Star Trek goes Beyond HD with 4K Blu-ray release
By Jim Bray
Whew, that was a relief!
After the disappointment of Star Trek Into Darkness (a.k.a. "Star Trek II: the wrath of Khan II"), I was really afraid that a new director and writer would make things even worse. I loved the "original" reboot from 2009, in which J.J. Abrams and his team breathed new life into the then-moribund franchise, but the first sequel squandered a really great first hour by rehashing one of the greatest Trek films ever, and doing it in a way that showed the writers and performers weren't fit to shine the shoes of the originators.
So it was with this in mind that I belatedly tackled Star Trek Beyond (belated because I missed a couple of weeks due to family emergencies thousands of miles away) - hoping it would be a worthy entry into the Trek universe but fearing that, at best, it'd be a home theatre toy for the eyes and ears but basically cotton candy for the brain.
That "toy for the eyes and ears" aspect led me to request the 4K Blu-ray version. I'd been impressed mightily by the 4K experience of the previous reboot titles (though even 4K couldn't save 'Into Darkness') and looked forward to see how this third kick at the canon, which was shot digitally, would look and sound in our home theatre.
In a word: gobsmacked! And thank goodness!
Star Trek Beyond is a fine addition to the Trek library. It has the feel of an episode from the original series, full of great character relationships, fantastic action, and with enough plot holes to drive a starship through - just like classic Trek! We get a larger than life villain who's PO'd at the Federation (I'm still not clear completely on why and hope I can get a handle on that when I watch it again) and who has a mysterious power by which he can suck the life from other humans and take it into himself, kind of like a liberal I guess.
It's set in year three of the Enterprise's five year mission, and Kirk and the crew are getting bored with the routine in a manner not unlike the non-hibernating crewmen of the good ship Discovery were in 2001: a space odyssey. They're starting to wonder why they're even there and a couple of the lead characters are even thinking about making major changes to their careers.
The opening scene has Kirk trying to negotiate a peace treaty with some really obnoxious aliens who twist around his every point to make it a negative. He discovers that, much to his chagrin, he's actually facing a kind of mini-Kobiyashi Maru scenario in which he cannot win - so he hightails it out of there and chalks it up to one more piece of BS in a mission that's getting a bit much to take.
Then the real story starts and we're drawn right in. The script was co-written by Simon Pegg - a well-known nerd and Trekkie who also plays Scotty - and as I mentioned above, it's a ripping yarn that feels like a Star Trek episode should. It's set against a gigantic cinematic/sci-fi backdrop that includes a fantastic new Starbase, a mysterious nebula, and an old and obsolete starship that just happens to be on hand when they need it most.
An alien in an escape pod shows up at the Starbase, claiming there are survivors from her ship on a planet in the nebula (though her story seems kind of, well, nebulous). This leads Starfleet to send Kirk and the good ship Enterprise off on a mission to rescue them, but as it turns out all is not as it seems and they head into a fantastically-realized ambush that leads to the spectacular destruction of the Enterprise (which happens periodically throughout the movie series) and the capture of most crew members.
Those who aren't captured - basically, most of the stars - are separated into small groups that individually try to find their way back to each other. They also need to fight the new bad guy, Krall (Idris Elba), before he can complete his plan to attack and destroy the Starbase Yorktown - which deserves to be saved if for no other reason than it's really, really cool.
The best Trek stories have been about more than special effects, destroying starships and blowing up planets and cities, though of course it doesn't hurt if the movie is spectacular as well. Paramount learned this the hard way with Star Trek the motion picture in 1979, a huge effects extravaganza that left nearly every Trekkie cold, so they "downsized" for Star Trek II and made a more intimate, character-driven adventure that was basically a sequel to one of the original series' better episodes and is considered by many Trekkies to be the best of the original series-based movies. And the rest is history.
