Star Trek Discovery: The Vulcan Hello

"We come in peace, that's why we're here. Isn't that the whole idea of Starfleet?"

I’m feeling a bit conflicted about this first hour (this review was written before watching part 2 of the pilot). While I liked almost everything about our new main characters and the crisp writing and a majority of the visuals, there were some things that didn’t work for me.

Let me start with the negative, and for the most part it's the Klingons. Perhaps they get better upon repeated viewings, but the scenes that focused on the perennial baddies were just plain dull. Not only that, but the dramatic changes in appearance, and the fact that all spoken dialogue was in Klingon and subtitled in English meant there was literally no connection for me to the characters on the screen. If they looked like our old Klingons at least there would've been a touchstone of familiarity. Instead we are forced to watch five minutes of gibberish with a painfully ugly group of creatures that had no individuality or even charisma (which could be argued was the Klingon's main attraction).

Second, and this is a potentially more fundamental issue, is that Michael Burnham is not a good Federation officer. She is reckless, selfish, overly opinionated, insubordinate, and when she doesn't get her way, openly mutinous. That's all within the first hour of meeting her. Don't get me wrong, I love Sonequa Martin-Green, and her performance was actually rather great. I just don't know if a show can be hung on her shoulders with a character so anti-Trek.

Okay, with those two major quibbles out of the way let me talk about what I did like, and honestly it is pretty much everything. The look of the series is just gorgeous, with visuals that make every single previous version of the show look inferior. Sleek and expensive, they call to the designs of the new J.J. Abrams Trek, but without the lens flares and overly bright interiors. In fact, I'd go so far as to say the bridge of the ship is too dark, but eh, that's not a big deal.

The uniforms are interesting, appearing as almost a hybrid of Enterprise jumpsuits, and the stylized ones that appear on the original series. The technology displayed is a little troublesome, though.  With our real life advancements in technology over the last twenty years since the end of the Trek era on TV, the logical and appropriate integration of those advancements into the way computers and other things work on the bridge make the Shenzhou appear almost more advanced than the first Enterprise.

It is kind of hard to talk about plot without a self contained story, so I'm holding judgement. If this show is as advertised as the first real serialized Star Trek ever, then I'm very curious where things go from here. Unfortunately, that does mean this is much more of a chapter one.

Bits:

I'm not terribly fond of the new credit sequence, but the music isn't bad.

Saru is the stand out for the new cast, probably because Doug Jones is a pro at prosthetic work.

James Frain is pretty much as perfect as Sarek as I could've hoped, and I'm happy he'll be a continuing character.

The whole sequence involving Michael's EVA suit trip was spectacular, visually and dramatically speaking.

Quotes:

Captain Georgiou: "Ensign Connor, agreement between my senior officers. Note the date and time."

Michael: "I can do better. I can learn Klingon. Be faster with my answers."
Sarek: "Your human tongue is not the problem, it's your human heart."

Sarek: "When emotion brings us ghosts from the past, only logic can root us in the present."

As a pilot this feels unfinished, as the first half of a two-part episode. But if I had to give it a rating as the launching point of a new Star Trek series (especially given some of the bad pilots we've gotten in the past), I'll give this one:

3 out of 4 Impressive visuals

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Those dutch angles were killing me and taking me out of the story constantly. I hope they stop with that.

JRS said...

Very fair review, JD. It's really interesting to see other people's experiences of subtitling. I think the view and angles and the timing during those sections were pretty bad too. But you're so right about comparisons to other pilots-this is actually not so bad for a Trek pilot! (Tho I like DS9's better.)

TJ said...

I loved it!

How I have been longing for a new Trek series!

I was pleasantly surprised. I was very suspicious about the whole thing, the delays, the showrunner's debacle etc. But it turned out to be more than I had hoped for! I was initally disappointed when I knew this was going to be pre-first show, but it all turned out OK.

Have to say though, let's face it, the Klingons are a very dated type of villain. They are macho sexists that might have been interesting back in the day...but now? I hope this new series doesn't get stuck in Klingon land - that would be a step backwards.

I am very surprised with all the IMDB reviews that popped up. A lot of people seem to think that this is typical Hollywood political correctness propaganda, with a female lead of colour, a chinese captain (and...I've learned we're about to see the first Trek gay couple later on). Why all the hate? I didn't even notice these things...

I use to think that subtitling was the reason that I didn't "get" a lot of French movies. I have realized that it's just laziness. When you're used to it, you learn to read and watch at the same time.-;)

Lamounier said...

On the topic of subtitles, I just learned that Netflix has subtitles in Klingon for the show:

https://twitter.com/tearsgodown/status/912313587477225473

J.D. Balthazar said...

Just to clear it up a bit, I have no problem with subtitles. My issue with that scene is there was nothing to anchor me to those characters, no sense of separation or personality because they all looked practically identical, and they were speaking in a language that is difficult to parse meaning from tone and intonation because Klingon all sounds harsh and guttural. Do the Klingons need some work to make them less of a cliche? Yes! But I don't know if this is the right direction. That being said, I still haven't seen episode 2 so I'm going to reserve judgement.

Patrick said...

Maybe I'm in the minority, but this opening episode took away nearly all my motivation to keep following this show. I found Michael Burnham to be not likable at all as a character. If this is who I'm supposed to be invested in for the show's run, I'll pass. Even when you do a redemption arc for a character, you should still WANT to see them redeemed, and I just...don't.

But even worse were the Klingons, I hate their new design with the fire of a thousand suns. I can't stand their new facial prosthetics, they hide too much of the actors' features and limit their ability to emote. And I don't know if it's an intentional choice or a consequence of the dental appliances, but they all sound like they have marbles in their mouths. Plus, the Klingon language being spoken sounds much more stilted than it has in previous shows/movies. Maybe it's because those teeth are making it harder for the actors to speak, maybe it's because I haven't heard Klingon spoken this extensively before. But given what I've heard about how much screentime the Klingons are going to get, those scenes are going to be torturous. Give me Worf, Gowron and General Martagh over these boring Klingons ANY day.

Mallena said...

It's a big NOPE for me. Turned off half way through. Why did they go back in time to feature Klingons and Vulcans again? Boring, at least to me. They should have gone forward in time. Maybe to a universe in disarray that must be fixed? I'll keep watching The Orville. It's retro in a bizarre way, but at least it's fun. I just wish Seth would loosen up and show us that grin of his.

Patrick said...

Mallena, the idea of a Star Trek set well into the future where the Federation has fallen apart was the bases for the tv series "Andromeda", it was even originally titled "Gene Rodenberry's Andromeda". It got re-worked when it was developed independent of the Star Trek franchise. It kinda went off the rails in the later seasons, but still had some neat ideas.

Mallena said...

Right, the one with Kevin Sorbo. I never watched that one.