TNG Theatrical Screenings – July 23rd

As I’ve just recently jumped back into doing this blog, it seems only right to report on last evening’s nationwide Star Trek: The Next Generation theater event in celebration of the release today of the completely remastered Season 1 on Blu-Ray.

TNG RemasteredFirst, a bit of background: Star Trek:TNG premiered in 1987 –  25 years ago if you can believe that!  I know I can’t!!  So, it is altogether fitting that the Blu-Ray release of its first full season should coincide with such an important anniversary.  Because of the significance of the 25th anniversary, as well as the great difficulty in remastering the shows, and the immeasurable (potential) improvement in the quality of the visuals and audio, a “one-night-only” theatrical screening of two remastered first season episodes was planned for the eve of the release – which happened to be last night.

The screening provided fans an opportunity to celebrate by enjoying TNG on the big screen; an opportunity which would not have been possible but for the remastering, a process which gave motion picture quality to television shows that had been previously mastered onto video tape. In addition to the two TV episodes, the screening also included a pair of documentaries and a preview of the forthcoming Season 2 Blu-Ray set.

Although not every theater was showing it, the screening was running in 7 or 8 movie houses within 10 miles of me.  In addition, because this was a nationwide event, tickets were available in advance through Fandango and Fathom Events.  So, I went online and acquired the tickets for my wife, my son, and myself and I was flabbergasted at the $12.50 apiece price tag!  That’s more than I paid to see The Dark Night Rises on a Saturday night!

In any case, we got to the theater about 15 minutes before showtime and easily found seats.  In fact, I was a bit disappointed as I would have expected a larger turnout.  By the time all was said and done, the theater was at only about 50-60% capacity; further validation of my recent feeling that the excitement that once surrounded the Star Trek franchise is waning significantly.  I also didn’t see fans in Trek uniforms or other costumes, which was a bit of a let down.  Although, at least, my son and I donned Star Trek T-shirts.  One positive note, however, the event started precisely at the advertised time of 7:00 PM. So, the assembled crowd, which consisted mostly of young adult males and middle-aged couples, didn’t have to sit through 20 minutes of unrelated movie previews.

Up first was a documentary on the technical challenges of remastering the NextGen TV episodes.  It was interesting to say the least, as a great deal of detail was revealed about the painstaking nature of the project and some of the hurdles that CBS Digital had to overcome to get it done at all.  There were interviews, effects montages, and before & after comparisons to show the extreme improvement in visual and audio quality that resulted from the remastering effort.  I do wonder if the overall length of this documentary could have been trimmed a bit – just to keep from losing the interest of any non-hardcore fans who might have been in attendance.  Still, it was informative and enjoyable.

Next, it was time for the TV episode “Where No One Has Gone Before”, an imaginative story, even if it comes across as somewhat silly in its execution.  I think that is the case, though, with many of the 1st season TNG scripts – they could have benefited from just a little bit more polishing before being filmed.  Although, it should be noted that this was a show that was still trying to figure out what it wanted to be at that stage of the game.  In fact, so much of the 1st season came across as either an homage to the original series or a vehicle for the young Wesley character to save the ship that a good deal of story substance was lost along the way.  This episode is no exception.  Also, I must say that, while it was visually stunning, the remastering did serve to make some of the show’s makeup and set-construction weaknesses really stand out.  Furthermore, I was less than pleased with the audio balance – dialogue being buried by soundtrack music and effects which are far too loud by comparison – a difficulty which seems to plague far too many DVD and Blu-Ray releases.

After the first episode concluded, another documentary was shown, this one focusing more on the history of the show.  Again, there was heavy emphasis on interviews and old footage, including some bloopers and early wardrobe & makeup tests which elicited laughter from the crowd.  I liked this second documentary even better than the first –  every regular cast member was interviewed as well as a number of the writers and production crew – it really provided a very loving overview of the history and impact of the show.

The second episode to show was “Datalore”, the last episode of any Star Trek television series in which Gene Roddenberry received a writing credit.  While the visual quality was just as good as the previous one, the difficulties with the audio were also slightly less noticeable.  It is my sincere hope that these deficiencies arose from the slight difference between the Dolby system used in theaters and that used for audio reproduction in homes. If that’s the case, I look forward to the purchase of my own Blu-ray player and the TNG discs to inaugurate it.  Anyway, the experience of seeing Brent Spiner flex his acting muscles in this dual-role was enjoyable and entertaining, even if the episode itself suffered from numerous inconsistencies and weak plot points.

