I first started working on 3D models of the USS Enterprise in the early 90s when I was studying computer-aided design. I got hooked on the idea of updating those beloved but antiquated special effects using modern computer technology and I have continued to pursue it on my own ever since. Given my interest in updating the look of the show, you might think that I would be ecstatic at this development and I am for the most part, but I still haven’t decided exactly what to think about certain aspects of it. Somewhat to my own surprise, I have come to realize that my own unofficial tinkering and that of other much more accomplished 3D artists like Darren Dochterman is an altogether different thing than an official production by CBS. Theirs is the definitive version, after all, and will be remembered as such for good or ill. From what I’ve seen so far, the transfer to HD was a definite improvement even when viewed as an SD broadcast,
but I daresay the replacement of the original effects shots is going to generate far more controversy, not only among purists but also among those who might have wished for something even more radical.
The new effects in Miri
“Miri” is not a space battle or action/adventure kind of episode; it’s much more of a character piece and a cautionary tale about the dangers of interfering with the natural order of things. I always enjoyed it as an interesting and slightly creepy what-if type of story but I don’t think it’s ever been listed among the series’ favorites, so I have to assume that the decision to air it this early was probably due to it being one of the easier episodes to update special effects-wise. We get the first glimpse of those new effects in the very first scene as we gaze forward from a familiar angle above the Enterprise’s starboard warp nacelle. The ship looks amazing in this shot, clearer and brighter than it has ever been but still instantly recognizable. This shot in particular could easily pass for an expertly cleaned-up original rather than a whole new sequence.
Next up is a more authentic view of Earth—or an exact duplicate of it—on the bridge view screen. In the original version, the planet was conspicuously devoid of clouds and gave the distinct impression that “Rand McNally” must have been printed on it somewhere. The new version is much more realistic, sharp and vivid as a NASA photograph. Realistic planets, especially ones like Earth, are a lot harder to do in CG than most people realize and they seem to have done a good job of it here, right down to the glowing fringe of atmosphere and the shadows beneath the clouds, though the atmosphere was a little too fuzzy and diffuse in a couple of later shots
On to the opening titles. The first thing I notice is that they’ve smoothed out the ship’s motion as it approaches the camera for the fly-by. Those little bobs and jitters are one of the things I always wanted to fix myself so this is a good thing. The second thing I notice is that the spinning nacelle domes look awful. They are way too bright and too orange, the blades are little more than alternating light and dark stripes, and the flashing lights inside are barely visible. The effect of those domes is notoriously hard to duplicate in CG but lots of people have done it better, including me. The rest of the ship is a masterpiece of authenticity as far as I can tell, though it does seem a tad over lit and lacking in contrast. The original shots were often a little too dark but they had strong shadows to give the ship some added dimension. In the new version, it looks like it’s just being blasted with white light from every direction with the color saturation ramped up to compensate, and a lot of the sense of scale is literally being washed out
Back from the break, we are treated to the classic establishing shot of the Enterprise in orbit, arcing gracefully away around the right-hand curve of the planet. My jaw drops. With the distracting nacelle domes hidden from view, the ship looks absolutely gorgeous! The scene still seems overly bright but I attribute a lot of that to the fully sunlit Earth that dominates the view; the Enterprise herself is appropriately contrasty and massive looking. And speaking of Earth, I notice the clouds over North America are unnaturally sparse even in this new version, enough so that I have to wonder if it’s a deliberate nod to the spirit of the original. So far they seem to be taking great pains to preserve the original composition and character, which, along with the sheer beauty of this shot, fills me with renewed hope
Subsequent effects sequences include two more views of the ship in orbit, one as it approaches from around the left-hand curve of the planet and another from side-on as it glides past above the horizon, both classic shots that remain virtually unchanged. Two things continue to bug me, though: The nacelle domes are so bad that I can barely pay attention to anything else when they’re visible, and the amount of fill light on the ship is just way too high. Even when the shadows are stronger, they still look flat and unnatural. It also occurs to me during the second scene that the early filming model with the solid, copper colored nacelle domes was used in the original version, which makes the new domes look even more out of place, but I really can’t hold that one against them.
In the final scenes of the episode, there are three more views of the Enterprise as it breaks orbit and departs into deep space. The first, where it’s coming toward us above the curve of the planet is well done except for those obnoxious nacelle domes. There’s a blue tint on the ship’s underside from light reflected off the planet that adds a nice touch of realism. The other two shots are of the ship flying toward us and then away until it vanishes in the distance, stock footage that was used dozens of times at the close of various episodes throughout the series. Both are some of the closest and most drawn-out views we ever get of the ship, allowing plenty of time to scrutinize every detail. Unfortunately, the lighting here is about the worst of the lot, making the ship look so flat and featureless that I actually wondered if the 3D model had been textured at all. It’s also rather obvious that the motion of the stars in these two shots doesn’t really match the motion of the ship, which is authentic to the originals and probably deliberate, but it’s one of those little flaws I would have been happier to see fixed.
