Sunday, March 18, 2007

Star Trek Remastered

Remastering Star Trek: TOS FX

To commemorate the 40th anniversary, the folks at CBS Studios have been commissioning re-mastered editions of all 79 episodes of the original Star Trek series plus the pilot.

Back sometime last year this all came to my attention when searching for a title of a movie I saw on the Sci-Fi channel, when I saw an article called "Trek Opening Will Be Fixed". Of course I was intrigued as I didn't know it needed "fixing". After reading the article, my reaction was mixed, but after reading more about it I think that the potential behind what it will do for the show is fantastic.


The only downside of course to some detractors is the "Lucas" factor. If not for him, digital "updates" would most likely not have the reputation they have now. Silly updates that add nothing to the story such as Jabba's inclusion into Star Wars was completely redundant as everything gathered from the scene is either implied elsewhere or has no flavor such as poor replacements to the Cantina, but I digress. George Lucas has tarnished the potential of this tool. But, while there are the Star Wars "special edition” films in one hand, there are a few notable exceptions that illustrate how such a device can be used effectively.

Off the top of my head, classic Doctor Who and Star Trek: The Motion Picture were the ones to get the digital "modifications" right. Star Trek's first film was always looked on as a black sheep, painted as too "cerebral". While the film doesn't really fix the problems with the plot, it certainly packs a far greater punch because of director Robert Wise's (yes, the guy who brought you West Side Story) editing of superfluous shots that added nothing to the film and the re-integration of new effects into the film, as per the original shooting script. It doesn't make the film great, but it certainly makes the film much easier to watch. Doctor Who was a low budget television show that had budget that made even Star Trek's look massive. On recent DVD releases, there have been a number of CGI replacement shots that integrate new effects into the episodes. The shots replace things such as a floating space station that clearly has a string attached on the top. Those new effects are optional on the DVD.

The changes that have been made:

* Space ship exteriors - The Enterprise, as well as other starships, will be replaced with state of the art CGI-created ships. The new computer-generated Enterprise is based on the exact measurements of the original model, which now rests in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
* Show opening - The Enterprise and planets seen in the main title sequence will be redone, giving them depth and dimension.
* Galaxy shots - All the graphics of the galaxy will be redone.
* Exteriors - The battle scenes, planets and ships from other cultures (notably the Romulan Bird of Prey and Klingon Battle Cruisers) will be updated.
* Background scenes - Some of the flat, matte paintings used as backdrops for the worlds will get a CGI face-lift, adding atmosphere and lighting.

Frankly since I was a little kid, I was still a bit disappointed by some of these things, most notably, the boring one color atmospheres that existed on all the planets that didn't look like either a studio or one of the old back-lots (aging 50s western sets). Another issue I had was when they would show the Enterprise orbiting a atomic Green and Yellow planet, and when they show the surface, it would look like Earth. I'm sorry, but a planet wouldn't look like that in orbit and then look like Southern California on the surface.

Some find old effects "quaint", I don't. Not to say that I don't think that we should "update" everything out there or we get into the old Ted Turner "I want to colorize every b/w film" phase of the late 80s and early 90s. The inclusion of new graphics doesn't automatically mean "Greedo shoots first". As an option, I say, why not?

Many episodes later, I can safely say that so far the experiment has been a success. When “Amok Time” aired, they actually made Vulcan look like Vulcan in the establishing shots. Spaceship effects that they originally had to skimp on look as real as possible, and are certainly more real than the original effect.

The episodes are being aired on local channels at various times depending on the station. Check your local listings. The DVD of the first season should be out by the end of the year.

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