Friday, May 08, 2009

So I boldly went to a movie...

Never let it be said that I don't fulfill my promises! I said I would give my review of the new Star Trek movie, and indeed here it is. I have to start out by saying I really need to see this movie again, once it was finished, I was immediately struck by how full this movie was, and there was no way I had absorbed it all in a single viewing. The thing is this; I can't just review the film, because I have to put it in context with my general love of Trek. To be completely honest, I still have to figure that part out, as I will talk about as we go along.

Let me give my quick non-spoiler version-- it is an excellent, smart, summer blockbuster. It's full of adventure, and great moments, and great characters. If you know nothing about Trek, you will love it. If you know everything about Trek, you will probably still love it. There are nitpicks, but what Trek movie or series hasn't had its share of those? Despite some clever elements to the contrary, this in essence is a Battlestar Galactica style reboot, and makes for a Trek fresher than we've seen in quite a while. For my personal hangups, you have to delve into spoiler territory.


NO, SERIOUSLY SPOILERS!+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

ENGAGE SPOILERS++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I won't get into how great the cast is as these characters- they really are. The only standout as not feeling genuine is Simon Pegg, and that is nothing against him, but rather a script which has a character named Scotty who is a lot more Simon Pegg than Scotty.

Pine isn't Captain Kirk at first, but basically just your typical wiseass, however, there is a particular moment in the film when Kirk has assumed command of the Enterprise, and he start giving orders and... there he is, Captain Kirk.

Quinto as Spock has a scene where he is standing before the admissions board of the Vulcan Science Academy, and its a scene we've seen alluded to in Trek repeatedly. In this moment though, Quinto takes ownership of the character of Spock, particularly against the backdrop of Leonard Nimoy in the film. Nimoy's Spock seems less the character he's been playing for 44 years, and more... well Nimoy. Ironically, I came out of this film feeling Quinto was more Spock than... Spock.

Now- the two real standouts here are Karl Urban as Doctor McCoy and Bruce Greenwood as Christopher Pike (above). Neither one had as much screentime as I wanted them to, but both instill their characters with the delightful essence of the original characters. Can't wait to see these two in these roles again.

Zoe Saldana has a remarkable confidence as Uhura, but it is almost overshadowed by the decision to have Spock and Uhura romantically involved. I don't mind that relationship. There's certainly precedent for the idea in the Original Series. However, I would love to have seen the relationship actually develop on screen as opposed to catching it already in place.

John Cho's Sulu and Anton Yelchin's Chekov get some good moments each, and I love Chekov as this 17 year old Russian whizkid. It's funny to listen to a guy who really is Russian deliver the cheesiest fake Russian accent you will ever hear. Sulu gets some swordplay, and flies the hell out of the Enterprise, and that's cool.

Be fair-warned if you are a fan; we do get a bone about this story originating in the Trek universe we know, however the explanation they give really doesn't explain how different everything is. It's a clever thought, and not a throw away, but falls apart under careful scrutiny. Warp physics, transporter technology- completely different. Starfleet ships, including the Kelvin which shows up as existing BEFORE the time incursion from the future which changes everything, are far larger and more mechanical than before. In the "Prime" universe, a ship like the Kelvin in the year 2233 wouldn't have a crew larger than 200- the Kelvin would seem to have four times that. Instead of cramped hallways and clean spaces we get these cavernous areas on the ship much larger than anything we've seen even on ships like the Enterprise D in Next Generation. For the most part though, with these differences, you don't care. It's all exciting. I don't care for a lot of the external features of the new Enterprise, but I wasn't really impressed in my initial impression of the 1701D, so it may grow on me.

So what's my hang up? They destroy the planet Vulcan. Vulcan epitomizes the universe Trek exists in for me. Now, it's gone. I am not sure I can get over that. I am not sure how interested I am in a Trek universe which only has 10,000 Vulcans in it. It was a ballsy thing to do, and certainly demonstrates the fact that this is not a movie which suffers from the prequel curse that we know how it all turns out in the end. However, there's no fixing this timeline. Vulcan is gone, so TNG will not happen that way in this universe. DS9, Voyager- precluded (though maybe with Voyager, that's not a bad thing). I would personally have been more comfortable with them destroying Earth than Vulcan. Only time will tell how I will adapt to that change.

There's a few more little things I think I would have done differently. I would like to have seen a few more familiar aliens; would an Andorian have killed them? Not sure how I feel about the bastard child of the Jem'Hadar and the Oompa Loompa either. Since we're on the subject of Willie Wonka, I would certainly have cut Scotty's wild ride through the Enterprise's waterworks (at least it wasn't a sewer line).

However, I think I am overall quite pleased, and do look forward to seeing it again to absorb a little more. It is ultimately a very re-watchable movie, and exciting, and cool, and not stupid. Gotta see how my Vulcan feelings go though before I can decide how I truly feel about Crisis on Infinite Treks. Welcome to Star Trek's new age.

Before I go, there's another factor I have to discuss, and that is the second and third order effects of this film. I saw the movie with my wife, children, dear friends, and good acquaintances. Some of them were big Trek fans, some just moderately knowledgeable, and some (like my daughter) downright hostile toward Trek (I had to offer her a day off from school just to get her to go). When it was over, my daughter liked it a lot, and only we of the long time Trek fan variety had any real reservations about it. So, we came home, and my TOS fan friend and I started talking Trek, and spent the next two and a half hours really talking nothing but- favorite episodes, least favorite, what we liked or didn't like about the other series, etc. Then, the next day at work, I spent most of the day talking about the movie with people who hadn't seen it and wanted my opinion, and a couple who had and wanted more insight into Classic Trek. I spent a good thirty minutes talking over forty year old Trek episodes with a young man who was born during the third season of Next Generation! He wants to watch some of the old ones, and so does his young wife. If this movie can get attention for the original, and give we old timers a chance to remanence to each other and bring young fans in, I really can't fault it. If I am going to drink the kool-aid on this one, if I am going to part with my beloved Vulcan, it's that factor which will do it.

And maybe this will do for this generation what TOS did- already I see it on the cover of Newsweek, and on blogs and websites which wouldn't touch the subject a few weeks ago. Maybe last years The Dark Knight, though great, was as far as we need to plumb our depths of entertainment despair as a nation. Maybe it's time we looked across the street at those different than us, and then looked up and said "let's go out there." Hope isn't outdated and campy and dressed in cardboard sets. It isn't something we left behind in the 60's... it's now. It's exciting, and palpable, and it's moving at warp speed. Maybe, regardless of "canon" and technobabble, it's time for Trek to be cool again.

Wow. What a world where Battlestar Galactica is the emotion driven drama, Star Trek is the epic mythological space fantasy, and Star Wars is the kid level TV show derivative of better properties.

I may just need to beam aboard for that.

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