On Reconciling Visual Style with Narrative Continuity

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On Reconciling Visual Style with Narrative Continuity

Postby Sonic Glitch » Tue May 28, 2019 4:07 pm

I was pondering this on another Star Trek group but discussion was pretty mediocre. I'm apparently one of the few here watching Discovery and appreciating it for what it is and I know a large issue in the fan community is "Everything looks so different!" I started re-thinking about this after watching DIS S2E8 "If Memory Serves" and they open with footage from "The Cage" as part of a "Previously on Star Trek..." sequence. You know how they addressed the disparity? They didn't say a g*******d thing, and the way they handled the transition into the episode leaves no doubth that Anson Mount's Captain Pike is meant to be the same Captain Pike from "The Cage."

In short: "If Memory Serves" demonstrates Discovery handled visual canon the best of all series and opens a new (better?) way to deal with canon: "Canon" is for the characters, "visuals" are for the audience.


Intro: We've had references to previous eras of Trek in many series, most notably in DS9 and ENT. In both of those, the creative staff lovingly recreated the 1960s Enterprise design. Discovery takes us back to the 23rd century and threw that out the window showing us the full extent of what modern effects and art design can create leaving viewers to try and reconcile visual canon with the productions claims of the show taking place in the same timeline as the previous shows ("None of these ships look like the TOS Starfleet! The Uniforms are different!") Some of this they've addressed - or lampshaded if you prefer - such as Pike's comment "at least we got the new uniforms" and showing the Enterprise crew all wearing updated TOS style uniforms, and then ... they re-designed the Enterprise! But that's sacrilege isn't it?! Trek has had at least 3 opportunities to redesign TOS and each time has chosen not to! Primary colors, jelly bean buttons and blinking light displays is what the 23rd century looks like!


At this point the average Trek fan has two choices (according to most discussions): accept Discovery as a reboot despite TPTB insisting it is NOT a re-boot OR reject the whole thing as Not My TrekTMand deprive yourself of the opportunity to explore a treasured era of Trek.


However when "If Memory Serves" comes along and Discovery does 2 very smart things: First, to refresh the viewer they open with a "Previously on Star Trek" montage using original footage from "The Cage" with no changes to background or effects. Second, they don't say a g-d thing about it. The sequence transitions directly from Jeffrey Hunt as Pike on Talos IV to Anson Mount as Pike on Discovery. This establishes two things, first that Discovery is firmly planted in the Star Trek world created by Gene Roddenberry, and second that these events happened to theses characters as part of their narrative. It says "It doesn't matter that Anson Mount and Jeff Hunter are not identical and that Pike isn't wearing a gold turtleneck, Anson Mount is Christopher Pike and Christopher Pike visited Talos IV like you saw in "The Cage" and "The Menagerie."

This got me thinking about the effort we go through as a community to reconcile visuals and plot within the canon, leading to an epiphany of sorts: The characters don't know what their environment is "supposed" to look like. When a character looks at the helm console it doesn't matter if the panel is made up of scattered jelly beans and rocker switches or is a cleanly labeled touchscreen -- for them it simply has the helm controls. Somehow they have to be getting usable data off of their consoles and for narrative purposes the capabilities of their consoles are not limited by the depth of the production budget. In short, changes in production values don't ultimately matter to canon because the more important aspect of canon is the character experience within the narrative and visual changes shouldn't affect that unless explicitly called out in the narrative. This is how it is handled in previous Trek's and there are more than a few examples:


