Release Date(s)2016 (November 1, 2016)
Studio(s)Bad Robot/Paramount (Paramount Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: D+
Three years into the five-year mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is having a birthday-induced mid-life crisis. Having joined Starfleet on a dare, he’s bored with deep-space exploration and he’s starting to wonder why he and his crew are doing it at all. But during a routine visit to the Federation’s new Yorktown base, an alien woman arrives at the station requesting help in rescuing her crew from a treacherous uncharted nebula, that only the Enterprise can navigate safely. The mission goes badly, however, when an attack by a hostile alien force destroys the ship, leaving Kirk and his crew stranded on a strange planet where they must fight to save not only themselves... but the Federation itself.
Star Trek Beyond is a very different animal than the two previous Kelvin-verse films. The best way to think of it is that this is the biggest, most action-filled episode of Star Trek: The Original Series you’ve ever seen, for all the good and bad that implies. Let’s start with the bad first. The film has four glaring weaknesses. First, it’s hard to imagine James T. Kirk being bored with the command of a Starship, in this universe or any other. Second, the film’s villain, Krall (played by Idris Elba), lacks believable motivation (or at least set-up) and doesn’t really offer any genuine surprises. Third, one should probably not think too much about how many unsung Enterprise crewmembers die in this film. Finally, while the Enterprise is certainly the symbolic beating heart of Star Trek, and destroying it is certainly the most shocking thing one can do to break this family of beloved characters down, it’s also most obvious – the dramatic equivalent of low-hanging fruit – and it’s been done to death in past installment of this franchise.
Still, if you can forgive these not insignificant issues, Star Trek Beyond is also a great deal of fun. Director Justin Lin (The Fast and the Furious) successfully brings his trademark big-screen spectacle and action sensibility to the Trek universe and he’s enough of a fan to drop in all kinds of great Prime-timeline references along the way. All of the major cast members get their moment to shine, particularly Karl Urban’s Bones and Zachary Quinto’s Spock, whose shared story arc in this film is funny, engaging, and delightfully familiar to fans of TOS. There’s also a new character, Jayla (played Sofia Boutella), who steals the show in a performance that recalls Milla Jovovich’s Leeloo from The Fifth Element. (If the producers are smart, Jayla will become a regular member of the crew going forward.) The film’s visual effects deliver lovely eye candy and Michael Giacchino’s score maps all the right musical iconography. Star Trek Beyond also offers moving tributes to Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, who passed away during the production. There’s even a very nice nod to the original cast, appropriate given that 2016 is the franchise’s 50th anniversary. Oh, and all is forgiven with regard to that first trailer everyone disliked so much. You’ll understand why when you see the film.
Star Trek Beyond was shot digitally using ARRI Alexa XT and Red Epic Dragon cameras (at 3.4K resolution and 6K for select shots). Its post production and visual effects were done in 2K and the final Digital Intermediate was finished in that resolution. Following an HDR color timing pass, the resulting image has been upscaled to 4K for Ultra HD Blu-ray at the original 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Colors are accurate and vibrant, though perhaps not quite as vibrant as one might expect. The image looks great, but it just doesn’t have the same pop as the two previous Trek 4K UHD releases (see our reviews here and here). The choices made in the HDR pass seem surprisingly restrained, almost underwhelming. The HDR does impress a little bit more during planet exteriors and when the crew is looking at display screens at least. That said, detail and fine texturing are both quite nice and a notable improvement over the regular Blu-ray. Much of this film is dark, but thankfully contrast is excellent, with deep and highly detailed blacks. The real highlight of the 4K disc is its English Dolby Atmos soundtrack. It’s a big wide presentation with exceptional clarity and staging, lively panning and atmospherics, and terrific use of the Atmos height channels during the space battles and the Yorktown climax. Audio options are also available in French, Spanish, and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, as well as English Descriptive Audio, with subtitles available in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Unfortunately, the only fitting word for the extras on this release is disappointing. Fans will probably already know that Paramount and Bad Robot have, once again, chosen to scatter the special features for this title to the winds, splitting some of them off as retail exclusives. The Target Blu-ray has a bonus disc with over 45 minutes of exclusive content and iTunes once again gets an exclusive “enhanced” commentary with the filmmakers. What’s left on the wide-release Blu-ray version, which is what’s included with this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray edition, amounts to nine behind-the-scenes featurettes, a gag reel, and two deleted scenes – about an hour in all (in full HD, though with terribly weak black levels) and mostly paint-by-numbers. None of the production’s difficulties are touched upon, nor do we get to see glimpses of any of the fan events or the Comic-Con premiere. The featurettes include Beyond the Darkness (10:08), Enterprise Takedown (4:31), Divided and Conquered (8:17), A Warped Sense of Revenge (5:15), Trekking in the Desert (3:06), Exploring Strange New Worlds (6:02), New Life, New Civilizations (8:04), To Live Long and Prosper (7:51), and For Leonard and Anton (5:04). That last piece is definitely the best of the lot. The two deleted scenes are brief (just 1:02 in all) and neither is compelling. At least the gag reel is cute (5:13). But none of this content is remotely satisfying. You’d like to think that the retail-exclusive extras might make all the difference here, but this effort just feels so completely uninspired that I would be very surprised if that were the case.
Star Trek Beyond is not perfect by any means, but if you go into it with your mind open and willing to have fun, you should enjoy it quite a lot – especially if you’re a longtime Trek fan. It’s another big-screen rollercoaster ride, that’s filled to brimming with Star Trek’s heart and spirit… if perhaps not quite enough of its substance. Paramount’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release is decent, but you’ll probably want to get it on sale because there’s just not quite as much bang for the buck here as the film, the fans, and this format deserve.
- Bill Hunt