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Monday, February 12, 2007
The Trek Re-Mastered Big Test
Whenver debate about updating the effects for classic Star Trek rears its ugly head, one episode in particular is a lightning rod for debate: "The Doomsday Machine."

"Doomsday" is one of the more effects-driven stories of the original series run. It features what could have been epic space battles, had the original series had the technology and budget available to most sci-fi shows produced today. But despite the limitations of the time it was produced, "The Doomsday Machine" is still one of the best epiosdes of any Star Trek show ever produced. It's one of those stories where good characters, a compelling story and some memorable incidental music all come together in a great package.

But when the project to remaster and digitally update the effects for classic Trek was announced a few months ago, every Trek fan worth their weight in tribbles circled one episode as the watershed event to judge the success or failure of the project. "The Doomday Machine."

Well, this week, the long-awaited, much-anticipated episode hits the airwaves. It aired in Nashville last night in syndication and will run again Saturday night here if you missed it. Being the Star Trek fan that I am, I have to admit that I was pretty excited to see the episode--even though I've seen it umpteen times over the years and could probably recite dialogue along with the story.

So, I tuned in and watched.

I was excited, but a bit wary. I was worried the effects might overwhelm the episode. While the story of the epic battle with a planet-killing, automated robotic machine is a great part of the episode, it's the character study and conflict that really make this episode what it is. Would that get lost in the new emphasis over the pretty pictures?

The answer is, yes and no. Visually, the story was stunning and I'm sure if the creators had the technology we do today, "Doomsday Machine" would always have looked like this. It did fix one of the colossal errors in all of classic Trek. The original version's sense of scale was off, with a shuttlecraft appearing the same size as a starship when attacking the device. Seeing the Enterprise fly close to the machine, firing phasers and slowly being dragged into the maw of the machine were great. And thankfully, the digital effects team resisted the temptation to radically redesign the classic Doomsday Machine, which was described in the original scripts as bristling with weapons. (On a side note, I'd be interested to see a rendering of it as an extra on the DVDs).

But where the episode let me down is, once again, the cuts made to it for syndication purposes. Interestingly, the episode restored some edits made in the original syndicated version (the scene where Scotty declares the Constellation's engine room is dropped in the original syndicated version as was the return from commercial break in act two in which Spock analyzes the Doomsday Machine and reports on it to Kirk) and made some new ones. If you listen to the instrumental music, you can hear when the cuts are made. Here are some of the cuts I noticed:
  • McCoy and Decker beaming aboard the Enterprise and hearing the ship is on red alert.
  • Kirk ordering Spock to take command on his (Kirk's) personal authority as captain of the Enterprise. The sequence is a lot longer than shown here, where it's like a Cliff's Notes version. They cut out the line "Vulcans never bluff". Of all the edits, this is the most distressing since it's one of the classic scenes from the episode.
  • Decker's fight with the security guard is substantially trimmed. Makes the security officer look even more glass-jawed than usual. Again, this is really obvious if you listen to the background music.
  • Decker climbs down a ladder and heads toward the shuttlebay (this was cut from the original syndicated episode...so it's not technically a new edit).
The most substantial cut is the Spock taking back command on Kirk's "personal authority." It robs the episode of one of the classic moments of the show. I realize that a lot of Trek fans will know this scene and could recite it for you verbatim, but the thing that bugs me is we may be getting new fans to the show because of the remastered effects. To cut out this scene eliminates some of what made this episode great and so popular among the fans for the forty-years it's been running in syndication. Also, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense in the edited form, since it now appears Decker gives up command of the ship too easily, esp. after he's been so obsesssed with keeping it up until now.

Of course, part of this is that I'm an obsessive Trek fan and I prefer my Star Trek uncut. I realize that it's all part of the business and cuts must be made today for commerical broadcast. But it still doesn't mean I have to like them.

So, Trek has passed the big test for "The Doomday Machine" with flying colors. But it gets some points deducted for the edits made to this classic story so we could all see it again in syndication.

Interestingly, there was another proposal a few years ago to update this episode's effects. It even got as far as a test-reel that was submitted to Paramount but ultimately rejected. I've heard those creators have finished their work and will post their version of this episode on-line this week. I will have to do some looking around and compare the two.

And, yes, I do need a life.....

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 2/12/2007 04:46:00 AM | |
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