‘Star Trek Discovery’ had its premiere this past weekend and I finally managed to get a hold of it yesterday. The good news is that I don’t hate the show, but everywhere from editing to characterization, production design to acting, it’s riddled with so many poor choices that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to like it.
Visually, ‘Discovery’ is exactly like the NuTrek JJ Abrams films. Not a good start. Everything on screen seems to run the brightness gamut from totally black shadows to bright shiny highlights. There’s a ridiculous amount of contrast in every frame, to the point that none of the locations or environments seem remotely real. Ship interiors are all polished grey steel, glass screens, and over-saturated coloured lights. It’s cold and uninviting. Exterior shots are similar; the blown out lighting and high specularity of the ships’ hulls make the shots look more CG, not less. Starfleet and Klingon ships seem to be nearly the same colour, and neither is established well enough to make them easy to spot during action scenes. I hate the weapons. Both the hand and ship phasers have adopted the pop-gun style effect from the Abrams films, leaving space battles a confusing mess of machine gun tracer fire. Shields seem to be dealt with entirely through dialogue, another NuTrek staple. The Klingon cloaking device is now a comical green energy ripple. This show displays no visual subtlety.
I never thought I’d long for DS9’s ‘Kiss army’ Klingons. I have no idea how these ones made it out of the art department. I don’t mind the cultural changes, but visually, they’re a mess. It’s obvious that none of them can move around in their ridiculous spiky suits, and the actors appear to be drowning in prosthetic makeup. The main villain can barely open his mouth to speak, and when he does, only manages to sleep walk through his lines. I’m not sure if the actors aren’t up to the task, or if their performances can’t escape from under that makeup, but none of them come close to pulling off the Klingon language. They’re devoid of passion, personality, and weight. It’s as if all of the production’s effort went into the Klingon visuals, instead of into how they would behave. Their bridge is excessively designed, and the ‘Torchbearer’ armour that’s been featured so heavily in marketing is on screen for all of fifteen seconds. Strange priorities. We’re also treated to even more scenes of Starfleet officers besting Klingon warriors in hand-to-hand combat, a decades long pet peeve of mine. The Klingons are one of sci-fi’s iconic aliens, but they should have passed them by this time.
The conflict between main character Michael Burnham and Captain Georgiou seems out of place for officers who’ve supposedly been serving together for seven years. Michelle Yeoh does her best through these first two episodes, but there’s ultimately very little in the script that creates the kind of familiarity and warmth I’d expect from such old friends. As a result, Georgiou’s death falls flat. I also have a hard time believing that a Starfleet officer, even one trained at the Vulcan Science Academy, would resort to mutiny. Starfleet doesn’t fire first. I think, after seven years, Commander Burnham would have at least read a manual on Federation ethics. The whole scenario reeked of forced drama that the story hadn’t earned.
I have many more nitpicks. The tepid musical score. The uninspired intro that could easily be from a procedural cop show. The paint-by-numbers computer screen graphics. The tribunal of judges who’s faces are all in shadow. There were so many unimaginative design choices that scream ‘this is what’s cool in 2017’, and more than anything this show feels desperate to be ‘cool’. So far, there’s no charm. No heart. It’s taking itself so seriously, wanting me to like it to much, that it pushed me away.
None of that matters as much to me as the same issue I’ve had with this show since it was announced: the premise. It’s a prequel, which by definition means it’s stuck in the past. Star Trek should be about the future. Even though this show is clearly a reboot, albeit one that doesn’t have the guts to say so, it’s still treading the same old ground. Klingons, Vulcans, and out of place sound effects from the 1960s show. ‘Discovery’ is built on a foundation of Boomer nostalgia and visual cliches. Nothing about the premiere offered any interesting new ideas. I can only hope they’re still to come.
I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it. ‘Star Trek Discovery’ has a chance, but it’s got some catching up to do.