'Star Trek Beyond,' the highly anticipated next installment in the globally popular Star Trek franchise, created by Gene Roddenberry and reintroduced by J.J. Abrams in 2009, returns with director Justin Lin ('The Fast and the Furious' franchise) at the helm of this epic voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise and her intrepid crew. In “Beyond," the Enterprise crew explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a mysterious new enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.
Although not as successful domestically as the 2009 reboot, there was little doubt after Star Trek Into Darkness (which actually did better internationally than its predecessor) that Paramount was going back to the well once again for another 'Star Trek' movie. J.J. Abrams, who directed the first two installments, had turned his directorial attention to another sci-fi franchise, but stayed on as producer. Not so lucky was Roberto Orci, originally slated to both write and direct the new film. Fan backlash against 'Into Darkness' no doubt led to his dismissal by the studio (although he's still listed in the credits as a Producer), and this latest 'Star Trek' movie was turned over to Director Justin Lin, best known for helming several entries of the popular Fast & Furious franchise. Orci's script was trashed in favor of a pair of new screenwriters: Doug Jung and 'Star Trek's own Simon Pegg – well-known to be a huge fan of the series. While we'll never know what Orci had planned for his movie (he's denied rumors it had to do with the Vulcans trying to time travel to save the destruction of their planet), it is known that the Jung/Pegg script took no elements from Orci's story ideas (in fact, the studio wouldn't even let them see the script). I can't say whether Orci's ideas would have made for a more entertaining movie, but I can say that at least 'Star Trek Beyond' feels like a 'Star Trek' movie – something that was almost completely absent from the last installment.
The new movie picks up with the U.S.S. Enterprise in deep space on the third year of its five-year mission. After a fun opening where Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) gets into some negotiation problems with an alien race, the ship arrives at Yorktown starbase, which is a huge floating city in space, kind of reminiscent of the environment we saw in Disney's Tomorrowland. The arrival of an alien in an escape pod who claims there are other survivors on a nearby planet leads Kirk and crew to hop back aboard the Enterprise to launch a rescue mission...not knowing they're heading into an ambush. The ship is attacked by the villainous Krall (Idris Elba), whose insect-like swarm of ships totally destroy our beloved Enterprise (yes, 13 'Star Trek' films, and the Enterprise has been destroyed in three of them...and heavily damaged in the majority of the rest). The crew has to abandon ship and make way to the planet below, where they are separated but, of course, manage to all land within a few miles of each other.
It turns out that Krall is after an alien artifact that Kirk is in possession of, which is one part of a larger bioweapon that will enable Krall to kill everyone living back on the Yorktown starbase. Without giving away too much about his motivation, Krall isn't all that he appears to be, although I'm not sure the movie ever provides a really good reason for why he's so vengeful. Anyway, the crew eventually finds their way back together; finds a new ship in the U.S.S. Franklin, which is found crashed on the planet (and contains some hints about this movie's villain); and makes their way back to Yorktown in time to confront Krall and his attacking vessels. No bonus points for guessing who comes out on top.
Like many 'Star Trek' movies of the past, the bad guy here is actually the least entertaining part of the movie. Time and time again, the creators of these films try to match or equal Khan from Star Trek II (heck, 'Into Darkness' just threw its hands into the air and gave us Khan again...and he still wasn't as good as the original), and they've never been able to provide a bad guy quite as interesting or engaging. Krall will go down as another in a long line of disappointing adversaries in a 'Star Trek' film.
The good news is that 'Star Trek Beyond' gets the comradery and interplay right between the main characters. It also does a very smart thing by splitting up our favorites in the middle section of the movie. Kirk is teamed off with Chekov (Anton Yelchin, who sadly died not long before this film's release); Scotty (Simon Pegg) befriends one of the planet's alien inhabitants, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella); Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) find themselves – along with other crewmembers – as prisoners of Krall; and – in the movie's best pairing-off – McCoy (Karl Urban) must tend to an injured Spock (Zachary Quinto). These scenes remind us of what has been missing in these 'Star Trek' reboots and what many of the creators of these films have often missed: it's the characters, not the action, that make 'Star Trek' great and that's the reason it has stuck around for over 50 years.
