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Star Trek Beyond (3D Blu-ray Review)

11 Nov, 2016 By: John Latchem

Box Office $158.85 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $48.99 3D BD, $48.99 UHD BD
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Sofia Boutella, Idris Elba.

The “Star Trek” franchise has had its ups and downs during its 50-year existence. The classic original series spawned some good spinoffs (“The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine”) and some not-so-good ones (“Voyager,” “Enterprise”). It spawned 10 movies, also of varying quality, before the studio decided to change things up. But through all the peaks and valleys, it all felt like “Star Trek” to me. Comfortable, thought-provoking “Star Trek.”

Then J.J. Abrams changed the formula with his 2009 reboot, veering more to the direction of “Star Wars”-style space opera filled with action and shiny, eye-popping visual effects. After that first movie, essentially a remake of Star Wars: Episode IV, Abrams in 2013 dropped Star Trek Into Darkness, an attempted homage to the classic Star Trek II that proved so controversial among fans that they voted it the worst “Star Trek” movie of all time at a convention.

Abrams has since admitted Into Darkness wasn’t as focused as it could have been, but it still had an element of fun to it with its myriad references to long-standing “Trek” lore, such as Section 31.

The two movies also had Leonard Nimoy in them as the older Spock from the real timeline, having been trapped in this alternate universe by some time travel shenanigans in the 2009 edition. The films had moments that felt like they were still “Star Trek,” but that feeling was fading.

By Star Trek Beyond, the Abrams version of “Star Trek” is now firmly established as its own thing. It doesn’t need to rely on re-hashing better storylines like Into Darkness did, though it does still throw in a few references only hardcore fans are going to understand.

Abrams directed the first two movies, but takes only a producer credit here, having bolted to take over Star Wars: Episode VII (another remake of Episode IV, which kind of makes you wonder if his first Star Trek was just an audition reel for that job).

With “Fast & Furious” alum Justin Lin now in the director’s chair, Star Trek Beyond is an entertaining action-adventure thrill ride that is competently assembled enough to achieve all the points it’s trying to hit. But for me, it just doesn’t emotionally connect as “Star Trek” anymore.

Here we have Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew ending up trapped on an alien planet, hunted by a thug played by Idris Elba and his minions, and being forced to find a way to defend a nearby space station from an attack that would kill thousands of people.

The cast is at the top of their game playing these alternate versions of the original series characters. And after three movies it’s easy to accept them in those roles. There’s a bit of a subplot about Kirk grasping what it means to be an explorer, and if that’s what he’s meant to do. Scotty gets a bit more to do, probably owing to the fact that Simon Pegg co-wrote the screenplay. And newcomer Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service) plays an enterprising alien ally who would be a worthy addition to future movies.

On the other hand, the story bogs down in the middle, and the ending no less ridiculous as it was in Mars Attacks used the same plot device for laughs 20 years ago.

What’s most interesting is how, after using the time travel device to spin-off an alternate universe, Beyond seems to be a sequel to the last of the “Trek” shows to still have happened in this timeline — “Enterprise.” There are some explicit references to that show, even if they don’t make much sense relative to the early days of Starfleet portrayed on that show.

I should note that my own experience with the film as a “Star Trek” fan is not necessarily shared by others. I know many who enjoyed the film within the prism of “Trek,” and I’m really looking forward to the rumored next film that would involve Kirk meeting his father, played by Chris Hemsworth, who would return to the franchise after a brief appearance in the 2009 movie, before anybody knew who he was (as Marvel’s Thor in 2011).

I found the 3D version of the film to be a mild experience on Blu-ray, accentuating a few trippy action scenes but not immersing me in the image as much as other recent efforts have, such as Ghostbusters: Answer the Call.

The Blu-ray includes about an hour of behind-the scenes featurettes covering all the visual effects and costumes and alien make-up. All standard EPK-level stuff for a “Star Trek” movie. Abrams has become especially good at presenting a narrative for the film’s creation, even if one might suspect it wasn’t as straightforward and easy as he makes it out to be.

I would have hoped for more reflection on the 50th anniversary of the franchise, seeing as this movie is pretty much all we got other than a few cable TV documentary retrospectives (compared with the all-out 50th anniversary nostalgia blitz “Doctor Who” got in 2013). All we really get is an eight-minute featurette called “To Live Long and Prosper,” with a few clips of the classic show interspersed between Abrams and the new cast describing what the franchise means to them (it’s hard to take Abrams’ too seriously in this regard, given that he famously asked his writers how to make “Star Trek” more like “Star Wars” before making the 2009 film).

There’s also a tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy and recently deceased cast member Anton Yelchin, who played the new Chekov.

The disc also includes two deleted scenes running a total of one minute, and a gag reel.

Fans can find additional content through retail exclusives, such as a 45-minute bonus disc at Target.

The iTunes version of the film contains the exclusive solo commentary with Justin Lin, but fortunately that’s accessible to the Blu-ray buyers through the digital copy code, which allows redemptions on both iTunes and UltraViolet-enabled systems.

Lin’s commentary is more technical in nature, featuring very little story discussion (maybe not a surprise given his background). There are a lot of anecdotes about stunts and visual effects, and sometimes there’s a picture-in-picture display to demonstrate what Lin is referencing at the time. But he’s mostly interested in the action scenes. Surprisingly, despite calling himself a big “Star Trek” fan, Lin admits to almost removing some of the few moments in the film that would be most appreciated by long-time fans such as myself (especially one that marked a huge development for young Spock’s character). Thankfully he left them in.

By way of an epilogue, I’ll spit out a quick fan theory as to how the technology of this alternate reality looks so radically different than the prime canon, even though the timeline didn’t diverge until Kirk’s birth. The alternate timeline also wipes out the future events from the original series, “Next Generation,” “DS9” and “Voyager.” However, all three shows had time travel storylines to eras way earlier than the divergence of this universe. In one, a ship from the 29th century crashes in the 1960s, leading to the computer boom. The “TNG” crew helps develop warp drive in the mid 21st century. The “DS9” crew contributes to social change in the 2020s. The farthest back any of these adventures go on Earth is about 1890, in the “TNG” episode “Time’s Arrow.” So if none of those future adventures happen to influence the past, Earth would have had to develop its technology completely differently. Enough, even, to turn a Latino playing a genetically engineered Indian Sikh into a white guy.

About the Author: John Latchem

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