The original series episode “Mirror, Mirror” has proven itself to be an enduring chapter in Star Trek history, complete with an intriguing science fiction concept – the parallel universe – characters who are most interesting when not their normal selves, big hair, and barroom brawls. It’s not a particularly heavy visual effects show; there are no big space battles or phaser fights or glowing alien constructs or expansive matte paintings, but the remastered ship shots and gizmo animations are worth noting. I must say that I viewed the remastered episode off a VHS tape from a local Los Angeles broadcast, pulled down on my baby rooftop dish in compressed MPEG-2, so I can’t speak to what CBS might have done to the overall quality of the image as viewed on a better system. Maybe when the TOS eps are all on high-def DVD I’ll find out what all the fuss was about. Anyhow…
The key effect of the episode, during the cross-beaming of the landing party back to the Enterprise, turns what many would consider a goof into a brilliant save. In the original, various versions of the Enterprise were used for both the ‘good guy’ Enterprise and the ‘mirror universe’ Enterprise. The first reveal of the mirror Enteprise in the original used the pilot model with the red-spiky nacelle caps, but later in the episode it reverted back to having the standard spinny orange glowing nacelle caps. In TOS and in all later series, from TNG to DS9 to Voyager, these sorts of “library shots” were routinely used to cut down on filming costs, so it’s not surprising that the occasional earlier bit of ship footage appeared. In the remastered show, the external differences were deliberate and worked in as part of the story. Now the mirror Enterprise starts off as a modified version of the pilot Enterprise now emblazoned as the ‘I.S.S. Enterprise’…and more importantly, remains so for the rest of the time in the ‘mirror universe.’ Kirk, after all, commented on how things about the ship had changed. The essence of the flickering switcheroo was retained, though as one familiar with celestial mechanics, I scratched my head over the I.S.S. Enterprise flipping to a retrograde orbit. Funny, I didn’t think about that back in the 1960s when the episode first aired. Sharp-eyed viewers will also notice that the sizes of the nav dish antennae are “proper” for their respective models.
In the mirror universe things are greyer…and pointier
All the recent talk about the new and improved (and improved again) Enterprise CG model has me agreeing that the latest iteration has a better surface treatment than before, though I would still like to see the contrast kicked up a bit. Creating a completely believable photo-real CG object involves a big investment of time in lighting and texturing. Heavily backlit objects, ships that whiz about, or pitching naval vessels in a rainstorm at midnight are easier to pull off. Front lit objects in the vacuum of space take a lot more layers of color and reflectivity and bump texturing, more than CBS probably had the time for. I’ve always been more a fan of physical models, but I can accept the remastered NCC-1701 in the current series context.
The planet surface map is a not unexpectedly vast improvement over the fuzzy pinky-purple original. Greenish land masses and purplish seas say it’s alien, with a plausible smattering of cloud patterns. It wouldn’t be TOS if it didn’t have saturated colors, now would it? The shots of the U.S.S. and I.S.S. Enterprises gliding in orbit or departing, as well as on the bridge viewscreen, work well within the episode and are fun to see.
The other new VFX shots in the show, the agonizer sparks and agony booth smeary glow previously shown in screen captures, are also welcome enhancements. I had expected to see some reworking of the phaser hits in the corridor and perhaps the transporter sparkles, but those remained the same, the latter showing the familiar hard-edged black matte outline. The blue Tantalus Field glow and blink-out was also from the original, but still worked for me.
The New and Improved Agonizer…Now With More Pain!
As we know, “Mirror, Mirror” was the genesis of future excursions into the mirror universe in Deep Space Nine, and while I could quibble endlessly about the science of parallel universes, a producer once said (about some science thing in TNG), “This isn’t an episode of NOVA.” True, so I’ll keep my questions about how the uniforms got swapped to myself. All in all, the remastered “Mirror, Mirror” was a fun romp that still felt like the old TOS episode.
Rick Sternbach is an Emmy and Hugo award winning space and science fiction artist whose career dates back to the 70s. Rick’s designs and illustrations have found a home everywhere from NASA to the groundbreaking science show ‘Cosmos’ to (of course) Star Trek. From props to space stations, Rick’s designs have defined much of the look of the Trek franchise. Learn more at his company website Space Model Systems.