Welcome to Star Trek: TOS Remaster Report Card

I, like many other fans, was eagerly anticipating the arrival of Star Trek: Remastered (RM) long before the project was produced, much less proposed.  I suppose it was while watching one of the 80s Star Trek movies or viewing an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) when the question first formed in my mind: What if contemporary special effects were used to modernize the dated visuals in Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS)?  The idea percolated in the back of my brain for years until the Special Edition of the original Star Wars trilogy was released in 1997 (See: “Balance of Terror”).  With renewed enthusiasm over a possible Star Trek: Special Edition, I wrote an unpublished letter to the erstwhile Star Trek Communicator magazine in August 2002:

For the last several years, I’ve been fantasizing about a “Star Trek: The Special Edition,” which would put a modern face on the original series by updating the special effects, ships (battles), planets, aliens, etc. (a la Star Wars Special Edition) without changing the existing dialogue or acting (to keep the purists happy).  The goal would be to make the transition between Enterprise and The Next Generation more smooth, while introducing new viewers to the show as it should have been made, had it been made with today’s technology.  Most episodes wouldn’t need that many changes, but just imagine what “Balance of Terror” would look like with modern F/X.  Redo the lighting on the ship, the viewscreen and its sound effect and the stagnant, generic patterns above Spock’s console and you’re well on your way to bringing the series up-to-date.  Computer animate the Gorn.  The Doomsday Machine.  Planets from orbit and their landscapes, skies on the surface.  Anyway, there’s my brainchild.  Let me know what you think.

Although I wasn’t surprised, I was disappointed that I never received a response to my unofficial series proposal.  Granted, many of my ideas were far too grandiose, not to mention cost prohibitive, to ever see the light of day, but I strongly believed that such a project, if done right, could effectively bridge the series’ gap while attracting younger viewers who just couldn’t get past TOS’s antiquated FX.  It was nearly four years later, in late summer 2006, when I first learned of ST: RM.  Although I was thrilled when the first episode aired, my enthusiasm was soon tempered by the many missed opportunities, FX miscues or second-rate CG renderings that failed to live up to the royal treatment this legendary sci-fi series deserves.

The following analyses are an attempt at grading the ST: RM episodes in a fair and consistent manner, although, despite considerable efforts to the contrary, reviews and ratings will contain personal bias and human error.  These are my opinions, for what they’re worth, but a few disclaimers are in order: 1) I’m not a professional writer (you’ll find that out soon enough as I’m my own editor), 2) I don’t work in the industry, so my terminology may be crude or imprecise at times, especially when dealing with camera techniques and special effects, and 3) These comments are completely unofficial, which probably goes without saying, but I have to cover myself.  Also, though admittedly critical at times, my evaluations are all done in good fun…one trait that’s always been exemplified by us Trekkers is the good-natured manner in which we niggle and nitpick the series we hold so dear.

Now to the burning question: how in the universe could I have given “Elaan of Troyius” an A+?  Here are my grading criteria:

Ranked as High, Medium or Low on a per episode basis

The number of shots that needed to be updated (Quantity)

The degree of visual fidelity of the updated shots (Quality)

The level of difficulty in updating the shots (Complexity)

Answered with a Yes or No

Did they (RM team) fix what needed to be fixed (or ignore it)? (E.g. Hand phasers)

Did they alter elements that didn’t need to be fixed? (E.g. Moving stars behind the planet in “Who Mourns for Adonais?”)

Did they embellish where they didn’t have to or go too far? (E.g. Two moons in “Bread and Circuses”)

Did they go above and beyond what was required by adding appropriate visual enhancements?  (E.g. The Antares in “Charlie X,” ShiKahr in “Amok Time,” etc.)

