Reviews: Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season One & Silent House

PHOTO INFORMATION
Courtesy of CBS DVD
Cutline: From left to right, LeVar Burton, Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn and Denise Crosby star in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The first season of the much-loved science-fiction series makes its Blu-ray debut this week.

By Forrest Hartman
Forrest@ForrestHartman.com

This week’s home video releases are anchored by the Blu-ray debut of a much-loved TV show and an English-language remake of an Uruguayan horror film.

Silent House
2 stars (out of four)
Rated R for disturbing violent content and terror
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Elizabeth Olsen – younger sister to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen – made a splash with her leading role in the indie drama “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” “Silent House” reinforces the fact that she can act, but it works better as an Olsen showcase than a legitimate thriller.

The project is an English-language adaptation of Gustavo Hernandez’s Uruguayan horror film “La Casa Muda,” and it suffers from multiple problems, the most important being that it’s not particularly suspenseful. Supposedly based on actual events, the film focuses on a young woman named Sarah (Olsen) who is helping her father, Joe (Adam Trese), and uncle, Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens), renovate their family vacation home.

Located in a remote area, the often-unoccupied house lacks electrical power, forcing Sarah, Joe and Peter to use candles, lanterns and generators to work inside… even during daylight hours. Because of this, the old building has a creepy atmosphere, and it gets even scarier when Sarah becomes convinced there’s someone else in the house.

One of the conceits of the film is that it was edited so the events play out in real-time, as one continuous shot. As interesting as this concept is, it doesn’t serve the story particularly well. In fact, a few traditional quick cuts might have added much-needed tension. What viewers get instead are heavy dose of shaky, handheld cinematography and lengthy sequences where the camera is squeezed tight on Olsen’s terrified, whimpering face. A little of this goes a long way.

Another major problem facing “Silent House” is that it’s built around a third-act twist that, presumably, is meant as a surprise. But co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau offer so many not-so-subtle clues, that a substantial number of viewers are likely to figure it out in the first act. It’s always a problem when audiences get ahead of a movie’s plot, but it’s disastrous when the film is a thriller.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include an audio commentary by Kentis and Lau.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season One
4 stars (out of four)
Unrated
Paramount
Available on: Blu-ray

It’s been 25 years since “Star Trek: The Next Generation” offered viewers a new vision of the starship Enterprise, but the show’s earliest episodes have aged well, and they look particularly grand in high-definition.

“The Next Generation” has been available on DVD for some time, but this release marks the show’s Blu-ray debut, and hardcore fans will appreciate the visual upgrade. According to Paramount, all the episodes were retransferred using original film elements, and some of the special effects were recreated to add clarity and depth. There’s no arguing with the result because each episode looks brand new, easily satisfying 21st century expectations. Only rarely does the show offer hints that it’s a classic, a tribute not only to Paramount’s outstanding technical work but to the writers and actors.

There have been a lot of science-fiction shows over the years – including three additional “Star Trek” spinoffs – but few have gained the acclaim and popularity of “The Next Generation.” The most obvious reasons are its memorable characters and outstanding plotting.

Bringing “The Next Generation” to the screen more than two decades after the original “Star Trek,” franchise creator Gene Roddenberry crafted a hopeful vision of the future that humanity would do well to use as a model. These first season episodes display a world where race and gender discrimination are things of the past and where animals are no longer raised and slaughtered for food. They also present a kinder view of the human race. Violence is used only as a last resort and scientific discovery and altruism are valued over profiteering.

Much of the show’s success is due to the cast. Patrick Stewart is outstanding as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the steadfast leader of the Enterprise; Jonathan Frakes is fun as the ship’s dashing (albeit cocky) first officer, William Riker; and Brent Spiner is a gas as the android officer Data. Other key players include Michael Dorn as the Klingon Worf, LeVar Burton as Geordi La Forge, Marina Sirtis as counselor Deanna Troi, Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar, Gates McFadden as doctor Beverly Crusher and Wil Wheaton as Ensign Wesley Crusher.

As with many great shows, “The Next Generation” picked up steam and improved as writers settled into their roles and cast members became better acquainted with their characters. Still, there’s nothing second tier about the 25 episodes presented on this outstanding Blu-ray set.

Along with the show itself, the seven-disc collection features a gag reel, archival mission logs, promos for each episode and featurettes on the origin of the series.

Footnote
2 stars
Rated PG for thematic elements, brief nudity, language and smoking
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

The Israeli drama “Footnote” earned a nomination for best foreign language film at the 2011 Academy Awards, but this is one case where the acclaim is more noteworthy than the movie itself. Although the film carries a fascinating premise, the pace is often painfully slow and the ending is a considerable letdown.

The story centers on Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba), an aging professor of Talmudic studies who is bitter because his son, Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), has overtaken him in the field. Their rivalry comes to a head when Eliezer is mistakenly notified that he will receive a prestigious national award that was actually meant for Uriel. When Uriel learns of the mistake, he must decide whether to make the error public or keep things under wraps so his father can bask in unearned glory.

The picture, written and directed by Joseph Cedar, has outstanding moments, many of which speak to the complexities of father-son relationships. Unfortunately, there are an equal number of dull, plodding sequences bogged down by discussions about research methods and other mind-numbing minutiae.

Equally frustrating is the fact that Eliezer is a world-class jerk. Cedar doesn’t allow viewers to form a particularly intimate bond with the man, but when he is on screen, he is either stoic or downright nasty. This considerably diminishes the impact of the difficult decision Uriel is forced to make.

The movie is presented in Hebrew with English subtitles and DVD and Blu-ray extras include two making-of features.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“The Deep Blue Sea”: Drama starring Rachel Weisz as a wealthy, post-World War II woman who endangers her upper-crust lifestyle by pursuing an affair with a former Royal Air Force pilot (Tom Hiddleston). Written and directed by Terence Davies (“The House of Mirth”).

“Boss” – Season One: First eight episodes of the Starz political drama about a Chicago mayor (Kelsey Grammer) determined to retain power despite being diagnosed with dementia. Grammer won a Golden Globe for his starring role.

“Treasure Island”: British TV adaptation of the adventure story by novelist Robert Louis Stevenson. Eddie Izzard, Elijah Wood and Donald Sutherland star. Directed by Steve Barron. The 183-minute drama made its U.S. debut several months ago on Syfy.

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”: Japanese drama about 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono and the two sons following in his footsteps. Directed by David Gelb.

“The Untouchables” – Season 4, Volumes 1 & 2: CBS DVD is releasing the final 30 episodes of this 1950s/’60s TV drama in two parts. The show focuses on federal agent Eliot Ness (Robert Stack) and his battle with organized crime figures in 1930s Chicago.

“Touched by an Angel” – The Fifth Season: Twenty-seven episodes of the 1990s and early 2000s TV show about angels who bring messages of inspiration to people in crisis. Roma Downey, Della Reese and John Dye star.

“Brake”: Thriller about a U.S. Secret Service agent (Stephen Dorff) who awakens to find that he’s being held captive by terrorists. Tom Berenger also stars. Produced and directed by Gabe Torres.

“Hey Arnold!” – Season 2, Part 2: Nine episodes of the long-running Nickelodeon cartoon series about a fourth grader making his way through life in a major city.

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com.

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