Review for Star Trek Beyond
I am a lapsed Trekkie, which in this case means that I tend to watch all the new Star Trek stuff, but really only to rant about it afterwards. While the J.J. Abrams reboot of the cinematic Star Trek franchise once more made it a populist property, injecting more of a Galaxy Far, Far Away tone to it, it isn’t without its issues, a sense of dumbing down and meaningless spectacle which I certainly picked up on with the previous film, Star Trek Into Darkness. But this time I’m getting the rant out of the way first. It’s justified too. 2016 was the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, half a century since Gene Roddenberry’s creation first hit the small screen, and to celebrate such a landmark date, Paramount and CBS gave us, one summer blockbuster movie. That’s it. Remember the fanfare that Doctor Who got for its 50th? They couldn’t even manage that much for the world’s biggest sci-fi franchise.
That’s a lot of hope and expectation riding on the back of two hours of cinema, and let’s be honest, there’s no way that Star Trek Beyond was going to meet those expectations. That would be asking for the moon. To make matters worse, the production of Star Trek Beyond was bookended by loss in the Star Trek community, Leonard Nimoy passing just before the film went into production, and Anton Yelchin’s senseless accident just before its release. The film may be bright and fun, but there’s a bittersweet overtone to its timing that didn’t help its box office. I’ve seen it listed as a 2016 bomb on certain Internet lists. I doubt it was that bad; it certainly made its money back, and a fourth film is already in the early stages of pre-production, but it wasn’t the anniversary movie that fans would have wanted.
The Enterprise is in the third year of its 5 year mission, and the strain of long-term deep space exploration is beginning to tell on its crew, and especially its captain. James Kirk is even considering a change of career, something that he wants to investigate further as the Enterprise docks at the Federation’s newest starbase, Yorktown. He doesn’t have long to ruminate, as an alien ship appears, its pilot broadcasting a distress call. Her crew has been captured on the distant planet Altamid, and she needs help rescuing them. It’s behind a dense nebula, so the Enterprise is out of contact when it gets there, but Kirk believes it’s nothing his crew can’t handle. Which is when the ship suffers a devastating attack. The invaders led by an alien named Krall capture most of the surviving crew, although most of the command staff manages to escape to the planet below. Krall has a personal grudge against the Federation, and the Enterprise has just given him the means to take revenge. Kirk will have his hands full trying to stop him, and rescue his crew. But he does have help, an alien woman named Jaylah who lives in a very interesting house.
Star Trek Beyond gets a 2.39:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. There’s a new director at the helm, Justin Lin takes over from J.J. Abrams, and apparently doesn’t have the latter’s passion for film. Star Trek Beyond was shot digitally, and this gets a pixel perfect transfer to Blu-ray, and we’re at that point now that it’s hard to pick out flaws in a digitally shot movie. It’s getting ever closer to a filmic experience. The image is clear and sharp, colours are strong, black levels are excellent, and the film’s effects sequences are spectacular.
We have a Dolby Atmos track here, which means nothing to my player, which instead plays the core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track instead (remember to turn off secondary audio and switch the output to Bitstream for this to happen. There are also DD 5.1 tracks in French, German, Italian, Spanish, and English Audio Descriptive, with subtitles in these languages, plus Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish. The audio experience is wholly immersive, bringing out the film’s action sequences with thunderous impact, the music driving the feel of the film well, yet keeping the film’s dialogue clear throughout. And yes there are Beastie Boys again, and even Public Enemy!
You get the disc in a Blu-ray Amaray with an o-card. In a stupid move, the movie’s cast and technical specs are printed in dark blue on a black background. The only way that I could read them was under a torch to increase the contrast. There’s also a voucher for an iTunes digital copy of the film. Paramount haven’t learned much from the Into Darkness debacle and have split the extra features, although this time they are consistent across BD, 3D and 4K discs. But once again, the director’s audio commentary is an iTunes exclusive, and there is a retailer exclusive release with a bonus disc, Target in the US, Sainsburys here, with another 45 minutes of extra features. At least you can get away with buying just one physical copy of the film this time.
The disc boots to an animated menu, where you will find 2 Deleted Scenes running to 1:02.