I’d be remiss if I failed to acknowledge three websites that were instrumental in the creation of this blog.  First, there are several informative articles concerning the ST: RM series at StarTrek.com, including the insightful Q&A piece.  The well written reviews appearing at TrekMovie.com were consulted after I’d written my reviews…just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything major.  My opinions vary from the TrekMovie writers on several occasions, most notably on FX heavy episodes like “The Doomsday Machine” and “The Tholian Web,” but I’ll stick to my phasers.  Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the beautiful screen captures that grace each episode were downloaded from TrekCore.com and TrekMovie.com.

This blog was a labor of love spanning several years of painstaking old/new episode comparisons, writing, editing and finally posting the eighty reviews that comprise ST: RM.  I hope you derive as much enjoyment from reading the below episode entries as I did in writing them.  If you disagree with my assessments, please read and apply the final sentence of my “Arena” review.  Peace and long life.  Trek on!

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Balance of Terror

hgj

Pity the Romulan Laborers Tasked With Painting the Giant Feathers.

 

01)  “Balance of Terror”  Original Airdate: (12/15/66)  Remaster Airdate: (09/16/06)

 

Evaluation:

Digitally remastered and featuring several new or updated shots, the Special Edition of Star Wars fueled my desire to see a Special Edition of Star Trek: The Original Series (hereafter TOS).  Ever since SW:SE’s theatrical release in 1997, I’ve occasionally caught myself sketching mental storyboards in my head and daydreaming of how modern CGI could be employed to give TOS—and this episode in particular—a much needed facelift.  And so, nearly a decade later, that dream has finally coalesced in the form of Star Trek: Remastered.  The results here fall considerably short of what I had envisioned.  True, the cat-and-mouse comet sequence and the updated Romulan bird-of-prey (as well as the red and yellow plasma beams it fires) are excellent revisions, but a minimalist approach still prevails in most of the revised shots (many of which are compositionally identical to their counterparts in the original show).  Dave Rossi, Michael and Denise Okuda and the Remaster (hereafter referred to as RM) team of FX wizards at CBS Digital are capable of so much more, but their rigid adherence to preserving the original artistic vision seems to have constrained their creativity on this episode.  And speaking of graphics expert Michael Okuda, how is it possible that the arcane map of the neutral zone escaped his notice?  The insert is so outdated, even by today’s standards, that the thought of this map (with little white blip denoting the Enterprise’s position) passing itself off as a quotidian visual in the 23rd century is quite ludicrous…a “must fix” that wasn’t.  Though the RM team has ostensibly rectified the early series inconsistency of phasers appearing and sounding like photon torpedoes (the Q&A article at Startrek.com refers to them as “proximity phasers”), the explosion pattern is similar in each of the three instances and we never catch a glimpse of the Romulan vessel—it would’ve been nice to see the bird-of-prey’s cloak shimmer each time the Enterprise scored a direct hit on its hull.  While on the subject of starship combat, the one element I most anticipated in the RM edition of this episode was dogfights.  The SW:SE version of the Death Star attack ratcheted up the tension and urgency by replacing static shots with sleek and highly stylized dogfights.  How amazing would this episode have been if even a handful of shots depicted the Enterprise and Romulan bird-of-prey trading fire and engaging in evasive maneuvers with both ships in the same frame?  Despite monetary and time constraints, this classic TOS episode received considerable attention from the RM team, and yet, it still falls short of what I imagined it could be.  Maybe the visions of starships battling in my head will be realized twenty years from now when the re-remastered TOS is released.

 

Money Shot:  The first time the new CG Romulan bird-of-prey activates its cloaking device and fades from view.

 

Wish List:  One word…dogfights.

 

Remaster Grade:  B+

 

Screencaps:

 

Original                                                                           Remastered

01Oldenterprise_flyby_old                  01Newenterprise_flyby

01Oldwarbird_underbelly_old                  02Newbalanceofterrorhd212

03Oldbalanceofterror145                  03Newbalanceofterrorhd319

04Oldbalanceofterror176                  04Newbalanceofterrorhd381

05Oldbalanceofterror295                  05Newbalanceofterrorhd442

 

 

Miri

rdttrs

“Ensign, Take Us Out of Orbit.”  “Yeah, yeah, ye, yeah, yeah!”

