Rod Roddenberry On Star Trek Boldly Going Into 4K And The Moving Target Of His Father's Vision [Interview]

The "Star Trek" franchise turns 55 tomorrow. That's 55 years of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, of Jean-Luc Picard and Benjamin Sisko, of Klingons and Romulans and Gorn and Borg. Over a half-century of a universe so complex that you can get lost in it, but so approachable that anyone can enjoy it. And with three new "Trek" shows forming the foundation of the Paramount+ streaming service (two more shows are on the way), the greatest science-fiction series in history is more alive and thriving than ever.

But this isn't just about the future. We're also looking to the past. Specifically, a new 4K Blu-ray box set is available today, collecting the original four films: "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan," "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock," and "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home." Those four films sum up "Trek" quite nicely: a blend of heady intellectual sci-fi, pulpy two-fisted adventure, thoughtful social commentary, and wacky comedy. And they've never looked or sounded better. 

It was a VHS box set collecting those movies that helped make me into a "Star Trek" fan when I was a kid, something that I made sure to bring up to Rod Roddenberry when I spoke to him about the new 4K releases. After all, if these movies were my gateway, surely they'll be the gateway for a new generation, right? In our conversation, Roddenberry, the son of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and the head of Roddenberry Entertainment and the Roddenberry Foundation (he's also an executive producer on those new Paramount+ "Trek" shows), talked about what these original movies did so well, how future shows and movies in the franchise have to chase a moving target, and whether the other films will eventually hit 4K.

"I think the movies really brought the family closer together."

The movies that are in the 4K box set, especially II, III, and IV, they're the crowdpleasers. They're the ones that I grew up with on VHS. My mom always put them on. So I'll start with the broad question. Why are these three the ones that people like me are still obsessed with decades later?

And that is a great question. I certainly can't answer that for everyone. Those of us who have been around for a little bit, we certainly have an affinity for Kirk, Spock, and the original crew. And I do have to say those are hard things to let go. Also, in talking to people, it made me reflect on my experience with these movies. The original series was episodic, and it was great. The movies brought more of a familial, family sort of feeling to that crew. That crew had been together already, of course, through the original series. And now they're on these new adventures and in some cases they had to do the right thing by defying Starfleet and taking risks together.

And I think it brought a cohesion, an even stronger bond to them. And of course, to lose Spock and then get him back and have to get his memories and have to save the planet multiple times, of course. I think it's that warm and fuzzy feeling. I hate to say it. When I go back and rewatch these things, I watched them at different stages of my life. And the last time I've seen them, it was a familial sense. It was a homecoming, it was a bond. And you felt part of that family.

I just rewatched all of the original series and what my takeaway was that as much as I love the side bits with the supporting characters, it's very much the Kirk, Spock, McCoy show. So the movies really nailed down that, oh, it's the whole crew we love. And really nailed the dynamic I think everybody else remembers beyond the show.

Yeah. And it did give some of those, and I do hate calling them supporting, but Chekov and Sulu, it brought them into the fold because I think the original series did spend a lot of time with Spock, Kirk, McCoy. But I think the movies really brought the family closer together.

I know that people always ask me what's the best way to get people in the "Star Trek." And it's always "make episode lists, do this," but I think the easiest way is watch II, III, and IV. I think people have emotional reactions to Spock dying just through pop culture osmosis. They don't need to have watched everything. I think it's a great entry point for newcomers. Do you agree?

So I really do, and in a slightly different way than you're saying. We've got such a new young audience with a lot of the TV series that are out now. You actually are educating me and making a great point that I didn't really consider. I thought for them to see the new stuff and then go back and watch the movies, they would like it now because the new composite effects and it's 4K and it's beautiful, but you do make a great point. They are great introductions into "Star Trek" and those characters. And I do think they can truly inspire the audience members, the young audience members, to want to go back and watch more of the originals on television.

"I think if Star Trek is making you consider different points of view, it's doing its job."

I'm not dancing around "The Motion Picture," but I feel like it's got a different reputation. I've noticed that in recent years, people started to really embrace it. And what was once a very controversial film I think now has a very strong following. Have you noticed how people have turned around on that one over the years?

