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Josh Examines the First Trailer for Star Trek: Discovery

Yesterday we got our first real look at the new Star Trek show, Discovery:

There’s a lot that is encouraging and also a lot that is worrisome in that trailer.

I am a huge Star Trek fan, and so the prospect of Trek returning to TV is very exciting for me.  I love the spectacle of the movies, but I believe Trek belongs on TV.  I am excited to see a modern version of a Trek TV show, one that takes advantages of modern story-telling devices and structures (shorter seasons, more serialized storytelling) as well as visual effects tools (what can be accomplished today on a weekly TV budget is incredible).  I’ve been encouraged by some of the behind-the-scenes talent involved in this project (most especially Nicholas Meyer, who is responsible for the very best Trek ever made: he wrote and directed Star Trek II and Star Trek VI, and he wrote all the good stuff in Star Trek IV).  While I hate prequels, if you’re going to make a prequel, the idea of focusing on the era of tensions (and perhaps outright war?) between the Federation and the Klingons in the decade before Kirk seems like a ripe area for stories.  On the other hand, this show has had a rocky path to production, with delay after delay after delay, and the staggeringly disappointing departure of original showrunner Bryan Fuller (a hugely talented showrunner who also has strong Trek experience).  I also hate the fact that the era in which this show is set apparently caused Paramount/CBS to sue and crush the fan film Axanar, that was going to be set in a similar time-period.

Putting all that backstory behind me, I was eager to finally get a glimpse of what this show is going to be!  So, what did I think?

Well… my feelings are very mixed.

What’s good?  Visually, that trailer is gorgeous.  The outer-space special effects and the widescreen vistas are all very impressive, far better-looking than Trek has ever-before looked on TV.  I love the sense we get of Michelle Yeoh as the captain.  In these brief clips she appears to be playing my exact picture of a Starfleet captain: smart and noble and cool under pressure.  I love the line that “Starfleet doesn’t fire first.”  YES — I hope this series emphasizes the values of Gene Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the Star Trek future.  (This is something that’s been somewhat lost in the more action-packed recent Trek films.)  I am interested in the idea that this show will focus, not on the ship’s captain, but on its first-officer.  Sonequa Martin-Green seems interesting in the role, though I was far more taken with Michelle Yeoh’s character so far.  I do love that both of these lead characters are strong women.

What’s not so good?  Well, while I was impressed by the look of this trailer, the actual visual design of the show is setting off a red alert for me.  The ships, the sets, the costumes, none of this looks remotely like the Original Series, which this show is apparently set only a decade before.  This trailer looks much closer to the look of Star Trek: Enterprise (the last Trek TV show, which was also a prequel), as well as J.J. Abrams’ rebooted films.  (This trailer looked so much like the J.J.-verse films that I was a bit taken aback, since my understanding was that this new show would be set in the original “Prime” universe and not the rebooted movie universe.  Maybe that has changed?)  Look, I understand the challenge in trying to make a modern show tie into the primary-colors design scheme of the Original Series, which was brought to life with far more primitive technology. On the other hand, if you’re going to do a prequel, you have got to find a way to solve that problem and find a comfortable middle ground!  (Enterprise failed at that, but because that show was set a century before the Original Series I could more easily ignore the discrepancies than with this show set only a decade before the original show.)  The look of the Discovery ship, the bridge and the corridors, and the costumes, none of that is anything like the Original Series, and that is giving me cognitive dissonance.  I’d be less worried if I thought these new designs looked GOOD, but the dull grey look of the Discovery interior looks boring, and those uniforms with the piping on the sleeves look more like Futurama parody sci-fi than an actual serious sci-fi show should.

I am also VERY worried by the look of what I guess are supposed to be Klingons.  Hoo boy.  These Klingons look much closer to the terrible look of the J.J-verse Klingons (as seen in Star Trek Into Darkness) than the Klingons of the Next-Gen era shows.  Here again, I understand the challenge of hewing to the traditional look of Trek Klingons while wanting to do something new, and something that could take advantage of modern make-up effects.  I also am well-aware that pre-existing Trek has been very inconsistent in terms of the look of the Klingons.  (In the Original Series, they were just dudes painted brown with long mustaches.  In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, they all had simple head-crests running straight down the center of their heads.  Star Trek III introduced the most well-known Klingon look, which carried through all the subsequent Prime-universe Trek movies as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.)  I am open to a new approach, but they have to look “something” like the Klingons we know and love, and these Klingons — with their weird-looking heads and gold-filled costumes and starship interiors (if that is what I think it is) — didn’t do it for me at all.

Other thoughts:

* I like that we see a lot of new aliens.  The downside is the usual prequel problem, which is the question of why wouldn’t we have seen any of these alien speices in any future Trek adventure?

* I am a little confused about whether the first officer is supposed to be Vulcan, or a human raised on Vulcan, or what?  I am concerned about this character filling the role we’d always thought was filled by Spock, as the first Vulcan in Starfleet and an important bridge between Vulcans and Humans.  But we’ll see how this character’s story is developed.  I do love that she seems to have a connection to Spock’s father, Sarek, and I liked James Frain as Sarek as seen in this trailer.

* I was interested to see to what degree they’d changed the look of the Discovery starship herself from the glimpse we got from the first teaser a year ago, which was strongly based on a Ralph McQuarrie sketch of the refitted Enterprise from The Motion Picture.  I liked the idea of that design homage more than I liked the actual execution in that first teaser.  The shots of Discovery in this teaser seem different and a little more polished, but it was hard to get a full sense of the ship itself.  I am eager to see more.  (So far, I am worried that, as noted above, what looks like the rough-and-tumble exterior of the Discovery doesn’t look anything like the smooth, sleek original Enterprise from this era.)

* I absolutely loved seeing Michelle Yeoh’s character flip open one of those old-style communicators!

* But, urgh, I did not like that whole “to sense the coming of death” little scene at the end of the trailer.  Cheesy.

So, while there is a lot that excites me in this teaser trailer, I can’t say that all of my worries have been put at ease.  Still, the prospect of fifteen new episodes of Star Trek coming our way is a cause for joy.  I really hope this show can live up to my hopes for it.  We’ll all find out soon.  (Though how soon is a bit of a question, since the show still doesn’t have a firm release date.)  But enough negativity, let’s focus on the positive and hope that the wait is not too long for new Trek, and let’s hope it is good!!

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