The maiden journey of “Star Trek: Voyager” delivers an impressive, handsomely engineered launch for the United Paramount Network and proves a worthy heir to the legacy of Gene Roddenberry.
Sporting marvelous visual effects and a super-streamlined “Intrepid-class” starship whose exterior doesn’t look the least bit cheesy, this classy generation beams boldly into relatively uncharted territory.
In pursuit of a band of rebels known as the Maquis, Voyager is catapulted 70, 000 light-years across the galaxy and finds itself tantalizingly (pardon the expression) lost in space.
Casting of the captain proved publicly difficult. But the exec producers’ resolve to cast a woman paid off with the selection of Kate Mulgrew, who as Kathryn Janeway commands full allegiance in the two-hour opener, “The Caretaker, ” with all the qualities viewers expect of Starfleet captains — courage, competence, wisdom, dignity, fairness, compassion and a sense of humor. She prefers to be addressed as “captain” instead of the regulation “sir,” but “ma’am” is acceptable in a crunch.
With her crew — which includes a convicted “traitor” she recruited for the mission — and the fugitives stranded and at the mercy of a cryptic, godlike being, Janeway convinces the rebel Maquis to cooperate in the common goal of rescuing confederates and finding a way back home.
Casting of other characters is equally astute. Robert Duncan McNeill imbues the randy turncoat Tom Paris with a convincing mix of cynicism and honor; Tim Russ persuades with aloof Vulcan logic as Tuvak. Robert Picardo provides a fussy efficiency as holographic medic Doc Zimmerman.
Gentle comic relief (with a shade of Han Solo) comes from Ethan Phillips as a pug-nosed, many-freckled alien called Neelix; Jennifer Lien plays his pixieish girlfriend with a beguiling blend of naive wonder and fierce dedication.
Robert Beltran is solid as the brave and resourceful Chakotay (but that tattoo-like mark over his eye is distractingly fake), and Roxann Biggs-Dawson brings an aggressive, impetuous touch to the half-Klingon engineer B’Elanna Torres. Garrett Wang nicely rounds out the regular cast as fresh-faced Ensign Harry Kim.
Basil Langton projects perfectly — that’s how we see him and his surroundings, since he’s only an image — as the wary, weary protector of the Ocampa, a people whose meekness had been ingrained by his interference in their affairs.
As in most truly commercial entertainment, it’s clear who the heroes are and that they’ll find a way out of their weekly predicaments. The trick is to keep the tales interesting and involving, if not altogether suspenseful, and director Winrich Kolbe pulls it off.
Technical aspects deserve plaudits all around.
Colorful futuristic production design by Richard D. James is flawless, and the premiere is for the most part beautifully and adroitly photographed by Marvin V. Rush.
Editing by J.P. Farrell and Daryl Baskin is seamless, and makeup by Michael Westmore is appropriately otherworldly and mostly well-executed.
Music, by Jay Chattaway with theme by Jerry Goldsmith, takes a more cerebral approach than previous “Trek” incarnations.
Visual effects, produced by Dan Curry with special effects overseen by Dick Brownfield, are superb; computer-generated plasma storm segments are particularly imaginative. Occasionally, the otherwise meticulous opticals involving models are a bit too obvious, but they never look cheap.
One can always find one or two technicalities or inconsistencies over which to quibble, and this is no exception.
But that has always been part of the charm and attraction of the “Star Trek” series.
“Voyager” includes all the elements of Roddenberry’s original vision: a future full of hope, curiosity, wonder and respect for all cultures; sexual and racial (and for that matter, species) equality, embodied in a diverse but largely harmonious crew; and adventures that intrigue rather than lull viewers.
Upholding those considerable high standards, as the premiere has, and adequately developing the possibilities that being adrift in a strange new world offers, “Voyager” should live long and prosper.