Wednesday 1 February 2017

Star Trek: Beyond

I’ve just got round to watching Star Trek: Beyond, the latest Trek movie, and I was mildly disappointed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first of the re-boot movies despite the fact that most long-time fans are dismissive of it. And I thought the second one wasn’t that bad even though die-hard fans tend to spit blood and start screaming abuse about magic blood at the mention of the film. But this one had the approval of the fans, so I was expecting to be entertained and yet I wasn’t.

Maybe on repeat viewings I might grow to enjoy it. Heck, I’ve learnt to find the good in the Final Frontier and even the Motion Picture, but right now I’m at a loss to find anything good to say about it. Yes, it was nice that Nimoy’s passing was acknowledged. Yes, there are some scenes with McCoy and Spock bickering. Yes, it was good that a main character was revealed to be gay, even though I thought this supposed taboo was broken by Jadzia Dax and Garak’s interest in Dr. Bashir over 20 years ago. But having more character moments when, for instance, they involve McCoy flying spaceships, doesn’t get to the heart of why these characters worked in the first place.

The main problem, though, is the flaming CGI, which saps the life out of every action scene and even the quieter scenes. A good example is the now obligatory Enterprise crashing scene. When it happened in Into Darkness it was over-the-top, but there was at least some feeling of peril and of it furthering the plot. Either way, it was vastly inferior to the previous time the Enterprise crashed in Nemesis, or the time before that in Generations. And they were all considerably less interesting than the first time the Enterprise crashed in the Search for Spock. Back then, the scene had only a few seconds of special effects and so relied on tension and plot development and great dialogue so that even the access codes are memorable, along with an iconic shot of the crew watching the ship go down. Less is more, every time.

This time round it took what felt like several hours for the ship to go down with the camera swooping around all over the place running along the walls, ceilings and floors before finally standing still for a millisecond to give us a hint of what’s supposed to be happening, and by the time you’ve figured out that something could be happening in engineering involving someone in a uniform and an alien, the camera swoops off to confuse us somewhere else.

Once stuff has stopped swirling around the screen we reached the point in the story that most Trek reaches before the opening title credits have rolled, and the story that followed could have been a good one if we hadn’t have had to wait for an explanation of what that story was until about five minutes from the end. An old MACO soldier from season 3 of Enterprise getting disillusioned with Federation policy and fighting back is a decent premise, but there’s no reason to keep that a mystery until it’s too late to actually deal with the implications.

The thing that makes the story telling in Trek work is that the moral dilemma comes very quickly in the story and the tale then deals with an attempt to find a solution that in bad Trek involves creating a subspace inversion field in the positronic matrix, in good Trek involves everyone agreeing that tolerance and finding common ground between divergent species is the only way forward, and in excellent Trek has Kirk punching a man in a monster suit and showing a green-skinned woman what pressing the lips means.

Beyond didn’t manage any of that because for most of its length there was no moral dilemma other than how do the main characters find their way off a planet, while being repeatedly interrupted by interminable CGI scenes where yet again I hadn’t got a clue what was going on.

For me escaping from a planet isn’t a great hook for a Trek story. Voyager did the very same plot at the end of season 2, except they had a moral dilemma, had redshirts getting chomped by dinosaurs, Ensign Suder’s redemption, Seska’s demise, with plenty of time left over for the Trek message of tolerance and common understanding. In short, when I watch a Trek movie and I start thinking to myself that Voyager did this better, something’s wrong.

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