How The Star Trek Original Series Remasters Beat The Star Wars Special Editions

The Star Trek Special Editions Are Insufficiently Reviled
  • Science Fiction
The Doomsday Machine, 90s cutscene edition.
The Doomsday Machine, 90s cutscene edition. CBS Television Distribution

I was so determined to be mad online about the Star Trek: Remastered Editions that I almost missed the semi-availability of the non-CGI Star Trek: The Original Series episodes.

You don’t have the same options with Star Wars. George Lucas had endless rationalizations for altering Star Wars with his abominable Special Editions, but they all had in common the assumption that Star Wars belongs more to him than the public. “I was never really able to tell the story I want to tell,” he said in an AFI interview from 2009. “This is a great chance for me to experiment with a new technology and see if I can do the prequels and at the same time fix a lot of things I was really frustrated with the first time around.”

CBS didn’t treat remastering original Star Trek episodes as a weird vanity project, like Lucas. The Star Trek : Remastered Edition was released for syndication episode-by-episode, beginning in 2006. The process began with a 2K scan of the original 35mm film prints for each episode. Each shot was digitally cleaned and newly color graded (Star Trek Movies followed the process in-depth).

But CBS also decided to create new establishing shots and convert most of the space footage to CGI — new planets, new environments, new Enterprise. The results are… not great. The team did an excellent job engaging fandom and put a lot of work into exactly recreating the Enterprise (the Enterprise looks different anyway, thanks to the CGI replacement free from the blue tint imparted by the original blue screen effects shots).

Despite good intentions, the results look like they’d fit better in a PlayStation 2 cutscene. The original, planet-devouring Doomsday Machine may have looked like a smurf-blue, paper mache cornucopia, but that’s better than the polygonal Starfox boss that replaced it. Exotic alien craft suffer throughout. The flagship of the First Federation from “The Corbomite Maneuver” looks like a Windows 95 screensaver. The old effects may not have been great, but there was an aesthetic cohesion that’s lost here. And since the CGI just isn’t all that great, no compensating realism.

But here’s the thing: it’s possible to watch the original episodes, without the Remastered Edition changes. It’s maybe not as easy as it should be: Netflix only has the Remastered, for example. But Amazon Prime has both. And so do the TOS Blu-rays.

Except even that has to be confusing! Don’t buy this one. You have to buy this one, which has both versions of each episode. I take it all back, it’s tedious endless parsing when you are or are not going to wind up without the actual original Star Trek episodes. It may not be as bad a the situation with the Star Wars: Special Editions, but the Star Trek remasters are still insufficiently reviled.

Plus, it could all change at any moment. New streaming contracts could suddenly deny millions of people access to Star Trek as it was originally created. But so long as it’s not prohibitively difficult to find the original, fans won’t have to create something like the Star Wars: Despecialized Editions.

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