We talk to the man who’s restoring Next Gen to a quality like no one has seen before
“It really feels like seeing it for the first time. It’s almost as if you were wearing a pair of dirty glasses and then you were able to wipe them clean.”
Craig Weiss is bubbling over with enthusiasm for his latest project, and his enthusiasm is infectious. If you, like me, are slightly bemused at the irony of a YouTube video that tries to extol the virtues of Blu-ray, then the antidote to such cynicism is to listen to CBS Digital’s creative director, Weiss, talking about his company’s loving restoration of Star Trek: The Next Generation so it can be released in HD. He very nearly talks in HD.
“You’re going to be blown away,” he promises. “The quality difference is massive. The general standard of the HD is just mindboggling. The detail that you’ll see once the Blu-ray comes out is amazing. There’s detail on planets and stuff that was just blurry before and now it's just amazing.”
He's not just all about the hyperbole, though. As befitting a man who deals with Blu-ray, he’s happy to go into detail.
“When you look at the original ship passes as they were filmed, when you go to standard def, a lot of the little lights and stuff, it just couldn’t handle that resolution. So the lights would get blurrier and disappear. When you’re dealing with HD you get six times the definition. So if one little light was only one pixel now it can be six or seven pixels. So you’re seeing things now that you never saw before, but that you were supposed to see, but you couldn’t, because of the limitations of the picture quality. But it always was there. Now we have the tools to unlock that.”
We’ll be getting our first proper taste of what Next Gen looks like on the latest generation of home entertainment equipment when Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Next Level Blu-ray is released on 30 January.
“It’s a three-episode sampler,” says Weiss. “‘Encounter At Farpoint’, ‘Sins Of The Father’, ‘Inner Light’. They picked three very popular episodes. It was a way of getting people excited and really see what they’re in for.”
It’s just the start of a process which will see all seven seasons of the show eventually released on Blu-ray. But in what way did Next Generation need “restoring”?
“We’re the ones basically remastering the episodes from picture to visual effects, everything,” explains Weiss. CBS also worked on the updated FX for the recent Star Trek Original Series Remastered collection, but he explains that the Next Gen project is a very different beast indeed.
“Absolutely,” he says. “The biggest difference is that when we did the original series that was a cut negative. So the entire show was assembled on one roll of film. But with this, Next Generation , when they did it 25 years ago, what they did was they shot it on film, then they transferred it onto videotape, put the film away in a vault and then just cut it on tape. So now we have to go back to the original film – which was stored underground in a salt mine in Pennsylvania – and rescan it and rebuild it from the ground up. It’s the equivalent of starting from scratch. Unlike the original series where we went in and created stuff, this is completely being assembled from the original elements that were shot.”
Isn’t there the worry, though, that Blu-ray may show up some of the production shortcuts that standard definition used to hide?
“That’s an interesting question,” ponders Weiss. “Because there are some things where standard definition could be forgiving and maybe hide some of the sins of some of the sets and stuff. But really, watching through it, it’s surprising how well it's held up.”