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Editorial
17 Mar 2018

The Visual Continuity of Star Trek

Star Trek has a legacy of more than 50 years. The franchise is famed for the iconic looks of its characters, species, sets, props and starships. They so far contributed greatly to the continuity of Star Trek. Every new series or movie could rely on what had been established before, also and especially on the visual side, but also had to respect it.

Star Trek's canon incarnations comprise the "classic" five series (TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT) and ten movies that were produced over the course of almost 40 years, plus the movies of the "Abramsverse", plus the sixth series Star Trek Discovery. The two latter take many liberties regarding the visual continuity with the "classic" Star Trek. At latest the total redesign of the Klingons and other radical alterations in Discovery cross a line. While the producers of the series don't deny that they "re-imagined" the looks of species and other designs in their series, they fail to provide a rationale whether visuals still have any canon value in their view, or whether they are arbitrary from now, like if Star Trek were not TV but a novel series. Some self-proclaimed "loyal" fans go as far as asserting that visual canon never existed in Star Trek!

It is my intention to create awareness for the significance of visual continuity in a visual medium. Read my new article on The Visual Continuity of Star Trek with many examples and pictures.

Bernd Schneider

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  • 22 Jun 2018

    Yeah, you can google spoilers all day, but that just takes the fun out of watching.

  • 22 Jun 2018

    Burnham isn't the first officer and is unlikely to be unless Saru remains in command on a permanent basis which is not the direction things were heading at the end of the season.

  • 21 Jun 2018

    You mean Saru being acting captain and Burhman being back in Starfleet officially and the first officer? There are ways to find these things out without watching it. Though, I am planning to get back onto All Access at some point and binge watch the whole thing.

  • 21 Jun 2018

    Do you play Star Trek Online? because this is the focus of many of their mission stories.

  • 21 Jun 2018

    If you're going to watch any of season 2 you really should finish the first season, I'm pretty sure if you don't you'll be confused over everyone's position on the ship in S2 E1.

  • 21 Jun 2018

    I agree with everything you wrote, but with probably somewhat different afterthoughts. The feeling of being modern results from many technical changes, from the way the storyline is built up to comply with present-day viewing habits and from how the scenes are captured. And just as well from a different concept of the characters and the world in which they interact.

    In the first regards, I don't mind if a series switches to a "modern" format, as long as it honors established visuals and doesn't bother me too much with unnecessary lens flares and motion blur. It would definitely have been possible. In the latter regards, I think it is necessary to draw a line and to avoid that Star Trek becomes just like the rest. We've got plenty of dystopian genre productions by now. Actually, well over 90% are dystopian.

    In my view, Discovery relies very much on its potential to relay a (Star Trek or present-day political) message by speaking through the fourth wall, rather than doing it in the stories themselves. Sure, Star Trek has a history to include real-world politics in such a way, such as "A Private Little War" or "The Outcast". But Discovery goes still one step further because it doesn't even try to make such a message into stories (the T'Kuvma-Trump connection was only made up to gain publicity in my view). No one would mind what race and gender the main characters are if it were not for the marketing campaign. It is (fortunately!) a non-issue in the stories themselves. But the real-world connotations can't make up for the lack of moral and political issues in the stories. Well, Discovery pretends to be all about politics but it boils down to rather simple character conflicts, many of which don't even make much sense (especially with the knowledge we have in hindsight). The only time that a real Trek-like issue crops up is in "Will You Take My Hand?", but the way the planned genocide comes about as well as the way it is eventually avoided is ridiculously reckless (a bit like in some of the worst TOS and TNG episodes, such as "The Apple" or "Up the Long Ladder"). I simply expect more from a Star Trek series, and more from a series that wants to be modern.

    So while I don't contest that Discovery is modern in style and perhaps has to be, it still has to prove to me that it can be more than "Star Trek in name and lip service only". All hope is lost on the continuity, but maybe this series or the other ones that Kurtzman is going to create can still give us back some of the former profundity and of the optimism.

  • 21 Jun 2018

    The gamechanger for a lot of this was Babylon 5 back in the day, and things have moved on well past that since but a pattern of TV was established there, particularly for genre productions.

    Updated production values were just going to happen so are really not part of the argument (the change in visual continuity is an entirely different argument...).

    Yes, pretty much everything is serialised to a greater or lesser degree and that is expected to maintain interest across one or more seasons of a show, particularly with the current binge watching tendencies of audiences, as a "reward" for their "investment" in the series. Hell, even The Orville does this to a lesser degree. "Back in the day", such overt serialisation worked against the casual viewer who formed the vast majority of the audience through channel flipping. It is also expected that the characters are not, in general, "perfect" (whilst it might be argued that in TNG they weren't, they were "in general", with highlighted exceptions) and the social dynamics work in an understandable way. These character stories should also be part of the serialisation. Too often, TNG (and DS9 even...) hit the reset switch at the end of the episode for any character development. Situations shouldn't always be neatly resolved, and there should be consequences.

    It's probably an "idealism" vs "realism" argument.

    "Single camera" filming is also a stylistic thing that is now the norm in TV (and somewhat closer to movie practices), with less reliance on cuts between differing view points. TNG was very much traditional multiple camera, ditto DS9, VOY and to a large degree ENT. Ditto "natural lighting" of sets, now that we have cameras and TVs with the necessary dynamic range in common use. It's arguable though that a TNG filmed now would have these changes, but The Orville seems to be filmed pretty much (deliberately I would say) like TNG was.

    As you say, there are plenty of buzzwords bandied around, and TNG filmed now would comply to a lot of those naturally without great change ("spectacular", "diverse", "inclusive", "progressive" just come with the territory now, and to be honest, Star Trek has always been all of those, with something of a ramping up of a degree of execution as technology and social attitudes allowed). TNG could never feel "modern" if it tried - the characters and situations are disjoint from our current experiences. They do not act like "us", being "more evolved" from our "barbaric practices" - a "fact" it keeps hammering home. "edgy" is really just a way of saying that some situations are not going to go a way that you would necessarily feel comfortable with.

  • 20 Jun 2018

    Yeah, I already said I quit a few episodes in.

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