Star Trek fans, rejoice! Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) has been remastered in 1080p high definition for the visual pleasure of nerds, geeks and the mundane human population alike.
Just as the Blu-ray release of the first season becomes available around the world, Wil Wheaton took some time to discuss his thoughts on Star Trek: TNG and what it means to him now, so many years later. He has become a bit of a familiar face on the small screen, notably appearing in shows like The Big Bang Theory, The Guild and Leverage, but he will forever be remembered as Wesley Crusher, the character that so many people loved to hate -- even Wheaton himself.
This Blu-ray release also marks the 25th anniversary of the first episode, which aired back in 1987, on 28 September. In a fitting way to celebrate the science fiction and pop-cultural phenomenon that the show has become, the HD transfers were, in itself, a technical feat.
In a release, CBS Entertainment, which acquired the Star Trek franchise in 2006, described the complicated process:
"The series was originally shot on film, and then transferred to videotape, which was used to edit episodes together. In order to create true HD masters, CBS is going back to the original uncut film negative -- all 25,000-plus film reels of it -- and cutting the episodes together exactly the way they originally aired. The visual effects were all shot on film and will be painstakingly re-compositioned, not up-converted from videotape. The newly cut film will then be transferred to true high definition, with 7.1 DTS Master Audio."
But for Wil Wheaton, who was only 15 years old when he first took on the role of Wesley Crusher, the Blu-ray release is something more of a stroll down memory lane.
"For me, it's very much like stepping out of the TARDIS and I'm in my high school in the late '80s, because I was privately tutored on the set of Next Generation," Wheaton explained.
"When a person who didn't work on Next Generation watches these shows, like if you sit down and watch Star Trek, your imagination is going to fill in where the rest of the ship is. While your imagination is doing that, my memory is filling in what we were doing that day, what part of the sound stage was that on, who came to visit us that day and things like that. I'm really, really grateful that I get the opportunity to look back on the production of the show in a way that I've just never been able to, until now."
But watching the first season again isn't always easy for Wil Wheaton. Mostly, it's been be cringe-worthy. "Especially, especially, those first-season jumpers," Wheaton lamented with a chuckle. You know the ones; over-sized and in blah colours, while everyone else walked around in sharp, tight (too tight in some parts) uniforms.
"I think it's really important to remember that Next Generation became an absolutely phenomenal science-fiction show, and we are all still very close 25 years on. But in that first season, you know, we all kind of struggled a little bit. The writers didn't know what the show was about; the actors didn't know their characters. Some of those first-season episodes are really bad."
Having watched the first season again in HD, however, Wheaton believes it will bring Star Trek to audiences at the quality it was meant to.
"It's important to look back at it in an historical context, and remember that we recorded these shows in 1987, and we did not have a ton of money per episode," he said.
"But we had an unbelievable art department and an extremely talented special effects department. We had access to a lot of visuals that existed because of the Star Trek movies, and our visual effects people and our art department worked together to make TNG look like something you would expect to see in a feature film. And that's amazing. I'm really happy that this re-release has allowed Star Trek to look to audiences today the way that we always wanted it to look."
The remastering has also allowed audiences to now look at the show in a new way.
"In a lot of ways, it's like watching something in black and white and then watching it in colour. Or hearing something through a small set of computer speakers and hearing it mastered in 7.1 surround sound in an IMAX theatre. It's just gorgeous," he gushed.
Wheaton was invited to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the Mars Curiosity landing, along with a host of other guests. At the event, he ran into Seth MacFarlane (as you do), creator of Family Guy and avid fan of Star Trek.
"When I was there, we were discussing the [TNG] Blu-rays. He [MacFarlane] said, 'the Blu-rays are so beautiful, the sound is so incredible and they look so incredible -- that there are episodes I've seen that I didn't like the first time around, that I love them now'. And there are episodes that he liked that he is crazy about now, because it's so beautiful."
Along with remastering the show in HD, the Blu-rays will also offer an array of special features; some old, some new. The archival material includes promos and previews, and a short piece from 1987 that introduces audiences to the new Enterprise and crew. There are also several archival segments that have been on previous DVD and tape releases.
"I haven't had time to watch all of the behind-the-scenes features, but my understanding is that they are incredibly comprehensive, and just sort of tell the story of how we made the show," Wheaton said.
There's a massive new three-part documentary in HD that includes behind-the-scenes footage from the production of the series and new interviews of cast and crew that were shot specifically for the Blu-ray release.
"All of us from the cast gave interviews to go on the Blu-rays," Wheaton said.
"I understand that the group producing these behind-the-scenes features and documentaries contacted as many people as they could from Next Generation to participate, and every single person they asked said yes. Next Generation is such joyous, wonderful part of all of our lives that everybody that they couldn't reach reached out to them, and said, 'Look, I did whatever on Next Generation and I would love to talk to you'."
It provides a unique look at the production and history of the series. There is also an old gag reel (because who doesn't want to see the cast tell Wesley to shut up a lot?) and a very detailed feature that examines the process of working the original footage into high-definition quality, sourcing the old film elements and recreating the special effects, while remaining faithful to the look and feel of the series.
