Live Long and Remaster

(CBS/Paramount Pictures)
First I must, in the spirit of full disclosure, admit that I am a Trekker, and to me there is only one true series, the original series run on NBC for 3 years and from then almost forever in syndication.
Now normally I am very against reworking classics, like the Star Wars Episode 4, originally the first, with added effects and animals. To me that is sacrilege. The original and maybe a Directors Cut with either added or deleted scenes, or as in the case of Blade Runner, removed narration from the soundtrack, but THAT'S IT! I know the technology is better now, but it will always be better years after a movie, so where does it end?

So what I am about to tell you goes completely against this. I was looking at new download offerings on iTunes and saw that there are re- mastered versions of the original Star Trek available. At this time about a third of the first season, not in chronological order, have been released. I read the synopsis and it stated that some effects have been replaced with better versions that are "in the spirit" of the original TV show. Now at first this sounded like one of those best hit CD's that is not the original but by one of the original artists, which usually stink. But being the hard core fan I am, I decided to take a chance and download a "season pass" which gives you all that has been done so far, and the remainder as they become available.

To my surprise, I am very pleased with the re-mastering. This is more like music that has been remixed by going back to the original session tapes and adding a few modern instruments. First of all, the soundtrack is now in stereo whenever possible. In the original soundtrack, there is mixed music, effects, and dialogue, so there are some limitations, but there were some real neat modifications. One for example is when there is an emergency on deck and when the shot changes from Kirk on the bridge to several listening in a corridor, the voice was re-channeled to my rear speakers with the echo you would expect with a hallway filled with solid surfaces. The music was re-performed exactly as the original score called for, complete with lady in the background, but with todays digital technology. The new effects are great without clashing with the 40 year old original.

There are camera moves of perspective and clean star fields. Now I must also disclose that CBS Corp. is the owner of the Star Trek series and did the re-mastering, but I didn't realize that until I looked into the details.

The format of the re-mastered series on iTunes is 640 X 480 progressive at 24 frames, (originally shot on film at 24fps) and looks really clean blown up on a 23" computer monitor. I think a key factor for the good look is that the original frame rate is used and there is no interpolation or 5-4 pull down needed to convert motion pictures shot at 24fps to sync with 30fps television. A computer will play any frame rate it's told to and now TV's are doing some variations, but only at 24 or 30 fps (25 fps in countries that use 50 Hz live power). The older technique was to use what is called a 5 bladed shutter that holds every 3rd frame one extra, and then the 2nd frame after that one extra, and then back to the 3rd frame and so one. This made it keep time with TV scan rates. Now days when a movie is converted to video the frames that are missing are "interpolated" or recreated by a computer which takes information from the 2 adjoining frames and creates a new one. I did see some times when there were splotches in the film that could have been buffed out, but that was infrequent. The audio format is 44.1 Stereo, but there appears to be virtual surround in the mix like that heard when listening with Dolby headphone. During the "Space the Final Frontier" opening, each time the Enterprise swishes by, it appears to go over my head. Each episode is a little under 600 meg in size and the running time is the original complete show, around 50 minutes. There is an HD version for broadcast but not yet available as a download.

IPTV is here, but in an infancy stage. As programs begin to be available for download in 720p and 1080p (it is not possible to have a 1080 interlaced computer image without tearing during fast motion), they will bypass the Blue-Ray / HD-DVD war. Even though an HD version of the re-mastered Star Trek exists that I cant see yet, the version on iTunes is down-rezed from the HD version and looks far superior to the original series as most of us saw it in reruns, 16 mm film with parts taken out for time, with stations taking out what each station thought could be removed independent from the syndicator.

In my first days in TV as a maintenance engineer at a local TV station in Washington, D.C. that ran the series, I saw in a film cutting room with all the parts taken out hanging on spikes for safe keeping. As the series gained popularity, the syndicator would do the trimming for the stations based on the running time asked for. This was better because at least there was continuity and some logical thinking as to what gets trimmed, instead of leaving it up to the local station. The new version is being re-mastered by going back to the 35 millimeter camera originals and re-editing digitally without any of the losses of the original process that could involve 3 generations or dub-downs to do a matte effect, each time adding film noise, scratches and hairs in the process.

Oh, and I forgot one detail. Spock is the original green cast that was intended. Color correctors, thinking it was a mistake, would change Spock's skin tone to look caucasian, which drove Gene Roddenberry crazy. Too bad he did not live to see the day of this Genesis.

  • Charlie Wilson