Taking Blu-ray to ‘The Next Generation’3 Feb, 2012 By: John Latchem
Just in time for its 25th anniversary, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is getting a high-tech makeover to prepare the show for release on Blu-ray Disc.
“Blu-ray has become the optimum way to view programs at home, so we have to take as many shows as possible and reissue them in that manner,” said Ken Ross, EVP and GM of CBS Home Entertainment. “Fans have asked for ‘TNG’ in high-def more than any other series in our library. With the great fan response from the original series Blu-ray release, this was the next logical release.”
Set on a starship in the 24th century, the 1987-94 series starred Patrick Stewart as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, Jonathan Frakes as Commander Riker, Brent Spiner as Data, Michael Dorn as Worf, LeVar Burton as Geordi, Marina Sirtis as Counselor Troi, Gates McFadden as Dr. Crusher, and Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher. The show won several awards during its run and was nominated for an Emmy for Best Drama Series in its final year.
All 178 episodes from the show’s seven seasons will be remastered in 1080p high-def for Blu-ray, as well as runs on television and digital platforms.
The husband-and-wife team of Michael and Denise Okuda are acting as consultants for the project, after serving in a similar capacity for the remastering work done for the three seasons of the original “Star Trek,” which was released on Blu-ray in 2009.
Michael worked as a graphics designer on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and its spinoff films, as well as “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (1993-99), “Star Trek: Voyager” (1995-2001) and “Enterprise” (2001-05), when they were originally in production. Denise was a video supervisor and scenic artist for “DS9,” “Voyager,” “Enterprise” and some of the “TNG”-based films.
“‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ is arguably the most popular of the ‘Star Trek’ shows, and to bring it to life in glorious HD is a real thrill,” Michael said.
“The HD is unbelievably beautiful,” Denise said. “You’ll see things in high-definition that you never noticed before.”
To give fans a taste of what to expect, CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Media Distribution Jan. 31 released Star Trek: The Next Generation — The Next Level. The sampler, listed at $21.99, includes four episodes to demonstrate the effectiveness of the series in HD: the two-part pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint”; the season-three episode “Sins of the Father”; and the season-five episode “The Inner Light.”
The episodes were chosen, Michael said, to represent a cross-section of the series.
“Farpoint” introduces the characters, “Sins” begins a years-long story arc focusing on the Klingons (which continued into “Deep Space Nine”), and “Inner Light” is a fan favorite episode about Picard experiencing an alternate life.
The disc also contains a trailer for a Blu-ray release of the complete first season, due later this year, and a video showcasing a new iPad app containing a “Star Trek” database.
Converting the episodes to HD proved to be a challenge because, while the series was shot on film, it was edited together on videotape. This would prove especially problematic for presenting the show’s visual effects in HD because of the limits of videotape resolution.
To create true HD masters, CBS has gone back to the original uncut film negative (comprising more than 25,000 film reels) to reassemble the episodes as they originally aired. This includes re-creating the show’s special effects from the original elements that were shot for them.
“We were confronted with the decision of either upconverting the standard-def visual effects to high-def, which was economically — but not artistically — more appealing, or bite the bullet, spend the time and money and go back to the original film elements and re-create the effects,” Ross said. “We chose the latter, and we think fans will be much happier and appreciate the final results.”
The process differs significantly from the method used to remaster the original “Star Trek,” which ran from 1966 to 1969. The original visual effects elements no longer existed, so new CGI visuals had to be created.
“We didn’t have the original camera elements necessary to re-create things,” Michael said. “Here, the vast majority do exist.”
Michael noted the fact that the ‘TNG’ negatives still exist is a testament to the forward thinking of the producers when the show began production.
“I remember my first meeting on ‘TNG’ and the producer said we were going to do the visual effects on video. It was a bold decision at the time and would allow ‘TNG’ to have more effects than the original series,” Michael said. “I wondered what we would do if we ever wanted to show episodes theatrically, and he told me we were going to save the film.”
Unlike the remastering of the original “Trek,” where CGI was used to fix errors, create new backgrounds and enhance other scenes, the Okudas said “TNG” was largely being left unaltered.
“We’re trying to replicate what you saw when ‘TNG’ first aired,” Denise said.
“The goal is to leave the impression that what’s there is exactly what was there before, with nothing standing out that would draw your eye,” Michael said. “For the most part, we were going to let the thing stand, but occasionally we’ll make a teeny tweak.”
He pointed to a scene in “Encounter at Farpoint” in which an energy beam that emanated from the Captain’s Yacht has been moved to the phaser bank.
While the effort is painstaking, sometimes unavoidable problems do arise, Michael said. About 13 seconds of footage from the “Sins of the Father” negative was missing and had to be upconverted from a videotape source, rendering the image not as crisp as the rest of the episode, though it does provide a nice contrast of how good the restoration job really has been.
Another issue with the newfound clarity involves fans suddenly being able to see background details not meant to be seen by the audience. What became known as “Okudagrams,” referring to Michael’s work on the graphics printed onto props and visible on display screens, often contained jokes and pop-culture references not appropriate for the show’s sci-fi setting. For example, a map of the Enterprise-D reveals a Porsche parked in the shuttle bay, while a large duck wanders the halls.
“You want to leave them in because people will look for them,” Michael said. “But if they start drawing the attention away from the characters we’d have to do something about it.”
In general, the Okudas said, the show holds up very well after two decades.
“‘TNG’ is an amazing show and a lot richer than you think,” Michael said.
As for the other “Star Trek” shows on Blu-ray, that’s a question for the future. While “Enterprise” was originally shot in HD, Michael noted, “DS9” and “Voyager” were filmed the same way as “TNG,” so their effects also would have to be re-composited to maximize their effectiveness on Blu-ray.
Still, Ross did not rule out the possibility of a Blu-ray release for the other shows some day.
“Our focus right now is on ‘Next Gen,’ but we will certainly consider all of the other ‘Star Trek’ series,” Ross said.