I Don’t Think Star Trek’s Universe Has Ever Been More Beautiful Than On Netflix

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I don’t think that the Star Trek universe has ever looked as beautiful as it does in Netflix’s animated series, Star Trek: Prodigy. It’s always irritated me that animated Star Trek gets such a hard time from fans, whether it’s Gene Roddenberry’s petulant assertion that Star Trek: The Animated Series isn’t canon or the sniffy assessment in some corners of fandom that Star Trek: Prodigy is “just” a kid’s show. As the recent crossover between Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and Star Trek: Lower Decks proved, animation is just a different form of storytelling that can push the franchise in dazzling new directions.

By the end of Star Trek: Prodigy season 2, I felt that I’d just seen the most visually dazzling series of Star Trek ever made. Joining Admiral Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) on a highly-classified mission to rescue Captain Chakotay (Robert Beltran), Dal R’El (Brett Gray), Gwyndala (Ella Purnell) and their fellow Starfleet hopefuls visited an array of stunning alien vistas. Not only were the strange new worlds they visited utterly captivating, they were also populated by some of the most alien and terrifying creatures in the Star Trek universe.

Prodigy Season 2 Makes The Star Trek Universe Look Beautiful

From temporal wormholes to a vapor ocean and a cave full of giant Tribbles, Prodigy season 2 is an eye-popping adventure through the Star Trek universe. For my money, art director Alessandro Taini has dreamed up the most vibrant and creative take on the Star Trek universe for decades. Unshackled from the budgetary limitations of having to realize these worlds through physical props and sets, Taini and Prodigy’s storyboard artists and animators have pushed themselves to realize the limitless potential of exploring Federation space and beyond. The trailer for Prodigy season 2 alone portrayed the rare beauty that the show encapsulates

Some of the alien planets in Star Trek: Prodigy season 2 are the most beautiful that the franchise has ever seen. The dusky pink skies of the ruined Solum have a tragic beauty to them, while Icila is an astonishingly beautiful, and dangerous, world. It’s a criticism often leveled at animation, particularly computer generated 3D animation, that it’s somehow “soulless”, because it’s deemed to involve less work than hand-drawn 2D animation, whereas CGI’s hard work is “all done by computers”. Prodigy proves just how ill-informed this lazy criticism is, as it provides beautiful alien worlds that can have more heart, and realism than their live-action counterparts.

For example, the lush verdant vista of the non-corporeal colony, Ovidia IV provides some interesting parallels between Star Trek: Prodigy season 2, episode 8, “Is There in Beauty No Truth?” and Star Trek: Discovery season 5, episode 6, “Whistlespeak”. Both episodes culminate in a ritualistic race across the alien landscape; in Prodigy, this race feels like it’s taking place on an alien world; in Discovery it looked like a Sunday marathon in your local park.

Animated Star Trek Is Perfect For Realizing Strange New Worlds

Obviously, animated Star Trek series have the opportunity to create their own alien landscapes, while live-action shows have to rely on real-world locations. For decades, Star Trek has relied on places like Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park to realize its alien planets. More recent innovations like the AR Wall do allow live-action Star Trek to interact with the same richly realized CGI landscapes as their animated counterparts, but as a backdrop, which breaks the immersion you get with a show like Star Trek: Prodigy.

Unlike live-action shows using the AR Wall, Star Trek: Prodigy doesn’t have to worry about physical set design and props not matching the animated backdrop, because their hugely talented animation team is responsible for creating everything. This means that viewers are immersed in the strange new worlds visited by the Prodigy crew. It also allows for some more out-there existential threats, like the plasma and gas storms experienced by Chakotay and his young rescuers on the planet Icila, with its “vapor oceans”.

Prodigy season 2 follows in the grand tradition of Star Trek: The Animated Series and Star Trek: Lower Decks , proving that animated Star Trek is the most dazzlingly creative wing of the franchise.

Animation also allows Star Trek TV shows to create the new life and civilizations without worrying about dodgy rubber costumes or visible zips. The Loom in Star Trek: Prodigy are properly alien creations, an upgrade on Star Trek: Voyager’s Species 8472 alien villains, the franchise’s very-first CGI species. With its strange alien creatures and high-concept planets, Star Trek: Prodigy season 2 follows in the grand tradition of Star Trek: The Animated Series and Star Trek: Lower Decks, proving that animated Star Trek is the most dazzlingly creative wing of the franchise.

 

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