One Trek Mind #36: TNG On The Big Screen

By Jordan Hoffman - July 25, 2012

There's a paradox, to be sure, that the pop culture property with the largest and most famous fan base in the world is still, by and large, enjoyed by individuals in the privacy of their own home.

Yes, there are Star Trek films, and when they come out we see them multiple times in packed houses, but the foundation of our beloved franchise has always been tuning in for the next televised episode. There have been public screenings of favorite Trek shows in the past, but for me, this week's Fathom Event that beamed two episodes of TNG into hundreds of theaters at once (two in Anchorage, Alaska alone!) was the first time I ever experienced TV-Trek with more company than, say, a roommate or a friend crashing on the couch. It was extraordinary.

The event was to celebrate TNG's 25th anniversary and the release of Season One on Blu-ray. While the forthcoming Blu-ray packages won't have the nice, round anniversary to go with it, I sincerely hope there's a screening to go with each one. Seeing the marvelous HD upgrade on the big screen is an experience all true Trek fans should have.

I arrived at the theater just in time (stupid New York City crosstown traffic – where's my deflector shielding!) but still caught a handful of people dressed in Trek uniforms. Oddly, they were TOS uniforms, but that's what's great about our community. We love it all!

Mixed with the sound of munched popcorn I heard someone playing around with the official Star Trek iPad app and someone else had the TOS boatswain whistle as their ringtone. Awesome.

There were some pre-screening trivia cards that were, frankly, so easy that they were met with some chuckles. Example:

What scientific advance allowed blind Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge to see?

A) VISOR

B) Retnax-5

C) Radar

D) Retinal Imaging scans

I'm not even going to dignify that with a response (though I suppose answer B is a nice nod from someone who knows their stuff.)

The first part of the program was a behind-the-scenes feature from the brand spankin' new Blu-ray release of Season 1. Despite reading dozens of articles about the painstaking process of remastering, it is something else to actually see how it is done. Many of the original effects shots are broken out into different pieces of film, all in different boxes in a vast warehouse. Something that was first used in Season One may have been used again in Season Three, so to find the original source decades later is a real scavenger hunt. To actually see workers rifling through those boxes (and thinking about my own scattered DVD collection at home) makes the spent energy seem all the more real.

TNG looked terrific 25 years ago – and that's because the effects were state of the art. Modern TVs, however, are optimized for HD, while the original broadcasts (and subsequent home video releases) were all downgraded to Standard Def. That's why, if you have a nifty new TV (or a tablet with a retina display) these older shows may look a little fuzzier than you recall. This upgrade is essential for seeing the shows as they were meant to be seen.

After the opening “newsreel,” the first part of the double feature commenced: “Where No One Has Gone Before.” I always loved this episode because I think the Traveler is a great character. I've seen it numerous times, but up until last night, I never noticed his fingers. Have you seen the Traveler's fingers? He only has three. A giant thumb, a giant middle and a giant pinky. They each have a diamond-shaped nail. How have I never noticed this before?!?! (I turned to my friend, a Trek junkie whose fandom is equal to mine, and he admitted he never saw this before, either.) The big screen also couldn't hide that one of the vertical “strips” of Geordi's VISOR was clearly bent. Hey, I love Star Trek, dented props and all!

Something else I noticed was how many artfully designed shots there were. La Forge and Data, shot from low angles as they sat at the helm. Faces framed in the reflection off of computer displays. For some reason, a lot of this just washes over you at home, but in a theater, you really pick up on it. Same goes with much of subtle humor. Reaction shots from Picard, Riker, Dr. Crusher and, especially, Starfleet Douche of the Week, Mr. Kosinski.

After the episode (and many cheers), there was another behind-the-scenes feature that really brought the house down. It featured screen tests from all of the major players – young Picard staring you down looking noble, young Riker giving us bedroom eyes, “young” Data in really eerie makeup and young Troi in just ridiculous hair. The best was LeVar Burton in La Forge's VISOR and street clothes, as well as some early interview footage of young Wil Wheaton.

The second episode, “Datalore,” wasn't quite as successful for me as “Where No One Has Gone Before.” Even though I love learning more about Data's origin, I'm still not 100% sure what the heck is up with the Crystalline Entity and its relationship to Lore. Even still, the new HD rendering of this interstellar anomaly looked stunning on the big screen. And Picard barking, “Shut up, Wesley!” tore the roof off the place.

My chief takeaway was this: more! TNG episodes with this new whiz-bang HD remastering absolutely hold up to the scrutiny of the big screen experience. We've got six more seasons (and then DS9! and Voyager!), so I don't see why there shouldn't be a repeat of this program with each home video release. It'll get tough as we get to, say, Season Six to choose just two episodes, but, luckily, that's what columns like One Trek Mind are all about.

If you were there this week, let me know about your experience. And which two episodes from Season Two should play in theaters?

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Jordan Hoffman is a freelance writer, critic and independent film producer living in New York City. He fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy. Click HERE to follow him on Twitter.

 

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