Shot Analysis -- "Star Trek : Voyager, title sequence"

The title sequence of a modern television serial program must serve a variety of complex functions: beyond merely naming the show and its producers, it must keep viewers’ attentions to keep them from changing channels, and, often enough, provide enough of a back-story that a new viewer, unfamiliar with the show’s storyline, will be able to comprehend the program and its ongoing material. For "Voyager," the newest member of the Star Trek entertainment empire, the matter is particularly complex. The title sequence for the original series, with William Shatner’s introductory monologue, became one of its most recognizable hallmarks. Even the slight changes introduced into the monologue for the second series, "Star Trek: The Next Generation," raised outcries from the series’ vast fan-base. "Voyager," debuting as a replacement to the recently canceled and enormously popular "Next Generation" program, had to, from the first minute of broadcast, tie itself inextricably to the traditions and diagenetic conventions of the earlier series’ (and their extensive audience), while maintaining enough uniqueness to justify its replacement of the "Next Generation" program. Although the sequence, like its predecessors, consists strictly of exterior shots of the starship maneuvering through interstellar space, it manages not only to convey the sense of isolation which is the show’s premise, but also to establish empathy between the audience and the ship, and by extension the characters which inhabit it. In previous Star Trek series’, the starships are seen only in brief glimpses as they shoot across the screen and vanish into hyperspace; by contrast, over the course of the "Voyager" title sequence, the camera lingers over the ship, following it through a space-scape created from miniatures and computer graphics, treating the ship itself as a sort of character in the show.

As with previous Star Trek series’ (and numerous other shows), "Voyager" begins with a brief scene which acts as a self-trailer for the coming program: setting the scene of the action, introducing characters, and usually ending on a cliffhanger of some sort in order to maintain viewer interest, and ending in a fade to a black screen. The title sequence proper begins with the introduction of music over this black background -- brassy trumpet calls, vaguely militaristic, as befits a show which has had, since the first Star Trek series, vaguely militaristic underpinnings and associations. Simultaneous with the introduction of the score, shafts of hazy orange light enter the frame from the lower right. As the third trumpet chord is sounded, the camera begins to tilt downwards and pan to the right and revealing the source of the hazy orange light as a star which ripples with solar flares. As the trumpet notes begin to fade, and are overtaken by the rumbling of kettle drums, the Voyager starship enters the frame from the left with a muted roar of engine sound-effects, angling away from the camera and slightly up towards the upper right corner of the frame. At the same time, the star gives off a particularly impressive solar flare, creating an arch through which Voyager threads as it disappears into the distance. As the trumpets and drums build up to their first crescendo, a second flare begins gathering in the lower right corner of the screen, accompanied by a muted hissing sound probably meant to suggest boiling stellar plasma. All three elements crescendo at the same moment -- as the score breaks into full orchestral accompaniment, the hissing sound effect roars into a sharp attack, followed by an equally sharp decay, and the growing wash of orange light floods the frame before boiling off to the upper left, revealing behind it the series’ title displayed on a black background: "Star Trek / Voyager," with the last word taking up as much space as the two which precede it. Almost instantly, the words fade as the Voyager starship, seen from below, enters the frame from the lower left, zooms through the space the titles recently occupied with a thrum of engines, and exits the frame to the upper right. The starship is seen from a relatively close perspective, so that at no time can the frame quite contain its entire bulk, leaving the viewer with an impression of the ship’s vast size (despite the fact that, even for close-ups, the largest model of the ship used in most shots is no more than six feet in length). As Voyager passes through the frame, the camera pans slightly left and tilts slightly upwards, then slightly downwards, as though attempting to pursue the ship and keep it in the camera’s view. Instead, the starship leaves behind only empty space, populated with a few drifts of purple nebula, and a drift of words which rest in the lower left corner of the frame, from which the starship entered: "Based upon / ‘Star Trek,’ / created by / Gene Roddenberry." -- words which fade over a few seconds as the camera dissolves into the next sequence.

