This year will mark the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Not only was it the keystone of many, many years of new Trek (and renewed interest in TV sci-fi in general) on television, the series and its success in many ways re-defined our expectations of TV. When the series premiered in 1987, few believed that a costly non-network show could be popular. Each episode cost upwards of a million dollars, and you could see it on the screen with the many dazzling special effects that brought the future to life every week.
One way they cut costs was to shoot on 35mm film, but do their editing entirely on video. Special composited effects (adding phaser blasts, or putting visuals into the big viewscreen on the bridge set) were also realized using video techniques. Those video sourced effects were all locked in at SD quality, and with all of the editing also having been done at SD, I often wondered how they would re-release the series into an HD world.
A few years ago when Paramount "re-mastered" the original 60's series, their job was somewhat easier since all the material had been shot on film, edited on film, and special effects composited on film. The original 60's workflow was at a full 4K quality, so it was just a matter of digitizing those original master film prints. Paramount took the extra step of re-creating the shots of the Enterprise and updating some of the ropey effects they felt could use some polish, but the bulk of what we saw was just a direct copy off the original broadcast master reels.
So for the re-release of TNG, Paramount has to go back to the original camera negatives to digitize the footage, then re-edit every episode to create a new HD broadcast master. It's not an easy job, but it's made easier thanks to extensive records of takes that made it into final edits, and various other paperwork from the original production. The model shots were also shot on film, so those can be retained as-is. The only material that will need to be remanufactured are the composited elements I mentioned above, which today you could probably accomplish on your smartphone. Those scenes are thankfully not going to be upconverted from the original SD masters.
The visuals that once dazzled us in the 80's, will dazzle us again now. The first season's belabored plots and wooden acting that befuddled us then, will baffle us now. I'm teasing, of course. The show quickly found its footing, and became a modern TV classic. You can order a preview disc for $24.99 $14.99 (when you use the link below!) with the pilot film "Encounter At Farpoint", and two other favorite episodes, with the rest of season one to follow in 2012.
One note - if you poke around the message boards buzzing with this news (which I'm really, really not recommending), there is some misinformation going around about the release of this show in 16:9. While it's correct that the show was shot on 35mm film, the 35mm film frame is a more-or-less square aspect ratio (just like a roll of still photo film you've seen before). When movies are shot for a widescreen presentation using 35mm, they're using a special anamorphic lens, or possibly cropping the 35mm film frame - neither of which was in the plan for TNG. Any attempt to present TNG in a widescreen format would mean chopping off existing parts of the picture, and reframing every single shot. When you see the full frame 4:3 image of a TNG episode, you're seeing exactly what the director of photography wanted you to see. A 16:9 matte would mean seeing less of the picture.. not more.
Pre-order "Encounter at Farpoint" +2 more eps in HD for only $15!