02)  “Miri”  Original Airdate: (10/27/66)  Remaster Airdate: (09/16/06)

Evaluation:

The RM version of “Miri” isn’t any worse than the original episode, but isn’t much better either.  Since most of the show’s action takes place on Miri’s planet, there were very few shots that required any kind of alteration.  The long-range sensor image of the swiftly approaching Earth-like planet is a vast improvement over the original blue globe, which had little definition and no shading or clouds.  Though the new shots of the Enterprise in orbit around the planet are well done, they quickly grow redundant.  The one drawback to the RM episode is the lack of digital cosmetology.  It’s amazing what can be accomplished with CGI and morphing these days, so it’s more than a little surprising that these technologies weren’t utilized to create more convincing skin blotches for the disease afflicting the grups and for the rapid eradication of the disease on McCoy’s face after the desperate doctor self-medicates, respectively.  The latter’s transition still isn’t as smooth as it should be, which is disappointing since the sequence where McCoy’s mottled face returns to normal should’ve been at the top of the “to be revised” shot list for this episode.  The superb shots of the Enterprise slipping out of orbit and heading into open space leave us with the feeling that such a fine effort was too little too late…a sentiment echoed in the ominous musical refrain that closes out the episode.

Money Shot:  The low angle, fore aspect shot of the Enterprise breaking orbit with the Earth-like planet in the background.

Wish List:  Morphing on McCoy’s dappled face to replace the poorly matched stop-motion sequence and better FX on the splotchy disease that inflicts the grups.

Remaster Grade:  B

 

Screencaps:

 

Original                                                                            Remastered

01Oldold_miri_03                   01Newmirihd172

02Oldold_miri_04                  02Newmirihd019

03Oldold_miri_05                   03Newmirihd022

04Oldold_miri_06                   04Newmirihd153

05Oldold_miri_08                   05Newmirihd190

 

 

The Devil in the Dark

I Wouldn't Go In There If I Were You...I Hear the Horta Likes Its Humans Extra Crispy!

I Wouldn’t Go In There If I Were You…I Hear the Horta Likes Its Humans Extra Crispy!

 

03)  “The Devil in the Dark”  Original Airdate: (03/09/67)  Remaster Airdate: (09/23/06)

 

Evaluation:

Though “Devil” has undergone very few changes from its original presentation, the selected modifications implemented by the RM team are significant.  The original matte painting of the underground mining complex on Janus VI looks exceedingly hokey by today’s standards.  Though the inhabiting structures have remained virtually identical to those in the earlier backdrop, the new CG rendering is a breathtaking, photorealistic environment.  One of the more egalitarian changes is the addition of incandescent lighting, which spills down onto the cluster of industrial buildings from three light fixtures attached to the roof of the cavern.  At the beginning of the teaser, an establishing shot of the mining compound pans from right to left (opposite of the original) before zooming in to reveal a tiny miner walking through a doorway into the mine.  Thanks to a quick cut, the transition into the next scene—where the miner meets his untimely demise—works extremely well from both an editing and aesthetic standpoint.  This enhancement has brought much needed vitality to the formerly static shots.  Another scene that’s been cleaned up is the burrowing Horta shot—the superheating granite wall looks considerably more realistic now than it did in the original thanks to the addition of rising clouds of steam, a shimmering heat effect and a more gradual dissolution of the flame-seared cave wall.  The “No Kill I” sequence was decent for its time and didn’t necessarily require a RM reworking.  At episode’s end, after pergium production is back in full swing, smoke billows out of the stack of one factory and two miners can be seen working just outside the office window…very nice touches.  At first glance, the alterations to this episode might not seem all that groundbreaking, but remember, the devil is in the details.

 

Money Shot:  The new CG matte of the Janus complex with a diminutive miner approaching the shaft entrance.

 

Wish List:  A CG Horta with a more believable appearance and movements, cleaned up FX on all phaser beams and a visual overhaul of the shoddy white sprites that emanate from the point of impact on the Horta’s silicone hide.

