Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Rubber Bands Break

Star Trek in any incarnation confounds me; I cannot understand the appeal without getting depressed about the low level of cinematic and narrative challenge some audiences require.

But these days I am interested in smoke, water and the special effects that have devolved from them. We find them in a great many special effects movies these days. Here we have two instances that I’ve considered in some depth.

The first is something described as a swarm of thousands of spacecraft. They are supposed to share some sort of ‘collective intelligence’ guided by our super villain. Let’s skip over the corny idea that this intelligence is shared over frequency that can be disrupted by broadcasting old rock. What interests me is the visual conventions chosen.

This isn’t a swarm in the usual sense of the word; it is a directed formation of medium sized craft. I’m not sure why they need pilots unless there is a fighting mode that is not centrally computed that we did not see. Nor is it clear why the bad guy barks orders as if it matters that they hear. And why build this armada if there are no ships that ever come, and the super weapon is supposed to be superior?

Skip over all that as well. What they chose was to use a basic spring model where each ship is connected to its neighbours by an invisible elastic band with delayed force and a minimum distance. This is often used to crudely and cheaply emulate bird flocks.

Then they simply designated certain ships as agents to pull their comrades, allowing for a tentacle-like menacing and cutting effect. The editing was good, so you got some rush of motion just from the shifting camera, but the effect was profoundly simple. in sophistication, it matched the rubber masks typical of the franchise.

The second effect was of the first few seconds of a presumed biological weapon powerful enough to eradicate planets. We didn’t see much here but the effect was the typical animated smoke, nothing at all like what we’ve seen, for example in Prometheus or the fireflies in Guardians. It couldn’t have been for lack of money, talent or excellent examples, and that is the depressing thing.

Posted in 2016

Ted’s Evaluation — 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.


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