Wednesday, 27 July 2016
Star Trek Beyond
After the disappointment of the confused, incoherent Star Trek: Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond is at least a film that can be enjoyed on a surface level without too many objections. I confess that I'm not a huge fan of the rebooted series as a whole, finding the films to be visually spectacular, excellently cast, genuinely moving and/or funny in places, but otherwise shallow, with gaping inconsistencies in basic plot logic - a failing I also found in the first of the new Star Wars films, which started unravelling in my head almost before I'd got to the carpark.
But Star Trek Beyond is probably the best of the three, and a desperate improvement on the second. Once again, I can't find anything to complain about in the casting; all the central roles are beautifully handled by their respective actors, with the recurring parts inhabited with a wonderful conviction, while also bringing fresh touches to these long-established figures. It also, for the first time, felt much closer to what a Star Trek film ought to be like, with a clear narrative line and a strong sense of Starfleet both growing out of and emblematic of a Better Future - and we could certainly use a bit of that optimism now.
The opening sequence - after a comedic episode with Kirk trying to negotiate a peace treaty with some scrappy, puppy-like aliens - is terrific, with the Enterprise docking inside a ridiculously vast Starbase, with some lovely shots of the ship sliding through glassy tubes that penetrate the main living space of the enormous structure. It's also completely bonkers, with several cities worth of skyscrapers folded up into a gravity-defying Escher-like interior landscape, so complexly visualised that it's a fair bet it's going to have to turn up later in the film just to justify the rendering costs. Minor quibbles were starting to circulate at this point: if it's the twenty third century, and this structure has been built anew in space, why is the civic architecture of these buildings so crushingly familiar, as if all the skyscrapers had been transplanted from Toronto, Sydney, etc? Why do the plazas and malls look like they're contemporary civic settings CGI'd into this virtual space? Because they are, I suspect, and perhaps it's no bad thing as the entire sequence functions as a loving throwback to those episodes in the original series where a Starbase would look suspiciously like a 1960s university campus or shopping complex. It did, however, all remind me of the similar alien mall-scape in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Things quickly go awry when the Enterprise leaves the Starbase to respond to a distress signal, which in grand Star Trek fashion turns out to be a trap, and before long we're back into the same "villain with superweapon" plot which underpinned the two previous episodes. But at least the story is well handled this time, cross-cutting between the main groups of characters in a way that was mostly followable and developing a story that, while in no way groundbreaking, at least still feels narratively satisfying by the time you've left the cinema. The main new character, Jaylah, is very good and it would be nice to see more of her in the follow-up, presuming such a thing happens.
So it's a colourful, fast paced action film with some very enjoyable character beats, impressive effects and a plot that does at least withstand superficial scrutiny. What it isn't is a film in any way interested in new ways of thinking about the future. It's put together very well, and it's thrilling in parts, but if science fiction is the literature of ideas, this isn't science fiction.
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It's also so dark that for over half of the movie you can barely see anything. ShakyCam doesn't help the action scenes either.ReplyDelete
I remember Ebert pointing out the same thing about the first film in the series, and I'm glad you're pointing it out again here. It's an important omission, not just from an SF point of view, but because those ideas are great for making plots more substantial.ReplyDelete
Hi AR, have you had a chance to check out The Expanse? I'd love to hear what you think of a series like that. Personally I really enjoyed it. Not only did I appreciate the smaller scale (humanity has only colonized a few worlds within our solar system, similar to some of your stuff), but I'm also thankful any time there's an earnest attempt to make solid science fiction for TV.ReplyDelete
Since we don't get much of it, it's nice when a genuine SF series comes along.
As for the new Star Trek, haven't seen it yet, but if it feels like a Trek movie, as you say, then it will automatically be an improvement over the last two.
It still amazes me that all this old stuff is getting a reboot when there is a huge amount of excellent untapped sci-fi that, if done right, would blow the Star Trek/Wars franchises out of the water! For me, the best has yet to make it onto celluloid!!ReplyDelete
Exactly! I always thought Iain M. Banks novels like "Against A Dark Background" or "Consider Phlebas" would make amazing movies because they already include incredible set pieces that would look fantastic in a visual medium. (And comedic relief...Banks had an ear for great dialog and knew how to make readers laugh.)Delete
I would love to see Revelation Space as an HBO-style series or miniseries with high production values. The episodic format would be perfect, IMO, to ease into the universe and explore concepts through a slow burn.
Plus, the kid in me just wants to see the Nostalgia for Infinity and its creepy interiors, Ultras, and Pattern Jugglers.
I was thinking of Banks when I wrote this. Totally agree with you on RS series. Makes one salivate with excitement just thinking about it! :)Delete
Agree re the story line. Simon Pegg's influence is palpable. Also agree that we need to have Jaylah make her way through Star Fleet Academy and join a future Enterprise crew (It seems they can make new star ships faster than if they used Legos). Wasn't thrilled with the Barco addition of two outboard screens for the more spectacular scenes. Not awful, but not a thrill either.ReplyDelete
Agree David, I love ST and have hopes for the new series, Star Trek: Discovery. Yet there is good SF out there that could be made into shows or films.ReplyDelete
A fully functioning motorbike in a long lost spaceship? Really, Simon Pegg?ReplyDelete
Krall's swarmy things quite reminded me of the Inhibitors.ReplyDelete