While J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek opening May 8 in theaters is getting a lot of attention, this weekend will see another treat for fans: the classic sci-fi franchise’s original pilot episode will air in syndication for the first time in remastered form with updated special effects.
Something the two productions have in common: no William Shatner as Capt. Kirk to be seen anywhere.
“The Cage,” stars Jeffrey Hunter as USS Enterprise Capt. Christopher Pike, Leonard Nimoy as science officer Mr. Spock and Majel Barrett as the ship’s unnamed first officer, referred to only as “Number One.”
The episode will air noon Sunday, May 3, on KASW, the Valley’s CW affiliate (Channel 6 for Cox Cable subscribers).
For many years, the 1964 pilot, rejected by NBC, was a “lost” episode in Trek history — it didn’t air on television in its proper form until 1988, instead being chopped up and repurposed as part of the 1966 original series episode “The Menagerie.” That story uses the events of “The Cage” as a backdrop for the court martial of Mr. Spock after he abducts his former captain Pike and whisks him and Kirk’s Enterprise away to the forbidden world of Talos IV for mysterious reasons he is reluctant to discuss.
I recently chatted with Michael Okuda, one of the creative producers for the remastered episodes, whom I met briefly in November at the opening of Star Trek: The Exhibition at the Arizona Science Center. (That exhibit, by the way, ends Sunday.)
Along with his wife Denise Okuda and Dave Rossi, Michael Okuda (pictured) supervised the work of CBS Digital for visual effects and provided some digital elements for selected shots. Okuda said the remastered edition of “The Cage” was actually finished a year ago with the other special editions, but was held back so its release would coincide with the new feature film from Paramount. He said it will be included in the third-season boxed set of DVDs.
“All of the remastered episodes were done on an incredibly tight schedule, and all three of us are impressed with the dedication and hard work that Niel Wray and his team at CBS Digital poured into this project,” Okuda said. “In the case of ‘The Cage,’ the most difficult challenge was the opening shot in which the camera dives into the bridge. Niel’s team did this shot for (the remastered version of) ‘The Menagerie,’ but had to rework it for ‘The Cage.’ This was the single most difficult shot in the entire series.”
Okuda added that the tracing work required to replace the scenic background of a Mojave city in Pike’s picnic illusion was not technically difficult but was especially tedious on deadline. The end result — a matte painting by Max Gabl, should be worth it. “It was simply a challenge because of the sheer number of shots and the ever-present deadlines,” he said.
Okuda, a graphic designer, created the animated computer displays for the Enterprise bridge in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, leading to a staff position as a scenic artist on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He and Denise have also worked extensively in preserving, cataloging and recording the history of the franchise.
“The remastered Star Trek episodes were particularly fulfilling from a creative standpoint, mainly because all three of us (along with a lot of the gang at CBS Digital) have such a love of the original series,” Okuda said. “That said, we’d love to work on a remastered version of Star Trek: The Next Generation, if CBS ever decides to do so.
“The best challenge is always the next one,” he said.
Spoken like one who believes in the true spirit of Star Trek.