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Review of Space Seed Remastered November 22, 2006

by Jeff Bond , Filed under: Review,TOS Remastered , trackback

In addition to its place of honor as the inspiration for what is usually considered to be the best Star Trek movie ever made, the first season episode "Space Seed" displays many of the virtues that got me hooked on Trek in the early Seventies: cool spaceships, great music (albeit tracked from other episodes here), exciting action and most of all the match-up of Trek’s always interesting cast against guest stars who were their (and especially William Shatner’s) equals in magnetism and theatrical power–people like William Windom, Ted Cassidy, Morgan Woodward, and of course, Ricardo Montalban. Montalban’s Khan Noonien Singh is the quintessential Trek heavy: superpowered, superintelligent, but ultimately humbled by his own arrogance. His scenes opposite Kirk and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock are some of the most dramatically charged, well-written in the series, and his passionate romance with comely historian Marla McGivers (Madlyn Rhue) shows off the series’ full-bodied embrace of adult sexuality, something the latter-day Trek shows always shrank from.

On G4’s Attack of the Show I took the devil’s advocate and argued against the entire concept of CBS Digital updating visual effects on the original series, and I can still see both sides of this argument.(story) The original Star Trek is a classic television series with visual effects work that was outstanding and clever given the budget, schedule and technical resources at the show’s disposal. The limitations of the effects of the show, in fact, probably was a major factor in Trek’s reach beyond its original broadcast, as it forced viewers to imagine a much larger universe than was ever explicitly shown on the series. That said, I doubt there are any long-time fans of the show who haven’t wondered–particularly after enticing examples like DS9’s "Trials and Tribble-ations" and Enterprise’s "Through A Mirror, Darkly," what the original series would look like with updated effects.


Trek Remastered Producer Dave Rossi (left) dabating me (on the right)

Apparently you can improve on the classic
"Space Seed" is an interesting example as you can easily argue that its original space shots aren’t very much in need of updating. The Botany Bay sleeper ship is an interesting design and the shots of it being pulled alongside the Enterprise are technically smooth, with no obvious compositing problems. The original shot of the Enterprise abandoning the Botany Bay even has some of the qualities of a simple motion control shot as the Enterprise banks away towards the end of the shot. In fact, as many of the complaints on this board point up, the early CG shots done by CBS Digital, while improving on some aspects of the original Trek effects (compositing problems being the major aspect), failed to achieve some of the simple levels of reality that photographing a physical miniature made relatively simple. The work has been steadily improving, however, and the new CG model of the Enterprise finally bears the hallmarks of scale–weathering, differences in panel specularity, and more attention seemingly paid to the virtual lenses used to "photograph" it–that made the original model seem convincing.

Whatever you might think of the effects, the incredible transfers done on these episodes make the entire project more than worthwhile. "Space Seed" looks particularly good–the colors are super bright and the overall look, while boasting notably solid blacks, is less dark than some of the early, nocturnal-looking transfers, showing off the great shadows in Jerry Finnerman’s cinematography without burying the amazing textural detail the HD transfers offer. One bonus of this work in "Space Seed" is something I never noticed before–the golden mesh costumes of the sleeper ship’s passengers, as worn by Montalban in his early wake-up scene, reveal that the actors are wearing little more than jock straps and suspenders, or bikinis in the case of the female sleepers, underneath them. There’s always been mutterings that Montalban was wearing some sort of chest appliance to bulk up his pecs in The Wrath of Khan, but Montalban was a weightlifter even back when "Space Seed" was made and there are enough shots of his ample chest in this episode to suggest that even 15 years later he could probably fill out a madman’s space suit about as well as Schwarzenegger.


