I’ve been a big fan of Star Trek since before I was born. My mom was busy writing letters to NBC to keep the show on the air while pregnant with me. I grew up with the original show in reruns and can still remember when the special effects were considered special. Those spectacular shots of the Enterprise flying through space and orbiting strange new worlds every week were the best looking on television. Of course, to be fair, there wasn’t much competition at the time (Lost in Space anyone?). However, after Star Wars hit the movie screens and the first incarnation of Battlestar Galactica hit the airwaves, Star Trek began to look a bit dated. And in the forty years since the show first aired, the effects have looked longer and longer in the tooth.
CBS Television bought the rights to the original Star Trek a couple of years ago and decided to update some of the effects in those classic episodes using technology that just wasn’t available way back in the Twentieth Century. I’ve seen a number of these new “re-imagined” episodes. I have to say I like the new opening credits and like the fact when the crew of the Enterprise visits a strange new world, it is actually a new world. Exo III and Delta Vega and M113 no longer look exactly alike. Flint’s castle keep is no longer identical to the fortress Captain Pike is trapped in on planet Rigel VII. I think the artists have done wonders with the planet surfaces as well. Often times, Captain Kirk and landing party would beam down onto a planet that was all too recognizable as a soundstage. They didn’t even look like they were outside much less on an alien world. However, the skies have been enhanced in a lot of the new episodes and the scale opened up. The empty city on Scalos, Spock’s ancestral battlefield on Vulcan, even Eden – the destination of the “Space Hippies” – has been significantly improved.
Ironically, it’s the shots of the Enterprise that are the weakest effects in the new versions. Say what you want about the old special effects, the model of the ship always looked like it had weight. In truth the model wasn’t much of a model; it was eleven feet long! Too many of the new shots look “computer-y”. The new Enterprise shots have a lot of unnecessary camera movement, indicative of so many digital effects these days. While I like the fact they show the Enterprise at different angles, often times the shots don’t match up with the music of the show very well. Unlike the elevator music in the later flavors of Star Trek, the score of the original show cannot be ignored. When the majestic “Enterprise orbits the planet” cue hits, you were put into a specific frame of mind like one of Pavlov’s dogs. You expect when the “prototypical Jaws theme of impending doom” begins, there will be some fast action on the screen to match. Instead, we seem to get treated to a long, slow tracking shot or something similarly non-urgent.
Of course, if the episodes can be re-imagined, there’s no reason they can’t be re-re-imagined. There are a number of fans out there these days working wonders on the old episodes. CBS probably got the idea of cleaning up the special effects by a guy who made his own updates of The Doomsday Machine episode for fun. Others are making their own “fourth season” episodes on the Enterprise or one of her sister ships in the Federation. And if none of these options pans out to get what I think is the perfect version of Star Trek, I suppose I could always write a letter to CBS. Letter writing worked pretty well back in the day.