My Star Trek: The Next Generation — The Next Level disc arrived yesterday and I took the opportunity to watch the first episode on the disc — Encounter at Farpoint — last night.
Let me just say that, after only having the horrible transfers to DVD for years (especially horrible are the first couple of seasons) the image quality looks absolutely amazing! I mean it’s really incredible! The colors are much more true, the clarity and vibrance are breathtaking. TNG has really never looked this good.
This is the flyover at the end of the title sequence. Remember that this is the original model work, rescanned and re-composited in HD, but still the original work. Now notice the attention to detail. There are actually people in the observation lounge! That was never apparent before in the SD releases of TNG.
Of course, no amount of remastering of the image quality is going to make up for the horribly overwritten pilot. Or the bad acting that plagued the first season (and to a lesser extent the second season) of TNG. Or the fact that Gene Roddenberry had some strange ideas about what the 24th century would be like, or how uniforms would look in the future. Despite how great the image looks the quirkiness of Encounter at Farpoint remains, for good or for ill. The storyline still doesn’t make a lot of sense, and the seats at ops and conn still look stupid in that silly half reclined position. But to those of us who love TNG, and who know that it got soooo much better after season 2, I suppose it’s part of the charm.
Of course there is a lot of good to be had here. Encounter at Farpoint is rendered much easier to stomach now that the quality of the picture is vastly improved. And unlike with the remastering of The Original Series in HD, the effects and models have, for the most part, not been replaced with CGI. In fact the team has said that they are using original film elements and effects wherever possible. 1 In the case of TOS it was necessary to replace all effects and models with CGI since the model work and effects from the 60s simply would never hold up (they were in fact looking really really bad for a long time), and the original film elements had not been preserved, only the composites. In the case of TNG, the effects work was actually ground breaking. All the model shots were done on 35 mm film, of which most of the original elements are available in the archives, so the remastering team is able to simply transfer the original shots and re-composite it all with today’s technology. The result is pure awesomeness. It is my opinion that low budget CGI work simply can’t compare to the excellent model work originally done for TNG so I’m glad that is being preserved. There are of course some exceptions, and there will be some CGI work throughout the remastering of the series. For instance, Mike Okuda has said that over the course of the series many different techniques have been used for phasers and photon torpedoes (for instance). Often times those elements exist only in SD video resolution and so will need to be redone in CG. Mike Okuda has also referenced that occasionally a planet will need to be redone in CGI, such as in Sins of the Father because the planet only ever existed in video resolution. And they do have a digital CGI model of the Enterprise D because they know at some point in the series it will be needed when the occasional occurrence of a film element not being found happens. All in all, if Encounter at Farpoint is any indication, the model work and original effects hold up very well even by my stringent standards.
There were some things that were more noticeable. Data’s make up for instance just isn’t quite right. I’m not sure if they were using some sort of lipstick on him, or if it’s just that the pale skin makeup makes the lips stand out more. But whatever it was, it was way more noticeable how bad it was in that first episode. There were times when camera moves were shaky and not well executed which was made more noticeable due to the quality of the images being so much better.
Of course there are nerdy things to like too. Such as this: The original composite of this shot had the energy beam feeding the creature coming out of The Captain’s Yacht (the center portion of the underside of the saucer section) instead of the (later well established) phaser emitter bar. This remastering process provides the opportunity to correct things like that. This is, from a nerd’s perspective, much better! The beam is emanating from the proper place on the ship.
I did want to address something that I read in TrekMovie.com’s review of this sampler disc.
While there is more detail, it is important to remember that this show is 25 years old and so things were shot differently back then. The look can be a little soft (partially because of the purposefully slightly soft style common in the 1980s), and they have varying levels of film grain (again an indicator of the era), though nothing overly distracting.
Personally, I found the look of the remastered TNG to be most pleasing. As far as I’m concerned, a very little hint of film grain is a desired quality. And I found no part of it to “look soft” to my eyes. It was not harsh looking by any means, but rather pleasing to look at. I’m a big fan of the filmic look, and as one who is often not a fan of the look of today’s movies and TV shows, I am very pleased with the look of TNG remastered.
I can’t wait for whole seasons to be released in HD. The teaser is just that and I’m excited to see the work being done.