by Karan Bhatt
On a cold January night, in the heart of Soho and a stone’s throw from London’s bustling Regent Street, I was privileged enough to be invited to a preview screening of a show I’ve loved my entire life. Thanks to SciFi Now, with a little help from Lady Luck, I won the chance to be one of the few to see the remastered Star Trek: The Next Generation pilot fresh out of spacedock, ahead of general release.
The venue itself, Sanctum Soho, was a handsomely lavish setting for a screening, with palatial sofas to sprawl out on, an open bar, and heaps of nibbles to enjoy. There were even two charming Klingons present as special guests for the evening. Of Trekkies 2 and Of Gods and Men fame, Klingons Stu and Keith were a dollop of heart-warming icing on the cake. As distinguished generals of the Klingon Empire, their ceremonial Daqtagh knives sharpened and disruptors set to kill, they acquitted themselves with great honour indeed. I tried not to let this sway my favours, admittedly with a pinch of futility. Look at my face, after all.
Yes, that is a red shirt. A poor choice of attire for this away mission, Ensign…
The crowd was given a chance to brush up on their Shakespeare—far better in the original Klingon, of course—as they regaled us with tales of their escapades in character right across the globe. The consequences of drinking Klingon blood wine in excess were a particularly good chuckle. Apparently, the recipe for it includes a) lots of red wine, b) cranberry juice for volume, and c) every last drop of all spirits you can get your paws on. Imagine the chaos—I’m definitely having Klingons at my stag night.
At last, the time came for the lights to be dimmed and the show to begin. I was excited, but I sat in my chair with no small amount of trepidation, hoping and praying that this would blow me away. The pilot in its original form always felt a little dated—even in comparison to its later seasons, let alone the spin-offs. The grainy quality of the pictures of The Next Generation has made sitting through even the most beloved re-run episodes just a little bit tougher at times.
In short, the remastering is amazing. From the first eerie note, with the sight of the Earth suspended in space, I just knew I was watching something special. The work that must have gone into the restoration process is unfathomable—there’s an immersive realism to the visuals now, which is such a breath of fresh air. Every strand of hair, every crease in the uniform, every Okudagram computer graphic is now visible at a glance; a feast for the eyes. The ship exteriors in space look more breathtakingly beautiful than ever, the sounds of photon torpedo fire ringing beautifully clear. The nuances of Dennis McCarthy’s score pack that little extra emotional punch in HD, and give it a truly cinematic ambiance. Jerry Goldsmith’s theme sounds better than ever too. I felt like a kid again.
As with the remastered episodes of The Original Series, some of the make-up is more visible, especially in the cases of Q and Data. However, this is rarely (if ever) jarring and is a true testament to the production values of the day. The sets and costume design still hold up beautifully even under scrutiny, and you really believe that you could sit at any station on the bridge with a crew and take the Enterprise where no one has gone before.
Admittedly, “Encounter at Farpoint” is a clunky pilot and despite the remastering process, age hath withered it somewhat. I won’t take any easy shots, as I’m pretty sure thousands of Internet forums have got that covered. But even those fans would find it difficult to deny that the two-parter lays a solid underpinning for a great many years of both The Next Generation (and Star Trek as a whole) to come. The family-friendly, saucer-separating, holodeck-equipped starship and its racially-diverse crew would have many adventures together, and the key concepts of the show are introduced right here. DeForest Kelley’s torch-passing cameo, given that he would be 92 years young were he still with us, is a lovely yet poignant scene. The fundamental Gene Roddenberry optimism shines brightly through the show even here, and after a joyous eighty minutes and a little more camaraderie, I left the venue feeling distinctly warm despite stepping out into the cold London night.
I’d have to say that I’m thoroughly impressed with the work CBS have put in. Though the “Next Level” sampler is a somewhat pricey purchase in light of my student budget, I highly recommend it—especially given the addition of the excellent “Sins of the Father” and “The Inner Light”. I’m unquestionably going to get my mitts on the season boxsets when they’re released in the future, and keep them for my kids to fall in love with. Like JJ Abrams’s reboot, this has given the Star Trek franchise a brand new lease of life, and I’ve no doubt that with this fresh refit The Next Generation will keep boldly going for many more years to come.