When Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted on Sept. 28, 1987, it was one of the most ambitious first episodes of television ever produced. No matter how popular the feature films had been with the original cast, bringing Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic sci-fi vision of our future back to TV with an all-new cast and U.S.S. Enterprise was far from a slam dunk. And then there was the scale of the two-hour pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint,” with roughly 200 feature-film-level visual effects.
That ambition, however, was worth it. ST:TNG debuted to nearly 27 million viewers, and the show ran for a robust 178 episodes over seven seasons. And now, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the series is being remastered for a high-definition re-release on Blu-ray that is, fittingly, just about as ambitious an undertaking as that fateful debut episode.
EW can now reveal exclusively that the full first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation will be available on Blu-ray on July 24. (Three episodes from the series were released on a special preview Blu-ray edition last January.) It is the culmination of over a year’s worth of painstaking work. While the show was shot on 35mm motion picture film, an inherently high-definition format, it was scanned into standard-definition video before any editing or visual effects work was completed.
“This was bleeding-edge back in the day,” says Michael Okuda, a scenic designer and technical advisor on ST:TNG who is overseeing the high-def transfer process as a consultant with his wife, Denise. “[The standard-def process] made it possible to do Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was a far more ambitious series from a technical point of view than the original [Trek] series. But the downside of that is, a quarter-century later, all you have is standard definition.”
To get the show converted for high def Blu-ray, every frame of the original camera negatives had to be rescanned, and each episode has been reconstructed using archived script and editors notes from 25 years ago. The result is truly spectacular, as you can see in this exclusive clip from the episode “Where No One Has Gone Before.” Check it out below (and expand to full-screen view for the complete effect):
The entire process of converting an episode into high def can take anywhere from four to six weeks — some episodes have as few as a dozen effects shots, while others can have over 100. Most of the visual effects were also shot on film, and then assembled in standard def video. But there were many effects that were made using analog painting tools in standard-def only. “We have artists going frame-by-frame, recreating using digital tools what was done on analog video back then,” says Okuda (pictured, third from right, with CBS TV exec Ryan Adams, fellow consultant Denise Okuda, and CBS TV exec David Grant).
With several episodes being converted at any given time, the project has pretty well consumed the Okudas life, from making detailed notes on every effects shot in a given episode before it’s converted, to screening upgraded shots for approval. Michael Okuda says the most difficult episode so far was the first, “Encounter at Farpoint,” but each episode has presented its own challenges. One of the three episodes included in the preview Blu-ray disc — season 3’s “Sins of the Father” — had 13 seconds of original film negative that could not be located, so the disc had to be released using 13 seconds of standard def video instead. A few months later, however, the missing footage was finally found in a mislabeled box.
And as for some of TNG‘s most ambitious, best regarded episodes — like “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and “Best of Both Worlds” — just mentioning them draws apprehensive sighs from the Okudas. “We’re focused on the moment,” says Michael Okuda. “When you called, there was an issue with a planet, making sure the clouds are right. That sounds very trivial, but that’s the issue of the moment.”
Along with the high-def episodes, new interviews with cast and crew members will be included in the Blu-ray edition. “We have interviews from people who are telling stories that we’ve never heard before,” says Denise Okuda with a laugh. “That’s pretty hard to do. We’ve been immersed in this universe for I don’t know how many years. I think people are really going to be happy.”