You say ‘yes,’ I say ‘no…’
The Enterprise visits Starbase 11, ostensibly because Spock has received a request from his former captain – Christopher Pike – to divert there. Right away we learn two important things:
- Uhura’s not a gossip. There’s been "subspace chatter for months" about the fact that Pike was crippled in an accident, yet she’s never passed that information on to anyone aboard the Enterprise (except, apparently, Mr. Spock)
- Morse code, binary digital computing, and the game "Twenty Questions" do not exist in the "Star Trek" universe. As a result, although the otherwise mute Pike can signal in two distinct ways – one beep for "yes" and two for "no" – it’s considered virtually impossible to get specific or complex information from him (like, say, the answer to the question "is Mr. Spock lying to us?").
McCoy, for one, considers Spock lying to be "absolutely impossible." Embarrassingly for him, then, Spock tells a few more whoppers and steals the Enterprise in order to return Fleet Captain Pike to Talos IV: "the one forbidden world in all the Galaxy." When Kirk and Commodore Mendez catch up and put Spock on trial, his defense consists of making them watch an old “Star Trek” rerun. Luckily for them, it’s a good one that they haven’t seen.
Enter the “Star Trek Universe”
Despite the superficial and too-convenient logic of the “envelope” story concerning Spock’s crime and court martial, "The Menagerie" itself is one of Trek’s best episodes. It’s seminal in its contribution to the sense of a real future world, one with its own “history,” that has contributed so much to “Star Trek’s” enduring appeal for many of its most devoted fans. The clever use of material from a pilot shot years before featuring different actors and substantially different sets, effects and faux technology successfully evokes the illusion that the Trek Universe had existed and evolved for far longer than the few weeks the series had actually been broadcast. A “flashback” manufactured specifically for the episode in 1967 would likely not have been nearly so persuasive or gripping in its details.
The pilot telefilm “The Cage” from which the Pike sequences are drawn cost Desilu in the area of $600,000 (1964 dollars). The production values are extravagant, for the time; the recreated alien surface of Talos IV stands up well next to similar designs used in films like “Forbidden Planet.” Add to this the several hundred thousand dollar budget of a production “Star Trek” episode – including the Starbase 11 sets and matte paintings – and the two-part “Menagerie” compares favorably to any Hollywood feature science fiction film of the pre-“2001” era.
What’s bad in the remastered version?
Well…nothing. My single complaint with the CG in the last episode I reviewed ("City On The Edge Of Forever") was the poor "spinning light" effect in the Enterprise’s nacelles. That entire model has since been replaced, and the lighting effect is just fine.
The ship (and nacelles) are looking good
Space shots of the Enterprise. After a bit of a steep learning curve, CBS Digital has nailed the look of the Enterprise in space. In most instances the ship’s surfaces, its motion and scene lighting are everything one could ask for. The images are faithful to the atmosphere and design of the original series effects while adding detail. Like many another long-time fan, I’m glad to see the return of TOS’ multicolored star fields as well.
Unlike last week’s episode (“Space Seed”) the CG artists this week have stuck close to the composition of familiar original series model shots. In one early shot, they’ve recreated the famous orbital-approach-to-camera but moved the POV much closer to the ship and planet for a stronger dramatic effect. In another, they’ve re-rendered an angle of the Enterprise breaking orbit first recreated for the remastered “Miri,” and the vast improvement over their previous effort is easily apparent. CBS Digital has been spot-on at rendering planetary globes from the very beginning of this project, and both examples this week continue that success. The surfaces of both the Starbase 11 planet and Talos IV remain nonspecific, so swathed in cloud and splashes of color that any actual terrain features are only hinted at. The artists continue their practice of tying the dominant colors of the globes to the environments we see in the live-action surface sequences – something done haphazardly if at all in the original shots. The very close shot of the limb of Talos IV as Jose scans out those “rounded metallic bits of spaceship hull” is particularly striking.
