Monday, February 29, 2016

Ask JKM a Question: Star Trek Re-mastering?

A reader named Jason writes:

"I noticed in your Star Trek reviews this year that you haven't been using images from the digital re-mastering. Is that an oversight, or was it intentional?  

Do you dislike the remastering of the series  for some reason?"

Jason, that's a great question, and a point worth writing about. 

It is true that I have, in my 50th anniversary Star Trek blogging, been seeking out title cards and original special effects shots, prior to the 2005 digital re-mastering.

I suppose that I made this choice because I want to honor the original presentation of Star Trek, which existed from 1966-2005, something like 39 years. 

Those special effects held up remarkably well. for a long, long time.  And then they stopped holding up.

I wanted to feature, for lack of a better description, the Star Trek that I grew up with. That's my reason for featuring shots from the original series, pre-2005.

Now, I like the re-mastering quite a bit. In virtually every way, the new fx have improved the series, giving the episodes a greater sense of scope, and smoothing out inconsistencies in visualizations. 

For example, Tantalus in "Dagger of the Mind" is now no longer the lithium cracking station from "Where No Man Has Gone Before." It's a new design, and one that seems more appropriate for an underground, isolated penal colony.

Now, when we're supposed to see a Klingon ship, for example, we get a Klingon ship, instead of a glowing light ("Friday's Child.")

And an effects-heavy episode, like "The Doomsday Machine" is all the more effective now with improved special effects (and the subtracting of an AMT model kit from the final cut...).

So, actually, I wholeheartedly endorse the digital re-mastering of Star Trek. I believe the new effects grant the series fresh life, especially for younger and new fans. Even on a basic level, the effects are improvements. The planets encountered by the Enterprise look more like we know planets should look.

By the same token, I suppose I see the remastering as an additional "chapter" to the legend, not the original chapter.  

Like I said, I grew up with a whole different set of effects and visuals. Even though many of those effects and visuals have aged substantially, the original artists worked long and hard to create them under difficult conditions.  They had to produce complex effects, and produce them on a deadline.

Their work shouldn't be entirely erased from history, I feel.

So by featuring "original" Trek, I'm not trying to diss the digital remastering. In fact, I will readily acknowledge that the digital remastering is superior in so many ways.

And yet, I grew up with analog Star Trek, and wanted, for this 50th anniversary, go back to that beginning, in terms of the images I choose. Perhaps I should offer, where it is warranted, side-by-side comparisons?

Don't forget to ask me your questions at


  1. I don't like the new effects; they pop me out of the experience since they look too CG, like a computer game. And they certainly do not make the show a better one.

    I'll take the beauty pass stuff of the 11 foot Enterprise, especially, over the replacements. Gorgeous shots, those are.

    But... I have no problem with the new fx for those who would rather watch the series with those.

    I treated the subject here...

  2. John,

    I love the original Star Trek effects having been a boy when I first saw them in the '70s. Although, I equally love then new CG because they all correct or improve on the originals. I think both versions should always be available on dvd/blu-ray. I think you should always post side-by-side comparisons on Star Trek episode reviews since both versions exist. CG on TOS was done well.


  3. John,

    The new effects are hit-and-miss for me. In some instances, they can be breathtaking. I particularly admire the opening shot of the Enterprise in "The Conscience of the King," which seems to match the music rather well and gives a real sense of scale to the episode. On the other had, while watching some episodes such as "Elaan of Troyus," I had to switch back to the original effects because the animation on the ships was borderline watching a child manipulate a toy model of the Klingon ship.

    I realize that they were trying to keep Trek relevant for younger viewers, and the new effects really pop in HD. It's nice to have the option of switching back and forth on blu ray. Had that choice not been offered, I would have stuck with my dvd's.

    Barry, I really enjoy your insights and bookmarked your blog.

    Live Long and Prosper!


  4. Thank you, Steve. Much appreciated.

    You are right about "Elaan of Troyius"; while I have not seen the new fx for that episode, the originals are so exiting and dynamic. Fred Steiner's magnificent, and thrilling, music makes the battle sequences something else. (I have seen sample sections of "The Doomsday Machine" and the redone effects are ridiculous: The Enterprise goes riight [sic] up to the berserker just to make sure it doesn't miss. Did I say "ridiculous"?)

  5. Anonymous1:29 PM

    Like many fans, I was sceptical when CBS first announced it was replacing the space effects scenes with CGI. Fortunately, the original designs were used. The Enterprise and Galileo look like they should, not like something out of Battlestar Galactica. In HD, the original space scenes are so grainy, at times. it is overly distracting. One original model shot is still amazing sharp: the Galileo in the launch bay with the launch doors closed. No optical effects were needed for that...the same reason that Space:1999's original in-camera effects are so sharp.

    The new CGI also appeal to younger viewers. Unfortunately, my daughters think original Star Trek is "the worst show ever" because it's so dated and "tacky" (clothes and props). I try to tell them that the show was state of the art back in the 60's. Today's kids with smart phones consider Trek's computers (clunky boxes with flashing lights) to be ridiculous. Tech dates a show fast, but fifty years later, Star trek looks better than the Flash Gordon serials looked in the 80's.

  6. I'm with you John on the visual effects. I think they did a fine job with them for the most part and that they actually expand the look and feel of the show, giving it a bit more depth visually. I'm sure if the creators had the budget and the technology we'd get something very similar to what we see here.

    But I also grew up with the original versions on TV. Whenever I watch the show I'm taken right back to watching the episodes with my grandma (a huge Shatner fan) and thrilling to the adventures of the crew. So the nostalgia is twice as potent with your screen captures of the original effects.

    1. You are right; television programs we watched as youths have a strong sentimental trigger when we watch them as nostalgia. Most, however, once we get past the nostalgic wave, we realize are best left as memories.

      One clarification on budgets. It is an area which invites a lot of myth. Star Trek had a large budget for television; most one-hour drama shows at the time were made for between $150,000 and $160,000. (Which is why Paramount, after acquiring Desilu, wanted to kill Trek.) A "space travel" SF show at that time, obviously, required more money since just about everything had to be manufactured. Also, Trek utilized "photographic" or "photochemical" FX and mattes; just like their feature film cousins. Doing blue-screen work was very expensive, which is why most SF series did not use them on a regular basis... if at all. Now, as everyone knows, television SF and fantasy programs do everything electronically. A like show today contracts a digital house for a package rate, which means... episode FX work is done relatively cheaply, certainly compared to the old photo-effects techniques, and, a producer can render anything his/her heart desires. I should mention that "series budgets" today are much lower than what those favourite television programs of our youth had to work with: "ad revenues" are a fraction of what they used to be. In the mid-sixties a one-hour series' season run was about 32 episodes.

      Sorry, it's the researcher in me.

      But, in essence, you are right when you say, "I'm sure if the creators had the budget and the technology we'd get something very similar to what we see here."