History, Legacy & Showmanship

Still Boldly Going: Celebrating “Star Trek” on its 50th Anniversary

September 7, 2016 - 3:30 pm   |   by
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Coate: What are your thoughts on the various home-video releases and season sets of the series and, in particular, the new visual effects shots added into selected episodes?

trek 2tosbluraysAltman: I am deeply appreciative that the Blu-rays of The Original Series feature both versions of the shows as I was deeply unhappy with the new VFX for the series which were rushed and have largely replaced the original effects on SVOD which is unfortunate. I always felt like the new effects looked like a video game. With more time and money this could have been avoided. I prefer to watch the HD versions with the original effects…. I think The Next Generation Blu-rays were really well done. Beautiful VAM [Value Added Material] from Roger Lay and Robert Meyer Burnett and the re-compositing of the original film elements was done tastefully and smartly. They look great and CBS should be lauded for the care and money they lavished on this restoration project. I also think the Enterprise sets are terrific due to all the fantastic VAM that Roger Lay created. Really insightful material that actually helped elevate my appraisal of that often maligned series. I really hope at some point CBS tackles the release of Deep Space Nine which warrants a proper restoration, but it’s complicated due to the nature of the standard-def VFX and primitive early CG. My fervent hope, however, is that the movies do get a full 4K restoration akin to the Lowry Bond restorations in the very near future. And I’d love to see a version of Trek V with new VFX.

Bond: It’s very unfortunate that so many of creative talent behind The Original Series were gone by the time any serious DVD and Blu-ray releases of the show were being done. There were tremendous interviews done by the Sci-Fi Channel for the show’s first remastering and broadcast there, but the Sci-Fi Channel owns those — I would love to see those incorporated with the original episodes on Blu-ray someday. I really enjoyed the remastered episodes’ new visual effects at the time, but in a way a lot of those effects now look as dated as the original shots because CG effects have come so far in the past few years. They did a number of absolutely beautiful, photo-real shots of the Enterprise and other space shots, but there are many others that are too obviously CG animation. But a lot of the other enhancements for the live-action shots and the matte paintings they did are really wonderful. What I really like is the fact that Paramount made the original versions of the episodes available on the Blu-ray sets instead of erasing them from history.

Burnett: I’ve owned VHS, LaserDisc, DVD and now Blu-Ray versions of The Original Series. In terms of the updated VFX, I think they’re best when they accentuate story points and advance our understanding of the Trek universe. First season’s Court Martial is a great example of this. We finally know where the Enterprise was damaged in that Ion storm and just where the pod was jettisoned from. Those are enhancements I just love…. As someone who spent three years creating documentaries for the unprecedented restoration of The Next Generation on Blu-Ray, the most herculean restoration in the history of the television medium, I’d say they are essential viewing for any Trek fan. If you’ve only ever seen The Next Generation on BBC America, let me tell you... the Blu-rays will change your life.

Cushman: The Blu-ray release from a few years ago is the best, because they tried to correct the lighting and contrast issues that screwed the series up when it was first released to home video, when Paramount adjusted the contrast to make it appear more contemporary. Star Trek was filmed dark, to play moody, and look cinematic. It looked great in the 1960s and 1970s, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that it stopped looking like those of us who were there in the beginning remembered. But the Blu-ray release comes close. And you can pick between the original photographic effects or CGI. Well, guess what, for the average episode, in which we are just seeing Enterprise fly-bys and orbiting shots, the originals look better. That 11-foot-two-inch model was tangible. It feels real. It looks good. A computer can’t better that. But in the episodes where more was needed, such as The Doomsday Machine and Balance of Terror, go with the remastered episodes and the CGI. They did a great job.  

Dochterman: This is quite a close related question to me, because it was me in the early 2000s that went to the studio pitching to remaster the original series in HD with new effects… my version would have been more faithful to the original look of the effects, only straying when absolutely necessary. So I think the idea of doing that is a valid one. I was ultimately disappointed in the result, however, not only because they didn’t hire me to do the job, but because it was obvious they didn’t put enough money or time into it, and forced the production to be done without enough preparation or the luxury of an art director to keep things consistent.

Fontana: Generally speaking, the visual effects of the time were difficult, time consuming, and expensive to do. We had to be careful about what we called for in the scripts — but the visual effects people did well for the era. While the new visual effects may be prettier, they don’t change the power of the stories, the attraction of the characters and the strong messages in our story telling.

