Thursday, May 23, 2013

Movie Review: Star Trek

    I don’t remember when I first heard about this project.  But I know it was during one of the very deep low points in Trek fandom.  Enterprise had been canceled (the first Trek show to meet that fate since the original).  Nemesis had been a bomb (the first film to not make its money back in theaters) at the box office and with this viewer.  Voyager still haunted the psyche with its deep shadow of raw suck.  And science fiction in general (not to mention the viewing public) seemed to have moved on.  Then the guy behind Lost says he wants to do Star Trek?  Is he high?  Nobody is gonna want to see that.  Those few people who still lay claim to the name Trekkie aren’t going to climb out of their Mountain Dew and pizza stained computer chair, away from their internet chat board where they’ve just proved to some 8 year old kid that they know more about what a Klingon likes to do on vacation, to pay 10 bucks for a ticket and see a Trek film made by some mainstream guy who has several successes to his name.  Especially not one about Kirk.  How could they be so stupid as to not do a (insert ridiculously obscure character only a dozen people remember and could never sustain a solo project) movie?!  Fools!

    Recasting iconic characters.  That’s tough.  Look at how people reacted to Daniel Craig playing James Bond, and based only on his hair color.  And that’s a character from a book who had already been played by at least 7 actors (5 in the official series).  Right off the bat, everyone is complaining about the casting of ‘children’ to play Kirk and crew.  Of course, the fact that Chris Pine was only a couple years younger than Shatner (and playing 5 or so years younger) when the original show started, or that John Cho was much older than the original Sulu, or that only two of the cast hadn’t yet reached their 30s didn’t sway anyone.  Pine didn’t look like Shatner looked in Wrath of Khan, therefore was far too young!  Internet chat rooms were full of naysayers saying nay.  As with my Star Wars love (and most other love), my Trek love was always strong, but filled with glaring gaps I simply chose not to acknowledge.  Voyager?  Didn’t happen.  Hugh and the neutering of the Borg?  Didn’t happen.  Season three of Enterprise?  Didn’t happen.  (Episodes 2 & 3 of Star Wars?  F no.  Never heard of them.).  But this movie happened.  I have no problem with original timeline Spock traveling back in time and sparking this alternate history.  It’s hardly the first to appear in Trek.

    Like the best Trek films, this movie has a great deal of enjoyable character interaction.  Sure, it’s a bit weird, because they set Kirk and Spock up as rivals.  But otherwise, certain rhythms fall into place.  And each cast member gets his or her time to shine.  Each one has a job and gets to do it.  The use of Christopher Pike as a mentor for Kirk is interesting (his own life-path altered in this reality).  And the destruction of an entire world lets you know that they mean business and that this really is a different timeline.  Anything can happen and the future is up for grabs.  I like that.

    Now, the film is not perfect.  Hardly.  It features some of those irritating things Trek is known for.  Constant preaching about the rules followed immediately by characters throwing them out.  Also, I’m fairly sure that military command isn’t just handed off to whomsoever one wills, nor do people who stow away get promoted to second in command because they‘re hanging around.  I was waiting for the bridge to be left in the hands of the delivery guy who happened to be standing in the corner (‘Hey, UPS guy!  You have the bridge!’).  And the overall conflict of this movie, like nearly every Trek film, is basically a retelling of Wrath of Khan.  Sigh.  Strange new worlds?  New civilizations?  Nope.  We’ve got revenge obsessed thugs to punch into submission.  Boldly going where Trek has gone again and again for the last 30 years (thanks Ben).

Khaaaaaan!  I mean, Nerooooooo!

    But while not perfect, it is a perfectly entertaining movie.  It follows my golden rule for Trek movies.  “First make a good movie; second make a good Trek movie.”  It remains largely true to Star Trek’s overall context while understanding that it is not 1967, 1987, or 1997 anymore (ever notice how Enterprise feels like it was made by the same people in the same way as Next Gen, how there was no maturation of style or technique in 20 years of televised Trek?  I did.).  Now, you might think I just mean that it’s effects were upgraded or that they cut more often.  I don’t.  Though those things are true.  But it has a tightness and purpose that has been missing for a long time.  Not to mention that all important sense of fun.  My hope when I walked out of the theater was that from this seed of a new beginning, we could see some really interesting chances taken, new paths for classic characters forged.  Alas, that is not what happened.  But taking the 2009 film by itself, the potential it represents for Trek’s reinvention is enormous, breaking the stagnant cage it had been locked in for so long.  Here’s hoping Into Darkness proves to be a stumble (V, Generations, Nemesis) the series can easily get past with a quality follow-up.  And I agree with co-Dork Brad that to see what I really want in Star Trek probably requires a television series.  I just hope that a new Trek show would learn the lessons of the last decade.  Short, intense, well produced seasons, without filler (see: Rome, Mad Men, The Shield, etc. for examples).  But in the meantime, this film helped put Trek back in the cultural consciousness like it hadn’t been since the height of Next Gen’s popularity in the early 90s.  So, I tip my hat.


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