Monday, 1 December 2014

Whose Line is it Anyway?

Way ahead of it's publishing date we've been granted access to the brand new, updated Ships of the Line.

Like refitting the Enterprise for The Motion Picture, this book has made a vast jump (in number of pages at the least) since it's first edition back in 2006. At the least it's had an upgrade on the cover - more ships and a shift in tone from blue to red; it's double the length too, meaning our postman had to have an extra session at the gym this week. However, double the length does not mean double the value - it means more, more, more.

For those of us that poured over the original book back in '06 and then collected the calendars (missed a couple but please forgive me), this lies in perhaps some dangerous ground. If you did get all the calendars over the past few years then you'll not be looking at anything new, rather you'll be viewing smaller images of shots that have graced January to December on your wall but (positive point) without the interruption of each month's days. I could never understand why you couldn't have put some form of notes section on the calendar to make it a bit more useable.

Edited by Star Trek aficionado Doug Drexler and writer Margaret Clark, for those who have the original edition you'll have that very real sense of deja vu for the first few pages which are a carbon copy from the first edition. The initial Enterprise section does have a lot of earlier pics and only after page 40 does it really add more weight to your reason for buying Ships of the Line. Pierre Drolet's Top Secret, based around Storm Front from the prequel's fourth season is one of the less clinically CGI images that are presented here. Koji Kuramura's Tactical Simulation adds a Tholian touch to the proceedings and the detail on the ships' hulls is exemplary. These ladies and gents are THE top Star Trek artists around and each creation is accompanied by a text section from Star Trek legend Mike Okuda explaining the "in-universe" nature of what we're seeing. 

Big Screen

The movie entries lean towards The Motion Picture including Jim Hibbert's almost sketch-like San Francisco which stands out due to it's more sketch-like presentation of the reborn 1701.and offshoots from The Wrath of Khan focusing on the Reliant in works from Alain Rivard and Tobias Richter but unless you checked out the names of the artists for each I think you'd find it hard pressed to tell the work of one from the other. Both artists do have other, more impressive entries through the book but the similarity in CGI does make it difficult to differentiate however magnificent their finished visions. 

The variety is fantastic although not in any linear fashion with episodic snaps out of order or placed alongside non-canon scenes which, in a few cases, don't make total sense. Both The Next Generation and The Original Series (now I'm even writing them out of order) are the best selections here with the Deep Space Nine line third and surprisingly varied. Why there are four images from The Doomsday Machine yet little else from the rest of the classic 79 concerned me. That episode is a brilliant hour of TV but others deserve some space here surely? Also, one thing whch is apparent is that some images have been removed, notably the docking scene of the Calypso returning to the Enterprise-D. This in turn means that having both the '06 version and this book is the only option if you want all the pictures.

There are a fair number of Defiant and Runabout shots (more than the station it seems) in that Deep Space Nine selection which gives little page space for anything not aligned round them or the station itself. Nor are the Voyager shots super-inspiring relying heavily on the title vessel and also being exceptionally short in comparison to the other series featured here. The same actually goes for the movies selection which appears oddly bland. The images which tote a sub-heading of There Will Always Be An Enterprise oddly contains very few shots of ships called, believe it or not, Enterprise and those that do are not that great. Even the work of movie designer John Eaves or ILM here fail to lift this opportunity to explore the NCC-1701-E above the average.

Hold that thought though because we do get many more shots of non-canon vessels than before; the Aventine gets two shots, the USS Golden Gate (cover star of the 2015 calendar), the USS Planck and the Balmung make appearances however these do highlight the omission of the popular USS Titan and also the now easily omitted (could be a licencing matter) JJ Abrams universe. The inclusion of the recently designed real world vision, the IXS Enterprise and the ECV Enterprise are welcome but once more, very samey in their presentation. The decision to tackle these varied starships is wonderful and certainly one of the best choices for this selection.

Variations on a Theme

These grumbles do tent to be more aimed at the editing of the book rather than the quality of the images. I would have liked less CGI and more paint, pastels or pencil works and it does seem with this book that the variation in technique and vision is more closed than it was in the original edition with only two or three of the pages truly thinking outside the box and attempting something different. In those cases they were already included in the '06 book. Don't get me wrong, the work here is precise, detailed and impressively visualised but there is a "samey" feel after the 60 or 70th page. It's the content of that image which keeps it fresh and not the way in which it is produced.

So where does this leave us? In a bit of a quandry actually. We've waited a long while for an expanded edition of Ships of the Line which would cover the expanded choices included in the last eight years of calendars.It is an enjoyable read, a visual feast if you will and one you can pour over for some time to examine the techniques used by the artists or just to the enjoy the different scenarios chosen however it does feel flat, almost a misfire that is let down by being an update which doesn't really bring any new interpretations to the table. Nor do there seem to be enough non-Starfleet creations here for fans of the alien contingent. Fans will be clammering for this book when it goes on general sale in a matter of weeks and I know a few people linked to Some Kind of Star Trek are already looking forward to its arrival. As an anthology it works perfectly, condensing the calendar series into a more managable tome that will be seen as a must have library addition yet there's no big exclusives, no pictures only found here and the annual offering does have (occasionally) brilliant real-world pictures such as filming of the USS Enterprise model for The Original Series splashed across it's centre-fold but those are left out of the print here. This does make Ships of the Line a teaser for the calendars but overall, we know it's still a great purchase and one I'm more than happy to have in the collection.

Looking to purchase Ships of the Line? What are you looking forward to?

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