1. In TMP the Klingon make-up is updated to reflect the budget and while hopefully the visuals of the ships would identify them to fans as Klingons it also helps that dialogue in the film expressly identifies the "Imperial Klingon Cruiser Amar" but that is all. The make-up change is not addressed because it is not important.
2. Conversely, the Big E looks very different in the film. This however is expressly addressed in the dialogue because Kirk's unfamiliarity with "an almost totally new Enterprise" is a factor in the plot.
3. Robin Curtis replaces Kirstie Allie in TSFS and no one comments on Saavik's appearance because the character is and always has been Saavik
4. The Trill go from a race with latex on their forehead to spots on their neck and no one comments because for narrative purposes they Trill have always looked this way.
"Trials and Tribble-ations" creates a problem that doesn't exist by trying to share an inside joke with the fan community with the "Those are Klingons?" "We do not discuss it with outsiders." exchange. This now establishes that as far as the characters are concerned there is an in-universe difference between TOS and movie-era Klingons and as a community we can either treat it as a one-off production joke or we can speculate endlessly about how to reconcile this new information ( I think we all know which direction we went!)


But here's the thing: none of examples 1-4 mattered unless called out in the narrative. From an in-universe perspective that is simply the way things are, and that same approach can be applied to updated TOS-Era visuals as well. Even with the re-design there is still room for the Disco-Prise to have a refit in 2270 and become "an almost totally new Enterprise." And when characters were able to look at blinking red, orange and yellow lights and inform Cpt Kirk of the direction of the enemy wessel, is it really trouncing on canon to design an interface that actually displays that information when given the opportunity to re-visit that era? Again, the characters don't know any better. I could go on but I think this is becoming a speech, your thoughts?
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Re: On Reconciling Visual Style with Narrative Continuity

Postby Atekimogus » Tue May 28, 2019 6:10 pm

I tend to agree with a couple of your points and I do get where you are coming from. I am more on the side of being more forgiving about all the visual changes Discovery has subjected us to.

However, you also question the redesign fo the E-Nil being a sacrilege, impling that it just follows the generally updated looks, modernization and higher production values.

Now here is where I disagree. Updating the Uniforms and even the main bridge to look more modern and believable I can get onboard with. To be fair, especially the plywoold bridge with buttons etc. looks incredibly dated and I can understand how an update is desperately needed here to make it look more believable.

However, there is actually not really any reason whatsoever to change the actual ship itself. Like....nothing whatsoever. You can use the same design they always had and it would be perfectly ok. If the saucer has a slightly different shape, the neck section is any longer or differently shaped and the secondary hull has similar but different bulges....what does it matter?


So one change is a needed visual overhaul, one you need that the series will be accepted by todays audiences and follows normal standards in production qualtiy viewers have come to expect. You cannot give them a plywood bridge anymore.

But the other is just a redesign for redesign sake. There is no need or logic behind it. It is just the art department with no respect runnign wild. LIke with the updated Klingons.

From TOS to TMP the Klingons needed an update...they just didn't look "alien" enough.....they were really just space-mongols (visually). But after the redesign....there was no need now to change their appearance other maybe uniforms. They have a very iconic look and the "special effects" aka make-up still holds up well and is still "believable", at least just as much as the Discovery Klingons.

So why do it? I guess a lot of the problems people are having with discovery is just that. Not complaining about necessar visual updates which improve the quality to a level we have come to expect......but visual updates just for their own sake.

(Why not update Vulcans if you are at it? They don't look alien enough. They have green blood so maybe adjust their skin colour, make their eyes bigger/smaller and add other alien features to make them look less human. Now we have the technology and budget to make it so, why not completely redesign them? Let Spock not grow a beard but small tentacles. Everything goes.....)
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Re: On Reconciling Visual Style with Narrative Continuity

Postby Graham Kennedy » Wed May 29, 2019 8:11 pm

Sonic Glitch wrote:In short: "If Memory Serves" demonstrates Discovery handled visual canon the best of all series and opens a new (better?) way to deal with canon: "Canon" is for the characters, "visuals" are for the audience.

This only works if one assumes that events and characters are a different thing from visuals. I for one don't accept that they are.

At this point the average Trek fan has two choices (according to most discussions): accept Discovery as a reboot despite TPTB insisting it is NOT a re-boot OR reject the whole thing as Not My TrekTMand deprive yourself of the opportunity to explore a treasured era of Trek.

The only thing I'd say about this is that I don't feel very deprived.

