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Super 8

Super 8 was an analog film home entertainment format, and in more than one way the forerunner to the home video format. Released in 1965 by Eastman Kodak as an improvement of the older "Double" or "Regular" 8 mm home film format (with the "Zapruder film", recording the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, arguably the most famous film shot in the format), the format became a runaway success, as it tied in perfectly with the growing post-World War II economical prosperity of Western societies (previous variants having been only affordable to the well-to-do), all of its citizens only too eager to record their lives in home-made movies, with recorders that were in essence miniaturized versions of the cameras utilized by mainstream Hollywood.

Super 8 interior casing of The Motion Picture Villagers watching TMP scene in The Shannara Chronicles
Super 8 interior casing of the US Motion Picture release...
...played in a "miniature cinema", as seen in The Shannara Chronicles

However, in order to enjoy their shot footage, customers also needed – aside from having their films developed – to own, or at the very least have access to, film projectors capable of playing the Super 8 film reels, or simply put, having to have to operate a miniature cinema of their own. Super 8, which was capable of including sound, was not backwards compatible with 8 mm, which was a silent format. Nevertheless, it was the first time these opportunities to record ones personal life in motion pictures became affordable for a general populace at large, and it was adopted by them with a fervor. For two decades the format reigned supreme, until Video 8 made its appearance in 1985, turning out to be the ultimate downfall of the format. "Video 8" should not be confused with "Super 8", as the latter was a bona fide film medium, whereas the Video 8 was, like its larger VHS/Betamax siblings, a magnetic video tape.

Hollywood studios recognized the potential of a bourgeoning emergence of a home video format market, and did release titles from their backlog catalogs, though it had always remained a fringe event. While available, retail prices were for most far too high for individual ownership, meaning that the vast majority of the Super 8 releases ended up in the film festival or rental outlet circuit, the latter a very modest affair itself, compared to the later video tape rental outlet juggernaut. An early example of a popular release in Super 8 was the late-1960s Three Stooges film Kook's Tour, the pilot for a never-produced series, which was a best-seller when it was released exclusively in the Super 8 format. Another popular release was Star Wars: A New Hope, released in both sound and silent versions and in a black-and-white print; like most Super 8/8mm releases, it was truncated, featuring only highlights from the film though, as was the case with Star Trek, full-length productions were also released in the format.

Star Trek on Super 8[]

Considering the huge success Star Trek: The Original Series enjoyed in syndication during the 1970s, it should not come as a surprise that several episodes of the series turned up in that era in the Super 8 format. Responsible for this was the somewhat obscure New York City based company "Canterbury Films", founded by Leslie Brooks – a movie trailer specialist at the time – and named after the street he was living in. [1]

The Original Series episodes on Super 8[]

Canterbury Films Super 8 release of The Trouble with Tribbles

Canterbury Films Super 8 release of "The Trouble with Tribbles"

Brooks released several episodes in that decade, each spread over three 400 feet, fifteen minutes long, 7-inch film reels, packaged together in a single cardboard box endowed with photocopied imagery glued on the box as cover art, though some 1,000 feet single reel variants have also been reported. [2] Not particularly sturdy, few original boxes have survived the rigors of time, as is evidenced on secondhand market sites like eBay. The few surviving ones however, show that the releases were neither endowed with catalog numbers nor release dates and it is nigh impossible to ascertain the exact extent of Brooks' release efforts or to pinpoint release dates. Furthermore, lack of any mention on the box art of the legal owner of Star Trek, Paramount Pictures, seemed to indicate that the handling of licensing issues was shady at best. According to author Richard W. Haines, Brooks made use of a contemporary loophole in the then applicable copyright laws, "Canterbury discovered that some episodes of the Star Trek TV show did not contain a copyright in the credits and released dupes to collectors," essentially making Brooks' releases "bootleg recordings" in current understanding. (The Moviegoing Experience, 1968-2001, February 2003, p. 183, ISBN 0786413611)

Haines' observation might also explain why all hitherto known Canterbury Super 8 titles are stemming from the first one-and-a-half seasons of the Original Series; Paramount Pictures, after it had in July 1967 acquired Desilu Studios, the original producer of the Original Series, apparently ran a tighter ship from a business point of view. During the transition several different forms of copyright for episodes of the second season of Star Trek were featured. The initial episodes of the season bore a Desilu logo and copyright, while episodes of the latter half of the second season featured a Desilu logo but a Paramount copyright.

Regardless of the legalities involved, the Canterbury Films releases were for all intents and purposes the very first Star Trek home media entertainment format releases as currently understood (meaning video formats – there had been a few audio only formats previously and concurrently, such as the 1976 Inside Star Trek LP), albeit apparently unofficial, as in not sanctioned by the franchise. Nevertheless, as Haines already indicated, these were far from being the mass-market releases their VHS/Betamax successors later became, but instead remained rather limited to the niche-market of "film buffs" – they actually still hunting down surviving copies of the releases as collector's items on such sites as eBay [3] – in no small part due to the high retail prices involved at the time. Of at least one episode, "The Man Trap", is known that it was released in a similar manner on Super 8 by another, equally obscure company, Red Fox, but it is not known whether or not it was an original release or a copy of a Canterbury Films release, [4](X) as the practice of copying each others products was quite commonplace in the Super 8 market at the time. In this regard a company called "Thunderbird Films" has been mentioned most often and it appears that it is in this light that the reported single reel variants should be considered. [5] Canterbury Films endowed their films with their own original leaders which were cut from "pirated" (single reel) releases. [6]

At least two third season episodes, "Is There in Truth No Beauty?" (one from Thunderbird Films being sold on eBay on 17 September 2016) and "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (a three-reel version sold on eBay on 25 July 2018), have also been reported as being released on Super 8, but any third season episode on the format appears to be truly illegal as Canterbury Films has not been associated with these, but rather Thunderbird Films, which has a solid reputation in this regard in collector circles. [7]

