Friday, May 08, 2009

Live Long and Prosper

Let me admit right up front that I am a Star Trek fan. You can call me a “Trekkie” or a “Trekker” but I am still a fan. I have been since I returned from Vietnam in 1967 and stumbled upon the original series one night. I have followed it through reruns of the original series (I used to watch them with our kids every afternoon after school), four new series (Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise), and ten movies (some of them pretty awful).

Now we have Star Trek (no Roman numeral) for a new generation as reimagined by J. J. Abrams—and it’s not bad. As most reboots of familiar material, this film will not satisfy everyone but there are enough nods to the mythology that old timers like myself will identify and enjoy.

There are weaknesses for sure. For one thing, the first new big screen Trek villain in seven years is pretty two dimensional. Nero is a Romulan miner who has a grudge and a big ship. He is ugly, loud, and menacing but Eric Bana doesn’t do much with the role. Evidently, he did not have much with which to work. This is really not a villain or menace-driven story anyway. It is about introducing a new young crew for the Enterprise.

Another weakness is that the science involved is pretty lam. The major weapon yielded by Nero is “red matter.” Yes, it really has a ring, doesn’t it? Sounds like something that Abrams would have used in his TV show Alias. Even the writers of Next Gen or Voyager would have come up with some more exciting like “tachyon particles” or “dark matter” to describe this substance. There are other problems, but I won’t linger there.

Some filmgoers will have a hard time accepting new actors playing the familiar crew, but I don’t think that is a major weakness. Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as McCoy, and John Cho as Sulu seem to fit well (although Urban tries a bit too hard to channel the late DeForrest Kelly). Zoe Saldana is good as Uhura but the romance thing with Spock will take me some time to digest. Simon Pegg as Scotty and Anton Yelchin as Chekov are so different—not only in appearance but in the nature of the character—from the originals that I have to completely suspend judgment right now; I guess I will get used to them. The always excellent Bruce Greenwood provides "adult supervision" as Captain Christopher Pike.

There are plenty of plot holes and unbelievable events. For example, I know Jim Kirk is great, but I don’t think any organization (even Star Fleet) would promote him to Captain of one of the newest ships in the fleet after only three years as a cadet and one spectacular mission. But it’s a movie.

There are many positive things I can say about this film. Pine and Quinto are great. They both bring complexity to roles that have been owned by other actors for over 40 years. They can carry the sequels quite well.

Time travel is featured and that is always a winner in Trek movies (remember The Voyage Home and First Contact?). This time it gives us a chance to see Leonard Nimoy one more time as Spock Prime, and the twist opens up an alternate time line for our heroes that provides latitude for character development and future plot lines.

All of the scenery is great—Vulcan and 23rd century San Francisco are brought to life in big, complex presentations. The overall look, especially of the Enterprise, is more industrial and complex. For the first time, we really get an idea of how big this ship is. As for costumes, I really don’t understand why they still have to wear those tacky long sleeve T-shirts when they are on the ship and neat 23rd century outfits when they are earth side.

The best thing about the movie is that it is fun. Yes, there is major planetary destruction and pitched space battles, but the film is not as dark and philosophical as most of the Trek series. Quite honestly, it seems that these people are having fun, even Nimoy who always has exhibited more respect for the material than William Shatner ever did. The story also avoids being “preachy.” The biggest problem with creator Gene Rodenberry was that, too often, he wanted to hit the audience up side the head with a message—we can all get along, we should reflect on the purpose of life, etc. If there is a theme to this story, it is responsibility. Kirk is challenged to stop wasting his considerable intelligence and talent and step up to a leadership role. Spock is conscious of his responsibility to both his human and Vulcan heritages and struggles to balance the two. And the film drives home the “dirty little secret” of Vulcans. Far from being unemotional, they have very deep emotions that they have worked to control and this makes them very conflicted. Sounds like a lot of us.

This is not a deep film, but it is fun. Abrams misses some beats, but his effort here deserves praise and promises a good future for the Trek franchise.

1 comment:

Ken said...

I think my favorite thing about the movie is that it successfully resets the entire timeline from Kirk's birth onward. Now the franchise is free to explore strange new worlds and seek out new life and new civilizations without being tied down by what has already been chronicled. I agree that the Spock/Uhura pairing will take some getting used to, but at least now Spock won't have to travel back to a nonexistent Vulcan for Pon Farr! And I was very satisfied with the casting and performances of the new Enterprise crew. I found each one very believable, both in their homages to the former actors' interpretations as well as the new facets of personality that they each bring. Very pleasing.