DeFlip Side #61: Star Trek Remastered

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Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

Let me just start out by saying I loved it; what I was able to see of it anyway. But more on that later. Suffice it to say, that if “Balance of Terror” is any indication of what’s to come, then the remastered re-release of the original Star Trek will be an unqualified success. The problem is, you might have a hard time catching it; you might not even have heard about it.

If that’s the case, then let me be the first to tell you that in honor of Star Trek’s 40th anniversary, Paramount and CBS are in the process of remastering the Original Series into High Definition, and replacing all those klunky 1960s special effects with modern, state of the art CGI. The revamped series is airing in general syndication, and the first remastered episode, “Balance of Terror,” debuted last week. And I couldn’t be happier.

That might strike some regular Destinies listeners as odd, since you know what a stickler I am for continuity, especially in the Star Trek universe. I’ve lambasted Voyager and Enterprise for flagrant and apparently willful breaches of Trek canon. So you’d think I’d be against any efforts to tamper with the Original Series, no matter the intent behind it. But I was psyched when I heard about this, for a variety of reasons.

Let’s face it; we don’t watch Star Trek for the effects, but in spite of them. They may have been cutting edge for their day, but that doesn’t make them any less lousy. And they just would have looked doubly lousy in High Def. The format demands sophisticated CGI effects; otherwise, what’s the point? Especially if everything else looks great?

Another plus is that the people behind the revamp are every bit as reverential of the source material as the hardcore fans. Dave Rossi, who oversaw the digital refit, calls it a passion project that comes along once in a lifetime. And everyone involved seems to realize that they’re treading on what amounts to hallowed ground. So a lot of thought is going into what gets changed and how, and, equally important, what is off limits.

For instance, they say aliens won’t be changed, except in a few rare cases to add a little sparkle, whatever that means. So it’s a good bet that we’ll still get the Gorn in all its rubber-suited, visible-zippered glory, and the Andorian in “Journey to Babel” will probably still be some poor character actor in Smurfy grease paint and a bad wig.

Also off limits: the static viewing monitors that surround the upper deck of the bridge. Yes, they would have been an easy fix; but according to technical consultant Mike Okuda, they became distracting when animated, to the point that they would draw viewers’ attention away from the story. So they were left alone.

But other anachronisms will be fixed: for example, computer text will replace the typewritten pages that Gary Mitchell is browsing through when reviewing the ship’s library in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” But this is all small stuff. The real changes are happening outside the ship. All of the exterior shots will be replaced with brand new, state of the art CGI.

Now this is laden with so much potential for disaster that you can’t help but be a little leery. Think of how George Lucas screwed up the original Star Wars trilogy. But once again the creative team behind the revamp is going through great pains to put these fears to rest. They’re not looking to re-imagine anything. They just want to recreate what exists and in throw in some new eye-candy where warranted. Here’s Dave Rossi from an interview on StarTrek.com:

“There’s three or four shots of the Enterprise orbiting a planet that exist in Star Trek, in the Original Series, and that’s it. We’re going to add a few more. We’re going to give you shots of the Enterprise, and angles of the Enterprise that you haven’t seen before, simply because they couldn’t do the types of camera moves that we can do today. Nothing we do will ever change the dialogue, or mess with the story concept. It’s just a matter of saying, wow, that’s a really pretty shot of the Enterprise. And those are the types of things we are trying to do.”

How cool is that? If contemporary Star Trek episodes like DS9’s “Trials and Tribbleations” and Enterprise’s “Through a Mirror Darkly” prove anything, it’s that the original old-school Constitution Class starship looks pretty damn good in modern CGI. And you have to chalk that up to the brilliance of Matt Jefferies, who created the Enterprise 40 years ago.

Gene Roddenbery had no definite ideas when it came to designing the ship; he only knew what he didn’t want: no wings, no fins, no shooting flames, and no rockets. As a result, Jefferies created a ship unlike anything ever seen before, and which has become a timeless American icon—a feat that’s doubly impressive when you consider how badly dated most original Star Trek appears today.

So the original Enterprise deserves the best, and modern CGI will give her her due. And we’ll be treated to revamps of other ships as well, like the Fesarus in “The Corbomite Maneuver” and the Romulan Warbird in “Balance of Terror.” Which brings me back to last weekend’s debut.

The most frustrating thing about Trek remastered is the lack of any kind of promotion to tell people that it even exists. The only way I found out about it was through the Internet, and it was a chore to figure out where and when it would be airing in the New York area. As it turns out, you can see it locally on WNBC (get ready for this) on Monday mornings sometime between 2:30 and 4:00 a.m.

Sorry I can’t give you a more precise time, because though NBC has it scheduled for 3:35 a.m., the debut of “Balance of Terror” came on much earlier. As a result, my DVR only got the last ten minutes of the episode. And in that few minutes there were only two shots of the new CGI Enterprise, which amounted to about four seconds combined: one of the saucer section from the top, and one of the ship firing phasers. Nothing of the Romulan Warbird. And, to pile on the insult, this is one of the few episodes that doesn’t end with an exterior shot of the ship; it’s just Kirk walking down the corridor, fade to black.

On the upside, the 35-millimeter transfer looks incredible. And consider this: if I’m gushing this much over four lousy seconds of CGI, then imagine what’s in store. It really is a shame that Paramount so thoroughly dropped the ball in getting the word out, and that the syndication, at least in our area, is so limited. Undoubtedly, Trek remastered will eventually get wider buzz, especially when it becomes available to cable outlets like G4 and Nick-at-Night, which specialize in repackaging and promoting reruns to make them seem exciting again. This time, they really will have something to crow about and I’m sure they won’t let the opportunity slip through their fingers.

But for now, we Trek fans who are in the know can quietly celebrate the 40th anniversary of our favorite program, foregoing flash and fanfare for a more intimate gathering, with an old friend who suddenly has many new things to offer.

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