New music and sounds and Spock
One of CBS’s selling points on Trek Remastered is the rerecorded opening them and I noticed right away that the music sounds different. It’s supposed to be the exact same arrangement as the original but there area couple of parts where the emphasis of one set of instruments over another seems to have changed, or perhaps it’s just a byproduct of the digital surround sound effect. Either way, it sounded great on my system. I also noticed some interesting things about the audio track as the episode progressed. In a couple of shipboard scenes, the doors could be heard hissing and swishing from different speakers in my surround sound setup, which was cool. Later, in the scenes within the laboratory down on the planet, the chemistry set McCoy had brewing was making these repetitive little burbling noises that I don’t ever remember hearing before. At first I thought it was funny, but a lot of those scenes are fairly lengthy and it gets annoying fast. Then there was the phaser blast Kirk used against “Louise;” it seemed to have a different, more piercing quality to it that about made me jump right off the couch.
There were a lot of other new things I noticed as well, possibly because of the clarity of the HD transfer or maybe just because I was paying closer attention to this episode than I have in years. Spock was either squinting into the sunlight or Nimoy was letting slip a “what the—“ expression when Kirk handed him the tricycle that had me laughing out loud. Ditto for the scene where McCoy and Rand step away to give Kirk a moment alone with Miri and remain in the background, taking overly obvious interest in the wallpaper, the furnishings and a skewed painting next to the doorway. I’ve also been told that the scene where the blemishes vanish from McCoy’s face was touched up, but I always thought that one was pretty smooth to begin with so you really couldn’t prove it by me
A mixed bag
Overall, I enjoyed the new version of the episode and felt it was an improvement on the original in most respects. The HD transfer and the enhanced audio are very much worth the experience by themselves and made the episode fresh and new in ways I hadn’t expected. The effects, on the other hand, are less of a clear-cut improvement. I can understand why the decision was made to re-do them, because the originals probably would have lost more than they would have gained at HD resolution, but I also sympathize with those people who would have preferred to keep them anyway. All of the new shots are superior in terms of raw visual quality and several of them are simply stunning enough to take your breath away, but about an equal number of them suffer from lighting problems and, dare I say, an overly authentic adherence to the character of the originals. Realism is a hard term to define objectively, but I think they could have done more to enhance the realism of the effects shots and still maintain the aesthetic quality of the originals.
Having said all that, I have to confess that upon repeated viewings while preparing for this review, there was a point where I suddenly realized how quickly I had grown accustomed to the new effects and how easy it was to forget that they had been replaced at all. That by itself is a commendable accomplishment, whatever else they may have succeeded or failed in doing. I’ll be curious to see what they do with future episodes. I’m also pleased that some of my favorite episodes like The Doomsday Machine and The Ultimate Computer have apparently been held back until well into next year, which will hopeful allow enough time to give them the attention they deserve.
Editor’s Note: TrekMovie.com does not yet have screenshots from Miri, but we do plan on providing those for each episode. When we can get a digital copy of Miri Remastered we will add them to the Remastered episode guide. StarTrek.com video preview of Miri.
Jason Lee is a lighting designer and computer graphics specialist. Better known by his online moniker, “Vektor,” he owns and operates Vektor Visual, a graphic design and 3D visualization studio, and is working on his own CG update of the special effects from numerous original Star Trek episodes.
Last week’s premiere was not aired at the time advertised in NY (WNBC). Does anyone have any idea whether or not this week’s episode will be moved from that time slot as well (3:30AM MONDAY)? If anyone has any info on this week’s episode airtime (and maybe even an explanation about last week’s time being changed too!) I would greatly appreciate your sharing. Thanks.
To Jason, excellent review, seems to be very thoughtfully composed and written. Haven’t seen “Miri” yet in the New York area, but the analysis of the remastering seems to apply to “BOT” as well. Thanks for the keen insights.
To Adam C., tv.yahoo.com lists the next NYC airing at 2:45 am on 9/25 (this jibes with the timing of the BOT broadcast) while WNBC shows a 3:05 am timeslot. To be safe, I’d record from 2:00 am to 5:00 am and cover your bets.
Thank you Lao3D!
I, too, am becoming more and more comfortable with this new CG take on the original series, after a big letdown on the first viewing. The Enterprise does look gorgeous and all of the space shots are smooth and crisp where they never were before. I still would have prefered modern CG effects (re: A Mirror Darkly and Tribble-ations) but I understand the intention here on CBS’ part and it is an honorable one.
But what has made all of this worth the effort is the visual remastering and the nothing short of brilliant audio! You really need to hear these newly remastered episodes on as good a system as you can get to really appreciate what these folks have done. And if the remastered film looks this good in SD, I can hardly wait until we all see it in HD!
On a side note, Star Trek- Enterprise is on Mark Cuban’s HDNet now and it is viaually stunning in true HD. Check it out if you can.
“but there area couple of parts where the emphasis of one set of instruments over another seems to have changed”
Musicians refer to this as “balance” and recoding engineers call it “mixing”.
I think recording techniques have changed enough since the 1906s (not necessarily better, just different) that it would be difficult to obtain the same sound even from an identical orchestra.
Somewhere, the orginal stereo recordings may yet exist. If so, wouldn’t it be a hoot to remix them into the new prints?
Is there going to be a side-by-side comparison page for Miri like the other remastered episodes so far? The “TOS Remastered Episode List” has no link.