yours is a superior bikini

From the first space shots of the remastered "Space Seed" it’s clear CBS Digital is taking a bolder approach to shots in the episode, yet it’s also refreshingly clear that they’ve carefully studied the original effects shots to break down what worked and didn’t work about them. The first shot of the Botany Bay shows the vessel drifting at an angle instead of on a flat plane, its surface pitted and scarred to more closely resemble Spock’s verbal description–yet the design itself is untouched. As the Enterprise pulls alongside (to the tune of a great musical cue from "Charlie X" by composer Fred Steiner), the ship begins to right itself under the grip of the Enterprise tractor beam. The Enterprise looks particularly convincing, an apparent wide-angle lens duplicating the cant of the engines as they appear in the original effects shots. For the first time the radical improvement in the maligned "nacelle domes" is visible here–a nice, frosted glass-like highlight touches the leading edge and the colored illumination from within the domes is subtle, lacking the painted-on fan blades that plagued earlier shots. The subtle weathering and paint detail on the Enterprise model has pushed it ever closer to photorealism–the ship looks great.

After the commercial break there’s a close up shot panning along both ships as they pass by that shows the depth of weathering on the Botany Bay; there’s still a bit of a CG feel to this ship that I can’t quite put my finger on despite the beautiful weathering work and lighting highlights; it might just be the difficulty of lighting an object that is basically flat white planes, however dirtied down. There’s another nice, subtly dynamic angle of the two ships with the Botany Bay off to the side on approach as Khan beams back aboard his ship. Then there’s the "They have my ship…" shot after another return from commercial and Khan’s takeover of the Enterprise–with the Botany Bay tumbling away from the Enterprise as if it’s being tossed into a trash bin. It’s an extremely effective shot that shows how the CG team can actually add to the dramatic power of the show’s live action with their work. And again, the angled lens gives the Enterprise engines the proper angled spread to convince us that we’re seeing a huge vessel from hundreds of yards away.


now that is more like it
 

For showpiece shots that’s about it, although it has to be said that one of the downside artifacts of the new transfers is that they highlight one of Trek’s long-standing (but sort of loveably amusing) production problems: the stunt matching during its highly choreographed fight scenes. Although Montalban’s double in the engineering room showdown with Kirk is fairly convincing, Kirk’s is plainly not William Shatner and the crisp transfers let us see the faces of these stunt performers with dismaying clarity. The final visual effects shots are simple, with the last one of the retreating Enterprise almost a throwaway since half the end credits of the episode play over the final courtroom shot. I’m not sure if this is a reused shot from earlier episodes but the model here doesn’t have the weight of the ship in earlier shots—it shows off a semi-gloss paint job that looks more “model-like” than the dull scale finish the ship seems to show off in earlier shots.


who are these guys?

This is a showcase episode for CBS Digital, demonstrating both a respect for the original compositions and designs of the series and a willingness to move beyond them and explore the possibilities these new tools can offer to the series. If the work continues to improve the way it has been we’ll really have something to look forward to for episodes like “The Ultimate Computer,” “Elaan of Troyius” and others.

Jeff Bond is editor-in-chief of Geek Monthly magazine; he’s written  The Music of Star Trek and recently wrote the short story “Fracture” in the 40th anniversary Star Trek anthology collection Constellations from Pocket Books.

This review is courtesy of

 

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Adam Cohen
November 22, 2006 2:34 pm
Jeff Bond, thank you for a highly readable and entertaining review (“Yours is a superior bikini!” LOL). I think Jeff hits the nail squarely on the head- the transfers are in a word- amazing. I too remember watching this a couple of days ago and sitting up during the Kirk-Khan fight in engineering and saying to myself “Woah, where did these guys come from?” The stunt men are revealed! That’s good detail, even in SD. And the “wide-lense” shots of the Starship Enterpise are rewarding in this episode. I “get” that purists want to keep this show in its original… Read more »
Holo J
November 22, 2006 2:55 pm
Hi Jeff, I saw the G4 interview and I was thinking to myself I wondered what you think about the project now. So it’s good to here your opinion on this episode. You make the point at the end about the stunt double being more noticeable with the new transfer and I wondered what you would think if CBS where able to convincingly add the actors faces over the top of them? Also if this ever does come out on DVD, would you now be interested in owning your own copy of it now? Thanks for the review, It was… Read more »
Jeff Bond
November 22, 2006 3:05 pm

Don’t worry, I’ll own them on DVD. God, that’s a scary idea about replacing the stunt faces. I doubt they’ll go that far but given what’s been done it actually fits in with the project.

