Review of Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage
By Jarman Day-Bohn
Star Trek means a lot to me. It, in great part, helped transform me into who I am today; a passionate nerd with a deep appreciation of what sci-fi and fantasy can contribute to our culture and society. I also have a background in music and I have performed in orchestras. When I was offered the opportunity to go to see Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage, I had to take it.
Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage is a touring concert event produced by CineConcerts that assembles an orchestra on stage, with a 40-foot screen backdrop behind them, streaming beautiful high definition visuals of all your favorite Star Trek series and films, with narration by Michael Dorn connecting the scenes (or Worf as you may know him).
I walked into the large Walt Disney Theater at the new Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando, Florida, and was swept away by the beautiful set they had in place for the show. It was made to feel as if you were on the bridge of the Enterprise, with all the sections of the orchestra cordoned off with technological paneling straight out of Star Trek: The Next Generation. You could also hear the faint hum of the Enterprise’s engine over the loudspeakers along with the signature beeps and whistles you would hear in the original series. I felt at home.
The conductor, Justin Freer, walked out to applause and shook the hand of the first chair violinist, and the concert began. As the screen lit up and the music took off, I couldn’t believe my ears. It sounded perfect. As if I was listening to a recording. The volume swelled and I was taken on a roller coaster of emotion over the next hour. I saw so many of my favorite emotional scenes from Kirk and Picard and their crew (Janeway, Sisko and Archer would be featured more in the second half). I found myself welling up with tears of nostalgia and sheer emotional connection to the music. I had to stop myself so I wasn’t a grown man crying tears of joy in front of hundreds of people (including my sister who was sitting right next to me).
It was then that a strange thing happened. The speakers or sound system briefly glitched out, and it sounded as if a record had skipped. The sound completely went out and started up again right where it left off. It was as if the orchestra wasn’t playing at all and it was just a bunch of musicians miming to a recording. I shook it off and chalked it up to a misunderstanding on my part, and just enjoyed the rest of the first half.
After intermission, I strapped back in for more nostalgic Star Trek goodness, and something unfortunate happened again. Apparently the tech booth got something wrong, and they started up the “program” a little too far ahead. Suddenly the 40-foot video AND the music started playing full force…without the people of the orchestra moving a finger. Now it was very difficult for me to keep up any illusions: The music is all prerecorded and played during the show. Now don’t get me wrong… the orchestral was most definitely still playing during the show, you can tell just by looking at them. But it must be that they simply play under an already very loud recording of a fuller orchestra. This became evident to me after I started listening more carefully during the second half and could hear bells and xylophones that no one on stage was actually playing. Or realizing that the horn section sounded way too robust to have been produced from the few people playing horns and brass on stage.
I wouldn’t fault them for this, since I know it may be near impossible to travel the country on tour with a complete full orchestra, but the problem lies with them not mentioning that they would be doing this anywhere on their website or other press materials (trust me I’ve looked). It really did take the proverbial “wind” out of the performance when I realized there was no way to tell what music was being played by real living artists in front of me and what was simply being digitally amplified from a pre-recorded MP3 file.
As a consequence, for the first half of the show I was mesmerized, joyful, and truly moved. But once realizing the truth of the performance, the whole second half left me distracted, confused, and disappointed.
Would I recommend this to my fellow Trek fans out there as it tours the U.S.? Absolutely. As long as you are prepared with the knowledge that in the end you are watching and listening to a well-edited highlight reel, with a small orchestra playing silently in front of it. Maybe then you won’t experience any of the disappointment that I had. I will absolutely say that sharing that experience in a concert hall with hundreds of people who seemed to be just as passionate about Star Trek as me made the whole thing worth it, whether I could hear the musicians or not. It was a unique experience for sure, it made me experience emotions I wouldn't want to give back, and it’s made me want to jump into hours of my favorite Star Trek episodes and films all over again.