This is the second of our series of looking back to past Trek films and seeing what they can teach us about how to make Trek work again on the big screen. In the wake of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (TMP), which did solid business but was very expensive, Trek’s future remained uncertain. At one point there was even a rumor (reported in the New York Times) that Trek would return to the small screen with a new series involving all the leads. In the end Paramount decided to keep going with feature films, but make some big personnel changes. They bought out Roddenberry’s remaining interest in the Trek property, and handed the reins over to veteran TV producer Harve Bennett (best known for producing The Mod Squad, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Bionic Woman). Bennett tells the story about how Gulf+Western CEO Charles Bluhdorn gave him marching orders “to make a movie that isn’t boring for less than 45 f—ing million dollars.” Coming from the low budget world of TV, Bennett assured Bluhdorn he could make 3 movies for that amount, and he just about did. Bennett then set off to learn everything about Trek and got to work on what would be the first of a trilogy of successful Trek films.
The results of the Bethesda Software’s Star Trek: Legacy game are like the recent solstice. Depending on your perspective, it is either darkness or light. The game is one of the first official Trek video games in two years, and certainly the most anticipated. It is also the first Star Trek venue of any kind to feature performances by all five Trek captains (in the form of voice acting by Shatner, Stewart, Brooks, Mulgrew and Bakula). The question is what will Legacy’s legacy be with Star Trek fans and gamers? Is it darkness or light? Perhaps a bit of both.
For weeks without TOS-R episodes to review, TrekMovie.com will instead review a Trek film to see where it went right and where it went wrong, and what Trek XI can learn from it. The year: 1979. Ten years had passed since NBC cancelled “Star Trek” and in that time it had become a hit in syndicated reruns. A growing fan base began holding conventions and were continually teased with the posibility of a return of their heroes from the 23rd century. After a short lived animated series in the early 70s, Paramount Paramount greenlit a low-budget “Trek” film entitled “Planet of the Titans.” About two weeks before “Star Wars” exploded onto American movie screens in May 1977, Paramount pulled the plug and then a few months later committed to bringing back “Star Trek” as a TV show. “Star Trek II” (which would have included all the original stars except for Leonard Nimoy) would be the cornerstone of a new ‘Paramount Network’. No sooner did Paramount move on that project then they did a complete about-face, killing the new network, canceling “Phase II,” and transforming its two-hour pilot script “In Thy Image” into a big-budget motion picture. The script was heavily rewritten, Nimoy came back to the fold, and legendary Oscar-winning director Robert Wise took the helm. And the rest, as they say, is history.
“You are under our power…”
“Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear…"Visiting the planet Talos IV is the only death sentence crime in the Federation. You land there, they’ll execute you. They just won’t tell anyone why. This raises some ugly questions about the Federation’s system of justice, but there’s no time for that now because Spock has stolen the Enterprise in order to return Fleet Captain Christopher Pike to Talos IV. Unable to control the ship, Kirk and Commodore Mendez spend the trip alternately watching a replay of the events of Pike’s first visit to Talos and court martialing Spock. The replay of events is the more interesting by far, particularly because some of Pike’s fantasies have been spruced up for the new "Star Trek Remastered" by the folks at CBS Digital.
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.
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.
We review the cult classic cartoon on DVD.
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…
Trouble with Quibbles Working under a ludicrous schedule and forced to deliver unfinished work is no doubt a sore spot for the folks at CBS Digital. The first episodes of Star Trek: Remastered were uneven at best. Quality matte and live action replacement details were accompanied by poorly lit space shots, and a decidedly plastic looking Starship Enterprise. Such quality is usually only seen in test shots never meant to be seen outside the studio screening rooms. Years ago I had gone through the process of trying to find a style and look that was reminiscent of the original and yet still updated for the modern day. CBS Digital has been going through this same process as well, but with an audience watching their progression each week. We lived through the good, the bad and the mediocre. Now, at last, there is a lot more of the good in Star Trek Remastered.
Kirk and the gang find a planet where an alien odd couple has set up their own private house of horrors complete with spectral witches, a sinister castle, a black cat and zombified landing party members. All of this seems to be an elaborate ruse to discourage uninvited guests and/or evaluate their worthiness as a species, etc, etc. It’s a rare, Halloween themed episode of Star Trek with some fun and memorable moments, but mostly you’ll go home with a bag full of cheese instead of candy. With the new remastered ‘Catspaw’ you get more castle, more cat and no strings attached.
When I was about six my father sat me down to watch a show with a guy in a yellow and black uniform fighting it out in the desert with a big, ugly, green skinned lizard. He told me it was called ‘Star Trek’ and I was hooked. I voraciously devoured every episode and, in through my formative years, the show and its characters became a central part of my worldview. My childhood hero was Captain James T. Kirk, and few episodes of the original series epitomized who and what he was better than my first episode: “Arena,” Now the Remastered version brings back all those memories and created some brand new ones…if you are looking close enough.
Harcourt Fenton Mudd appeared in only two Original Series episodes and one episode of the Animated Series, but he is probably one of the best remembered and best loved supporting characters Star Trek has ever had. Harry Mudd was the prototypical rogue and scoundrel, a petty thief, an outrageous liar and a brazen conman with a rap sheet as long as Kirk’s service record. He was a walking, talking, conniving refutation of Roddenberry’s whole concept of “evolved” human beings, and all the more interesting for it, if you ask me.
Captain Kirk Meets The No-Win Scenario The Enterprise crew discovers an alien time machine on an uncharted, lifeless world. In a fit of drug-induced paranoia (it’s an accident, kids — I can’t stress this enough; don’t do drugs, stay in school), “Bones” McCoy leaps back into 1930s New York and alters history such that the “Star Trek universe” never happens. Kirk and Spock go back in time themselves in order to fix history; in a twist familiar to anyone who has read much of Harlan Ellison’s work, a blameless young woman who loves the protagonist has to be killed in order to make Everything Okay Again.
As a kid, Devil in the Dark was always one of my favorite episodes because it’s just about the closest thing Star Trek has ever done to a bona fide monster movie. It’s also one of the cheesier episodes in terms of paper mache rocks and tunnels, melodramatic performances and a monster that looks like an unholy union between a shag carpet and a giant pan pizza. It’s essentially a bottle show and most of it takes place down on the planet, but there are a few unique opportunities for updated visual effects.
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.
I’m torn. Torn between my reaction to the IDEA of this project and the final realization of it. Also, I’m torn between knowing the dedication and talent that the people responsible for this obviously have, and my ho-hum reaction to the final product. Bottom line… Star Trek Remastered is ok. But it is mostly a wasted opportunity. Why just ok? I don’t know… honestly. After one episode, all I can think is that I hope it gets better… because right now, it isn’t justifying its existence. Obviously, the new HD transfer is lovely… I just wish it were being broadcast that way. The original film elements look excellent. The effects seem flat. I guess having those transfers paid for is reason enough to do this project, since theoretically all the new transfers will be made available in the future in their original form. But frankly, the new additions aren’t up to snuff just yet.