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.
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.
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.
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.
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 form, but there’s a lot of thought and care going into these new shots and they are augmenting the overall experience for myself and a lot of other fans here, not taking away from the show a la the Star Wars: Special Editions. Yes, the FX are too good for 1960s technology, but times they have changed. The stories are what make TOS great. Now we have quality FX to enhance the experience. End of speech, let’s go to work…
Happy Thanksgiving everybody!
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 a very interesting to read!
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.
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.
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.
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 the tremendous story telling opportunity lost by The Wrath of Kahn when the decision was taken to make the plot a death struggle.
The terminology (“seed”) is itself highly sexually charged as any reader of the King James Bible knows. What kind of world *would* we have at the hands of the Superman? This was the goal of two megalomaniacal states in the 20th C, the Soviets (“The New Soviet Man” – man without nationality) and the German National Socialists (the “ubermensch” – the distillation of one particular nationality). Neither regime was allowed to complete their respective attempts at eugenics — Space Seed gave us a fascinating glimpse and it would be intriguing to have seen their handiwork a generation removed.
[Here’s a piece of trivia: “The world’s first interracial kiss” happened on Space Seed. Plato’s Stepchildren was a distant second and, in today’s world, it might be a candidate for a civil lawsuit over the apparent sexual harassment of an employee by her direct supervisor…]
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…
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).
First kiss on Space Seed? Plato’s Children.
#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.
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.
Wouldn’t Lucy & Ricky be the first Anglo-Latin Interracial kiss, by that criteria?? Just curious.
#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.”
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.
She got what she deserved. She was one of the more annoying characters on Star Trek.
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.
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 controversy I can identify from that portrayal is whether those pectoral muscles were in fact real. If you look at Khan in 1966, you see he’s built, but he’s not bulging like in 1982. I would like to support them being real, but I can’t. They’re too big!
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.
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?
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
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…
“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.
[You might also stop trying to shove all human beings into one, little, conforming, neutered box based on a narrow and unimaginative set of “lowest common denominator” prejudices.]
Thanks for the great review Jeff :-)
Glad to see you have warmed up to the CGI since the G4 interview.
You know who really, really hates feminism?
I thought McGivers was hot.
‘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 that her being physically attacked, and her not being outraged by it, is implied, by what you say, to be implicit in the female nature. She accepted being thrown down because she’s an archetypal chick and women are helpless before Ricardo Montalban’s bulging pecs.
Also that feminism has been discredited has nothing to do with whether this is not a potentially harmful representation. It’s remarkable, and indeed is remarked upon, because you don’t see sympathetic female characters knuckle under to male dominion so readily any more.
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 not forget Khan was pretty damn infatuated with Mcgivers as well.
I’ve found in life that the tighter people cling to ideological status and societal memes and labels that they infact are overcompensating for some serious lack in their own life, projecting their innate prejudices on others-
And these are the same types of people that fault true victims of crime as being “weak.”
It’s hypocrisy, and it’s disgusting.
Let’s leave the dime store professings on what constitutes social status for sociology 101, Star Trek is a fictional science fiction program with fictional two dimensional characters not at all indicative of the true human tapestry of character, integrity, and dimension.
Star Trek was painting women in a positive , professional light 30 years before “Designing Women” or “Ally Mcbeal”.
Star Trek doesn’t play on oxygen network so, let’s keep perspective here.
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 perfectly in any lighting (something even today’s makeup FX can’t do). Second, Montalban’s movements are very natural and fluid. A prosthetic would have restricted how he could move. Third, as mentioned above, he was a disciplined athlete and bodybuilder all of his life. Fourth (and the most convincing), after the Reliant and Enterprise trade phaser and photon fire, Khan has a wide gash across his chest. This is (obviously) makeup FX, and when Khan moves after receiving the wound, you can see it pucker and stretch against his movements. That would only happen if the appliance was attached directly to his chest. If it had been part of a larger chest-piece, it wouldn’t change shape at all. Finally, director Nicholas Meyer isn’t known for maintaining typical Hollywood movie-magic claptrap. If Montalban had been wearing a false chest-piece, Meyer would have said so and put the whole debate to rest long ago.
So, that’s my evidence on that topic. Anyone want to debate about Shatner’s hairpiece?
And to get us back on topic, the new effects in “Space Seed” were the best yet. Dramatic and extremely effective. If CBS Digital keeps this up, they’ll be blowing us away by the time the finish the series.
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.
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.
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.
Are we back on those dam Nacelle domes again? Thought that was fixed and old news…
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 his age and his physical limitations.
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…