 

Remaster Grade:  A-

 

Screencaps:

 

Original                                                                           Remastered

01OldThe_Devil_in_the_Dark_001                  01Newthedevilinthedarkhd001

02Oldestablishmatte_old                 02Newthedevilinthedarkhd003

03Oldhorta_emerge_old1                  03Newthedevilinthedarkhd394

04OldThe_Devil_in_the_Dark_021                  04Newthedevilinthedarkhd037

05OldThe_Devil_in_the_Dark_301                  05Newthedevilinthedarkhd711

The Naked Time

Helm, Prepare to Bounce Us Off the Atmosphere.  Weeeeee...

Helm, Prepare to Bounce Us Off the Atmosphere. Weeeeee…

 

04)  “The Naked Time”  Original Airdate: (09/29/66)  Remaster Airdate: (09/30/06)

 

Evaluation:

Other than the opening shot of the Enterprise in orbit around the retooled Psi 2000 (the original episode merely showed the ship cruising along in space), the first major upgrade in the episode is the insertion of a new CG environment for the establishing shot on the planet’s surface.  The CG matte has replaced stock footage of a snow-covered mountain range with the exterior vantage of a barely visible, blizzard-blasted research base sitting atop a bluff.  This tableau is similar, in style and composition, to the alien landscapes used with great regularity on TNG, so kudos to the RM team for deftly bridging the generation gap.  The most significant catalyst to this episode’s visual renaissance is the decaying orbit sequences: as the Enterprise continues plummeting toward Psi 2000, its angle to the planet becomes more drastic and the planet flies by faster and faster the farther the ship falls into the planet’s gravity well.  The new progression of viewscreen images has replaced the poorly defined close-up shots along the planet’s equator with a swiftly moving, crisply rendered CG planet.  The need to pull free from Psi 2000 is made even more imperative in the RM episode when the ship’s entry into the atmosphere creates amber bursts along the bottom of the main viewer…a superb visual flourish.  Aboard the ship, sparks fly and smoke rises as Scotty cuts into a bulkhead with a non-emitting phaser.  Appropriately, the RM team has added a red phaser beam into these shots.  The circular cluster of stars, which represents a time dilation, has been touched up but is a marginal improvement at best.  The last item on the fix-it list for this episode, and the one that really puts it over the top, is the shipboard chronometer that Sulu references at the end of the show.  Originally the numbers rolled by on an old-style counter, but the new display is much more fluid (though still not quite digital).  Cheesy dials and switches have been removed from the face of the instrument and verbiage denoting hours, minutes and seconds has been replaced by stardate and shipboard designations.  This is one revision that just had to be made, and graphics expert Okuda proved himself more than equal to the task.  Each of this episode’s modifications was skillfully and painstakingly implemented.  If possible, this Trek classic is even more enjoyable now thanks to some choice RM improvements.

 

Money Shot:  Any of the decaying orbit shots, as seen from the ship’s main viewer.

 

Wish List: More convincing FX on the cluster of stars representing the backward movement in time.

 

Remaster Grade:  A+

 

Screencaps:

 

Original                                                                            Remastered

01Oldthenakedtime000                   01Newthenakedtimehd0004

02Oldthenakedtime081                   02Newthenakedtimehd0001

03Oldthenakedtime173                   03Newthenakedtimehd1134

04Oldthenakedtime364                   04Newthenakedtimehd1189

05Oldthenakedtime358                   05Newthenakedtimehd1168

The City on the Edge of Forever

Behold the Planet on the Edge of Forever.

Behold the Planet on the Edge of Forever.

