As I mentioned in a previous post, I am currently working my way through the entire Star Trek franchise, from beginning to end. I just completed the finale of season 4 of Star Trek: Voyager. If DS9 has more action and a stronger, more compelling forward thrust (toward a conflict with the invading Dominion forces), Voyager is no less rewarding visually.
Much like DS9, the directors and cinematographers of Voyager often make use of aperture framing (internal framing within the television frame) to creatively draw attention to specific actions or reactions from characters, generate stimulating compositions that challenge quick perceptual uptake, heighten dramatic tension or underscore a scene’s thematic subtext.
In this particular episode, the Voyager crew discovers a Star Fleet prototype vessel in the Delta quadrant, the U.S.S. Dauntless, which is equipped with experimental quantum slipstream technology capable of taking the crew home in just three months.
In order to distinguish the technology and design of Voyager with that of the new ship, the episode’s designers make use of a sleeker, almost organic set for the bridge (fig.1) and the engine room (fig.2), which are reminiscent of Ken Adam’s designs for the James Bond franchise (fig.3)–both were shot to play up the circular form on the ceiling at the top of the frame, the rounded edges on either side, and the overall symmetry of the space. The engine itself has a flamboyant “mad scientist” look to it, with bubbling neon tubules and electric globes.
In a thrilling sequence halfway through the episode, Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), B’elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) and Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) attempt to bring the new engines to safe radiation levels for travel. The sequence’s aperture framing traces the intensification of the action. In one low-angle shot, Kim indicates that the quantum levels are dropping (fig.4). Isolated by the railing surrounding the quantum engine, he looks offscreen left.
In a reverse angle shot, Seven of Nine receives his glance in an eyeline match (fig.5). The aperture gives her even less space in the frame–her chin is cut off by panelling in the foreground–and the space around her is even more constricted and abstract.
As Seven of Nine replies that the field generated by the new engines needs to be further dampened, she looks offscreen left (fig. 6).
In a third shot, continuity is once again maintained; B’elanna’s eyes, looking rightward, meet Seven of Nine’s (fig.7).
But B’elanna’s reaction is almost a challenge to pick out among the effervescent tubes and shimmering metal frames of the engine. Even more so than Kim and Seven of Nine, she is depicted as a body fragment. Her darker hair makes her blend into the shadowy background, and her forehead is entirely blocked from view.
In this episode of Voyager, aperture framing guides our eye to character reactions, but these increasingly abstract shots, linked by continuity devices that suggest coherent space within the scene, also cue us to the fact that something is off-kilter here. The characters might well be claiming control over a space and a technology that ultimately cannot be tamed–that are in fact slowly and ominously engulfing them. This new technology may not be as innocent as they were led to believe.