Star Trek films on Super 8[]

Paramount Pictures itself was by 1981 one of the last major Hollywood studios to turn out (movie) titles in the format, one of its last titles happening to be Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1980, through Marketing Film International, Inc. – the German-owned Super 8 specialist New York City subsidiary. [8](X) To date, it, with its international variants, is as far as Star Trek is concerned, the only known title, besides being the only movie, to have been released in its entirety in this format officially, as the format was by then well on its way out due to the emergence of VHS and Betamax, and even though it is known that United International Pictures has disseminated a trailer reel of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in the format on a very limited scale as late as 1982. [9](X)

Reports within the collector scene had it that Marketing Film International actually had already prints of the theatrical release of Wrath of Khan stocked for dissemination, but that the New York branch of Marketing Film went out of business prior to the slated release date, preventing the commercial release with its stock most likely destroyed. [10]

Other, unofficial, Star Trek on Super 8[]

Over the years other Star Trek material has made its appearance on the format, which, while not official productions, has made an impact in Star Trek lore.

The Original Series "blooper reels"[]

In the summer of 1968 Gene Roddenberry cleared out the vaults of Desilu Studios of its unused The Original Series footage, consisting of outtakes, alternate and deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, and visual effects footage, with the intent of selling spliced up clippings of these through his merchandise company Lincoln Enterprises during the late 1960s and early 1970s. (see main article for further information) A mentionable part of his "booty" were the three so-called "blooper reels", humorous seven-minute reels cobbled together from outtakes – most notably from the ones in which actors botched up their performances – by Film Editor Don Rode and Producer Robert H. Justman for showing at the annual studio Christmas party. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1997, p. 178) Never meant to be seen outside the inner circle, Roddenberry had nevertheless copies struck on Super 8 and brought them along for public showing when Lincoln Enterprises made the Star Trek convention and lecture rounds in the 1970s. (Star Trek Movie Memories, 1995, pp. 40-41)

Canterbury Films Super 8 Star Trek Blooper Reel release

Canterbury Star Trek "blooper reel" Super 8 release

Considering their popularity with fans, it was only a matter of time that commercial Super 8 versions became available for sale from the late 1970s onward, and it was again Canterbury Films which, after their original series' episode releases, became associated with these 400 feet (constituting two of the blooper reels) releases, even though at least one of the reels carried a "1979 Video Dimensions Copyright" end credit, conceivably constituting yet another instance of piracy. [11] According to Archivist/Photo Editor Gerald Gurian, there was no legal ambiguity in this specific case. When Paramount Pictures acquired Desilu Studios in 1967, the new owner chose to copyright only the footage from the Original Series episodes that were broadcast on television and not the out-takes, behind-the-scenes material and publicity photos; which, being left unregistered, were thus allowed to become public domain material according to copyright laws, thereby becoming "(...)perfectly appropriate for any publisher to reprint them," as per Gurian. [12] For decades these reels were the only live behind-the-scenes footage afforded to a larger audience, albeit limited to the Lincoln attendees and Canterbury clientele only, therefore attaining a near mythical status in Trekdom.

It were from the commercial versions that, with the demise of the format, bootleg copies were made on the new Betamax/VHS formats, various examples of which currently posted on YouTube. However, while owners of the Canterbury Super 8 versions have reported the quality as "excellent" [13] – implying that Roddenberry had struck a deal with Canterbury by making the masters available to them – these tape copies are due to "generation loss" with each subsequent copying effort of inferior, oftentimes atrocious, quality.

Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Memories[]

As a means for home movie recording, the 8mm film format has proven to be beneficial for the Star Trek phenomenon as well. As it turned out, regular Original Series background performer William "Billy" Blackburn had, while he was on the production, made use of the opportunity to shoot on personal title various behind-the-scenes goings-on of various cast and crew members in the format. He filmed over an hour of footage, which he has kept for the most part in a safe-deposit box since the series ended in 1969. Blackburn has always preferred not to capitalize on his Star Trek connection, having shunned the Star Trek convention circuit after he had left the franchise. [14]

However, in later years, he was interviewed on a segment of the British television program After They Were Famous, which also featured highlights from his silent 8mm home movies that he had taken on the set. Subsequently, in July 2007, he made his first convention appearance, at Comic-Con International in San Diego. There, it was announced that he had contracted with CBS Consumer Products to release several minutes of his home movie footage as part of the special features on the upcoming HD DVD release of the Original Series' remastered first-season episodes that fall. For the franchise Blackburn's footage was a godsend (as indicated by the use of "Treasure Chest" in the special's title) as up until then they had never been able to showcase any contemporary behind-the-scenes footage on any of their hitherto released home video formats for the very simple fact that they did not have any, courtesy Roddenberry's 1968 scavenging hunt from which Blackburn's footage, being privately shot, had been exempt.

Preserved in pristine condition, the feature, "Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Memories", was continued with the Blu-ray Disc releases of season 2 and season 3. Blackburn himself provided the accompanying audio commentary for the three-part special, as his original footage was shot without sound.

Release chronology[]

Date Products released
unknown "Where No Man Has Gone Before"; "The Man Trap"; "The Menagerie, Part I"; "The Menagerie, Part II"; "Miri"; "Shore Leave"; "The Squire of Gothos"; "Space Seed"; "The City on the Edge of Forever"; "Catspaw"; "The Deadly Years"; "The Trouble with Tribbles"[1]
Q4 Star Trek: The Motion Picture
unknown Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan[2]
  1. Title releases as ascertained on such sites as eBay and 8mm Forum, and listed in the original broadcast order due to lack of release date information.
  2. Trailer reel only.

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