When CBS first announced in September of last year that they were planning a full high-definition remastering of the iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation, the news was met with rapturous applause from the fans of the show. Like so many others who love TNG, I was astounded that such a project had been green-lit given the huge investment and effort necessary to make it possible. However with the show off the air for almost 20 years, it was clear that for such a project to succeed and be commercially viable, it needed the full support of the fan community. From that point forward I set out to cover the project in as much detail as possible and now – 10 months later – the wait is over! In just a few days, Season 1 will officially hit stores world-wide as Star Trek: The Next Generation enters the new frontier of high definition. Many thanks to CBS for providing TrekCore with an advanced copy of the set so we can bring you our full review and analysis.
Remastering a Science Fiction Classic
As most people will be aware by now, TNG was originally shot on 35mm film but edited on standard definition videotape. As someone who has seen every episode a dozen times, my eyes have adjusted to the flat, washed out appearance of the original SD cut presented on TV and then DVD when the show was released back in 2002. Early on, it was clear to CBS that a simple upscaling of this SD material wouldn’t be acceptable for a new blu-ray release, so they made themomentous decision to re-cut the original filmed negative, in essence producing a brand-new version of the series. At the same time, the team at CBS were adamant that the content of the show should not be changed. The marching orders were very different to those used in the remastering project for classic Star Trek a few years earlier.
In covering this project since its inception last year, I’ve been energized to a point whereby it feels like the show is new again. Both Mike & Denise Okuda have done a wonderful job of trying to convey the enormity of this project to the fans, but I’m sure I echo their sentiments when I say that no amount of publicity, press releases, screencaps or trailers can possibly do the end product justice – it is simply something that must be SEEN to be believed.
From SD to HD
I don’t want to focus too much of this review on the contents of the season itself – the average visitor to TrekCore already has at the least a passing familiarity with the episodes. From fan favorites such as “Datalore”, “11001001”, “Conspiracy”, “The Last Outpost” and “Skin of Evil” to the episodes that fans now love to ridicule – “Code of Honor”, “Angel One” and “Justice” – this set boasts all 26 original season one episodes as you have NEVER seen them before. Even the clunkers are enjoyable to watch again in this release as you find yourself glued to the screen picking out all the new details that are coming through for the first time in 25 years. Yes, “Code of Honor” is dreadful – no one denies that – but I challenge you not to be amazed by the stunning new detail that comes out in the matte painting of the Ligonian Centerplace… or the infamously reused “Angel One” city-scape.
There was clearly a great desire to respect the original artistic decisions which went into the creation of the series back in 1987 – the remastering team have painstakingly recreated every episode so that it matches the original finished cut that fans have been watching all these years. Thankfully the team were able to locate virtually 100% of the original film that was shot for the first season. Out of a total of over 1,100 minutes of material the team were able to find everything except… 2 seconds. Yep, 2 seconds! This amazing feat was only possible due to the incredible diligence with which the original editorial team made their notes on the show’s production back in 1987. Thanks to these notes, film hunters Sarah Paul and Kiki Morris have done a marvellous job in tracking down all the elements needed.
Elements which were originally created in just videotape SD resolution (phasers, transporter effects, some planets) have been entirely recreated and look stunning in this set. Pixelated, blurry planets have been transformed into realistic creations whilst still respecting the original design ethic. Other elements such as the Crystalline Entity (which was originally created in CGI, the files of which have been long since lost) has been stunningly reimagined in HD using the latest CGI techniques. Everyone’s seen the stills of the entity posted to the internet, but let me tell you – it doesn’t come close to depicting how the new creation looks in motion. My jaw simply dropped upon seeing the entity in HD – it sparkles with a beautiful life never seen before.
Another key factor in this set which I could happily write about for pages is the new array of bonus content available. CBS have clearly gone out of their way to create the “definitive” edition of TNG here. The “Energized” documentary chronicles the work behind the remastering effort. It shows – for the first time – initial upconversion tests done (on scenes from “The Best of Both Worlds”). Man, am I glad they decided to rescan the negative – the upconversion looks awful in comparison. There is no contest. This documentary was probably my favorite as it really shows you the scope of the project. Reading transcriptions of the various soundbites about the remastering process is one thing, but seeing the team at work and the shear mountain they have to climb to pull this off is another! Watching talented artists like Max Gabl and lead compositor Eric Bruno is a surreal experience – seeing them recreate the show with such a loving attention to detail is a wonderful sight to behold. I couldn’t help but come away from this documentary feeling incredibly reassured that the show is in safe hands with Mike and Denise Okuda providing their invaluable consultation services, and that the whole team are trying their hardest to preserve TNG for future generations.
“Stardate Revisited” is a series of three documentaries covering the creation of the show. These films are unparalleled in their detail – almost no stone is left unturned. The documentaries present an extremely candid look at the birth of the show and include brand new interviews with key players including Rick Berman, David Gerrold, Andy Probert, Herman Zimmerman, Mike & Denise Okuda, Michael Westmore and all the main cast (including Denise Crosby). Archival interviews with Gene Roddenberry and Robert Justman also feature, alongside rare insights into the troubled casting process. Early contender for the role of Picard, actor Steven Macht, is interviewed – he seems a fine actor, although it’s somewhat difficult imagining him filling the role quite as Patrick did. It’s a joy hearing the cast and crew retelling anecdotes about the troubled inception of the show – everything is presented here from stories of a toupee for Patrick Stewart to a tri-breasted Troi to a rather funky haircut for Wil Wheaton in his first camera test.
The set also includes the much-talked about blooper real from the show which lasts a total of 8 minutes. Original trailers for all 26 episodes are included alongside several trailers shown before the show was released. Of course you also get all of the bonus material which was included on the original DVD release back in 2002.
For those fans who are sitting on the fence wondering if they should “double-dip” with this release, I have this to say: Even if you have seen each episode a hundred times, watching themremastered in high-definition is like watching them for the very first time. It’s as simple as that. I cannot recommend the set highly enough – if you see it on shelves, do not hesitate to pick it up. I can guarantee: you won’t be disappointed!
A brief after thought. The future of Star Trek in HD very much lays in the hands of us – the fans. CBS have been very clear that they will be guided by our appetite for this remastering. They will be observing early sales figures very closely, and their observations will have a large influence on the viability of not only the future of TNG-Remastered, but also Deep Space Nine and Voyager. They have invested an incredible amount of money and – indeed – faith in Star Trek TNG Remastered. It’s now over to us to show them that we appreciate it, we love it and we want more of it!
Whilst I could happily continue writing for much longer about this release, we all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will sign off and leave you with some exclusive new screencaps from Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1 Blu-Ray. Make it So!
– Adam Walker (Email: email@example.com)