Now that the original Star Trek TV series has had its special effects digitalized by today’s CGI geniuses, we can say good-bye to those outdated visual and sound effects of the ’60s, right? It’s about damn time these geniuses got rid of those primitive television techniques and given the original series a 21st century makeover, right? Anyone would go for the digitalized series, better known as Star Trek the Original Series Remastered, over the original version, wouldn’t they? Not this long time Trekker. Maybe something spectacular has been added to Star Trek the original series (TOS), but it has actually taken away TOS’s originality. If it hasn’t taken that away it’s at the very least covered it up. Having digitalized the original series’ special effects has not only been an insult to the show’s original creators but has also been a robbing of history.
History is a television producer as much as television’s creators, directors and other production crew members are. This is the case for all genres of television. In fact, history is a producer of all art whether it’s film, painting, literature, etc. Whether an artist acknowledges it or not, a work of art comes about from a mind that has been shaped by the issues of the day. Therefore you can say history itself is an artist. So it is not only TV show producers, such as Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, that make the series. Time, history and therefore the series’ surrounding current events make the show as well.
The creators of a TV show are influenced by their day’s social issues and so in turn they influence their work with those same issues, intentionally or unintentionally. This is the case with the creators in any kind of art. For example, the Renaissance artist Leonardo Da Vinci produced his famous painting The Last Supper with the social ideals of his day. The Renaissance was a period of major breakthroughs in science which led to the more realistic depictions of society as well as the individual. One of these cultural and social influential elements was the shift in emphasis from Jesus Christ, his angels and saints being perceived as otherworldly, heavenly and therefore supernatural beings, to being perceived as more realistic, down-to-earth human beings. Therefore you see Jesus and his disciples in the painting depicted as mortal, flesh and blood human beings in an earthly setting of a house rather than as larger-than-life, two dimensional beings towering over a two dimensional house like you would see in Europe’s art of the previous era, the Middle Ages. Therefore there is a switch from the highly symbolic and ideal of the Middle Ages to the more everyday and realistic of the Renaissance.
Star Trek TOS was influenced by the rapid social change of its time, the 1960s. Two of the major social reform movements of that era were the civil rights movement and the anti-war/peace movement. These issues are reflected in Star Trek TOS by the fact that more characters of color play more important roles than in earlier space epics (for example, Lt. Uhura played by black actress Nichelle Nicols) and the high emphasis on the starship Enterprise’s peaceful mission.
Not only do the social issues of a work’s time, whether that work is a movie, song, painting, etc., influence the work’s content but also influence the work’s very technique and style. Many of the paintings of the European Middle Ages reflect the techniques used that were influenced by the beliefs and ideas of the society of that time. Such techniques were simplistic resulting in a simplistic yet idealistic style. Therefore Medieval society was ideal and mystical in their beliefs which fell under the Christian religion of the age. Therefore emphasis was on the unearthly and cosmic aspects of Christian belief as opposed to the realistic and everyday aspects of it. Such emphasis is reflected in paintings such as one where a figure of a king may be standing next to a castle and an army of knights but he is several times larger than both. Therefore the king’s size symbolizes his power which was superior to the rest of society and believed to be divinely inherited by him. In addition to this, the figures, including the castle, would contain little detail and look like flat cut-outs rather than three dimensional figures. There is also an absence of a pronounced background in such paintings, and so there is no horizon line to define land and sky. Therefore the lack of realism in Medieval painting’s style is indication that the paintings’ essential subject matter elements were the ideals of power in certain social ranks rather than a realistic depiction of that society’s individuals and their setting.
If we go back to the example of the Renaissance paintings we can clearly see how the techniques and style differ from those of the Middle Ages. If we look at Da Vinci’s The Last Supper it is easy to tell that its technique was used to achieve a far more three dimensional effect. Therefore we see both a foreground and a background. There is the table with Christ and his disciples sitting at it, a floor underneath them and a background wall with windows looking out into a landscape. This is all possible because the technique of point perspective, which is often dependent on a horizon line and so a division between land and sky, is used in painting by this time in history. Such techniques are the result of the scientific discoveries of this time which has lead to society to perceive the world in a more down-to-earth way rather than as in a cosmic ideal one. Therefore the person of greatest emphasis in a painting is not depicted as larger-than-life but as the size of a regular human being and so, more or less, Christ in The Last Supper is depicted in a size much closer to the sizes of the disciples sitting to either side of him at the table.
Even though computer technology was advancing in the 1960s, it could hardly be used for special effects techniques for Star Trek TOS. At that time, computers were mostly found in either important government institutions or in laboratories where they were being experimented with for advancement. (And of course they were also found at the fictional level in shows like Star Trek of course!). The television and movie studios had very little, if any, access to them in the production of television and film. Therefore, television and movie producers had to rely on the special effects techniques of that time period. Those techniques mainly consisted of dependence on the camera and miniature models.
