If the original Star Trek series was filmed today, it would be in High Definition widescreen format.
Sadly, neither of those technologies were available in the 1960s. Well, one was, but wasn't recognised as such at the time.
Star Trek was shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio (above) on 35mm film, an inherently high definition medium. It was good enough to use for shooting movies that were projected large on cinema screens of the day.
Roll forward to 2007 and Star Trek would become a weapon in the HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray war. Toshiba was heavily backing the HD-DVD format (as were other big hitters like Microsoft and Warner). In the Blu-Ray corner was Sony.
Knowing there were a lot of Star Trek fans out there, Toshiba financed the remastering of the first season of The Original Series in high definition. That meant re-scanning the original 35mm prints, cleaning them up, removing defects, minimizing film grain and tweaking colors and contrast.
Whole new CGI effects were also added to replace the aging planet opticals and model ship effects in the series. So we ended up with Star Trek looking like the image on the right here (original effects shot on the left):
The result was the masterful HD-DVD release of Season 1 of TOS. It has never looked better. I mean that. The remastered edition didn't look as good on Blu-Ray. Plans were afoot to remaster Seasons 2 and 3 as well.
Sony don't like losing, so they cheated. They bribed Warner to support the Blu-ray format and with Warner switching sides, others became turncoats too and HD-DVD became another casualty of the technology wars.
Toshiba backed out of supporting HD-DVD and with them went the remastering plans for Seasons 2 and 3 of TOS.
Fans had to wait another 2 years while the bugs in the Blu-ray format (which HD-DVD didn't suffer from) were ironed out and players that worked properly became available. BTW, HD-DVD had none of this region-locking crap that Blu-Ray still suffers from.
High-Def Star Trek
In 2009, high definition Star Trek finally arrived on Blu-Ray. Season 1 had been remastered again, this time for the Blu-Ray format, but the quality wasn't a match for the HD-DVD edition. That's not to say it was bad, merely that it wasn't as stellar as the HD-DVD.
Plus, the Blu-ray edition lacked the excellent 90-minute documentary about the Star Trek Memorabilia auction that was on the HD-DVD.
The remastered editions of Seasons 2 and 3 on Blu-Ray were a significant step down in visual quality from Season 1. But they were still high definition and as good as those seasons will ever look now.
However, Star Trek was still in its original 4:3 broadcast ratio.
Unless, that is, you have access to the Horror Channel (in the UK) where a widescreen version of The Original Series is being broadcast, but only in a low-quality version of Standard Definition. However, some effort was put into framing subjects rather than just zooming in on the picture till it filled the width of the screen.
That widescreen version has never been released commercially.
That's a pity, because as many times as I've bought the series on different media over the years (on VHS, on DVD twice, on HD-DVD and finally on Blu-Ray), I'd buy a widescreen edition in a heartbeat.
Star Trek in Cinerama
So what would Original Star Trek look like, not only if it was in widescreen (16:9 ratio) but in cinerama (even wider aspect ratios)?
That's a question Nick Acosta asked himself a couple of years ago.
Using HD screen captures from the series, he created the images below (there are more on his site here). He was able to create these shots by waiting for the camera to pan and then he stitched the separate shots together. The result is pretty epic.
It makes Star Trek look like quality science fiction movies from the 50s and 60s. It even has a “Forbidden Planet” vibe. Other shots are reminiscent of how Robert Wise filmed Star Trek: The Motion Picture...
And here's how he did it...
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