'Star Trek Beyond' isn't the best 'Star Trek' movie...nor is it the worst. Out of the 13 movies released in the franchise, it falls somewhere in the middle. However, it is a huge improvement over the last film, which – despite its box office success – remains one of the most un-'Star Trek' like movies of the lot. Casual viewers of the 'Star Trek' universe may feel differently, but if you're a die-hard, old-school Trekkie like myself, you'll appreciate a lot of what 'Star Trek Beyond' has to offer.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Star Trek Beyond' beams onto 4K in this Ultra HD/Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack. The Ultra HD and Blu-ray discs are housed inside a black Elite keepcase, which also includes an insert with a code that can be used for both an UltraViolet and iTunes copy of the film. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase slides overtop. There are no front-loaded trailers on either disc, and both discs' main menus contain a montage of footage from the film with menu selections running horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region free, and of course, Ultra HD discs have no region coding.
Note: In addition to a handful of various Blu-ray releases of this title, there's also another 4K release available exclusively from Amazon. It contains the two discs in this set (and the digital code), plus the Blu-ray 3D version of the film and a model of the U.S.S. Franklin.
'Star Trek Beyond' was shot digitally on the Arri Alexa XT and Red Epic Dragon and is presented on home video in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Surprisingly, Paramount didn't do a full 4K digital intermediate of the movie for the film's theatrical release – primarily because all the special effects in the movie were rendered in 2K. So just like the prior two 'Star Trek' movies on Ultra HD, we get a 4K upgrade of a 2K digital intermediate.
But just like those prior releases, 'Star Trek Beyond' is the type of film that's perfect to show off the enhanced details and deeper colors that a 4K image can provide, upgraded or not. I really enjoyed the deeper reds, blues, and yellows the Starfleet uniforms give off here and the level of fine detail that can be picked up in some of the action sequences is incredible. Of course, there's one disadvantage to all this – the CGI is a little more obvious in 4K (again, most likely because they were original rendered in 2K). It's much more easier to pick up on what backgrounds are green-screened and which ones are realistic. There's also things like the canyon Spock and McCoy are in when they're paired off in the film and how the rock face in the background is more obviously painted instead of giving off a natural look.
Black levels are excellent here, which is good news given the darkness of the image during the Enterprise attack early in the movie, as well as the fact that the scenes aboard the U.S.S. Franklin aren't exactly brightly lit. Skin and facial details are well-defined – so much that it's rather obvious that actor Zachary Quinto is wearing a wig in a number of scenes instead of his natural hair being styled for the Spock character.
So while this isn't quite a reference-quality transfer, it is an improvement over its 1080p counterpart and one of the better-looking releases you'll find in the still relatively young Ultra HD format. Fans of the franchise won't be disappointed.
The featured track here is an English Dolby Atmos one, which is Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible for those without an Atmos set-up. Both the 4K and the Blu-ray include the Atmos track. 'Star Trek Beyond', of course, got an Atmos mix for its theatrical release, so those who have such a set up in their home theaters shouldn't be disappointed. It's one of those immersive, fun aural presentations with lots of directionality, lots of low end LFE, and impressive dynamic range throughout (and while this reviewer doesn't have an Atmos home theater, I have heard from sources that there's a good deal of overhead use throughout the movie, for those who enjoy that part of an Atmos presentation).
As one might expect, the highlights of the track take place in two sequences: the attack on the Enterprise early in the movie, and the attack on Yorktown station at the film's conclusion. The swarming ships used by Krall in the movie may have you reaching for the Raid thinking your living room has been infested. The dialogue here is mostly up-front, but it's clearly rendered and noticeably distinct. I'm also happy to report that my favorite bit in the movie (which makes use of a song heard in a previous 'Star Trek' film) sounds just as great as I hoped it would. Best of all, everything is properly mixed here. A lot of action films have their explosions and other ambient sounds cranked higher than the spoken word, resulting in dialogue that sounds muted. Everything is properly balanced in the track, and I was impressed with the presentation.
In addition to the Atmos audio, the both the 4K and Blu-ray contain 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in Spanish, French, and Portuguese, plus an English Audio Description track. Subtitles are available in English SDH, English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
Note: The 4K disc contains no bonus materials. All the bonus materials are contained on the Blu-ray disc.
'Star Trek Beyond' is far from the best 'Star Trek' film, but it is a return to form after the disappointing Into Darkness. With an impressive Atmos track and a great-looking 4K transfer, this one's definitely worth considering as an addition to your permanent collection. Recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.