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''Star Trek" Revamped: I Blame George Lucas

By RD Heldenfels Published: September 1, 2006

This announcement came from Paramount yesterday:

STAR TREK is getting a 21st century makeover. CBS Paramount Domestic Television is releasing digitally remastered episodes of the iconic 1960s sci-fi series, with all new special effects and music, to celebrate the groundbreaking series' 40th anniversary, it was announced today by John Nogawski, president of CBS Paramount Domestic Television.

The new episodes also mark the first time in 16 years that the original STAR TREK series can be seen in broadcast syndication. The episodes will begin airing on the more than 200 stations that own the rights to the weekend broadcast syndication window starting Sept. 16 (check local listings for station and dates). All 79 episodes of the original STAR TREK series will eventually be remastered, with the first batch of episodes chosen from a list of STAR TREK fans' favorite shows.

"STAR TREK redefined science-fiction and constantly pushed the envelope with concepts that were ahead of their time," Nogawski said. "By giving the series a digital upgrade using the best technology available today, it will continue to be a leader in cutting-edge television programming as we introduce the series to a new generation of viewers."

The most noticeable change will be redoing many of the special effects, created with 1960s technology, with 21st century computer-generated imagery (CGI). That includes:

• Space ship exteriors -- The space ship Enterprise, as well as other Starships, will be replaced with state of the art CGI-created ships.  The new computer-generated Enterprise is based on the exact measurements of the original model, which now rests in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

• Show opening --  The Enterprise and planets seen in the main title sequence will be redone, giving them depth and dimension for the first time. 

• Galaxy shots -- All the graphics of the galaxy, so frequently seen through the window on the Enterprise's bridge, will be redone. 

• Exteriors -- The battle scenes, planets and ships from other cultures (notably the Romulan Bird of Prey and Klingon Battle Cruisers) will be updated.

• Background scenes -- Some of the iconic, yet flat, matte paintings used as backdrops for the strange, new worlds explored by the Enterprise crew will get a CGI face-lift, adding atmosphere and lighting.

The refurbished episodes also feature higher quality sound for the famous opening theme. The original score by Emmy Award-winning composer Alexander Courage has been re-recorded in state-of-the-art digital stereo audio with an orchestra and a female singer belting out the famous vocals.  A digitally remastered version of William Shatner's classic original recording of the 38-word "Space, the final frontier…" monologue continues to open each episode.

The remastered episodes have been converted from the original film into a High-Definition format, which gives viewers a clearer, crisper, more vibrant picture than before, even when viewed in standard definition. Once stations upgrade and start broadcasting HD signals, the episodes will be all ready for viewers to enjoy in HD.  (end announcement)

The more I think about this, the queasier I get. It's on a par with colorizing black-and-white movies, or George Lucas's seemingly endless tinkering with the ''Star Wars'' movies.  Lucas's ability to get away with that is obviously one of the reasons Paramount is retooling ''Star Trek.'' That and greed.  Because "Star Trek" fans rank up with Elvis fans in their willingness to buy the same old stuff as long as the packaging is new, Paramount figures to make a bunch of money by putting selling these reconfigured "Treks" on home video down the road.

But if you change some things, then where do you stop? Improved technology in one area is going to make other areas look that much cheesier. If you spruce up the background, shouldn't you do something about the uniforms? What about Shatner's '60s haircut? For that matter, what about Shatner's girdle-sheathed midsection in the later episodes? Should that be changed? And if you're messing with the music, shouldn't you replace those cheeseball attempts at futuristic sounds?

A piece of art should be kept in its original form, as an example of the art from its time. Sure, you can clean it up -- getting the color, for example, back to its original brightness. But when you start making improvements, you're destroying the old art and creating new. Lucas can at least argue that he's changing his own work. With ''Star Trek,'' unless they're bringing Gene Roddenberry back from the dead to supervise the changes,  better to leave it alone.

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