special effects

Star Trek: Stale special effects? Or gay soap opera?

This little gem turned up as the top video in Technorati this morning.

Hardcore fans will recognize the episodes, but compiling it all here adds a new dimension of whimsical fun.

Do I really think Star Trek: TOS has a hidden homosexual agenda? Of course not. (I hope not. William Shatner is just too cute in the 1960s.)

But given Paramount's tassled-loafer inspiration of re-doing all the special effects in the classic series, they're almost begging for slashy and other take-offs. If they don't respect their own cultural treasures, why should anyone else?

Meanwhile, regarding the rumors of William Shatner's participation in a rumored Star Trek prequel, TrekWeb quotes "Bill Shatner" from WilliamShatner.com:

"I know nothing except that where there's rumblings there's gas, and in this case the gas is coming from J.J. Abrams and none of it seems to be directed in my direction. If any gas comes my way, I will post it immediately and you all will know. Until then, hold your breath -- because this gas is odiferous."

On that movie, Lance Mannion has an interesting take -- except for the part about Leonardo DiCaprio as Christopher Pike. Noooooo! The star of The Beach should stay far away from Star Fleet Academy (though maybe he'd be okay as a Romulan).

Special effects: The Final Frontier

Why is it that the studios cannot leave enough alone? Apparently, Star Trek: The Original Series (ST:TOS to Trekkers and Trekkies out there [I'm of the latter, thank you very much]) is getting a makeover, not only being remastered for HDTV but also getting all the effects shots redone.

There's no direct link to the email update I received, so I will simply quote from the SciFi news page the entire PR blurb:

The original 1960s Star Trek series will receive a high-tech makeover and return to broadcast syndication for the first time in 16 years, with digitally remastered episodes, Paramount announced. In honor of the show's 40th anniversary, CBS Domestic Television is releasing all 79 episodes with new special effects and music on 200 stations, beginning Sept. 16. The first batch of episodes will be chosen from a list of fan favorites.

The original special effects will be replaced with computer-generated images, including the exterior of the Starship Enterprise, based on the exact measurements of the original model, now resting in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The main title sequence will also be redone with new effects and a new digital stereo soundtrack re-recorded by an orchestra and a female singer. William Shatner's classic original recording of the 38-word "Space, the final frontier ..." monologue has been remastered and continues to open each episode.

All of the space scenes, alien landscapes and ships—including the Romulan Bird of Prey and Klingon Battle Cruisers—will be updated as well. The remastered episodes have been converted from the original film into a high-definition format, which gives viewers a clearer, crisper, more vibrant picture, even when viewed in standard definition.

Will the Star Trek series ever be the same?

Looking at the revisionist releases of Star Wars and its sequels, with not only "new" effects but entirely new (boring) scenes added and even replacement of the actor playing the Emperor (though the new Emperor was good), I worry that the original Original Series will be lost to the dustbin of history.

It's really a shame, since part of the real charm of ST:TOS is how it's so much a product of its time -- the miniskirts, the overt paternalism and chauvinism, the actors so young and vivid ... and, yes, the dated special effects, which really aren't all that bad, when it comes down to it.

Will "updating" the Romulan ships add anything to Star Trek? Will making our dear, beloved Enterprise NCC-1701 fly more like Picard's Enterprise and fire photon torpedoes with new CG subtlety seem like a modern show?

Will re-recording the title music help, or make the show seem alien to fans?

Maybe I'm just too much the geek. After reading Herb Solow and Robert Justman's book on how Star Trek was made totally on the cheap, I can appreciate the vigor and charm of the show even more. This decision by the tassled loafer set in Paramount to "update" Trek leaves me feeling uneasy....

...and wanting to rush to Best Buy and snap up those current box sets of the series before they're lost to the Orwellian world of special effects updates.


For a more sarcastic take: Blowing Smoke.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of how HDTV might change movies

They don't make movies like this anymore. Like many kids my age, I saw it may times on Saturday afternoon television, full frame with lots of cuts and lots of car commercials (which somehow weren't so obnoxious back then). It was fun enough just because of the characters. For a western, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly didn't take itself so seriously -- mainly because Eli Wallach's weasely Tuco was so compelling.

But what I saw wasn't the real movie. Sergio Leone made widescreen movies, and he used the entire frame. What I saw, with pan-and-scan and interstitial advertising, was a Cliff's Notes version of the film.

Having recently watched on my 20" iMac the DVD of the restored version of the film, I can say it is a different movie. The iMac is not HDTV, and standard DVDs, though they have much more resolution than televisions can provide, are not HD DVD -- but even so, the movie offered what a lot of more recent movies do not:

Cinema.

Recent flicks like Batman Begins and even the well-done Good Night and Good Luck seem to lack the cinematic sense. Perhaps they're too much products of the TV age, shot for pan-and-scan and edited to keep things moving, rather than to give the next piece of the visual story.

And it really shows on high-resolution widescreen presentations. Last year's talk was the purportedly incredible effects of  King Kong. I had problems with the commercials, where Kong is batting cars around like Tonka trucks, when really, if you think about it, it should have been more like batting around Christmas ornaments. (How is a car that shatters upon 60mph impact with a wall going to not shatter when a wall-like hand smacks it at 60mph?). No, I was not impressed. It looked like The Incredible Hulk with fur.

Even so, I was pretty shocked when I saw how fake Peter Jackson's film looks on HDTV. Perhaps it's the contrast compression or the flicker effect, but really, Kong looked like a cartoon. (Oh, the ideas, like the dinosaur stampede down the ravine, seemed interesting. But realitic?)

By contrast, in another example of the power of cinema trumping the power of special effects, a much lower-budget movie that plays well on high resolution screens is the cult classic actioner Mad Max (which without the appalling American dubbing actually had some indie movie charm). George Miller's sequel, The Road Warrior, also holds up -- as do much older, cinematic, visual films like Lawrence of Arabia, The Searchers, and even the staid 2001: A Space Odyssey (whose special effects amounted to clear plexiglas, some inventive stage construction and old-fashioned matte photography.

How well will today's special-effects epics be regarded in 2 or 3 decades, as the technology gets better?

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