At a time when Star Trek had been rerun so often that prints were dull, scratched and hazy, Paramount/CBS decided it was time to re-engineer the original series (TOS) by restoring the original master prints, increasing the picture quality and re-recording the background music. Then they made the decision to take a step futher and replace the aging special effects shots with digital CGI effects.
All this was driven by the arrival of High Definition DVDs in the consumer marketplace. A year ago (late 2007), there was all-out war between the two competing High-Def formats: HDDVD and Blu-Ray. Neither side seemed to appeal more than the other to the consumer. All that changed in February 2008 when Warner Bros. finally committed exclusively to supporting the Blu-ray format.
The weapon that HDDVD had up its sleeve, though, was the release of the remastered first series of the original Star Trek. Toshiba, who were investing heavily in HDDVD, put a sizeable amount of money into the remastering project and the release of the remastered Star Trek series was heavily promoted.
All the original series of Star Trek were recorded on film which is inherently a high-contrast, high-definition medium. It was also shot using filmatic techniques. Later series of Star Trek such as Voyager, Deep Space Nine and Next Generation were all recorded using video, an inherently low-to-medium definition, non-high-contrast medium. In addition, Star Trek: The Next Generation especially, was shot using a flat lighting that was fashionable at the time. What this means is that it’s not very likely that any of these series will ever make an appearance in high definition on Blu-Ray. I wouldn’t be surprised if Star Trek: The Original Series does make an appearance on Blu-Ray at some point in the future.
Impressions of Star Trek Remastered
To begin with, it looks gorgeous in high definition. The original 4:3 aspect ratio has been retained and the prints are exceptionally crisp and clean. Images have more punch due to the somewhat boosted contrast. If there is a downside, it is the common criticism levelled at high definition: you can see too much detail. For instance on the HDDVD you can see the zippers on the cast’s shirts.
The HDDVD release featured a Standard Definition version on one side (so it plays in a normal DVD player) and a High-Definition version on the other side. Both sides have a good set of extras with little material being repeated.
Now the rest of this review will look at the standard definition DVD releases of the remastered series.
A few months back, the first series of the Remastered Star Trek was made available in a standard DVD edition. in the meantime, series two has been released and TOS: Season Three will be available in November. For those who already have a copy of the previously released version of the series on DVD (without remastered special effects and music), is there a good reason to buy yet another edition of Trek?
Since i grew up watching the series, getting the HDDVD version was a must. I was more interested in image quality and the show looking as clean and pristine as it did straight out of the camera in the 1960s. I have to admit to being somewhat dubious about the new CGI replacing old ship and other special effects shots and whether they’d be intrusive. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The effects do make the show even better, giving it a more immersive quality and drawing you further into each episode.
All the effects shots were created inhouse by CBS (who now own the rights to the TV series). While, for the most part, they’ve done an outstanding job, some ship FX look plasticy rather than like hammered metal. The company that did the FX for Enterprise were originally considered to create the Star Trek FX but they turned out to be too expensive and so CBS did the FX inhouse instead.
What makes the Star Trek Remastered so enjoyable is that no liberties have been taken in altering or re-imagining the episodes (for better or worse). There’s no “look at what we can do” attitude here. Instead what they’ve done is clean the show up and presented it exactly as it was originally meant to be, musical note for note, shot for shot. The musical score has been re-recorded completely, but aside from the fact that it’s now crystal clear (and in 5.1 Dolby Digital) you’d never know it. FX shots of the Enterprise have been redone with CGI, but it’s hard to tell any difference (except on rare occassions), and it now looks brilliant instead of worn out, washed out and incredibly grainy. The new FX fit seamlessly amongst the original live-action footage. Remember those black matte lines, especially around ships orbiting planets? They’re gone. And Fuzzy images? They’re a thing of the past. The colors are brighter, the shadows are deeper and Star Trek has never looked as stunning.
Like I said previously, I was dubious about a version of Star Trek that replaced spacecraft models with computer generated images or tampered with the originally recorded background music. But what they’ve done here is so faithful, that there’s nothing that you can do but applaud their efforts. It’s obvious that the work has been carried out by people who love the series. It’s just a shame it’s not being put to better use. Paramount has decided not to air this new version in high-def, even though they now have the ability and technology to do it. Combine that with how difficult they’re making it to see it on cable and satellite, and I just don’t see any reason for bothering with it on television.
Better to beam this pristine version of one of TV’s most venerable and classic shows onto DVD at warp speed. And if you bought into HDDVD and don’t have the Remastered HDDVD, pick that one up instead. You won’t be disappointed.