Thursday, 4 March 2021

Review: Picard season one on bluray

I recently rewatched Picard, via the bluray edition of the first season(ad). Continue below for my thoughts on the season as a whole (some vague spoiler discussion after the first few paragraphs), and the offering of extra features on the bluray.


The Story

Despite hearing it from the producers repeatedly when the series was being promoted, what really struck me in the rewatch was truly how much the series is like a long film. Not just that it feels like a film, but is a much more engaging experience to watch that way. 

So much so that I now really wish they're released the whole series as four or five two-hour-ish episodes. It would have been a bold departure from the normal format for Star Trek that I think would have done the story a great service. But with that not being the case, the whole series now being available, on bluray or streaming, we can still watch it like that anyway.

I liked Picard a lot watching it as it came out, but viewing back as a whole I really love it. The word that keeps coming to me thinking of it, is beautiful. For several reasons.

The first three episodes feel the most like they exist as a whole split into parts. This is where we get to know Picard anew, and also get a lot of the backstory for the series too. Getting to know this more curmudgeony Picard was jarring at first, but is necessary for the arc of the season, and also a joy to watch Patrick Stewart playing not the familiar or archetypical hero, but someone who is frail, who has aged, who has moved on in life, and is a bit grumpy - Someone who is different to who we knew before.

It's so clear throughout the series that Patrick Stewart is enchanted by the journey he is getting to take the character on. But the rest of the cast are also quite mesmerising: The versatility of Santiago Cabrera's many Rios holograms (one of the great joys of the series), and the vulnerability of that character too. The journey Raffi takes from wreck back to being exceptional; and how much her life balances on how Picard personally failed her. The horrors of what Jurati goes through. Elnor's endearing naivety and selflessness. Seven's dramatic turn into some sort of space-cowboy (a story begging to be told in more depth still). The beautiful return of Hugh so frustratingly taken from us. And the many lives of Soji/Dahj/Sutra. This ensemble has some real magic, and every character shines.

The middle-of-the-season episodes that give us the chance to get to know these characters, are my favourite, free from the initial set up, or distractions of the action packed ending, instead they lead us through the unravelling mysteries the series has us try and solve, while filling in the universally tragic backstories of all these compelling characters.

I found myself really drawn into Harry Treadaway's charismatic Narek much more when viewing the series as a whole too, and quite taken by the twisted romance between him and Soji. There feels like there's a nugget of real feeling in their, but maybe I'm just falling for Narek's abusive charms too! Their moments of flirtation and some of the most captivating and beautiful in the series, not least because the music that accompanies their story is so sweet and delicate. Of course that also leads us the hugely satisfying Napenthe, and some of the best scenes in all of Trek for Troi, in unravelling Soji's mental state, and revealing her and Riker's own sorrow in the years since we've last seen them.

Reflecting back it's surprising how many characters there are in what seems like a tight intimate story; they all have their moments. But that is perhaps also one of the few frustrations of the series; the rush to the end that left several threads either dangling or tied up a bit too neatly. I didn't love that whole and-now-the-Federation-is-just-fine-with-Synths-after-a-generation-of-resentment hand-wave at the very end. I'm frustrated the XBs didn't really get any sort of conclusion at all (especially when them being on the Synth planet seems such an obvious opportunity to unite two outcast societies). I hope and assume the dangling threads of the Romulan story will continue to be explored, not least letting Commodore Oh just wander off to do whatever she wants! 

I feel like the series could have really done with another episode or two to give the ending more space; the contrast between the ponderous three-part opening, and the action packed two-part conclusion is stark - Though by design I realise, a reflection of Picard's arc in the season. But there is also a great deal of satisfaction in how the series wraps up too: Picard has built himself a wonderful new crew of people who have been through a lot, and in many cases resolved the past horrors that brought them together. Rios and Raffi are able to heal. Jurati is rescued from Oh's influence. Picard has literally a new lease of life, and there is enormous potential in seeing where they could take Soji and Picard now they have new lives ahead of them. It's exciting to see where Picard will go next.

Aside from the movie-format thing, another of the contentions of those involved in making that series that has stuck in my mind, is that they were adamant Picard is not a TNG sequel. Stylistically this is certainly true, in format and feeling this is something entirely new. But the subjects and themes are deeply routed in TNG: The nature of the Borg (given a chance at some sort of individual redemption here), making so much more of the Romulans, the value of artificial life (seen often but not exclusively though Data), even the failing of the Federation to look after those in need (see Maquis and several colonies of the week), and of course most critically a critique of Picard's place as a leader - He is able to re-earn his position of influence and respect in this new series, but we are allowed to see that even our heroes can fail, can be hubristic, can let people down; important lessons in our society of influencers and political demagogues. Picard is absolutely a TNG sequel, just in a way we've never been treated to before, and a welcome fresh exploration of so many aspects of that great series.


The Production

As I alluded to above, one of the great successes of the series is the music(ad). It is a delight, often haunting, and with delicate intimate textures unusual for Star Trek. The title music exemplifies this. I'm also fond the use of Blue Skies(ad) to open and close the series; I'm sure like many, Data's performance of the song in Nemesis has stuck with me ever since, and seeing that absorbed into the story, and the beautiful performance of it by Isa Briones, is immensely satisfying. 

I'm also most impressed by the production design in this series, most especially the clever and subtle reimaging of the Borg Cube. Inside the walls are alive even, a nice and logical twist on what the Borg are. The sets are delightfully clever in their modular use of the cube form. Outside, the large force field areas give the The Artifact a beautiful distinctiveness, and I love the new interpretation of Borg drones regenerating the hull. But this is also a design deeply routed in previous Borg appearances, from the mysterious large pool seen in the interior taken from the very earliest Borg interior matte paintings, to the subtle replication of angles and detailing from the First Contact cube, there is great reverence here. This extends to the Borg themselves too, the whole concept of the XBs is a delight; rightfully portraying the former drones as victims, not evil or canon fodder (though alas so many are lost). Hugh in particular, with his scars perfectly reflecting where his original implants were, is a beautiful bit of design continuity.

