Review: Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage

Scan_20151102London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Justin Freer

Royal Albert Hall, London; November 1, 2015 (pm performance)

The music of Star Trek accompanied by scenes from the shows and films…

There was a lot to enjoy about the LPO’s concert at the Royal Albert Hall, featuring music from across all 50 years of Star Trek. Some favourite pieces were there (including Sol Kaplan’s score for Jim Kirk’s escape from the doomed USS Constellation, one of my first clear memories of the original series); there were some intriguing oddities, including Ron Jones’ selection from his videogame soundtrack, and the first half came to a fitting end with Jones’ conclusion to The Best of Both Worlds as Will Riker gives the order to fire on Locutus and the Borg.

The format was similar to that used for the “in concert” versions of films – footage on the big screen, subtitled where necessary (and after Back to the Future, I was really glad to see this return), with the music element of the soundtrack removed and instead played live. Some parts recreated specific scenes from each of the TV shows; others used footage from every story from The Cage to Star Trek Into Darkness. In between were short pieces of narration by (an uncredited) Michael Dorn that became something of a speedbump (and could perhaps have been replaced by a few more clips!).

However – and this was an opinion I also heard expressed by a number of people in the audience during the interval and after the show – there seemed to be a real confusion as to what the Ultimate Voyage was meant to be. Was it a musical journey through the real-world history of Star Trek – which is what the chronological element of Dorn’s narration would seem to suggest? And if that’s the case, why wasn’t there an obvious point made about coming full circle to Kirk, Spock, McCoy etc. rather than – as seemed to be the case – the suggestion being made that Shatner and Pine, Montalban and Cumberbatch etc. were interchangeable? Or was the Voyage one through the characteristics of Star Trek – family, duty, meeting new lifeforms etc. – in which pieces were accompanied by footage that had absolutely nothing to do with the music that was being played? Or in the case of Jones’ videogames, no footage at all (it may have been an entr’acte but it deserved accompanying scenes!).

photoKP141TXLThe biggest problem was that the pieces were just too short, for the most part: sure, play the theme from Voyager or Deep Space Nine, but then segue into another part of the score rather than just give us that 90 seconds or whatever! And if you’re going to play those themes, then use them for the series that they represented, not as an accompaniment for footage from across the years. The pieces that worked best were those that were of a decent length.

Musically, the orchestra responded considerably better to Ron Jones and Jay Chattaway than Justin Freer at the podium – there was a real hesitancy (as well as some surprising wrong notes and rhythms) in the first half, particularly from the brass. The trouble with playing music that is ingrained in fans’ subconscious is that every wrong note is picked up, even by those who couldn’t tell you if it was a C# rather than a D that should have been played, and there were a couple of occasions where the parts of the orchestra didn’t feel like a whole. However, when they did come together, it was a magnificent sound – the last two-three minutes of The Undiscovered Country credit music, for instance, or the Best of Both Worlds section were fantastic.

The Ultimate Voyage heads to the States to mark Star Trek’s 50th anniversary next year, and I’m sure that if I were to go see the show in nine months time, it would be quite different. Minor slips need sorting in the narration (since when did the original series have away teams?!), and the subtitling needs correction – Scotty says “try it now”, not “fire now”; Voyager enters uncharted territory, not unchartered; and Q says “see you out there” not “up there”. More importantly, the repetition of dialogue needs addressing – Bruce Greenwood’s Pike’s line to Kirk about what he wants; Kirk’s piece about “risk is our business”; Q’s line from All Good Things … all turn up more than once – as does the reuse of shots (Chang giving an order to fire and the button being depressed), sometimes in close proximity. The disappearance of footage to accompany the final seconds of music is disconcerting (go to a shot of the relevant ship or space station, if nothing else!) All points that are moderately easily fixed, and the purpose of a shakedown concert…

Verdict: There is an indisputable thrill at seeing Star Trek on the big screen – with the Remastered original series effects looking terrific – and it made for an enjoyable, if sometimes flawed, trip to the final frontier. 7/10

Paul Simpson

 

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