Jim J
November 22, 2006 3:09 pm

An excellent review. How are the reviewers picked on this site? I’d love to get a crack at it. Anyway, I truly do feel this is their best work up to this point and now I am really getting excited about what’s to come in the future. I still want to know, though, if they will have even MORE updated effects with the new model when they rerun “Balance of Terror” in December.

November 22, 2006 3:10 pm

Thanks for the excellent review Jeff and I agree, there is no way they are going to replace stunt guy faces. The time and money it would take to do that can be better spent elsewhere. I am sure that when we finally see the show in HD, all sorts of stuff that you couldn’t see before is going to become very apparent. On the other hand, the effects are going to look even better. The team are really designing things for HD…which makes it all the sadder that no one can see it in HD…yet.

November 22, 2006 3:12 pm
I was taken by the depth of the episode’s drama and the fascinating details (e.g., “He’s probably a Sikh; they are fantastic warriors.” In particular, McGiver’s infatuation with and submission to Kahn rang true, as did her vestigal loyalty to Kirk the man (in the decompression chamber). They are powerful men, yet Kirk is limited by his self-restraint and an Anglo-American sense of fair play; Kahn recognizes no such restraint. He “takes what he wants”, a true overcomer in the Nietzschean sense. In the final scene, when the crew speculates what will come of this “seed” Kirk planted, I realized… Read more »
Jeff Bond
November 22, 2006 3:38 pm

I have to say that as much as I love The Wrath of Khan, I was always disappointed by the characterization of Khan as a rather ordinary madman, too full of hubris and unhinged to be a real threat to Kirk despite the mayhem he unleashes. I always imagined a much more challenging battle of wits between Kirk and this superman…

Viking
November 22, 2006 3:59 pm

I haven’t been afforded the opportunity to view anything but the YouTube trailers thus far – but if the CGI enhancements keep progressing as they’re said to be, I’m very much looking forward to watching effects-laden episodes like ‘The Immunity Syndrome’ and ‘The Doomsday Machine’ (a personal favorite).

DIL
November 22, 2006 5:22 pm

First kiss on Space Seed? Plato’s Children.

Dip Thong
November 22, 2006 5:59 pm

#6: ” McGiver’s infatuation with and submission to Kahn rang true”

Really??! Sorry, but that is the most laughably outdated pre-feminism subplot of the whole episode. There is no way a woman with such clear emotional hang-ups would ever make it past the the starfleet psyche exams. My wife burst out laughing in shock when Khan throws McGivers to the floor and then she whimpers and says, “I’d like to stay.” We started chanting, “Hit me again, Ike! I’m nothing without my MAN!” Pee-yew.

Magic_Al
November 22, 2006 6:28 pm

The alleged interracial kiss would be that of Montalban, who is Mexican, and Madlyn Rhue (McGivers) who was a white American. However, latinos and whites are not considered different races, scientifically. It’s probably more accurately an inter-ethnic kiss. Whether it’s the first I don’t know.

November 22, 2006 7:49 pm

Wouldn’t Lucy & Ricky be the first Anglo-Latin Interracial kiss, by that criteria?? Just curious.

Cameron Boehme
Dallas, TX
cameron.boehme@sbcglobal.net

Cranston
November 22, 2006 8:24 pm

#11 – “not considered different races, scientifically.”

Actually, none of what we call “races” when referring to human populations are defined “scientifically.” They’re all socially defined categories, often (but not always) using a few highly visible physical traits as criteria. Scientifically, there are no distinct human “races.”

Captain Pike
November 22, 2006 8:42 pm

I was stuck by the fact there were no African “supermen” in Khan’s crew. Perhaps the producers thought it my be too provocative for some parts of the audience.
And Kirk letting, nay encouraging McGivers to go with Khan rather than face courtmartial – that always struck me as “off”. Let’s see would I prefer being drummed out of starfleet or would I like to be marooned on barren planet and become a bunching bag for an ego maniac? She’s obviously not competent to make the decision yet Kirk encourages her to make the choice that provides him the fewest problems.

