I caught the Star Trek Discovery pilot on CBS this past weekend. …And I do mean caught because CBS allowed a highly anticipated series premiere of the biggest entertainment franchise in the world to be delayed by this week’s sports event. Fortunately I anticipated their priorities and set my DVR to record the show after Discovery as well, and was able to see the second half of the show.
So here’s what a life long Star Trek fan and filmmaker thought of the Star Trek Discovery pilot. (Obviously this is all a spoiler if you haven’t seen the show.)
It’s a Prequel
This is going to be the main problem with the show. It has to fit in to a narrow slot a few years before The Original Series and that’s going to limit the stories that they can tell. It will ultimately be their undoing as they make more and more episodes. The continuity police are already having a field day. The badges aren’t right. The Klingons have a cloaking device before Kirk stole it from the Romulans. Bla, bla, bla… I’m not going to talk about any of that. It’s a fatal flaw baked into the premise. I’m only concerned with the characters and story of the pilot. How well have they set up this new adventure? Is it interesting? How dramatic is it?
The story is slow, especially for something that seems like it’s trying to be a battle show. What’s up with the first scene on the desert planet walking and talking with tons of exposition? That’s how you start the pilot? How about “Show Don’t Tell,” a basic rule of screenwriting?
Oh yea, and next time Star Fleet has to fix a water well, beam down right next to it so you don’t have to outrun a storm on foot. Also, teach your first officers how to make a signal if you want to be rescued. Who wrote this show?
In spite of the slow plot there still was very little character development on anyone other than the first officer and a little for the science officer. That’s it. The Captain is an enigma. She’s an experienced officer who is not afraid walking in the desert, then she doesn’t want to explore the asteroid field. No reason given for either. Who the heck are these people on this ship? What is their mission? What is the show about?
OK. So the Klingons look like the Drazi now. I don’t care. I care about the story and the characters. There’s a lot of ceremony, posturing, and yelling – which is expected from Klingons – but what is going on? One has a black face and one has a white face. OK. Who are these characters? What do they care about? We never really find out. They’re just mysterious, angry, generic bad guys. More chance for character development that was missed.
And who put the sub-titles in all caps? Any graphic designer will tell you that all caps makes text much harder to read. Subtitles should always be in sentence case because you have to read it fast. Every filmmaker knows that.
Serviceable but meh. The ship looks like every SciFi space ship we’ve seen in every modern video game we’ve ever played. The same generic SciFi architecture, costumes, space suits, control panels, that we’ve seen a million times before. The Original Series, The Motion Picture, The Wrath of Kahn, The Next Generation, and Enterprise, all went in bold new directions in regards to the production design. The concepts were different form previous Star Trek and different form other SciFi design at the time. Discovery looks like generic SciFi circa 2017.
Lots of eye candy, movement, flares etc. but is it really serving the drama? I found it hard to focus on the people on the bridge. We need to see their faces. That’s where the drama is, not whipping around the back of their heads with the camera. And what’s with the “Batman” tilt-o-vision every once in awhile? Personally I LOVE tilt-o-vision, but it’s just thrown in for no reason in very brief shots. It’s there and then it’s gone. More eye candy for eye candy sake. The bottom line is the cinematography is pretty but it ends up obscuring the very thin story even more.
The intro music is nice. Much better than that “modern” abomination from Enterprise.
The music in the body of the show is plain and unassuming, which is what Star Trek music has been for some time. I would like to see the show dive back into the exciting adventure themes like in the Original Series but given the bland state of modern film music these days, I think that is unlikely.
Normally I wouldn’t even comment on this but the dialog recording seemed distant and echoey in some of the scenes on the ship. That’s OK for a fan film but not for a professional production. Intimate scenes recorded on a sound stage, especially on the standing sets, should be perfect. The dialog should be immediate and present to powerfully deliver the actor’s performance. I think the set walls are the problem, though I think Star Trek has been in production for long enough that they should know how to build the sets for sound.
It seems like the pilot episode was constructed to simply be a prelude to the second episode where the real story begins. It’s a contrived cliff hanger to convince everyone to purchase CBS All Access. The problem is a cliff hanger doesn’t work if you don’t care about the characters. There’s a lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done story wise and the Star Trek Discovery pilot doesn’t do any of the work. We’re left not really knowing the characters and not knowing at all what the show is about. Yea, there might be a battle in the second episode, but who cares? I don’t.