Gerani: Star Trek is unique and timeless; I can understand why some folks felt that upgraded special effects would be acceptable in this case… a kind of digital face-lift. But I’m against the practice, in general. It’s especially unfortunate in an episode like The Tholian Web, which won an Emmy for its original special effects. The amazing visual results those 60s craftsmen achieved with limited technology are now somewhat obscured and compromised by spiffed-up CG additions from a century later. This is indeed prettier material to watch, but the film’s historical value has been massacred. And while it’s true that the original versions of these episodes are still available for viewing, 99% of the time it’s the new incarnations that are aired, and reach the widest audience. 

Gerrold: I wish we were all getting residuals from those sales. Other than that, I’m thrilled that Star Trek continues to find new viewers. It says that what we accomplished was something timeless.

Gross: Generally, I’m very pleased with the releases. The Original Series and The Next Generation look wonderful in their remastered forms, and I hope that we’ll eventually see the other series (though I’m not so sure that will happen). As to the enhanced visual effects done for the original series: personally, I love them. While I absolutely appreciate that they did the best that they could with the state of the art of the technology at the time, I feel that the new effects makes the show more watchable to younger people who would most definitely be turned off to those original effects. For people who were there in the beginning, there’s no problem watching what was created then. For Millennials and younger who have no patience for anything more than a decade or so old, it makes it more likely they’ll sit through and actually experience Star Trek.

Kraft: They are the best way for fans who want to own all of Trek to get it, sometimes at bargain prices rather than piecemeal purchasing which is more expensive. Advanced visual effects aesthetically enhance selected episodes, but the heart of Star Trek is great storytelling. Visual effects while establishing verisimilitude of a story’s setting should always be subordinated to the narrative.

Pilato: I love all the DVD/Blu-ray releases of the show, and especially the new added visual effects. I think they enhance the series perfectly, and I also think that Gene Roddenberry would approve of revamped special effects for each episode. You have to remember Star Trek was on a limited budget the first time around. There wasn’t a lot of money to go around for special effects, and the technology was somewhat limited, too. They even used salt and pepper shakers from the NBC Commissary for some of Dr. McCoy’s medical portable scanners. The CGI resources that new TV shows and movies have today were not available during Star Trek’s initial run. And if they were, I believe Gene Roddenberry would have utilized them.

Star Trek ad in TV GuideCoate: What is the legacy of Star Trek?

Altman: Fifty years later we’re still talking about Star Trek. I suspect and hope that as long as Star Trek remains optimistic and never cynical, we’ll still be talking about it another 50 years... or, at least, someone will, if not us. It’s a remarkable cultural legacy of which everyone involved has every reason to be proud of. I could not be more excited about the upcoming series from Bryan Fuller knowing that he combines both an enthusiasm for the material as a fan with an unerring aesthetic vision and a brilliant team of writers. Star Trek has always been best on TV. The movie series is fun and engaging when it works, but TV is the beating, bleeding heart of the franchise. 

Bond: It’s still being written. I’m very excited about the new TV series coming up, and I will be fascinated to see if it measures up to “peak television” — the standards for television drama are now incredibly high and the new Star Trek series must measure up to them or it’s going to fail. And to measure up to shows like Mad Men and Game of Thrones while still serving the ideals and even the conventions of Star Trek that fans expect is an incredible challenge. But [as I mentioned earlier] it’s stunning and gratifying to me that Star Trek is still viable and a huge part of our culture 50 years after it was first broadcast and almost 50 years after it essentially failed and was cancelled. It’s certainly one of the most amazing success stories in entertainment.

Burnett: The legacy is Star Trek remains the excellence of the human spirit. To think, analyze, and surmount any problem. To excel, to bring the best of the best humanity has to offer to discover the mysteries of the universe. To be the best we can be, to use diversity as a tool, acceptance as a strength and to use intellect as the fulcrum of transcendence. The legacy of Star Trek is the advancement of every being on Planet Earth.

Cushman: The greatest legacy of Star Trek is that we are still watching it, still reading about it, and still talking about it 50 years later. Beyond that, see my answers for [your first question]. If that isn’t one hell of a legacy, what is?

