TrekNews has a fascinating article with Robert Meyer Burnett, the lead producer, editor, and writer for the special features on the Star Trek: The Next Generationand Star Trek: EnterpriseBlu-ray. Burnett discusses the incredible amount of work that went into those projects, as well as why he doesn’t think we’ll ever get a high-definition, remastered Blu-ray release for either Star Trek: Deep Space Nineor Star Trek: Voyager. Here’s what he had to say…
In the interview, Burnett goes into great detail to explain why a remastering of the DS9 and Voyager episodes would take likely not sell well enough to warrant the time and money it would take to producer. His educated estimate? Remastering both series into HD would cost roughly $40 million.
If that sounds like a lot, it is, but it also isn’t such an exorbinant estimate. As Burnett explains, until recently, most TV shows were shot on 35mm film, with the resolution retained in a cut negative of the episode. The negative would (ideally) be properly stored so that, if the need for new prints ever arose or it needed to be scanned for TV or home video, it would be relatively easy.
This was the industry norm until the mid-1980s, explains Burnett, when a less expensive option for the post-production process presented itself:
A program could be shot on 35mm film, but instead of editing on film and then cutting negative, the original 35mm material footage would instead be scanned to videotape — at NTSC resolution, and the rest of the post-production process, editing, mixing, etc., would then be completed on tape, at a reduced cost. However, NO FILM NEGATIVE WAS CUT, so the final product would only exist on videotape, at NTSC’s greatly reduced video resolution and color. True blacks, stable reds and rich blues simply didn’t exist on videotape. Those shows originally shot on 35mm, with a 20 megapixel resolution, were never to be seen again if finished on tape.
This was an attractive options for science fiction TV like Star Trekthat had a lot of visual effects elements. As Burnett explains, by doing the post-production work via video, the individual elements were cheaper and took less time, which resulted in the opportunity and resources for more visual effects.
The Next Generation, DS9, and Voyager were all shot in this manner — on 35mm film, with post-production done on videotape — which means no 35mm finished negatives exist for these episodes. While it was relatively simple to remaster The Original Series and The Animated Seriesinto HD, these other Star Trekseries created a problem.
Why do we have a high-definition remaster of The Next Generation, then? We’re actually so, so lucky that we do. CBS and Paramount decided to do something never before done: go back to the original negative of the 178 episodes of The Next Generation and rebuild the post-production in high-definition for each one. As Burnett describes:
The original edits would be adhered to exactly, but all the original negative would have to be rescanned, the VFX re-composed, the footage re-color-timed, certain VFX, such as phaser blasts and energy fields, recreated in CG, and the entire soundtrack, originally only finished in 2 channel stereo, would be remastered into thunderous, 7.1 DTS …
First, ALL the original negative would have to be tracked down, which was stored in thousands of boxes, then matched to every scene and take from the original finished episodes. Then, all of that negative needed to be scanned at 2K and color-timed from scratch, as the entire color palate of the series would change. For the first time, the REAL colors could be seen. For the model photography, also completed in 35mm, an added headache was discovered; celluloid sometimes shrinks over 25 years, so many VFX passes, requiring pin-registered accuracy with sometimes over ten elements to composite wouldn’t match up, so they had to be first scanned then recomposited in the computer. While that was the plan all along, sometimes certain elements were either lost, or just too damaged to use, so an entire shot would have to be recreated in CG. Then, any phasers or other effects created utilizing the orignal technology of the era would have to then be recreated using modern CG.
This process, which also including the productio of more than 50 hours of special features, cost more than $12 million and took years to complete.
Unfortunately, the Star Trek: The Next GenerationHD Blu-rays didn’t sell as well as CBS and Paramount had hoped. They were released into a changing marketplace, when the popularity of streaming services was just beginning to take shape. Additionally, the high price of the Blu-rays, though justified when you understand how much work went into them, was no doubt too high for some consumers.
The modest sales of the Next GenerationBlu-rays, as well as the fact that The Next Generationwas more popular than either Deep Space Nineor Voyager, mean that CBS and Paramount will probably never pay for the same process with the latter two series. It simply doesn’t make financial sense, especially given the fact that it would be an even more labor-intensive process to remaster the series. While The Next Generationshot its live-action and model photography on 35mm film, DS9 and Voyager used CGI much more extensively for their visual effects. Burnett lays out the technicals:
Those visual effects were rendered in standard NTSC resolution, with a maximum of 525 scan lines of resolution per second, split between two interlaced video fields of 262.5 scan lines running at 60 fields per second. So, the original resolution remains far, far below what audiences used to today’s HD, and now UHD resolutions, are accustomed to. These VFX could be upscaled 5x, but they’d have no detail. The Starship Defiant would look like a fuzzy, grey blob.
In conclusion, it would take a lot of time and money to pull off a high-definition remaster of DS9 and Voyagerfor Blu-ray, and isn’t worth the financial risk for CBS and Paramount. Admittedly, this is sad news, but it’s also kind of amazing that we have a The Next Generationremaster at all.
As Burnett describes it:
The restoration remains an absolutely astonishing achievement in the annals of television and anyone watching the new versions of the episodes, can only marvel at the vast difference from the originals. Everyone involved at CBS Digital and the various other Post Houses who participated in the project deserve a hearty round of applause from fans the world over. At least the fans who appreciate and understand just how much work was done.
Don’t cry because we don’t have Deep Space Nine or Voyagerin HD Blu-ray format; smile because we have The Next Generationlike we’d never seen it before.