Beyond the Darkness lasts 10:08, and the producers, director and writers talk about the ideas behind the third reboot film.
Enterprise Takedown lasts 4:31, looking at Krall’s attack on the iconic ship.
Divided and Conquered lasts 8:17, and looks at the crew split up on the planet, the unlikely pairings.
A Warped Sense of Revenge lasts 5:15, and looks at Krall’s motivation.
Trekking in the Desert lasts 3:06, and takes us behind the scenes of filming in Dubai, the futuristic skyscrapers that became part of Starbase Yorktown.
Exploring Strange New Worlds last 6:02 and looks at the sets and production designs behind Altamid.
New Life, New Civilisations lasts 8:04 and takes us into the movie’s make-up department.
To Live Long and Prosper is a 7:51 celebration of the anniversary, offering iconic moments from the original series, and 10 of the 12 previous movies.
For Leonard and Anton is a too brief 5:04 tribute to the actors.
Finally the Gag Reel lasts 5:13.
All of the extras are in HD.
Another Star Trek movie comes along in the rebooted universe, and once more I have a blast watching, and once more after the credits sequence has rolled, I start picking nits. It’s a fun, grandiose, colourful, summer blockbuster movie, a neatly constructed thrill ride, but without much of substance beneath the surface. Certainly I never invest in, or care about these characters the way I did with the original crew, or indeed the Next Generation crew. Then again, these characters haven’t had 78 episodes of television behind them to get me invested.
As for Star Trek Beyond, with its lighter, more fun tone than Into Darkness, the manner of the attack on the Enterprise and the look of the surface of Altamid, I had serious déjà vu to Galaxy Quest. There’s even a one liner here about Kirk ripping his shirt. It has its version of the rock monsters, although they are cute golem like critters in the comedy opening of the movie. All that’s missing is a Beryllium Sphere.
Facetiousness aside, Star Trek Beyond might have the strongest message of any of the reboot films, and I was struck by how much it is a movie for our times. It’s also comparatively subtle about its allegory, more so than the aimless bludgeoning of Into Darkness. We have the Federation on one side, a metaphor for inclusiveness, tolerance, and globalisation, and against them is Krall and his Darwinian philosophy of self-interest and isolationism. It’s a direct reflection of the way global politics seems to be heading right now, with populist, reactionary movements shunning the more tolerant and open governments to instead look inward, to put up walls.
Of course this is all buried beneath two hours of flash and bang, loud music and big explosions. Star Trek Beyond is a fun movie, delightfully entertaining while you watch it, and it makes good use of its characters, with McCoy and Spock getting to play off each other, a nice mentor student relationship explored with Kirk and Chekov, and Scotty getting some more meat for his role too (I wonder how that happened, scriptwriter Simon Pegg?). But as is the case with modern summer blockbusters, you get the feeling that the character writing is neglected in favour of the spectacle, and that the film really just scratches the surface of its characters and its back-story.
There are things that I do adore about Star Trek Beyond. Starbase Yorktown is a case in point, a feat of macro engineering that we have never seen before, a cosmic orrery contained in a moon sized crystal sphere, the gravitational convolutions of its interior allowing for a cityscape from the mind of Escher, or an Inception dream sequence. The movie also has a nice touch tying into the prequel series, Star Trek: Enterprise, which unlike the other two films, gives it a sense of being part of a bigger picture.
Unfortunately, Star Trek Beyond becomes another stupid film if you stop and think about it. It isn’t just the fact that it can throw its main cast around the screen like rag dolls and have them walk away without a scratch during action sequences. There are plot holes certainly and some scenes make no logical sense. There’s a ‘saucer flipping’ scene where I can’t figure out how the main characters survived. The sheer convenience of the key to the doomsday weapon being on the Enterprise speaks of small universe syndrome, but then again the first of this trilogy had Kirk exiled to the same planet where old-Spock and Scotty were, both unaware of each other.
Star Trek Beyond is another fun, but forgettable movie, although this one has just enough social relevance to make it stand out a little over the usual multiplex fillers. It gets a spectacular presentation on Blu-ray though, which can probably only be topped by the 4k disc on a really big TV. The mark is for the first time glow, I doubt that it will stand up to re-watches though.