An update on the status of Star Trek 4K

Star Trek Kelvin Films on 4K
Star Trek Kelvin Films on 4K

Say what you want about the Star Trek cinematic universe, but there’s no doubt that it has been successful. Starting in 1979, the franchise has given us 13 films, all of which made money, and some were to critical acclaim. If you go back to the start, The Motion Picture was incredibly important as it set the tone for the way Trek would look in the movies compared to the things looked on the television series.

Thanks to advances in technology over the years, films continue to look better. What used to be created as a model and rigged up against a green screen now is made entirely within a computer system. With each passing motion picture, the quality of what is presented on-screen improves.

For the home entertainment enthusiast, the very best way to enjoy movies at home is on television capable of 4K, also known as “Ultra HD.” 4K is the successor to HD television — which itself was an upgrade over the old SD standard, which is what the original DVDs delivered.

The films available on 4K and streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max are essentially double the resolution of standard HD, which is available from most streaming services and from Blu-ray discs. This is the new standard of viewing. It gets the viewer closer to the original 35mm film resolution, which is the standard for watching movies.

So, it stands to reason that the fans of Star Trek would want to be able to enjoy these improvements at home. This is true for The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan and the rest of the older titles in the series. Right now, only the Kelvin series of films are available in 4K. But according to industry insider Bill Hunt, the editor in chief of The Digital Bits, fans should only have to wait a little longer for the first ten Star Trek films to make it to 4K.

Bill Hunt
Bill Hunt

The Digital Bits site is the go-to source of information for physical media. From the start of the DVD era, Hunt and the team at Bits covered changes and news for DVDs, Blu-ray, and now 4K discs and their availability.

In addition, Hunt served as a consultant for Paramount for the past few years, giving the studio advice on how to handle and release specific 4K titles.

“Paramount is a studio that has been working steadily to put out their classic films, and they’ve been putting them out steadily,” says Hunt. “Sometimes if they don’t know if a film was going to be a big seller in 4K, they will put it out digitally first, and then they’ll come out with a disc.”

Hunt says that the Beverly Hills Cop 4K is a good example of this, where Paramount tested the waters with a streaming version of Eddie Murphy’s classic hit before making it available for consumers as a physical 4K disc.

“They are very keen on exploring their catalog on disc, and they are pretty good about restoration,” says Hunt. “They are well aware that people want Star Trek — all of those classic films.”

Hunt says that Paramount is steadily working toward remastering all of the films for a release on 4K, but thanks to the number of titles included, there is a built-in problem.

“If they were to release one of those films on 4K, they know that everybody would go ‘Oh, that’s great — where are all the others?’” says Hunt. “For example, they’ve got a beautiful 4K restoration of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”

Hunt says that Paramount had already done the hard work of restoring Wrath, which was done when they released the Wrath of Khan Director’s Cut Blu-ray in 2016. Fans can watch the 4K version right now on iTunes and other streaming services.

“The reason they didn’t put it out on disc is because Paramount is well aware that the moment they did that, everyone would say, ‘well, now I want all of them,’” says Hunt. “And I’ve even told them that.”

Paramount asked Hunt how to handle the recent 50th Anniversary of Star Trek, which was in 2016. Hunt said that he advised them to consider a 4K remaster of all the films would be “a good place to start.”

“But, if you’ve got a limited budget, I would recommend putting the Animated Series out on Blu-ray — you could scan them in real easy for Blu-ray or 4k,” says Hunt. “To their credit, they’ve done some of those things.”

Hunt says that the entire film industry is trying to find its footing after the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted so much. Paramount was not immune, and Hunt says that combined with the re-merger of CBS with Viacom adds even more complexity.

“What I believe is happening is they are slowly but steadily remastering all of the other films,” says Hunt. “But the reason for the delay is that there’s one that is going to cost them the most money is — and they know this — is Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Director’s Edition.”

Unfortunately, the original master for TMP was done only in SD resolution. He says that Paramount didn’t want to spend the extra money for full HD.

“I know a lot of the people who worked on that,” says Hunt. “What I can confirm is what I’ve said elsewhere is that they have looked into what it would cost to properly remaster that film in 4K.

“It’s a big number, not as substantial as many people think it would be, and they basically have to work up the courage to do it,” says Hunt. After TMP is remastered, Hunt says that the rest of the Trek films would be no problem since they were shot on film.

“That one [TMP] is complicated,” says Hunt. “Because you really have to redo the visual effects to get it right, and they are talking to the people who did that work originally who’ve said, ‘yeah, we can do it.’ They sat down and worked out what the budget would be.”

“Basically, they are working up the courage to spend the money they need to spend to do it right,” says Hunt.

Hunt says that there is extra motivation for the studios now because, when movie theaters were closed during the pandemic, sales of physical media ticked upward.

“They’ve really started in the last year to get more aggressive about remastering its older films; re-releasing them on Blu-ray; releasing some of them on 4K,” says Hunt. “I’m confident that they are going to get to all of those Star Trek films to being properly remastered in 4K. I just don’t know how soon it’s going to happen.”