I have a soft spot for the La Sirena as well; it's vibrant red hull giving us a refreshingly different hero ship, and the interior equally unfamiliar in form, and exciting for the camera to navigate.


Children of Mars

In addition to Picard, the bluray release includes the Short Treks episode Children of Mars, which was left off of the Short Treks bluray set(ad) in favour of attaching it here, where it belongs as a prequel to Picard. This short film gives some emotional gravitas to the attack on Mars, showing the impact on those who lost people. But only at the conclusion; for the most part this is a school drama about the travails of two school girls, and presented almost as a silent movie, with a version of the song Heroes playing over it it. It's beautiful and haunting and makes me yearn for there to me many more Short Treks episodes to continue deliver distinct and poignant productions like this. 

If you don't care to explore the other behind the scenes extra features, do at least make sure you dig this out of the menus; you won't regret it.


Extra Features

There's a good selection of extra features included with the set, including several featurettes looking at particular aspects of the series. Some of those at fairly standard fare of actors and crew discussing general concepts in the series: Make It So looks at the genesis of the series, and The Motely Crew the casting. Three films look much more in depth at details of the production and those I found very enjoyable. Those are:

Aliens Alive: The XBs, which gives us a really good look at the make-up and prosthetics of the former Borg characters. This includes a segment with designer Neville Page, who is very thoughtful and always engaging to listen to, discussing how they approached the challenge. While another segment lets us join Jeri Ryan and make up artist James MacKinnon as she is being transformed into Seven; which is an enjoyably casual and very real feeling look at the process - It's obviously not in real time, but you kind of feel like you're there hanging out in the makeup trailer with them. This film is a great exploration of the Borg, but being solely focused on them, makes me a little sad we don't get similar time to look at the Romulans, the Synths, or any of the other aliens in the series.

Picard Props has props master Jeffrey Lombardi introduce us to many of the props in the show. Like the Borg film I appreciated this didn't feel rushed, and let us get a real understanding of the items he chose to show. Highlights include a really good exploration of the Romulan pixmit tarrot cards, and the related zhamaq board game (which I want a real version of please CBS), and the process of creating the gollum prop.

Set Me Up takes a similar approach, with production designer Todd Cherniawsky taking us on a tour of some of the sets, including explaining how they created the La Sirena's single continuous set (and planetscape outside when it was landed), the modular Borg Cube, and Picard's study, including the grey Data-verse version.

In addition to these longer features, there's a series of Episode Logs, one for each episode, which with cast and crew explore various aspect of each episode. I found these hit and miss in terms oh how engaging I found them, but the ones that I really did enjoy typically spent more time with the writers discussing what they had in mind for each episode. 

My favourite two both have good segments with showrunner and writer Michael Chabon, who has a delightfully excited personal video log when filming at Vasquez Rocks for The End is the Beginning, where he talks at length about the Gorn. Then in The Impossible Box film he talks about how they explored and expanded on the culture of the Romulans in the series. The episode's writer, Nick Zayas, also features prominently in that Log, discussing various Romulany things featured in the episode.

The final substantive piece of content is a video commentary for the first episode, Remembrance, with all the show's creators, Alex Kurtzman, Kirsten Beyer, Akiva Goldsman, and Michael Chabon, plus director Hanelle M. Culpepper. I don't think the video aspect adds much other than being able to readily tell who is talking, but it's an engaging and lively discussion on many different aspects of the episode and the series in general. They hint at the original pitch to Patrick Stewart being very different to what was finally produced; I'd love to learn more about how the series evolved.

There's also an audio commentary for the Short Treks episode Children of Mars, with writers Alex Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet, and Kirsten Beyer.

I would have really valued more commentaries I think for such an introspective series there would have been a lot for the writers to discuss; in particular I would be very glad to listen to Michael Chabon expand upon on his ideas for the series and his love of Trek for hours! With such a talented and captivating cast they'd no doubt be fun to hear discuss their roles too. More on the next set please CBS!

Other extra features include a selection of deleted scenes. Nothing really exciting is presented alas. There's a nice moment with Picard telling off his workers for being racist, in French! Perhaps most notable is that several feature Ramdha, suggesting she was going to have a more substantive role than she got in the end.

There's also a gag real. Which is funny. So thumbs up for that!


Conclusion

This series is great to binge and if you've not watched it that way yet I highly recommend it. I suggest splitting it into episodes 1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-10, if all in one go is a bit much for you. 

Watching on bluray is a noticeable improvement on streaming it. I have pretty reliable and pretty fast internet, but the odd streaming glitch from momentary drops in resolution is annoying, and completely avoided by having physical media. Plus you don't have to be subscribed to anything and you've got it in your library for all time should streaming one day revoke Picard from us. So a worthwhile investment!

The extra features are enjoyable, particularly the more leisurely behind the scenes films that really let us get to know different aspects of the production. I just wish there was more of that; more on make-up/aliens, something on costume, something on music, designing the opening titles, starships in the series, etc. Plus more commentaries would be very welcome. While there's lot more there could have been though, what we are given is decent stuff.


For more details of the extra features see my previous report with the full listing. If you'd like to pick up a copy, support The Trek Collective via any of these retailers: Amazon(ad), Zavii(ad)Ebay(ad)

For more on Picard in general, have a look back through my Picard tag, for coverage of the episodes, behind the scenes, and tie-in fiction, and other products.



1 comment:

Dutch Trekkie said...

Well said! Love the series too!