Star Trek: Remastered
You probably have not have heard of a little series from the 1960's called Star Trek - think of it as "Wagon Train to the stars...". Oh get the hook, if you're on the Internet you know Star Trek. You know that its success came in the years of reruns since it's original network outing. It's spawned numerous television and cinema sequels, and has become the 900 pound gorilla of science fiction. All of this from an ambitious 40 year old TV program.
The new frontier today is HDTV, so the crew at CBS/Viacom have digitally scrubbed the old Trek to be ship-shape and bristol fashioned (I had to put in at least one actual military reference if we're going to sit here and pretend, okay?). When I heard news of this project, I was concerned that it would suddenly bear little resemblance to the Trek I knew. I could live with some sprucing, but if they were going to go crazy with the digital, I was gonna beam the hell out of Dodge.
The first pair of episodes were broadcast last weekend, and I have to admit that it was pretty thrilling. The only places I saw CG in play was with the recreation of original model shots (they took a lot of care to mimic the original speed and feel of those shots - including film grain!), and a little smoothing over of some on-screen special effects. They didn't change the story, dub in a lot of extra sound, nor did any of their tweaks change the heart of the show. It still felt like honest-to-goodness Trek.
In reading up on the restoration, I found that CBS/Viacom went back to the camera negatives - which looks incredible. Back then, every phase of the editing and special effects process printed in dirt and scratches that the average viewer doesn't normally notice, but once cleaned up it's like looking at a whole new world. Printing and reprinting the film throughout post-production shrinks and distorts the image, so this new restoration makes details clearer and bigger than ever (and you thought that Shatner's head couldn't swell any more...).
I felt like I was watching a Technicolor print. The image is pristine. Though it does come with it's problems. In the 1960's color TV was still novel, hence the splashes of crazy colored light all over the place. Back then those colors were a bit more pastel and muted, but the new digital restoration process gooses those colors into a garish mess at times. There is also way too much skin tone at play, especially in Billy boy. He looks WAY too tan, and disturbingly shiny. The restoration process may have emphasized levels of color that were never meant to be seen. There is such a thing as too much enhancement.
The biggest offense in the two episodes aired so far is the William Shatner Eye Light. I used to point this out to friends (as the effect used to be less pronounced). Often The Shat steps on his mark, and there's a perfectly masked-off light hitting just his eyes. I've heard accounts from the other actors on the series that Shatner insisted on these lights "for eyeshine", but really it's just another way to make sure the spotlight is always on you. In the restoration the eyelight is at a ridiculous level - like he's constantly stepping into the beam of a Krytpon Mag Lite. Or ten.
That aside, I do really enjoy the newly scrubbed show. It looks good, and I appreciate the care and discretion that Viacom's team have showed toward the old battlehorse. I also appreciate that this isn't only being offered as a DVD exclusive, or is only on cable TV. The show is on 200 regular stations that you can watch the good old way - for free (I'm watching it on the superlative MeTV channel 23 in Chicago). Overall, this is a great effort put into a show that really deserves it.
We may talk about the newly restored Trek in later posts here on Retro Thing, but if you can't wait I'll bet that there might be other web sites that discuss Star Trek. Oh, and one last thing... how many Star Trek script treatments do you think ended with, "and McCoy gets the last word..."?