Yes, because I have. I saw when I was a little kid and because it was so heady and intellectual, and it was really a book on screen. And it was slow moving and it wasn't necessarily as action-oriented and action-packed as a lot of us were used to for movies, especially debuting right after "Star Wars." But those of us who appreciate good science-fiction, good story and stories that make y,ou consider unique points of view and where there's not always a bad guy because V'ger wasn't a bad guy, although we think it is. To have that maturity and intellect and go back and watch it, which is what I've done over the years. Now that I'm 47, I have a very soft and lovely place in my heart for it. And I do truly appreciate it.

Yeah. So I've got to ask are there currently plans for 4K for "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" and "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country"?

So here's what I can say for certain — I don't know right now if there are plans. I literally do not know. So I can't, I'm not playing with you. But "Star Trek" is not going anywhere. They've done these first four in 4K. There are plenty of anniversaries of "Star Trek" to come. And whether we're doing 4K, 8K whatever is beyond that, I have no doubts that the movies, one day, five years, 10 years, 50 years will be up-rezzed, re-skinned, new composite effects. I'm not saying that because anyone at Paramount has told me, but I can connect the dots. And so, yes, I bet you in the next few decades, something like that will happen.

One thing that's been really pleasing is watching how Paramount+ has made "Star Trek" one of the cornerstones of their entire service. It's not just all the old "Trek," but a bunch of new shows. After the wasteland from 2002 to 2009, it's really gratifying.

Yeah, no, I love it. I used to read articles quite a while ago saying they should Marvel-ize "Star Trek" and I'm sorry to talk about another brand out there. But I think a lot of people have thought that "Star Trek" is a universe and it's a very expensive universe, and it's a very well thought-out universe. And I think the landscape of entertainment television needed to evolve and change too. And it has, and it is in an exponential way. Twenty years ago, if you told someone we're going to do a show that's linked through seasons and plays in a universe, I think you might've been laughed out of a room. But I think all the content creators and production studios out there are realizing that through Netflix and YouTube, all sorts of different format and content can be done and ways of doing things.

And you know what? Fans are voraciously desiring it, and I'm glad that's been heard because that's what's happening with the new "Star Trek." They're creating new grittier "Star Trek" that relates to audiences of today. And they're creating all sorts of formats because you've got animation out there. You've got two sorts of animation and they're both going to be very different and they're both appealing to audiences. So I love the fact that "Star Trek" is diversifying right now. I think that's a huge asset.

I think you talking about diversifying is important here because the vision of "Star Trek," this aspirational world, it's a moving target. I feel like every generation has to readjust what this means. And "Star Wars" has it easy. "Star Wars" says, "We're a fairytale. We look back, we tell simple stories, we're fine." "Star Trek" has the hard job of saying, "Okay, the moving target of an ideal future, what is it to people right now?" So the of mission "Discovery" is different than the mission of "Next Gen." It was different than mission the original series. Can you talk about that moving target and how important it is to keep searching for it and trying to hit it even as times change so rapidly?

I really appreciate your question of a moving target because on some level, and I know what you mean, I've always said "Star Trek" is about the IDIC philosophy, infinite diversity and infinite combinations. And it's the idea of getting us to consider unique and different point of views. And in "Star Trek," they weren't traveling the galaxy looking for weird looking aliens, but they were looking for intelligent life forms that looked at the universe in a different way. Because it was through that unique perspective that we knew we could evolve our thinking and grow as a species.

I think if "Star Trek" is making you consider different points of view, it's doing its job. But the moving target part of it, I find your question fascinating, because even though times have changed in terms of audience and what we expect and the way that we consume content and the way that life is given to us. The internet wasn't around in the '60s. You are absolutely right. They are constantly having to reinvent the way that they are showing this IDIC idea in a way that a current audience will consume. And as I said, I think they're doing a great job reinventing "Star Trek" in new ways, so that younger audiences and more modern and more evolved audiences are excited to consume that content.

Star Trek: The Original Movie Collection is now available for purchase.