 

05)  “The City on the Edge of Forever”  Original Airdate: (04/06/67)  Remaster Airdate: (10/07/06)

 

Evaluation:

Regarded by legions of fans as the finest dramatic hour of TOS, “City” has a lot of plot, but very few visual effects and, as such, leaves us with little to evaluate here.  The grade at the bottom shouldn’t be taken as a disparagement of this episode—the story is an A+ no matter what and the fact that it isn’t reliant upon special effects to tell its tragic tale of an anachronistic love affair is an enduring testament to Harlan Ellison’s powerfully poignant work of superlative science fiction.  With a dearth of visual effects in the original show, the RM team had a scant list of replacement shots to consider.  Two shots of the Enterprise orbiting the planet and a handful of vantages of the planet itself (on the viewscreen as well as rotating in space) comprise the bulk of the updated shots for the episode.  The only other notable revision is the scene where Kirk looks up into space and the camera tilts from the surface into the night sky.  The transition in the original show revealed patches of star-flecked set wall through an airbrushed mountain range, but now the mountains are solid and a thin band of blue twilight serves as a gradient between horizon and space.  Though it would’ve been nice to see the Guardian’s pulsing lights updated with modern lighting effects, the shots still work well enough for those who can suspend their disbelief.  Even without enhanced visual effects or high definition formatting, this is one episode that will live in our hearts and minds forever.

 

Money Shot: The reworked shot where Kirk looks up into space and the camera follows his gaze and the CG planet.

 

Wish List: Updated lighting effects on the Guardian.

 

Remaster Grade:  B+

 

Screencaps:

 

Original                                                                             Remastered

01Oldcityontheedge_000                   01Newthecityontheedgeofforeverhd001

02Oldcityontheedge_048                   02Newthecityontheedgeofforeverhd093

03Oldcityontheedge_187                   03Newthecityontheedgeofforeverhd247

04Oldcityontheedge_483                   04Newthecityontheedgeofforeverhd591

05Oldcityontheedge_582                   05Newthecityontheedgeofforeverhd721

 

I, Mudd

Purists Can Argue Its Appropriateness, But This Is One Gorgeous Shot!

Purists Can Debate Its Appropriateness, But This Is One Gorgeous Shot!

 

06)  “I, Mudd”  Original Airdate: (11/03/67)  Remaster Airdate: (10/14/06)

 

Evaluation:

As a character driven, largely landlocked episode, there were very few visual elements that needed to be enhanced for “Mudd.”  The biggest eyesore in the original episode was Norman’s robotic innards, which were comprised of circuits, transistors, a spaghetti-tangle of wires and multicolored blinking lights (because that just screamed hi-tech in the 60s).  Norman’s exposed abdomen now appears as a Borg-like apparatus with two spinning, circular data ports set into a metallic plate.  The close-up shot, where Norman replaces his stomach cover is remarkably fluid and, curiously, appears even more seamless than Data’s access panels in TNG.  One of the monitors above Spock’s station looks like a Horta with a red circle branded into it…it’s an ugly visual that, unfortunately, was ignored by the RM team.  Mudd’s planet is now a canary yellow, which is quite a departure from the original drab orange-brown.  Other than a nifty course correction scene and a few other external shots of the Enterprise in space and in orbit, there’s little else to comment on here…except for the breathtaking final shot of the ship breaking orbit, which now features a yellow ring system that wraps around the far side of the amber planet.  The continuous 180 degree shot begins with the Enterprise sailing straight toward the camera, tracks the ship as it makes a starboard pass around Mudd’s planet and holds steady on the rear aspect of the ship as it heads out into deep space.  It’s the perfect exclamation point to a highly entertaining Trek adventure.

 

Money Shot:  The final “breaking orbit” panning shot with yellow rings encircling the planet.

 

Wish List:  CG androids milling about in the background of various rooms and hallways on the planet to create the impression of an android population.

 

Remaster Grade:  A

 

Screencaps:

 

Original                                                                             Remastered

01Oldimuddhd0065                   01Newimuddhd0068

02OldTOS_2x12_IMudd0054-Trekpulse                 02Newimuddhd0156

03OldTOS_2x12_IMudd0055-Trekpulse                 03Newimuddhd0158

04Oldimuddhd0267                   04Newimuddhd0270

05Oldimuddhd1388                   05Newimuddhd1397