The shuttlecraft space exterior is also good, and the ship now bears specific Starbase markings. The interior shots of Kirk and Mendez feature a subtle, moving star field visible through the forward window instead of the static backdrop originally filmed. A similar moving star field can be seen through the window of Pike’s cabin later in the episode. Another nice touch: a view of the Enterprise’s nacelles, visible in a rear-angle Main Viewer shot.
CBS artists name their first shuttle ‘Picasso’…it is a bit cubist
Extraordinary Digital Mattes
The most remarkable, and remarked-upon, new effects on display in the remastered “Menagerie Part I” are of course the digital model used to create mattes of Starbase 11 and the new zoom-in-through-the Bridge-dome shot which introduces us to the first crew of the Enterprise (don’t nitpick me on the “Robert April” thing, kids).
The Starbase matte is a fine piece of work, used to stunning effect in several distinct ways. The first is during the opening beam-down of Kirk and Spock and McCoy. Here the digital model creates a sense of true scale and perspective that was only partly conveyed by the excellent original painted matte. People are now visible moving about in the middle and far distance. The brilliant sky and ringed world overhead still evoke the romance of old “Golden Age” science fiction pulp magazine covers.
A day-lit image of this model is now visible through Commodore Mendez’ office window in the next shot, clearing up a minor continuity glitch: the cut-out towers originally used outside the windows on the Starbase office and hospital sets were black, set against a deep blue “sky” backing, and lit to suggest a cityscape at night.. However, since our people materialize in the plaza at what looks like high noon this left us to wonder how many hours Kirk and cooled their heels in the waiting room before being granted audience with the Great and Wonderful Commodore. A few moments later, when we meet the crippled Fleet Captain Pike, the camera follows him wheeling about in his support chair. The parallax view on the CG cityscape outside the window changes in a much more realistic way than the cutouts placed only a few inches beyond the sill could. The original silhouette towers and backdrop are still used in later scenes in Mendez’ office. Here, though, they’re enhanced by the addition of moving lights representing Starbase flying vehicles crossing the night sky.
Starbase 11 now gets day and night
The push-in on the Bridge of Pike’s Enterprise is a particularly challenging shot for a number of reasons – two of which are that the digital version includes a transition from a CG model of the Bridge set and crew(!) to live action and that the camera POV zooms in on the live action at an angle which is too low. In the 1965 version, the difference in angle between the outer saucer and the stage floor is obvious. In the recreation, it looks to me as if the digital “camera” actually moves in on the exterior model at an angle similar to the original and then, as the shot transitions from digital to live action actually drops down into the scene to match perspectives. I have a little experience with the particular challenges involved. CBS Digital pulls it off nearly flawlessly.
What’s left alone
I like to note things that one might expect the artists at CBS to consider touching up but which they choose not to tinker with. This may well be simply because of lack of time or interest, but I can’t help hoping that sometimes it’s a matter of deliberate restraint. This week, aside from leaving the extraordinarily detailed Talos IV soundstage “exteriors” entirely alone, I notice that nothing appears to have been added to the overhead Bridge displays on Pike’s Enterprise. The pilot version of the Enterprise Bridge shown in “The Cage” included continually changing displays above each perimeter station. This was accomplished via the use of slide projectors and back projection. Supposedly, union rules required that each projector be manned by a separately assigned crewperson, so the effect was deemed prohibitively expensive. Therefore, when “Star Trek” went to series the overhead displays remained static most of the time. One might think there’d have been a temptation to add a new graphic here or there and I’m glad they didn’t do it. The story of Christopher Pike and his strange adventure on Talos VI deserves, more than almost any episode of “Star Trek,” to be preserved as a kind of an historical document.
Pike’s bridge just fine as is
About those missing credits…
The folks at CBS Digital are doing fine and often inspired work, week after week, at a breakneck pace. Does CBS Paramount ever intend to add their names to the credits at the end of these remastered episodes? If not, why not?
Dennis Russell Bailey is the coauthor of two episodes of Star TrekThe Next Generation, "Tin Man" and "First Contact." Most recently he’s served as co-producer, writer, CG effects and design artist and bottle-washer for the independent film ‘Starship Exeter‘