deep space nine blu-ray

CBS recently announced that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager were going to be reissued on DVD, leaving many fans to wonder why these shows wouldn’t join the original Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Enterprise on Blu-ray. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to this question and the details are going to bum out any fan hoping for a ray of high definition hope. Thanks to a new interview though, we now know exactly why these shows will probably never get proper HD restorations.

Go ahead and go grab a snack or a drink, because this Trek News interview with Robert Meyer Burnett, the writer, director, producer and editor of the special features on those amazing Star Trek: The Next Generation Blu-ray sets, is a long one. And you’d better make it a sweet snack or an alcoholic drink, because it’s also a depressing one. I’ve included the basic details below, but I do recommend that you read the whole thing for every detail – it’s fascinating.

Here’s the short version: Deep Space Nine and Voyager, like The Next Generation, were shot on 35mm film. However, all three shows were scanned to videotape for editing and post-production because high definition televisions didn’t exist and there was no point for shows to actually, you know, look good at the time. This meant that beautiful, colorful, crisp footage of each show existed in storage while the only finished versions were crummy videos at NTSC resolution:

In the mid-1980s, the advent of cheaper and cheaper computing technology allowed video post-production to grow more and more sophisticated. Now, a new post-production methodology, once existing only for shows originating on videotape, like soap operas and talk shows, could now be applied to shows shot originally on film. A program could be shot on 35mm film, but instead of editing on film and then cutting negative, the original 35mm material footage would instead be scanned to videotape — at NTSC resolution, and the rest of the post-production process, editing, mixing, etc., would then be completed on tape, at a reduced cost. However, NO FILM NEGATIVE WAS CUT, so the final product would only exist on videotape, at NTSC’s greatly reduced video resolution and color. True blacks, stable reds and rich blues simply didn’t exist on videotape. Those shows originally shot on 35mm, with a 20 megapixel resolution, were never to be seen again if finished on tape.

So the task of bringing The Next Generation to high definition was downright Herculean – the remastering process meant tracking down the 35mm negative for all 178 episodes of the series and literally reconstructing every episode from scratch, using the video edits as a guide. In other words…it was a difficult, arduous process that cost a lot of money and took years to finish:

So a radical notion was proposed…why not go back to the original negative and REBUILD the entire show, from from the ground up, in High Definition? In the history of television, this had never been done before. Essentially, all 178 episodes of TNG (176 if you’re watching the original versions of “Encounter at Farpoint” and “All Good Things”) would have to go through the entire post-production process AGAIN. The original edits would be adhered to exactly, but all the original negative would have to be rescanned, the VFX re-composed, the footage re-color-timed, certain VFX, such as phaser blasts and energy fields, recreated in CG, and the entire soundtrack, originally only finished in 2 channel stereo, would be remastered into thunderous, 7.1 DTS.

And if you’ve seen the Next Generation Blu-rays, you know that they look nothing short spectacular. Like the high definition restorations of the original series, it looks like a whole new show. Seeing The Next Generation look cinematic rather than fuzzy and cheap is mind-blowing. It’s one of the great accomplishments in all of film and television restoration, period.

Unfortunately, the Blu-ray sets arrived as streaming was starting to take hold and physical media sales began to dwindle. The sets underperformed and audiences simply made do with the standard definition episodes available to stream on Netflix. Restoring Deep Space Nine and Voyager, which were never as popular as The Next Generation, would be the equivalent of throwing millions of dollars into a black hole. There aren’t even plans to restore the shows for streaming purposes.

Burnett did note that it would be possible to restore Deep Space Nine and Voyager, noting that tests have been done and they look great. Time and money are the issue:

During the latter seasons of the TNG restoration, Mojo, one of the original, Emmy-Winning VFX artists on Voyager, who, at the time, was still in possession of many of the original DS9 and Voyager VFX assets, did a re-rendering VFX test on footage from “The Sacrifice of Angels.” The test really looked spectacular, and proved it could be done. But again, it would still take very talented VFX artists working long hours to accomplish the number of shots required for the episodes at great cost.

This is all very unfortunate. While never as popular as the other shows, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is my favorite of the series and quite possibly the finest science fiction series ever created (yeah, I said it). I’m more lukewarm on Star Trek: Voyager, but this whole franchise is a cultural institution that deserves to be treasured. Even the weaker stuff deserves to be seen in the best possible way.

The silver lining here is that these shows aren’t going to vanish. We’ll always be able to watch them in some capacity. They’ll just look like garbage. At least Star Trek: Discovery is on the way to hopefully tend to our woes.

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