Dochterman: I think the legacy of Star Trek might just be double edged. While it represented a culmination, at least in pop culture, of the Kennedy era dream of space, I think that its vision of the future did inspire a couple generations of scientists and artists to push through new frontiers and advance the human race. Conversely, I do think that there is a little bit of the effect of disappointment in reality. The unfortunate outcome is that Star Trek’s vision was so exciting and distant, that it may have made us a little impatient with the realities of NASA, and that the space program was so far away from the fantastic future that Trek portrayed, it made it difficult to believe that we as a people would ever make it that far…. Recently, I was noting some reactions to the latest SpaceX launch attempt that resulted in a spectacular explosive failure… and saw that so many people were negative and putting this visionary company down for “blowing up another rocket.” I found that appalling and sad that people don’t remember how hard this is, how difficult it is to push technology and nerves past the outside of the envelope… and that they are missing the main tenet of Star Trek: “Risk… Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.” Indeed.

Fontana: We were able to tell stories other shows couldn’t do at the time — stories that addressed racism, feminism, the war in Vietnam, new national and international relationships in a growing, changing world — all under the science fiction mission statement of seeking out new worlds, new civilizations and boldly going where no man has gone before. The stories still hold up, still entertain and touch audiences’ hearts and minds, and are remembered. Not too bad a legacy, I’d say. 

Gerani: With the possible exception of Star Wars, it is the most popular and impressive science fiction drama with continuing characters ever created. It taught us that a better world was possible, that the future was an endlessly exhilarating adventure.

Gerrold: It’s curious that we talk about “legacy” — because that’s about the past. Star Trek points toward the future. It has the hopeful optimism of classic science fiction. It says we can do better, we can be better, and we can accomplish amazing things — if we want to. If we put our small petty differences aside. Star Trek is about the essential human aspiration of finding out what’s out there and what’s our place in the universe, because that will give us a real answer to the question, “Who are we?”

Gross: Besides everything that Star Trek stands for — its inherent hope for our future — and characters who have become so iconic, for me one of the great legacies is that for the first time in pop culture history, a television show’s fan base refused to accept the fate one of the networks handed to something they loved. NBC said that Star Trek was over, and the fans said no. That “no” ultimately led to the show’s record-breaking numbers in syndication, the conventions, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and everything that has followed. That’s one hell of a legacy.

Kraft: On television, Star Trek took science fiction from pulp fiction and gave it a heretofore unknown respectability. Its cultural and educational impact have been enormous. Star Trek has become part of the curriculum in higher education, secondary and primary schools in a wide spectrum of academic disciplines, including science, history, ethics, philosophy, theology, law, mathematics, and language. It steers young people to pursue careers in the sciences. It took us on voyages to discoveries in the final frontier of space and into discoveries in the human heart. Most of all, however, it left a legacy of hope and optimism that humankind has a future. If we cultivate the potential of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations so that we embrace a universe brimming with the riches of life in all of its forms, then humankind can evolve into something finer and nobler. I think that is what Gene Roddenberry meant when he said that the human adventure is just beginning.

Pilato: The legacy of Star Trek is impact the show has left behind in the hearts, minds and souls of millions of fans. Besides the fact that the show inspired original designs for things like flip-up cell phones, laptops, and inspired holographic designs that are off and running today, the show gave us hope for the future… that people of all races…different cultures and different religious and spiritual beliefs… that we can all one day work together and live in peace… which is what the show’s canonical term IDIC stood for: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.

Snodgrass: It presented a hopeful view of the future and was also a window into the attitudes of the 1960s reflecting as it did the Kenndyesque belief in “the new frontier.” Making change through intervention. The number of times Kirk violated the Prime Directive was really rather funny.

The cast of Star Trek.

Coate: Thank you, everyone, for participating and for sharing your thoughts about Star Trek on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. Live long and prosper.

In closing, I would like to dedicate this article to the numerous cast and crew members who helped make Star Trek so memorable. On a personal level, I’d like to dedicate this article to James Rhoads, who passed away while this article was being prepared. James was a childhood friend with whom I attended my first Star Trek convention. And to Mr. Don Braden, one of my high school teachers, who had the audacity to screen Star Trek episodes in his tough but rewarding Critical Thinking class, which opened my eyes to the possibility that television could be more than mere entertainment.

Selected images copyright/courtesy CBS, Desilu Productions, NBC, Norway Productions, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Home Entertainment.

– Michael Coate

Michael Coate can be reached via e-mail through this link.

Star Trek 50th Anniversary TV and Movie Collection (Blu-ray Disc)

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