Compared to today’s digital effects, and even to the effects in television and film of the later half of the ’70s, the special effects of the ’60s do not seem all that special. In fact, they seem very primitive and perhaps they are by today’s standards. However, such simplicity wasn’t a problem with Star Trek back in the ’60s. It wasn’t even a problem at all during that time, at least not to the TV producers and audiences. It was simply the techniques that television and movie producers of the 1960s had available to them. Because of this, society either thought space travel and perhaps even space itself to be much more simple than society thinks of the two today, or they were forced to use their imaginations of what the two might really be like in much the same way audiences of the preceding radio generation had to when they could not see the story they were being told. To improve the 1960s’ television shows’ and movies’ special effects with today’s digital techniques would cause a sense of that era’s pop culture to be lost from history.
To digitalize the original Star Trek series’ special effects is basically to paint over the original artists’ work. Doing this would be hiding a part of pop cultural history. It would make the original series reflect too much of today’s culture and much less of the series’ own time period. It may banish too much indication that these original episodes were made in the 1960s. This could be very deceiving as well as misleading to societies of the distant future, even to the historians and archeologists who would be studying the pop cultural history of the 1960s. It would probably cause confusion to these pop cultural scholars because they would see a chronological contradiction in history: 21st century special effects in a mid-to-late 20th century television show, the latter being a time when computer technology in the mainstream was itself only science fiction (like Star Trek)! That could create a world mystery, one that may never get solved, for historians and archaeologists in the future. Such a mystery could be much like the one of how the Egyptian pyramids were built using limestone blocks that weighed tons.
Maybe there will be other records of the history of Star Trek’s digital effects that will indicate that these effects were 21st century add-ins. But those records will mostly be in computer databanks and on saving devices such as flashes and disks or (whatever such devices will be used then) and so themselves will be digital information much like today’s added-in special effects in Star Trek TOS Remastered. So if the digitalized special effects in the original series can be misleading to future society’s history is there much more reason for that society to trust the digital archives? Sure there will be copies of the original episodes with out the digital effects added in, but who knows how long they’ll survive. The arson attacks on Alexandria’s library during the ancient Egyptian era caused a big number of important works to vanish forever. Therefore any of our historical records and artifacts can be destroyed at any time, and if all we have left in the line of the Star Trek franchise are re-mastered special effects versions of the original series where does this leave the future scholars? What does this do to both the whole of history and pop cultural history, including Star Trek history? Well it definitely leaves Star Trek history in the shadows of time, in the dark, much like the missing history of the Dark Ages. However, Star Trek’s history wouldn’t be so much a dark age in the sense of a total absence of records documenting it than it would be a fragmented history where there is a missing link between the original series of the ’60s and the re-mastered original series of the 2000s. This could easily cause the severance of the original series from the whole historical time line.
What good would Star Trek in the future be if we can’t connect it to the rest of history? Star Trek is a part of our humanity. It defines us Trekkies/Trekkers. Many in mainstream, non-geek society look down on Star Trek as contributing nothing significant to the world. If there’s nothing larger to connect Star Trek to in the future it may, inevitably, become just a meaningless, useless, unfitting piece of a puzzle–that puzzle called history.
In addition to this problem, we also have to consider the rights of the original Star Trek series’ creators, especially Gene Roddenberry. This television work of art is theirs, not today’s television producers’. Ethically speaking, we have as much right enhancing their show’s special effects with 21st century technology as we have both restoring and enhancing parts of Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintings with it! Using this technology even just to restore those paintings would be messing around with somebody else’s work and recreating it as our own. We would also, to an extent, be hiding the paintings themselves by superimposing 21st century techniques onto them. Therefore we would be covering Da Vinci’s work over with our 21st century artists’ own digital work. We would be hiding those paintings’ history. So we are doing the same with Gene Roddenberry’s work, the original Star Trek series, when we digitalize the special effects. It’s almost plagiarism when you think about it.
Maybe it can’t actually be termed plagiarism since Roddenberry and the other original creators of the original series still have their names attributed to the show in the credits. Yet digitalizing their special effects is still an insult to both their show and their names. This may sound ironic because most Trekkies/Trekkers may think today’s special effects artists are doing the original Star Trek creators an honor by enhancing its special effects. However, doing this actually indicates a value judgment toward the original creators. Just as there are geographical value judgments, where one culture down criticizes a culture of a different region, there are also temporal value judgments. A temporal value judgment is a down criticism based on the cultural standards of the present toward a people and culture of a past era. Therefore for today’s special effects artists to improve the 1960s’ Star Trek with digital effects is indicating that the producers of the original series should have used digital effects when they hardly even had access to vacuum tube computers!
I’m not saying digitalizing old movies and television shows should be eliminated. In fact, digitalization of old movies and TV shows is a very good thing. It is useful in restoring clarity to the picture and sounds and therefore is just as useful as today’s manual painters (as opposed to digital ones) are in restoring faded parts of old paintings such as Da Vinci’s. Therefore digitalization is important for salvaging older films and TV shows. However, I don’t go for its use of “improving” these older films and shows’ special effects because such a use is really re-creating somebody else’s work.
Therefore computer technology should be used to preserve a masterpiece television show such as Star Trek TOS rather than to remake it with today’s special effects used in today’s science fiction/fantasy television shows and films. We, especially us science fiction/fantasy geeks, should want to remember the television and movie artists that provided the sources of our geeky interests such as Star Trek. The best way to remember and therefore honor them is by preserving their work rather than making it into the work of today’s television/movie artists. Yesterday’s television and movie artists’ work should be viewed as masterpieces, not re-mastered pieces.