Respectful Insolence

40 years of Star Trek

Continuing on the nerd/geek theme, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that today is the 40th anniversary of the debut of the original Star Trek series. Forty years, hundreds of TV episodes and books, and several movies later, the franchise is completely ingrained in American culture, so much so that catch phrases like “Beam me up!” are recognized by pretty much everyone.

One thing I’m not so sure I’m all that enthusiastic about is the CBS Paramount project to remaster all of the original 79 episodes, replacing many of the special effects with state-of-the art digital recreations of the space scenes and adding all new music. Come on, guys! This is Star Trek. Don’t you think it’ll be just a bit anomalous to go, for example, from one scene of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy on a planet where it’s painfully obvious that the “rocks” are made out of styrofoam and that the background scenery is nothing but a matte painting to another scene of exquisitely-rendered CGI special effects duplicating an original scene of, say, the Enterprise battling a Klingon warship? It’ll just too incongruous. It’ll be even worse than the digital mayhem to which George Lucas subjected the original Star Wars movies, because at least the baseline special effects in the Star Wars movies were much better than the ones in the old Star Trek episodes. (Even so, the new Star Wars effects were jarring in some cases.) You might as well take the old Doctor Who episodes from 30 or 40 years ago with the rubber monsters and plywood sets and give them a CGI makeover. It just won’t look right. And if the producers are, as they claim, going to try to duplicate the “original look and feel” of the series, then why bother to do this at all? Why not just use the technology to clean up the existing original prints as much as possible and to enhance the sound as much as feasible? Oh, wait. They already did that and released the episodes as DVDs. The only real thing that I could see being done to the episodes that might improve them would be to remaster them in HD at some point. Besides, the cheesy special effects are part of the show’s charm, and fans know that the producers did the best that they could with the sets and special effects, given the budget and the technology they had 40 years ago. “Updating” the show to match 21st century standards just seems a bit pointless to me.

Of course, it’s clear that the main reason for this makeover, is to try to milk just a little more money (actually, a lot more money) out of Paramount’s cash cow, now that we’ve just seen the first TV season without new episodes of any Star Trek series. Worse, it wouldn’t surprise me if these “new” versions eventually supplant the old and the originals become unavailable over the next several years. Already, the DVD collections of the original three seasons are rapidly falling in price. They cost less than half of what they cost just a year or two ago, when I bought them over the course of a few months. You can now get each season from Amazon.com for around $40-45, each, less than $2 per episode (which is a total bargain that you should snap up if you’re a fan).

Oh, well. In any case, to all my readers, I say, “Live long and prosper.”

Oh, and buy the DVDs of the original series, while you still can.

Comments

  1. #1 Shelley Batts
    September 8, 2006

    Meh. I picked up the box set of all the old episodes for $15 in China. Granted, it *was* out of some guy’s duffell bag in Shanghai, but they work.

  2. #2 usagi
    September 8, 2006

    The only appropriate response is: Sacrilege!
    (Well, perhaps “stupid” as well, but these are movie studios looking to squeeze out the last bit of money from something, so that’s a bit redundant.)

    Let the Oracle punish them! Reboot M5 to wipe out the offending hard drives! Inform the Metrons and have those responsible transported to a barren planet with the raw materials to construct photographic effects!

  3. #3 Joe Shelby
    September 8, 2006

    actually the rumor that they’re doing Harve Bennett’s idea of “young kirk, young spock” (a pitch he made before the final Star Trek IV script was approved) is even stupider than the idea of redoing TOS’s effects with CGI.

  4. #4 Stogoe
    September 8, 2006

    Even stupider than Young Kirk, Young Spock is a rumor I heard of them ‘youngening up’ Shatner and Nimoy (in the manner they did to McKellan and Stewart in the popcorny X3) for the next Trek movie.

  5. #5 decrepitoldfool
    September 8, 2006

    Not having travelled to Shanhai, I just got the whole set from Amazon for $145. As Spock said to McCoy after losing his eyesight in the treatment that removed the neuro-parasite from his back, “a fair, exchange, Doctor”

  6. #6 Orac
    September 8, 2006

    Let the Oracle punish them! Reboot M5 to wipe out the offending hard drives! Inform the Metrons and have those responsible transported to a barren planet with the raw materials to construct photographic effects!

    I have a better idea: Sic Nomad on them.

  7. #7 Katie
    September 8, 2006

    Being a Star Trek fan myself, I agree that to remaster the original series would so wrong. Part of the charm I find with the original series IS the old special effects! It takes me back to my childhood when I used to watch the Original series with my dad growing up. I don’t see how remastering would be an “improvement” in that regard!

  8. #8 usagi
    September 8, 2006

    Orac,

    I have a better idea: Sic Nomad on them.

    First of all, don’t be silly; Kirk destroyed Nomad, so he’s unavailable. Second of all, having only hit 51% on my nerd test, I felt the need to avoid an obvious choice like that and demonstrate a little bit of depth to my TOS knowledge.

