When “Star Trek: The Original Series” came out on Blu-ray, it was a revelation. The high definition transfer revealed details of the sets and makeup that were never apparent before, and a ridiculously clear picture that was unfathomable for a ‘60s TV series. It’s a testament to what modern technology can do to illuminate the work buried under earlier formats.
“Star Trek: The Next Generation” isn’t quite as far back as “TOS,” but it is 25 years and syndication we’re dealing with. So when the announcement that the first “Star Trek” spinoff was coming to high definition, I was eager to see what new facets of the ‘80s production would become visible.
The Blu-ray improvement isn’t quite as dramatic as “The Original Series,” which was designed for 12” screens, but it is a vast improvement over DVDs and the old VHF signals from rabbit ear antennas.
The picture is sharp so you can see everything on a giant 54” HDTV. It never gets soft or fuzzy, so you’re able to see the picture that was recorded. The colors pop, from the Starfleet uniforms or yellow pipes in an engineering room, to the otherworldly light on alien planets and lights shining in deep black space.
Some details you get to notice include Worf’s forehead. Practical makeup always looks great in HD when you get to see the cracks and texture of the prosthetic. Also the Ferengi or any prosthetic alien, crusty old spaceships the crew investigates, cracks in the leather bridge chairs. These were all fuzzy on DVD or broadcast.
One technical deficit “Next Generation” has to “Original Series” is there is some digital noise flaring up. Many shots are totally clear in the high definition way I was describing above. Unfortunately, a lot of scenes on the bridge of the Enterprise are peppered with white spots.
Blu-ray aficionados are familiar with this. Sometimes in holding the picture together for 1080p, it creates a haze of white specs. It means they couldn’t create a 100% perfect picture, but you still get the sharpness, colors and detail of high definition with a few flaws. Oddly, the HD trailer doesn’t have those flaws in comparable shots. Only the actual episodes.
An extra feature called “Energized” takes you through the HD restoration process and answers a lot of my questions. They reassembled original film elements, because the show was edited on standard definition video. So seeing the side by side comparisons from standard to HD, it’s so drastic I’ll accept some digital noise to get all the rest of the details. Each shot required a unique set of techniques to reproduce an HD version of the same shot.
You can totally tell when they used CGI to recreate effects that couldn’t be restored. It looks great but I wonder if an upconvert might have been more authentic since it’s so obvious these are new shots. Consider them little treats on top of the original show. Also any shots of space and spaceships on the bridge viewscreen looks like a new CGI shot inserted into the original blue screen. If they’re just communicating with another person on the screen then it looks normal.
There’s an extensive section of new extra features. I don’t know if any of the information is new at this point, but it’s all here in one place. A three part documentary, Stardate Revisited: The Origin of Star Trek: The Next Generation begins with part one, “Inception.” This focuses on the development side, so it gives the writing staff and behind the scenes people more of a spotlight than they may have gotten on the first DVDs.
The principal cast speaks in Part Two: “Launch.” Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes share anecdotes with no reservation or aloof snobbery. They’re very engaging performers Everyone’s here: Brent Spiner, Marina Sirits, Gates McFadden, Michael Dorn, LeVar Burton, even Wil Wheaton and Denise Crosby.
The third part, “The Continuing Journey” is the most interesting. It’s about the special effects, which you’d think we’ve really heard everything about already, but it felt new to me. Every DIY trick they discovered on the job in the first season is interesting. We certainly haven’t seen the visual effects plates in HD before. Some of the behind the scenes video doesn’t hold up in HD, but a lot of it is totally clear. Also seeing the camera tests of the different carpets on the Enterprise bridge is interesting. Little details you take for granted, but we were looking at that floor every week.
I don’t remember ever hearing negative Gene Roddenberry stories before. They’re in respectful good taste, but brutally honest about how Roddenberry would rule the writers with an iron first. Patrick Stewart calls early scripts sexist! Juicy stuff.
The gag reel is fun too. It’s VHS quality, but it’s worth seeing. The old extras from the DVD sets are included too.