Wheaton has written at length about his character and his experience during and after his time working on TNG. Most, at first, thought that he was the luckiest 15-year-old in the galaxy, able to work with greats like Patrick Stewart in a sequel of a series that he was both a fan of and that already had large fan following. But then came the awareness that he was playing a character that would be disliked by many.
"Imagine being a teenager, trying to handle all the things a teenager has to deal with. Now, multiply that times being on a huge show, and all these people hate you. It was tough," Wheaton wrote on his blog.
"But I didn't handle myself with much grace, which I think echoes Wesley's situation: he had the intellectual capacity to be with these adults, and not the emotional capacity. It was the same for me, in real life," he added.
He recently turned 40, and now views the experience very differently.
"Honestly, Star Trek is a lot of things to me. I was a teenager, and there were days that I was so happy to be there and was having a great time. Then there were days where I really didn't want to be there, I wanted to be out at the beach with my friends, playing games, going to the movies or something like that. At the end of the day, Next Generation was my job. And like all jobs, there were days that were awesome, and days that were less awesome. But when taken as a whole and looked at over time, it's just a great part of my life. And I'm really, really grateful that I have Star Trek in my life."
What started as a column by Wheaton, Memories of the Future: Volume 1 became a book looking at the first half of the season through his eyes, as both a fan and cast member. It provides a very snarky look at the episodes, and snippets of behind-the-scenes stories. We asked him whether his book would also work as a companion piece to the Blu-ray.
"I certainly wouldn't dissuade people from thinking that! If they wanted to grab it and read along while they watched it," he answered with a big laugh.
"I think the best way to embrace that, and to just accept it, and kind of own it, is to look back at it they way you look back on a high school yearbook, where you flick through it with your friends, and you say 'Oh, my gosh, I remember that person', 'Oh, I had such a crush on her' and 'Oh, man, I can't believe I thought that was cool'."
The way he describes it, "Memories of the Future looks back at the first season of Next Generation with equal parts nostalgia and face-palm. And that's really the way that I watch Next Generation."
Unfortunately, the Blu-ray and his book probably won't ever be packaged together (come on, people, let's make this happen!), but Wheaton promises that, "As long as I'm able, I'll keep them available for people."
"The thing is, where I think Memories of the Future really lives and what makes it fun to read and what makes it fun to write is that in a lot of ways, it's just this lovingly snarky look back at the episodes that just aren't very good. You know, it's mystery science theatre in print, and when the show gets good, I think it's going to be less fun."
He's only finished the first half of the first season, but he's working on the last half -- and he'll be writing while watching it on Blu-ray this time.
"I've watched it on DVD for years. And now I've moved along to the Blu-rays. Honestly, it just makes it more fun to watch than it did before."
Despite playing a character that ended up being disliked by many, we have to give credit where credit is due: he was a child actor who turned out to be pretty damn decent. Though, if you only ever saw him on The Big Bang Theory, playing the character Wil Wheaton, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
"There's a very important distinction that needs to be made here. The character I play on Big Bang Theory is an evil, stylised version of myself. I'm not actually playing myself. I work very hard to be nothing like the guy I play on Big Bang Theory," Wheaton explained with a chuckle. We believe you, Wheaton. After all, he does promote "Don't be a D**k Day".
But the self-proclaimed geek now comes to his role on The Big Bang Theory as both a big fan of the show and a way to get a new generation excited about Star Trek.
"I'm now meeting people who are of my generation and who are watching Next Generation with their children, and one of the ways they can get them to watch Next Generation is they tell them that the guy they watch on The Guild and The Big Bang Theory was on Star Trek when he was a kid -- and that's all it takes for them to watch -- to have this thing to do with their families. And I really love that; I love being part of something that gives families a reason to get together, and a reason to spend time together that's real quality time.
"What is completely unsurprising to me is that 25 years on, Next Generation still resonates with audiences, is still important to people, still does awesome things for people's lives, and that there is a tremendous amount of excitement to see it on Blu-ray."
Wheaton outlined some of the parts that he thinks are great to see in HD.
"When the Enterprise docks in the Starbase in the episode '11001001'. Even on television in 1987, it looked amazing. You just got this sense that the Enterprise is huge, but the Starbase is even bigger -- and on Blu-ray, it looks like something you'd see on feature film. Just incredible.
He also said, "Those space-jellyfish-thing looks phenomenal in Blu-ray."
Lastly, Wheaton added, "The Blu-ray doesn't do much to help some of the stories that are lousy, but it really makes watching the series an enjoyable and memorable experience."
You don't have to take his word for it. The Blu-ray is out now, though the release was delayed in some areas (including Australia) ironically because of some issues with the "7.1 DTS Master Audio", while CBS will provide replacement discs in the US and the UK.
Get it for yourself, and along with a copy of Memories of the Future, sit back and watch The Next Generation
boldly digitally go where no Star Trek show has gone before, in remastered HD.
Yeah, I had to say it.
Disclosure: CBS is the parent company of TV.com.