However when "If Memory Serves" comes along and Discovery does 2 very smart things: First, to refresh the viewer they open with a "Previously on Star Trek" montage using original footage from "The Cage" with no changes to background or effects.

I haven't seen the episode in question, but that really doesn't seem to be at all smart to me. In fact it seems astonishingly stupid, even by Discovery standards.

This establishes two things, first that Discovery is firmly planted in the Star Trek world created by Gene Roddenberry

Sorry, but no. It really doesn't. It merely establishes that Discovery has irreconcilable issues with how it is made.

The characters don't know what their environment is "supposed" to look like. When a character looks at the helm console it doesn't matter if the panel is made up of scattered jelly beans and rocker switches or is a cleanly labeled touchscreen -- for them it simply has the helm controls. Somehow they have to be getting usable data off of their consoles and for narrative purposes the capabilities of their consoles are not limited by the depth of the production budget. In short, changes in production values don't ultimately matter to canon because the more important aspect of canon is the character experience within the narrative and visual changes shouldn't affect that unless explicitly called out in the narrative.

I reject this utterly.

And when characters were able to look at blinking red, orange and yellow lights and inform Cpt Kirk of the direction of the enemy wessel, is it really trouncing on canon to design an interface that actually displays that information when given the opportunity to re-visit that era?

Yes, it absolutely is.
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Re: On Reconciling Visual Style with Narrative Continuity

Postby Sonic Glitch » Thu May 30, 2019 12:06 am

Graham Kennedy wrote:
Sonic Glitch wrote:In short: "If Memory Serves" demonstrates Discovery handled visual canon the best of all series and opens a new (better?) way to deal with canon: "Canon" is for the characters, "visuals" are for the audience.

This only works if one assumes that events and characters are a different thing from visuals. I for one don't accept that they are.

At this point the average Trek fan has two choices (according to most discussions): accept Discovery as a reboot despite TPTB insisting it is NOT a re-boot OR reject the whole thing as Not My TrekTMand deprive yourself of the opportunity to explore a treasured era of Trek.

The only thing I'd say about this is that I don't feel very deprived.

However when "If Memory Serves" comes along and Discovery does 2 very smart things: First, to refresh the viewer they open with a "Previously on Star Trek" montage using original footage from "The Cage" with no changes to background or effects.

I haven't seen the episode in question, but that really doesn't seem to be at all smart to me. In fact it seems astonishingly stupid, even by Discovery standards.

This establishes two things, first that Discovery is firmly planted in the Star Trek world created by Gene Roddenberry

Sorry, but no. It really doesn't. It merely establishes that Discovery has irreconcilable issues with how it is made.

The characters don't know what their environment is "supposed" to look like. When a character looks at the helm console it doesn't matter if the panel is made up of scattered jelly beans and rocker switches or is a cleanly labeled touchscreen -- for them it simply has the helm controls. Somehow they have to be getting usable data off of their consoles and for narrative purposes the capabilities of their consoles are not limited by the depth of the production budget. In short, changes in production values don't ultimately matter to canon because the more important aspect of canon is the character experience within the narrative and visual changes shouldn't affect that unless explicitly called out in the narrative.

I reject this utterly.

And when characters were able to look at blinking red, orange and yellow lights and inform Cpt Kirk of the direction of the enemy wessel, is it really trouncing on canon to design an interface that actually displays that information when given the opportunity to re-visit that era?

Yes, it absolutely is.

I confess that seems an unnecessarily closed-minded approach to take but I won't presume to debate you.

I merely accept there are out-of-universe reasons for the way things look and that the narrative is more important than what it looks like but again many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our point of view.
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Re: On Reconciling Visual Style with Narrative Continuity

Postby Graham Kennedy » Thu May 30, 2019 5:16 pm

There's not really much to debate. If you choose to think of the visuals as something different from the storytelling and characters that's entirely up to you. For me it makes no sense, but then you're not me so that doesn't matter. :)
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