Star Trek is, and always has been, a fan’s baby. CBS knows this, but they also know that even though the fans love it and care for it, CBS and Paramount have joint legal custody. Like a terrible, petty ex, they intend to use that custody to manipulate those who love it most, locking a beloved franchise behind a shiny new paywall. The maneuver is a ham-handed business decision with a mild stink of desperation.
Knowing this, I find it difficult to muster enthusiasm for the just-released teaser for the upcoming Star Trek series. I understand, and share, a desire for a new Star Trek, but not this one. Reading between the lines, examining the clues, I find worrying signs of darkness, greed and a battle as ugly as a custody battle in a petty divorce.
The trailer gave us almost nothing, which could have allowed our imaginations to run wild with optimism and hope, but instead it kept us on rails, hovering very close to home (Earth), stopping by a shattered irradiated Gobstopper, a couple vague space rainbows and ending on text and the Logo reveal. Its like they were acting on the advice of divorce attorney who counsels his client to say nothing as a bargaining maneuver.
A dirty metal logo:
You might think this logo is fine — a pointy, sliced variation on the original Star Trek logo. But there are actually several desperate things going on here.
Look at the texture. It’s meant to look like old dirty metal, almost exactly like the metal logo used in the successful Captain America Trailers. This kind of texturing is meant to evoke some age and authority, or to lend the letters a feeling of weight and substance. The ‘artist’ behind this particular attempt has awkwardly applied the same texture to each letter, which utterly betrays this as a digital 3D form aping a physical thing. Look closely:
Its very lazy. Deeply lazy. When I worked as a designer I would never have tolerated something like this, even on a project with a budget of dozens of dollars. These are cheap clothes, and I certainly wouldn’t let my child go to school dressed like that.
You may think I’m nitpicking, but there is so very little to consider and almost none of it is good.
While we are on the subject of texture, look at the bisected insignia behind the logo. It’s dark and scratched. It’s scratched up in an even, highly unrealistic pattern. This is the kind of pattern you get when you use a 3D program and grab a default texture because you are in a hurry, or you don’t care. It is the scratch equivalent of the Photoshop craquelure filter.
Let’s think about what is being telegraphed beneath this lazy veneer. Dirty, pointed, and scratched, that logo would cut your fingers and give you tetanus if you held it in your hand. Beyond the uninspired texture, all the edges are edgier. The insignia is darker than its ever been. Could CBS be taking Star Trek to a darker, edgier, rougher place?
It is a meaner, tougher, more dangerous logo. If this new show is about Klingons, it is on the right track. Otherwise, it is a tired direction that might well be the latest in an ever more drab series. This is not how our kid should be raised.
Are there further hints of a darker and edgier Star Trek?
The Music is darker and “Bigger”
The music starts with movie-trailer style music that would be right at home in a Batman teaser, with a driving beat, hard orchestral flourishes and a rapid tempo. It screams ACTION. It’s like a committee asked what sells in a trailer and then went out and bought a piece of stock incidental music that fit their set of criteria. It seems like that is what happened because probably that is what happened.
Then, the original Star Trek theme kicks in, backed with big, low notes. Not a crime by any means, but an obvious choice that is meant to imply a grander scale (which is fine) and, again, more darkness (which I’m not good with).
None of this may reflect the music of the series, but it does reflect how they want to sell the series.
Didn’t everyone, even J.J. Abram’s wife (and then J.J. himself) agree the flare was too much? We all make mistakes, but why are they being repeated? If the teaser doesn’t reflect the series, its mood, and feel, then what purpose is there in showing it?
The best part of the trailer was its promise of “New Crews,” but before I can discuss what this might mean, lets look at how it was presented:
It’s blurry. Rainbow blurry. A specific rainbow blurry that is known as chromatic aberration. If you don’t know what chromatic aberration is, you can see it as a slight blur where the colors come apart, like in a prism, leaving a slight red edge on the left and a slight green edge on the right. In the real world this is the result of imperfections in a camera’s lens and is something photographers and cinematographers tend to avoid. Many a lens review measures a lenses chromatic aberration and, always, less is better. Here, nothing was filmed with a camera, so there was no lens. An extra step was taken to make it look as though the end bit was filmed with an older camera. This technique has been used a lot the last few years in video games and to layer over content that may need a little varnishing to look finished. It does not inspire confidence.
We can try to ignore the teaser’s outward appearance but that leaves almost nothing.
Still, “New Crews?” That’s kind of interesting. It’s plural. Will two ships be flying in tandem? Will the story involve all of Star Fleet? Will it be an anthology series with different actors from week to week? Or, will everyone die, Game of Thrones style, as the season progresses, replaced by other actors? (Call it Stark Trek.) Or could it mean something else? Could Terry be the new Crews?
“New Crews” hints at a potentially exciting new direction — or a crappy one. Who knows what it points to? Given some of the other lazy decisions, maybe it is a typo. Or maybe Brian Fuller and Alex Kurtzman will pull a fast one, as both of them have before, making grandiose promises and then walking them back in the face of creative bankrupt. I wouldn’t be shocked if, when the series hits the air (or the paywall) there is one crew, and those other crews are nothing more than ships passing in the night, or if the phrase “new crews” is explained away as not really meaning anything significant at all. We have no reason to trust CBS or the showrunners here. (If you think Nicholas Meyer’s attachment is cause for optimism, take a look at the work he has done for the past 20 years.)
It isn’t for the 50th anniversary. The new Star Trek will miss that by a year because Paramount and CBS fought behind the scenes and Paramont got
weekends the new series pushed out six month’s from the next Star Trek movie’s release “to avoid confusion.” Joint custody is always messy.
Meanwhile, CBS hopes the new Star Trek will function as a flagship show for their new video on demand service, one meant to compete with the likes of HBO Now and Hulu, but with a fraction of the content and absolutely no track record. They are relying on fans to prop up this endeavor at exactly the same moment in time:
The Star Trek franchise just turned on its fans
After years of letting fans enjoy one of the richest and most vibrant movements in fan fiction, Paramount and CBS are cracking down because they fear losing control of the franchise. They don’t want the fans playing with the baby anymore.
Their claim is so murky that, in the not too distant future, they will likely be required to define what Star Trek actually is. Grasping at straws they are looking to hold all the pieces they can, such as claiming copyright over an entire language: Klingon. This may seem reasonable — it was developed for the movies, TV show and supporting materials, but it is an intellectual property first. The defendants in the case claim “the Klingon language itself is an idea or a system, and is not copyrightable,” which seems to have, at least, equal merit.
Just like a single-minded, manipulative ex, they are toying with their control. Soon after the teaser aired, hints emerged that CBS and Paramount might drop their suit, maybe — maybe they will. We’ll see. Maybe if the next supervised visit goes well…
What CBS and Paramount don’t seem to remember is their own long history with similar schemes.
The history is grim
40 years ago, Star Trek Phase II was cooked up an effort to create a new television network. That never came to fruition and the concept was scrapped and re-tooled into the snooze-fest that was Star Trek: The Motion Picture. 20 years ago a new network, the UPN, was launched, with Star Trek: Voyager as their flagship series. Look where UPN is now. Putting the weight of a new network venture on the shoulders of an episodic Star Trek series hasn’t worked in the past and this venture seems equally ill-fated.
With fighting like this — with so much money on the line — and so much pressure, it has to take its toll on the
kid show. Will there be freedom to explore strange new stories? Imbue the franchise with new life? Boldly go where no Star Trek has gone before. It doesn’t seem so, and without any promise of optimism, and plenty of evidence for pessimism, I can’t feel hopeful about where these “New Crews” will go.