    If they’re serious about wanting to revive the series (at any point in the continuity), I’ve said for years, send Peter David to a tropical island and a nice, large check and tell him to come back with a show bible, arcs for the individual seasons and the series run, the key 1st season scripts, and a list of serious SF writers to parcel the rest of the pieces out to. All kidding aside about the charms of TOS, it’s a classic because some of the best writers of the period worked on it.

    Apropos the special effects, funny thing about Episode II… Apart from the considerations about how awful the writing and the acting were in the Star Wars prequels, I finally realized what bugged me about Attack of the Clones was that it didn’t look like a Star Wars movie. The effects were too clean. Then I saw it in IMAX format and there were a few scenes where the blend lines were visible. Suddenly, it looked like Star Wars again. Coupled with the physical limitation IMAX platters have that prevents a film running more than 2 hours so it was a much tighter edit, it was a far better film.

  9. #9 GerryL
    September 9, 2006

    Was the first episode the one with Robert Walker Jr as the guest star? Or is that just the earliest one I remember because I liked watching his dad in old movies?

    I recall watching the show early on because my OLDER brother, who turns 60 in a couple of months, was into science fiction and was all excited about seeing it. Does that make me nerdy … or just old?

  10. #10 EoR
    September 9, 2006

    re: Dr Who. Actually, a number of the DVD releases of old episodes have special new CGI effects to replace the wobbly string held balsa and plastic traditional BBC effects. Though, to be fair, you can still choose to view the original effects and ignore the incongruous additions.

  11. #11 Pharma Market Researcher
    September 9, 2006

    Yhe only idea possibly more stupid than this would be to Jazz up the old Adam West Batman’s with CGI and better effects….

    Me?

    I LOVE rubber sharks and tilting the camera sideways for a wall climb!!!!!

  12. #12 Orac
    September 9, 2006

    Actually, a number of the DVD releases of old episodes have special new CGI effects to replace the wobbly string held balsa and plastic traditional BBC effects.

    You wouldn’t happen to know any of the releases that do this, would you? I happen to have several old Tom Baker Doctor Who DVDs plus a couple of Peter Davison releases, and I didn’t see any option like that anywhere on the DVD menu.

  13. #13 Kim
    September 10, 2006

    I read this with horror. The charm of the original series is in the simple effects. The characters were so much in the forefront, without special effects to take the focus off of them.

    But…you better darn well believe I’m gonna scoop up those DVDs as fast as I can get my butt into warp-speed and the tribbles out of my wallet. I thought they were horrendously expensive before but at this new price!

  14. #14 Jeff Knapp
    September 10, 2006

    So call me a heretic. I am actually redoing the effects for “The Doomsday Machine” as a weekend project. To me, this episode, more than just about any other, screams for a redo of the effects.

    And, yes, you can do a pretty good job of matching the “feel” of the original show by matching the lighting and camera work style, faithfully recreating the original Enterprise model (no embellishments), and the careful application of certain post-process effects to match the film grain and softness of the original footage.

    I, for one, would actually like to see the original shows with new effects done in HD so long as they are done carefully with attention paid to detail and kept faithful to the “look and fell” of the original.

    So, call me a heretic.

  15. #15 Orac
    September 10, 2006

    OK.

    Heretic!

  16. #16 Lance Harting
    September 11, 2006

    The schlockiness of the (not so) special effects is part of the charm of watching those old shows. They are the perfect backdrop to Shatner’s hammy over-the-top acting.

    My favorite is when they close up to the control panel in front of Sulu and you see analog digit counters rolling up the wharp speed numbers. You can see a little jerkiness as the cheap paper reels catch and stick.

    Some of the props were pretty sophisticated for the day. I wish I could program my flip cell phone to make that “phhh-shick-shick” sound that the communicators made when they were opened.

    My wife never gets tired of me flipping it open and saying “Two to beam up Scotty.”

  17. #17 Phil
    September 12, 2006

    For “Doctor Who” it’s only a few stories from the 1980s where primitive digital effects are replaced with better digital effects. A particular example I’m aware of is “Revelation of the Daleks”.

  18. #18 Hiatas
    September 12, 2006

    If the producers are serious about staying loyal to the series, then perhaps the CGI starships will be rendered to look like clumsily photographed models with heavy matte lines.

    As a CGI hobbyist, I’ve wanted to redo the effects for an episode for some time as a project – I’ve been impressed by the “retro” episodes done for DS9 and Enterprise. But redoing the entire series? No. What’s the point, from an aesthetic perspective? Heck, some of the shows don’t even have that many effects, which makes me wonder how they’ll snazz up Return of the Archons, Bread and Circuses and the like.

    Personally, I think the future of the series is best left in the hands of the fans at this point – we know what we like about TOS, and it ain’t the prospect of pimped-out effects. Heck, just look at what some of the fan films are doing, particularly Starship Exeter. Despite the plethora of modern technology to beautifully render and seamlessly integrate special effects into even low-budget productions, these folks are striving to recreate the look of the original series in nearly every aspect.

    Er – a bit of a caveat: if you go look up the link, it’s the second episode, “The Tressaurian Intersection” you want to watch to see what I’m talking about. The first episode is more of a learning exercise, and is not worth the time.

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