Star Trek is without doubt one of the most well-known intellectual properties in the world. Over the course of its existence it has spawned six television series, eleven movies, numerous video games and books, comics, and who knows what all else. Suffice it to say, there’s probably few people on the planet who haven’t at least heard of Star Trek, even if they aren’t a Trekkie (don’t get me started on the whole “Trekkie VS Trekker” BS).
If you are a fan, though, the series that introduced you to the franchise is usually the one you cling to most, the one you hold as your favorite. For some, that was the original series which sprang from Gene Roddenberry’s mind and hit the small screen in 1966. For others, it was Deep Space Nine, or Voyager, or (God help you) Enterprise. But, for many of us, our love affair with Star Trek began with The Next Generation. Begun in September of 1987, The Next Generation — or TNG — was the first Star Trek series to be on television since the original series ended in 1969 (let’s all try to forget the animated series that aired from ’73-’74). While I had seen the movies, they hadn’t really meant much to me since I wasn’t steeped in the universe of Trek. And, to be honest, I was a diehard Star Wars fan at the time, and back then Wars and Trek didn’t get along all that well. To us Star Wars fans, Trek was seen as too stuffy and boring. TNG, though, changed all that.
With TNG suddenly we had a captain who was more interested in using his brain than his privates, an Enterprise that had sleek lines and cool toys like the Holodeck, and a crew full of divergent characters that covered not just different genders and colors, but also different species, not to mention an android. They even had a kid that sometimes got to do interesting things. It was a cast I could relate to on a ship that looked cool and with special effects that fit my time. I was 15, and it opened my imaginative horizons.
Sadly, time hasn’t been kind to TNG. What once looked amazing now seems blurry and flat. As televisions have gotten sharper and newer shows have become more visually stunning, the shows of yesteryear just look too long in the tooth in comparison. It isn’t the show’s fault, of course. It was made in the year it was made, and many other science fiction shows face the same problem. Fortunately for us Trekkies, CBS was able and willing to do something about it.
When it was discovered that just trying to upconvert the original standard definition video image (which was 640 x 480) to high definition (1920 x 1080p) washed the video out too much to be worth it, the powers that be decided to actually go back to the original 35mm film stock and reedit every episode from scratch, then run that film through a scanner to produce high-definition quality video. This also meant that they had to go through every special effect shot and redo those as well, whether it was a shot of the Enterprise flying past a planet, a phaser being fired, or even the teleporter being used. But they didn’t stop there either. Even the audio has been upgraded. TNG was originally aired in stereo, but now it’s been remixed in 7.1 DTS. So not only does TNG look amazing, but it also sounds amazing.
Now, some might be asking, in all this did they change the show I loved so much? Did they alter the editing in any way? Have the new special effects changed what happened? To that I answer no. The folks at CBS didn’t want to fundamentally change the show in any way, so no edits were changed, and the effects upgrades were purely cosmetic. To make sure that the HD conversion was overseen by someone of authority, CBS brought on Michael and Denise Okuda — both of whom have worked in the Star Trek franchise since the mid-’80s — to guide and supervise all aspects of it. The result is a stunningly beautiful rebirth of one of my favorite television series of all time.
My only complaint, and really isn’t so much a complaint as it is a regret, is that they couldn’t make the show widescreen. Even though TNG was filmed on widescreen film stock, it was intended to be shown in a 4×3 aspect ratio, so the sections of the film outside that often had parts of the film crew in them that would have had to have been digitally removed (a far too costly idea), and the model shots for special effects scenes didn’t go beyond 4×3 either. So, even though the show is now shown in 1080p high-definition, the extreme left and right sides of the image will be black so that the show can be seen in its original aspect ratio. Is this terrible? Does it undo all the other work? Not at all. After a little while I forget about it all together.
With the first season set of TNG in HD you also get a half hour documentary about the process of converting the show from standard def to high def. It might not sound like it took a lot of work, but when you get through the documentary you’ll truly understand just how much a labor of love it was, emphasis on the labor as well as the love. And just think, all that work now has to be done on six more seasons of the show. And, if it sells well enough, perhaps Deep Space Nine and Voyager might get the same treatment. You never know.
I couldn’t be happier with my purchase of Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season One in HD. It looks and sounds amazing, and it brings an old love back to me in a way I never thought I’d get to experience it. Kudos to all the fine people who made this possible. You have my deepest respect and admiration. May you all live long and prosper.