discomfiture with prosecuting – into a complete story in and of itself.

“The Measure of a Man” remains one of the all-time great episodes, not only of The Next Generation, but of all the Star Trek series, and this new, expanded edition adds positively to the experience. While the perfect version would be a middling between the broadcast and expanded versions, I'll take the expanded cut, in spite of the two dragging additions, as my definitive version of this episode.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this review! I can't wait to get my hands on this set and watch it for myself!