Finally, the evening concluded with a preview of the Season 2 Blu-Ray set which looks really incredible.  Not only is the remastering as good as the Season 1 set, but the second season saw the show and its actors really come into their own.  Some of my favorite episodes were produced in that season!

All in all, it was very entertaining to see TNG on the large screen and to take part in the shared oohs & aahs, occasional laughter,and, of course, applause of the crowd.  In that regard, this was no different than being at the premier of Star Trek The Motion Picture 33 years ago.  The same can be said of attending a Star Trek convention.  Being among other fans who feel as strongly about their beloved show as I do makes me feel like part of some exclusive club in which only really cool people can be members.  I look forward to renewing my membership in that club when I pony up the dough for the Blu-Ray sets.

Getting Animated Over TNG

The shirt came from K-Mart.  Or maybe it was Target, I’m not sure.  In any case, the recent trend toward retro fashions has resulted in the availability of some really awesome clothes and my wife, knowing what a die hard Trek geek I am, couldn’t resist getting me the dark green T-shirt depicting the lead characters from Star Trek in their 1970’s animated form.  So enamored am I with my retro TAS (The Animated Series) shirt, that I wore it on the first day at Creation Star Trek Las Vegas.  Today’s post has its genesis in a conversation about that very shirt; a conversation involving Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, and myself.

Brent Spiner

"Yep, I can do Old Baldy's voice pretty well."

For those very few readers who may not be aware, the aforementioned gentlemen portrayed Cmdr. Will Riker and Lt. Cmdr Data (respectively) on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I had the good fortune to meet them in the dealers’ room at the con and we were discussing something completely unrelated when Spiner commented on my shirt.  “Are those cartoons of the original series guys?”, he asked.  “Did they have an animated show?”  When I told him that they had, indeed, done a Saturday morning Star Trek cartoon, he leaned over toward his costar and inquired, “Hey Frakes, did you know the old guys did an animated show?”.

Mr. Frakes was well aware of the existence of the ’70’s Star Trek cartoon series and suggested to Mr. Spiner that the Next Generation cast should do something similar,  “We could do that.”. “Yeah”, said Spiner, “…and we wouldn’t even need to look good!”.  When I suggested that either one of them could voice Picard if Patrick Stewart were unwilling or unable to do it, Brent Spiner regaled me with his excellent impression of Sir Patrick and we all had a good laugh.

It was a memorable moment for more than one reason.  Obviously, as a fan, I was thrilled to even be talking to those guys.  However, as a fan who believes there hasn’t been any really good new Star Trek since Voyager went off the air, it really got me thinking about how great an animated version of NextGen could be!

It’s an affliction from which we Trek fans suffer – we are forever hopeful that our favorite characters from our favorite show(s) will return to television or theatrical films in one form or another.  And why not?  With rotoscoping and other awesome animation techniques now being possible (and affordable) on computers as well as the wealth of experience the cast has in voicing cartoon characters, it seems that good writing would be the only other element required to produce a phenomenal TNG cartoon series.  Personally, I’d love to see that happen.

The 1970’s animated Star Trek was actually fairly cheesy in many regards but it included the voices of [most of] the original cast and it did have good writing.  In fact, it won an Emmy in 1975.  I can’t think of any reason, except perhaps the prohibitive salaries of the actors, that a TNG animated series couldn’t be made and be ten times as good.

I know I’m not the only person who’s ever thought of this either.  Several years ago CBS/StarTrek.com artist David Reddick had a similar idea and even prepared an imageJean Luc Picard cartoon pitch depicting Captain Jean Luc Picard as he might appear in animated form.  A slightly altered version of his original image appears to the right.  It is fairly obvious that he chose to emulate the animation style of the old ’70’s animated Trek … and that’s fine.  Although I still contend that better animation would be easily and cheaply achievable.  All the same, there might be something rather novel about a TNG cartoon that borrowed the visual characteristics of its classic Trek predecessor.  The quality of the stories and the believability of the voices would really be the keys that could make it work.  Terrific animation quality would just be a bonus.

As exciting as the prospect is though, it seems wildly unlikely.  After all, if there were a market for a TNG cartoon, someone would probably have seen to it already.  Furthermore, Sir Patrick Stewart himself indicated at the Vegas con that he would have no interest in reviving Captain Picard in animated series (other than Family Guy anyway).  Oh well. Maybe, by some miracle, it can be made to happen and, if need be, Brent Spiner can do his very convincing Picard impression on a weekly basis.