Here, we have a film that's as spectacular as can be, with so much action that I was exhausted after the first hour, but at heart it's just like one of those classic Trek tales of old. The pace means it'll probably a couple of viewings to get a handle on everything that happens, but I don't mind; in fact, unlike with "Into Darkness," I look forward to seeing it many more time, it's that enjoyable.
J.J. Abrams is out as director this time around, the centre seat being occupied this time by Justin Lin, who was behind some of the Fast and Furious movies. With that history, he should have the action down pat - and he does. Even more important, however, Lin also gets the rest right.
Beyond may not be the best of the Trek films, but it may be the best of the reboots. It's not only head and shoulders better than "Into Darkness," it also beats some of the older films from the original cast and the next generation's.
The look and sound of Trek:
The 4K package includes, obviously, a 4K copy of the movie as well as a conventional 1080p Blu-ray and a code for downloading a digital copy. After having reviewed the first two reboots in 4K, I expected nothing but the best for this one, and I wasn't disappointed.
Not that the 1080p version is chopped liver. In fact, that version looks simply gorgeous as well, with great detail and depth and black levels - real pop off the screen stuff - but the 4K version ups the ante beautifully, adding detail and nuance above and, well, beyond the regular Blu-ray. Colours are richer and deeper - check out the Starfleet uniforms and the sets, for example. The downside is that the ultra HD picture shows up some of the CG for what it is, but rather than being off-putting it reminded me of the original series, whose budget was so tight they'd have to create cheap special effects on the fly, and they stuck out like a sore thumb.
And like the alien landscapes the original series, which were usually shot on Hollywood sound stages, you can often tell the alien landscape close ups in Beyond are shot on big sets and real locations rather than being done via green screen/CG. These sets don't look cheap, of course, but they do feel like "Trek-like" sets of old. I loved it.
The audio is a Dolby Atmos track, which fortunately dumbs itself down to Dolby TrueHD for most of us who have yet to upgrade.
Both the 4K and the Blu-ray discs feature this track and it doesn't disappoint. It's very immersive and fun, making great use of all the home theatre's channels - with pinpoint accuracy and plenty of low frequency effects. Suffice it to say your theatre will get a nice workout.
There are plenty of extras, too, though none appear on the 4K disc. There's a decent set of "making of" featurettes on the Blu-ray disc as well as a couple of deleted scenes that were left on the cutting room floor for good reason.
Beyond the Darkness looks at the film's development using Producer J.J. Abrams, Director Justin Lin, Co-writers Doug Jung and Simon Pegg, and Producer Lindsey Weber. Enterprise Takedown talks about the sequence where they destroy yet another Enterprise, while Divided and Conquered sees cast and crew members opining about how the characters are divvied up for much of the movie. A Warped Sense of Revenge puts its lens on bad guy Krall, Trekking in the Desert looks at how the producers used the futuristic city of Dubai (where, reports have it, the "Dubai Brothers" are the favourite classic rock band when citizens there want to "Listen to the music…") as the basis for the fabulous rendering of the Yorktown Starbase. Exploring Strange New Worlds looks at the production design, while New Life, New Civilizations peeks at the special effects makeup (of which there's plenty!).
There's also a short tribute to Star Trek's golden anniversary this year, and "For Leonard and Anton" is a brief tribute to the newly departed cast members Leonard Nimoy (who, deservedly, gets most of the attention) and Anton Yelchin (the new Checkov).
Finally, there's a pretty lame Gag Reel of outtakes.
Star Trek Beyond had a tough job to do - restore Trekkies' faith in the reboot universe after the debacle of Into Darkness - and they've pulled it off, with style, humour, a good story, great visuals and top notch sound. 4K is the definitely best way to watch it, but even the 1080 Blu-ray is a wonderful presentation that's well worth your time.
If you're trying to decide which one to buy, and plan to upgrade to 4K someday, the 4K version is the best choice: even if you don't have the 4K equipment yet, you can still enjoy the excellent Blu-ray and keep the 4K disc napping in the sleeve until the time is right.
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.