What’s old is new? Is that always a good thing?

So, Netflix is finally making available the Star Trek series.  Four of them, so far (oddly, Deep Space Nine seems to be missing) including the Original Series.  I’ve been watching the Original Series, starting with the ‘Cage’, the original pilot that never aired on NBC during the series original run. While watching, I noticed that the shots of the Enterprise looked really good…too good.  Then I remembered that Paramount remastered them for a new round of syndication, trying to entertain today’s fickle audience and, I suppose, to make them look more modern because of the 2009 film.  Fair enough.

For the most part, the remastering works.  The sound is crisp, the music seems sharper and the visuals are much cleaner.  And therein lies the problem.  The work is too good.  The remastered prints don’t seem to fit the time the show was produced. The new special effects don’t mix well with the rest of the episodes.  For example, take any shot of the Enterprise orbiting a planet. It looks fantastic.  Then, however, the episode switches to a planetary scene which is obviously made up of paper mache, styrofoam and cardboard. The backgrounds are obvious paintings. So, in one scene, you have this modern, digital like scene of the Enterprise and, the next, you have a set that looks like my son painted it in elementary school.

I understand why Paramount would want to do this, but I think simply cleaning up the visuals and enhancing the sound would be enough.  (The only issue I have with the visuals is the color…they pumped it up way too much in places, but that’s ok, it works.)  Re-doing the effects, however, was probably not worth the effort.  It would be like taking a movie like Gone With the Wind and adding 3D to it.  Yeah, the gimmick might work for those who had never seen it, but it would add little and probably even detract from it quite a bit.

Sometime making something old look new is worth it, most of the time, not so much.  In this case, it’s a mixed bag.  Somethings, like an old Civil War rifle, you don’t want to clean it up. Having it show it’s age is what makes it valuable, unique and worthy of  owning. And yeah, Star Trek is an old TV show, but preserving it intact says a lot about the time in which it was made.  The people who did those effects had little budget, yet accomplished quite a bit and that should not be erased simply because a 14 year old boy might think it looks dumb.  At 14, you can’t appreciate anything, let alone what a group of artisans could do with a little money and a lot of creativity.

I use Star Trek as an example, and I don’t mean to imply that Paramount is trying to deceive anyone. They aren’t. The old versions are still around and can still be had.  And that is true with many remastered movies and shows.  I fear, though, that as time goes on, these remastered versions are what will be commonly available and the originals will be forgotten. Like Star Wars.  I have not seen the original, as seen in 1977, in a decade.  Even before Lucas reshot certain scenes, the film had been altered.  I think the only copies still around are the original CED and LaserDisc releases. Maybe VHS/Beta, not sure. 

I remember a few years ago, there was a flirtation with colorization of old black and white films and TV shows.  A lot of movies were colorized, but were met with a lot of resistance, so much so that Congress got involved. However, a new process has resulted in better looking colorization, so good that it is hard to tell that the films were not in color to begin with.   However good the process may be, the fact is that these films were not originally in color and making them color alters the film in ways that could not have been planned for, regardless if the producer/director wanted it in color or not.  It still alters the original and not always for the best.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against a little soap and water. I do think, however, that it should be used where appropriate and with good thought.  Replacing portions of a work with something new just because it might appeal to a small group of people is just wrong. 

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