Star Trek Short Treks: The Girl Who Made the Stars

"I wonder if you hate the idea of being scared more than you actually are scared."
"Dad, I'm too little to know what that means."

By nature I love brevity: Great in theory and concept, but throttled in its effectiveness by the execution.

I like the idea of 'The Girl Who Made the Stars' a lot more than I like 'The Girl Who Made the Stars.' If you'd described to me an animated short about an ancient African folktale with a Star Trek twist, as told to a young Michael Burnham to inspire in her a curiosity that overrides her fear of the dark, I'd have been on board immediately. Everything about that is fascinating to me, from the prospect of animated Star Trek for kids to the celebration of mythology in a franchise that typically scorns it. And Trek is practically built on the idea that curiosity is the way to conquer our fear. Heck, that's literally the point of Star Trek: Enterprise.

But then I actually watched it, and I found myself remarkably underwhelmed. I loved everything about it that I've mentioned so far, but that's all in the development and concept. The moment it gets to the actual substance of the thing, everything falls apart. The adult human characters, especially Mike Burnham (not to be confused with Michael Burnham), are horrifying to look at. I dare you to try and watch Mike's mouth the entire short long. Little Michael is cute and works very well, but the rest of them look like low-detail early renders of a sequence that will later be replaced with the real thing. The environments are fine. I like how they play with light and shadow. But I can't help but wonder why, with the typical production value of Star Trek: Discovery, they couldn't have made the characters look a little better.

But the thing that bugged me the most, more than anything else, was the bizarre over-narration. Narration is a tool that can be very useful, but the moment you use it even a little too much, it becomes extremely annoying and distracting to the viewer. Here it bordered on the absurd. Dialogue sequences are constantly interrupted with lines like 'And then the elder said, [insert elder's line here].' One could make the argument that it's being presented exactly as Mike Burnham told the story to his daughter, except that when he describes the girl's journey, he mentions that she had a friend and never says explicitly that it's a firefly. This is the appropriate way to use narration, suggesting and supplementing the action being shown onscreen, rather than outlining things we can clearly see for ourselves. There's an ironic moment in the short, when the girl asks the alien how she can tell her people not to be afraid. The alien says, 'You must show them,' and the filmmaking principle of show don't tell is immediately broken when Mike Burnham adds, 'the being said.'

As an aside, I legitimately don't know if this will bother the intended audience of young children. I'm not one. If I had to guess, I'd say they'd mostly be frustrated at the long pauses between each line of dialogue and Mike Burnham's unnecessary utterances.

All this makes it sound like I hated 'The Girl Who Made the Stars.' I didn't. Many aspects of it bothered me, and it certainly didn't have the magic it should have. But I like the concept enough to admire that despite the shoddy execution. Just don't expect me to watch this one over the others from this season of Short Treks.

Pensees:

-It's hard to watch this without thinking about the fact that Michael Burnham has every reason to be afraid of the darkness, as Klingons will very soon come out of it and murder her parents. Kind of puts a damper on the message.

-I do love the imagery of this short, personifying the perceived danger of the night as a monster that is trying to eat the little girl. It's also telling that the gift that clears away the fear is the stars, which inspire the curiosity that will eventually inspire Star Trek.

-Young Michael has a tardigrade stuffed animal, which has questionable canonical implications. I mean, we do know that tardigrades exist at this moment in history already, and they surely would still know it in the future, and... never mind.

3 out of 6 friendly fireflies.

--
This is a review, according to television reviewer CoramDeo.

3 comments:

Henrik Bennetter said...

Interesting review.

I haven't watched any short treks and most likely wont, since I saw this comparison of TNG och Short: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnlxugk3Qb0

It really is telling for how Picard became such an icon, beacon even.

CoramDeo said...

Henrik, I do tend to agree somewhat with that video's criticisms of 'The Trouble with Edward,' specifically. However, I would still recommend watching the Short Treks, even the bad ones, for a few reasons. First, the ones that are good really are remarkably entertaining. Second, all of them have some value, whether it's a fresh perspective on things we are already familiar with, a new and intriguing concept that will leave you thinking, or even just a good prompt to reflect on why it is a departure from Star Trek, like the video you linked to. Third, they're quite short and self-contained, so they can be easily viewed a few times without a massive time commitment, and any you don’t want to see can be skipped without consequences to your understanding of the ones that follow.

As an aside, you're absolutely right about Picard. I can't wait to see that icon again. January can't come soon enough.

Henrik Bennetter said...

Thanks for the answer, perhaps I will give it a chance after all :)