Having established through titles the series’ links to the previous Star Trek programs, the scene cuts to a glowing blue nebula, arranged in bands diagonally across the frame. Voyager enters from the left of the frame, angling downwards to the right, cutting across the banded clouds of the nebula, illuminated by a greenish light at its leading edge, and leaving curlicues of dispersed gas in its wake. The camera likewise pans rapidly to the right, begins tracking slowly rightwards, and tilts very slightly downwards, as though attempting to keep Voyager in the frame, or to race the starship as it speeds across the nebula. However, Voyager pulls easily ahead of the camera, breaks through the last of the nebula, and courses off towards into the distance at the far right of the frame. While this is going on, titles appear across the top of the screen in individual blocks, each block further to the left as though they too are being outstripped by Voyager’s speed: "Starring / Kate Mulgrew / as / Captain Kathryn Janeway" ; "Also starring / Robert Beltran / as / Commander Chakotay" ; "Roxanna Dawson / as / Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres." The titles throughout are in a futuristic semi-military script familiar to fans of the other Star Trek series’. The characters’ titles further underscore the military premises of the Star Trek universe, as well as continuing the Star Trek penchant for relatively diverse crew members: in this case including a female Captain, and a minority First-officer among the first characters named.

Whereas previous Star Trek shows centered the names of characters and actors on the screen, Voyager continues to displace these titles to the corners and sides of the frame. "Jennifer Lien / as / Kes" appears in the lower left corner as the next sequence begins. A dimly apprehended starfield appears, with a row of nebular gas marching from the lower left to the upper right corner of the screen, where a large asteroid spins. The camera tilts and pans downwards and to the right, the opposite of the previous camera motion, giving the impression that the camera is searching for Voyager in the starscape. The asteroid exits the frame to the upper right as a rocky moonscape, harshly lit and with sharply defined shadows, fills the lower third of the screen, backgrounded by the curve of a large planet in the distance, and another asteroid spinning towards the upper left of the shot. The words "Robert Duncan Macneill / as / Lieutenant Tom Paris" appear in the upper center of the screen. Just as the camera ceases panning, Voyager, again seen from below, shoots upwards over the lunar horizon and rapidly angles out of the frame to the upper right with a dramatic "whoosh". As with all of the shots in this sequence, the focus is deep to the point of infinitude, providing a sensation that, although the starship is in perfect focus, it is not small and close-up, but distant, and nearly as large as the lunar landscape that the camera has been observing, and larger than several of the asteroids which litter the starfield. The camera drastically reverses directions, panning to the right and tilting upwards, apparently attempting to catch Voyager in its lens again, but the starship is far too fast, and the screen fades rapidly to black.

By this time, strings have completely overtaken the brass instruments in the score, providing a somewhat more reflective tone to much of the next shot. "Ethan Phillips / as / Neelix" appears in the lower right corner of the screen, followed by "Robert Picardo / as / the Doctor." By this time, enough stars have faded in that the viewer can see that the camera is tilting and tracking rapidly upwards, as well as undergoing a slight counter-clockwise roll, which enhances the sensation that the camera lens is ‘searching’ for the elusive Voyager. A gas-giant planet appears, encircled by Saturn-like rings, and almost as rapidly as this can be discerned, the camera’s upward motion has dragged it into the plane of the rings themselves. The screen is briefly filled with the tiny rocks and shards of ice which make up the rings, amid a harshly grating "swish" sound effect, like radio static, as the camera catapults itself over the plane of the rings and tilts rapidly downwards to observe them from above. As this maneuver is completed, Voyager enters the frame from the right, trailing a dim reflection on the surface of the rings themselves. The soundtrack punctuates the discovery with a dramatic crash of cymbals and a return to the brassy score heard earlier. The words "Tim Russ / as / Lieutenant Tuvok" and "Garret Wang / as / Ensign Harry Kim" appear in sequence in the upper left corner of the screen, well out of Voyager’s path. As before, the starship angles off to the right, exiting the frame as the camera pans rightwards as well, attempting to track the vessel but too slow to keep up.