Chuck Hunter
November 22, 2006 10:28 pm

She got what she deserved. She was one of the more annoying characters on Star Trek.

foobar
November 22, 2006 11:35 pm

These episodes make really look forward to the weekend – I haven’t been this giddy about ST since, well, I first started watching TOS when I just a wee lad.

Adam Cohen
November 23, 2006 1:43 am
RE: #7 (Bond, Jeff Bond!) I think Khan’s “madness” in TWOK is completely justified given the fact that he spent 15 years in a living hell, watching those he loved perish on Ceti Alpha 5. All that time, Khan contemplated what he would do if he should have the opportunity to face his jailor, James KIrk. And eventually Kirk understood that Khan’s greatest weakness was his ego, which the Admiral used to his advantage in baiting Khan into the Mutara Nebula. Khan = Capt. Ahab. And Nick Meyer wrote a fantastic, operatic version of Khan, which Montalban nailed. The only… Read more »
TomBot2006
November 23, 2006 3:56 am

Who cares if Kahn’s manboobies are real? ;)
Kahn and Marla really seemed to have a Dominant and submissive thing going on there… I didn’t think it was out of line for Kirk to let that “historian” off the hook.
And regarding Wrath of Kahn, if you had picked up on the background details or had read the novelization, you’d know that Kahn was one sick puppy after 15 years away. Heck, he was one sick puppy before. ;)
I also agree that this effort has rekindled my lost love of Trek.

Robert
November 23, 2006 4:33 am

Regarding Ricardo’s Pecks: If you listen to the director commentary on TWOK DVD, Nicholas Meyer covers this subject and says they are definitely real. Ricardo Montalban may have been a bit older, but he spent plenty of time in the gym between Space Seed and TWOK – is it really so unbelievable?

Picardsucks
November 23, 2006 10:01 am

they are real. I am a bodybuilder and have read that Ricardo was a bodybuilder. You can tell the difference. Also in fantasy Island he looks to be busting out of his Mr. Rouke suit

Jeff Bond
November 23, 2006 11:06 am

Yes, I “picked up” on the background details and read the novelization (novelizations are not necessarily “canon” BTW and background details added in them don’t necessarily have anything to do with the script or performance direction of the movies)…this is just my taste. I enjoy the movie and I love Montalban’s performance given what he was asked to do, I just would have preferred him to be a little more brilliant and a little less comic book crazy. After all, none of his fellow supermen, who were also marooned on a rock for 15 years, are such nutcases…

November 23, 2006 1:49 pm
“Really??! Sorry, but that is the most laughably outdated pre-feminism subplot of the whole episode. ” You need to learn the difference between ideology, peer-pressure, state propaganda, economics, hormones and instinct, dip thing. Feminism is wholly discredited except among certain populations of, well, certain populations that are not reproducing themselves. And yes, the IRS loves it, too. But wussy men, those whom C.S. Lewis called “men without chests”, went out of fashion on Sept 11. And they will never return, no matter how much whining there is. Marla McGivers is an archetype, Elanor Smeal, Betty Friedan and grrl power notwithstanding.… Read more »
November 23, 2006 2:01 pm

Thanks for the great review Jeff :-)
Glad to see you have warmed up to the CGI since the G4 interview.

JB
November 23, 2006 8:43 pm

You know who really, really hates feminism?

Terrorists. :)

THEETrekMaster
November 23, 2006 8:47 pm

I thought McGivers was hot.

