Saturday, 28 December 2019

A Bold Frontier to Explore: The Animated Short Treks

I wasn’t expecting much from the last of this batch of Short Treks but my under-expectation has been trounced with over delivery. 

Launching on the same day, Ephriam and Dot and The Girl Who Made the Stars represent a daring and brave move from the Star Trek Universe, offering up the first animated instalments since the revered series of the mid-1970’s and its first CG stories EVER. 

Tonally the two are chalk and cheese with one airing towards an element of slapstick comedy with an emotional end kick directed by Star Trek composer Michael Giacchino while the other boasts a tale of legend and adventure wrapped within a bedtime story from writer Brandon Schultz and directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi.

I want to tackle Ephriam and Dot first. I was absolutely blown away by this one. It tells the story of a female Tardigrade and how her life is entwined with the USS Enterprise from the first season of The Original Series through to her fiery demise above the Genesis Planet.

Containing barely any dialogue (and any there is, it’s taken from classic episodes), the seven minute story takes us chasing through future history to catch the starship at various points in its famous lifespan.  The animation is crisp and colourful, matching the smattering of slapstick comedy sprinkled into the story in almost a cat and mouse game between the tardigrade and a Dot-9 repair unit. 

While the story has a happy ending which might even draw a speck of a tear, the pace of this short is incredible as we are bounced from one event to another there are a few "issues" we have to address.

Firstly, the events from Star Trek history play out in the incorrect order - Khan, Tribbles, The Naked Time - didn't happen like that and shows a worrying level of disregard and lack of basic knowledge of the source materal. This is "corrected" as we spin past Apollo's green hand, the Doomsday Machine, the Tholians and Abraham Lincoln. No sign of V'Ger as we skip to the Mutara Nebula and then onto Genesis - where the Enterprise is inexplicably labelled as NCC-1701-A and sent fandom into an animated meltdown. 

Now normally errors wouldn't bother me but this is inexcusable and downright lazy. In fact I'd go as far as saying it's on the verge of ruining the fine work put into making this such a damn enjoyable piece of Star Trek. It proves the format still works but the inconsistency is almost a raised mid-digit to the fans and for some might just add fuel to the fire that the current administration don't give a damn about canon and 50 years of universe building.

I love the concept and the humour here; it really works and is Star Trek that might appeal to a far younger audience than ever before and if it does then it has absolutely succeeded as a test bed for future projects (which I fully believe that the shorts should be to gauge audience engagement) but for older and more established fans it may have missed the mark because of the lack of attention to detail.

Over with The Girl Who Made the Stars we have a very different style of animation. It's darker in tone, following a more recognisable narrative structure with Michael Burnham's father telling her a bedtime story of a brave young girl.

An inspiring and empowering tale, the visual quality of this one is stunning. The CG is gorgeous with the young Burnham all wide-eyed in awe and fascination as she "plays" the lead character in the tale (eagle-eyed will notice she's in bed with a cuddly tardigrade...nudge nudge...!). This is a journey, again a direct contrast to the previous Short Trek, providing a spotlight on a key character in the franchise at an unexpected moment in her life. 

There is a nice twist to the story (which I won't ruin) but where this one wins against the more colourful, lighter Ephriam and Dot is that it offers something a little more mature, more shadowy and a little bit more what I would term as traditionally Star Trek in the way it is presented. It's a coming of age piece that also offers positivity and inspiration (perhaps) to a younger audience once again and also demonstrates that Star Trek can do a broad range of material using this medium rather than relying on live action alone again and again.

The Girl Who Made the Stars looks great, narrates perfectly and feels incredibly solid. There is an alien aspect to it, there is a space link but for me it's more about an overall experience with this short, there's almost a sense of something quite personal. Maybe its only shortcoming is that it isn't something I would usually class as a Star Trek story BUT that's the quirk of the shorts - they can go a little off track and do something we wouldn't expect thus expanding the Universe that extra few inches to help round out the overall vision. 

Did you enjoy this time's shorts? What has been the highlight of these latest six?

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