Sunday, May 17, 2009

Movie Review: "Star Trek"... Boldly going and doing it very well

As an avowed Star Trek fan since I started watching the original series in syndication in the early 70s (I went to my first and only Trek convention at the Hartford Civic Center when I was 7 or 8), I'll admit that I went into the new movie "Star Trek" with equal parts excited anticipation and dread.

Yes, I was hoping that the series could be reinvigorated after running on fumes for the Voyager and Enterprise TV shows and the execrable final film, "Star Trek: Nemesis". On the other hand, The Original Series (hereafter referred to as TOS) is a cultural touchstone and together with the original three Star Wars films, succeeded in completely hooking me on sci-fi. For all its camp, the obviously styrofoam rocks, and green skinned babes, TOS was fun TV. Yes, it sometimes had "deep" meaning hidden in it as did the fantastic first sequel series, The Next Generation, but when it came down to it, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and the rest of the cast just were entertaining as hell. Sure, they got paunchy and probably should have hung it up a bit earlier than they did in the feature films but you could always go back to TOS and refresh your memory about why you wanted to watch them in the first place.

And so I sat down to watch "Star Trek" wondering what J.J. Abrams and his new cast were going to do to those characters beloved by millions everywhere. Could they reboot the series the the fashion that has become so popular (see "Casino Royale" and "Batman Begins" for two successful examples) without butchering what we loved so much? Would new actors be able to inhabit the original roles without becoming a cheesy impersonation?

Thankfully, the answer is a resounding YES. After seeing the film twice, I can say categorically that it's a fun ride that does the characters justice while also giving Abrams and Paramount an opportunity to pursue new adventures and all without denying the existence or overwriting TOS and the existing Star Trek canon. It's action-packed, laugh out loud funny in some places, and shows far more energy than any Trek film since the finest in the series, Star Trek: First Contact.

Much has been made about how this is the story of the first voyage with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the crew. That's true in a sense. Yes, we see them forming their team on the Enterprise but everything is different. An event involving the future James T. Kirk's father, George, and a Romulan named Nero takes place on the day of Kirk's birth that creates an alternate timeline (gotta love those time travel "go back in time and change things" plot devices). In this new timeline, all the characters we know still come together but through very different routes and with different stories than we were to understand from TOS and the subsequent films. Trust me...if you watch the film, it will make sense, at least as much sense as any Trek film involving time travel can make.

Unlike TOS and the films, Kirk is almost second fiddle to Spock in this film. Yes, he's a primary character but Zachary Quinto's Spock is the emotional core this time around. He doesn't imitate Leonard Nimoy but makes Spock his own while staying true to the character Nimoy inhabited for 40 years and still inhabits in this film (see prior note about time travel!). Together, he and Chris Pine as Kirk play well off each other and hint at the rapport we expect from Kirk and Spock in the future. Kirk's backstory strikes me as a bit too cliche "rebel without a cause makes good by breaking the rules and winning respect" but Pine carries the role with bravado and the sexy smirk that was always lurking somewhere on young Shatner's face. The rest of the cast is similarly well suited to their roles with the exception of Winona Ryder. Why someone thought she'd be a good person to play Spock's mother beats me but she has limited screen time so it's a minor quibble.

Similarly, the Enterprise has been subtly remade on the exterior (close enough to the original but with a few slick variations) and like Starfleet by way of the Apple Store on the interior. Well, not the engine room which by and large reminded me of a water pumping station with mazes of pipes and boilers, not at all the high-tech look we've come to expect. The ship isn't quite as much of a character as in TOS and the movies but the characters don't actually spend much time on the ship so it's understandable, if lamentable because this new Enterprise feels far more lively and robust than in past incarnations.

All in all, "Star Trek" is a great deal of fun and stays true in spirit to TOS while not taking itself or the Trek universe too seriously.

And for trivia buffs...

While Star Trek offers a story that keeps you moving along, a suitably high action-to-talking quota, andgenerally impressive special effects, it also throws in plenty for fanboys like me in the way of references to Trek episodes and movies of the past as well as references to other classic sci-fi. Among the ones I noticed are:
  • a water-logged torture chamber on the Romulan Ship that's right out of the Yoyodyne Propulsion Labs in Buckaroo Banzai
  • space battle cinematography that's a direct lift from the camera work in the new Battlestar Galactica
  • Spock quoting Sherlock Holmes, something he did in Star Trek VI
  • the tribble in Scotty's outpost (though I did hear one comment that it was actually Shatner's hairpiece pretending to be a tribble since Shatner himself wasn't in the film)
  • a requisite number of Red Shirts get killed
  • Kirk meets up with Scotty on the planet Delta Vega, which played a prominent role in the second Trek pilot with William Shatner
  • Scotty refers to Admiral Archer and his beagle, a clear reference to Captain Jonathan Archer from the series "Enterprise" who owned a beagle named Porthos
  • Nero employs a bug similar to that used by Khan in Star Trek II to get the information he needs
  • and for the really arcane...Kirk is eating an apple when he "beats" the Kobayashi Maru test in the new film. In Star Trek II, Kirk is eating an apple when he explains how he beat the test.


Fanboy's Wife said...


That would be "Geek"!

Silent Arktos said...

ah! Star Trek. Being a fan as well -- admittedly not as "geek" as you appear to be -- I was so relieved that this film was great.

These actors really making the characters their own.

Pine doing a great Shatner doing Kirk without you thinking Pine is doing Shatner doing Kirk -- the apple made it so work; that was one of the best scenes in the movie.

Also, I was afraid I wouldn't get past Sylar's eyebrows but Quinto pulled off a great Spock -- I actually did not think once that this guy playing Spock also plays Sylar. That surprised me.

Great Red Shirt(s) I actually only saw one during the space dive so you trumped me on that one.

Most impressive to me is how long it took me to figure out the space-time continuum stuff. I LOVE those kind of story lines and love seeing how the writers pull it off and maintain continuity but this one for some reason...I think the movie was so engaging and enveloping right from the start that I wasn't thinking about any of the decades of Star Trek story lines and critiquing their continuity -- which I do all the time. This I attribute TOTALLY to JJ Abrams.

Two continuity items I noted: coming back with Scotty from Delta Vega, Kirk is in Parka and then while tracking Scotty through the tubes, not in Parka. The second that gun on the walkway when Kirk is on Nero's ship. He's hanging off, I see gun on the walkway, bad guy comes up, lifts him up, Kirks says I got your gun, shoots him, falls to hanging off again and ooh the gun is on the walkway -- looks like same shot used for two scenes.

Speaking of JJ Abrams, check this out >>