TTM

Interositor
November 24, 2006 4:58 am
‘But wussy men, those whom C.S. Lewis called “men without chests”, went out of fashion on Sept 11. And they will never return, no matter how much whining there is.’ Olde Timey Fan, i question your reading of Lewis here, He was talking about having principles on which you based your reading of the world and how if you didn’t it would make you undynamic. It’s not about gender relations. I can accept that McGivers totally fell for Khan, and that women are quite capable of doing so. It’s not that it didn’t ring true that bothered me, it was… Read more »
Josh
November 24, 2006 9:50 am
Let’s abandon the entirely dated 20th century feminist/sexist mentality here about the Khan/Mcgivers dynamic. It’s so passe’. This is the 21st century, people should update their modalities of thought and frame of reference and let go of petty close-minded philosophies. Marla Mcgivers was a career professional woman highly trained, highly educated, highly sophisticated with an extreme fascination for history. Khan Noonian Singh was a highly dynamic, magnetic, living history lesson and Mcgivers became infatuated. It isn’t a reflection of weakness on McGivers part to have become enchanted by Khan, it is a reflection of how dangerous Khan is. And let’s… Read more »
Anonymous
November 25, 2006 2:57 am
Well, since it seems everyone’s gone a bit off-topic here, I’ll drop my two cents on Montalban’s chest in TWOK. A lot had been made about whether his pecs were real or not even back when the movie was in theaters. This was due to two things: One: Montalban’s age, and Two: the thick necklace with the broken Starfleet symbol he wore. Critics maintained that he wore the necklace to hide the seam of the chest prosthesis. However, it should be easy for even a casual viewer to see that Montalban’s physique hadn’t been enhanced. First, the skin color matches… Read more »
MichaelT
November 25, 2006 7:51 pm

It was a 60’s TV show, although ahead of it’s time, it still didn’t portray women as equals. I don not recall a female Starfleet Commander or Captain until… TNG.
It was written in the 60’s for the 60’s audience. Doesn’t make it wrong.

Fan since the original aired on NBC
November 25, 2006 9:49 pm

What still bothers me about the casting of TWOK is the age of Khan’s followers in relation to the original series. All the movie Khanulites seem to be in their twenties, which means that they would have been toddlers on the Botany Bay. But no children were ever seen in that episode nor mentioned at all. Also, leaving children stranded would have cost Kirk his career. No explanation given in the movie commentary, either.

Robert Bernardo
November 26, 2006 6:27 pm

Jeff Bond wrote:

> For the first time the radical improvement in the maligned “nacelle
> domes” is visible here–a nice, frosted glass-like highlight touches the
> leading edge and the colored illumination from within the domes is
> subtle, lacking the painted-on fan blades that plagued earlier shots.

Actually, if you look at the 1701 (but not the Mirror Enterprise) in the enhanced Mirror, Mirror episode, the nacelle dome modifications are already there.

Litenbug
November 27, 2006 9:36 pm

Are we back on those dam Nacelle domes again? Thought that was fixed and old news…

[…] The Botany Bay sleeper ship is an interesting design and the shots of it being pulled alongside the Enterprise are technically smooth, with no obvious compositing problems. The original shot of the Enterprise abandoning the Botany Bay …Read more: here […]

Kyle
November 28, 2006 9:24 pm
One more thought about Montalban’s chest… The necklace thing is a gimmick often used for aging starlets. Just as you might find Susan Lucci (All My Children) wearing a thick pearl necklace or a choker, Khan’s bling hides the area where the neck meets the collarbone — which isn’t very photogenic as we age. De Kelley’s civilian TWOK and SFS/VH costumes had a scarf (ascot?) for the same reason. I agree, though, that in Montalban’s case, his chiseled chest invited speculation. Even in interviews during the last 5 or 10 years, his upper body strength appears to be amazing for… Read more »
December 1, 2006 9:05 am

Hey guys,
I am extremely grateful to Joe for posting those effects reels. I’m up here in Canada where it HASN’T been broadcast yet (bastards!)and Joe’s reels were wonderful to watch.
However, I managed to get a copy of Space Seed and being that I couldn’t stand seeing those FX reels without that wonderful STAR TREK sound, I threw together an effects reel WITH sound for everyone…
ENJOY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpJufG0VsuY

wpDiscuz
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