The frame dissolves to yet another black starscape, this one lit only by the corona shimmering around a distant eclipse in the middle-left of the shot. As the camera tracks slightly to the right, the corona flares, whiting-out the screen momentarily -- until a shadow interposes between the too-harsh light and the camera’s lens. It is Voyager, still moving steadily towards the right, tracked by the camera which pans to follow as it crosses the face of an enormous red planet. As it angles around the planet’s curve, Voyager briefly rolls away from the camera, showing its underside, before flattening out, angling away from the camera, and retracting its engines in close to its body. The effect is that of a diver, tensing for a leap, and Voyager does not disappoint -- with a thrum of engines and then a sudden shriek of speed, the starship vanishes into hyperspace, becoming a streak of light which collapses into a brilliant flash before fading away, leaving only a reddish cloud of interstellar dust behind it. A final trumpet salute plays as the words "Created by / Rick Berman and Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor" appear across the lower half of the screen. The scene fades into blackness which is replaced by a commercial sequence.

Beyond establishing the show firmly as a Star Trek property, the title sequence also partakes of a number of conventions of science fiction to put the viewer at ease and to encourage them to identify with the series and its characters (including the starship itself). Although it is well known that sound is not transmitted through the vacuum of space, the sound track is replete with hissing stars, thrumming engines, and rattling ice-crystals. Although in space there is no "natural" plane of travel or relationship, the camera always presents the ship from a "flat" perspective, right-side up (though there is no "right side" to be up in gravity-free interstellar space). In particular, the ship’s final maneuvers, in which it rolls as it turns, is completely at odds with the behavior of objects, including manned craft, in space -- though it is entirely consistent with the turning behavior of airplanes, which are the closest analogue with which viewers might be expected to be familiar. Voyager folds in its engines before its leap into hyperspace, like a movable-wing aircraft sweeping in its wings in order to cut down friction -- but there is no atmosphere and thus no friction in space to be avoided. Conventions such as these serve to place the extremely unsettling conditions of space flight into a more familiar (and thus empathizable) perspective, as well as placing the show itself in a tradition of filmed science-fiction representation which extends at least as far back as Voyage to the Moon.

In the interactions with the titles themselves, the ship is portrayed as a character of importance at least comparable to that of the crew. In the original "Star Trek" series, titles were centered on the screen while the Enterprise served as a kind of camera wipe, erasing one layer of titles as it shot across the screen and making way for the next. By contrast, the characters’ and actors’ names in the "Voyager" title sequence are displayed well off to the side or corners of the frame, usually away from the direction of Voyager’s travel -- as though the starship’s progress were more important than any single crew member, or at least giving the impression that the starship refuses to be impeded in any way.

The title sequence actually serves in a major way to characterize the vessel (and, by extension, the crew which inhabits it, and their stated aim of returning homewards). While "The Next Generation"’s Enterprise moves efficiently along horizontal planes during its title sequence, Voyager scoots upwards and downwards diagonally across the screen, and leaps dramatically from behind rocky outcroppings. In the title sequence to another Star Trek property, "Deep Space Nine," several ships are seen scooting about the vast space station, providing a sensation of community even in the depths of space. By contrast, the weaving gyrations of the camera as it scans the galaxy for Voyager emphasize the isolation which the ship is supposedly undergoing, flung far from its origins during the first episode. Too, the consistent motion of the ship, always from the left to the right side of the frame, play with the conventions of continuity, giving an impression of continuous, progressive movement -- as Voyager is, indeed, supposed to be making during its long journey homewards. Although the title sequence does not, like some shows, explicitly declare the backstory which lies behind its episodes, it certainly gives an impression consistent with that backstory -- without the intervention of a single human character.

Potter's Field