Monday, May 11, 2009

About that new Star Trek...

For the first time in however long, I saw a movie on opening weekend. Mainly because I didn't want to be the only person I knew who hadn't seen the new Star Trek film. So I met my brother at the theater and we sat back to take in two hours' worth of rip-roaring space adventure.

So, my final verdict? It's a good film. It's not the end-all, be-all of cinematic bliss, however. The Wrath of Khan is still the tops in Trek films, however. I even tend to rank The Voyage Home (you know, the one with the whales) as a notch higher. Star Trek, to me, is on par with The Undiscovered Country. I kept finding myself reminded of that earlier film time and again throughout the new flick. Sure, Kirk's exile on an ice planet was an obvious parallel, but the overall feel and mood between the two had a distinct resonance for me. I hold Undiscovered in high regard, so that's no knock against the new film. And clearly, Star Trek boasts more action and adventure than any previous film in the series, with the budget and special effects far and away the most dazzling yet.

But Star Trek isn't flawless. Karl Urban's excellent McCoy is given the short shrift in the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate, which always works best as a three-way interaction. Wunderkind Chekov still seemed very out of place--the filmmaker's impulse to shoehorn every single character and reference into the first installment of the reboot is one reason why I generally despise prequel/flashback narratives (as a point of reference, I hated the "Young Indy" sequence to Last Crusade which everyone else seemed to go gonzo over, for this specific reason). I was actually startled they hadn't included Janice Rand in the mix, although I have to admit I was disappointed Captain Pike didn't have a female brunette "Number One" officer on the Enterprise. So I'm wishy-washy. Sue me.

Eric Bana's Romulan Nero was a disappointment. Bana made the most of a vastly underwritten part, and had the potential to be awesome, but the lack of any substance and real depth to his character undermined the movie a great deal.

My biggest problem with the film, however, came via the very conspicuous hand-waving the popped up at various key points throughout the film. This is a recurring problem I've had with other J.J. Abrams projects, and when Nimoy-Spock said "And then the unthinkable happened" I went WTF? How was that unthinkable? You forgot to change your watch to daylight savings time or something? There's a good bit of handwaving here, in addition to Scotty's on-the-fly invention of transporters that have no distance limitations. Am I being picky? Maybe, maybe not. I just hate it when writers write themselves into a corner and cheat to get out of said corner, hoping nobody will notice. And while I'm ragging on the writers, let me say I am sick to death of this nonsensical "Destroy the entire galaxy" riff writers pull out of their collective asses whenever they want to up the "Oh no!" factor, when their script and narrative clearly aren't threatening anything of the sort. Sheesh.

I won't rip them too hard for the alternate universe changes that clearly didn't stem from the destruction of the Kelvin early on in the film. Those were design decisions and dramatic license for emotional impact, and were effective as such. Diverging timelines and alternate reality is a bone thrown to the existing fan base to tie this film into existing continuity. Strictly speaking, that wasn't necessary, but it works well--probably better than the movie would've worked without it, so I'll cut 'em some slack here. But if Starbuck is suddenly rewritten as a girl in the next movie, all bets are off.

What's good about the film? Lots of things. The space battles between the Enterprise and Nero's heavily-armed Romulan mining vessel are dazzling, although not quite enough to be fully satisfying. The acting across the board is quite good, and even if Zachary Quinto's Spock and Chris Pine's Kirk don't make you forget the originals, they are solid in their own right and never grating. Kirk's eating an apple during the Kobayashi Maru simulation was quite an interesting choice, deliberately echoing Shatner's more casual apple munching while discussing "No-win scenarios" whilst marooned in the Genesis cave within Regula 1. Captain Pike was excellent--SPOILER ALERT!--I honestly expected Pike to be killed off, and when he wasn't that was one of the biggest surprises of the film. I'd definitely love to see him as a returning supporting character in future films.

And speaking of Pike, it was wonderful to see the various captains and officers of Star Fleet acting in competent, professional manners. I can't count how many times I've seen writers take the shortcut of building up their protagonist by making everyone else blithering idiots. That the original captain of the Kelvin, George Kirk and later, Pike, suffer greatly and in some cases die because of their encounters with Nero ennobles them. They took the best course of action available to them for the greater good, as opposed to blundering into the situation through arrogance or stupidity, which is so often the case in films like this.

Finally, the Spock-to-Spock encounter at the end of the film was quite a nice touch. It dispense with the tedious "grandfather paradox" questions and established the "new" alternate reality as a solid, irreversible fact not to be undone by a reset button, as had happened so often in the various TV series (and was it just me, or did Leonard Nimoy seem to be having tremendous difficulty enunciating through his dentures? I've seen him on several talk shows and such doing promotional work for the film, and that clear baritone voice of his was uncharacteristically slurred and lispy). It'll be quite interesting to see which elements and events of the previous series' timelines are retained or jettisoned, because although this is something of a reboot, by pulling the classic crew back together so quickly in such a manner strongly implies the hand of "fate" at work, that the timeline of the universe is destined to unfold in a certain fashion. It's as if the divergent time stream of the alternate universe is working to redirect itself to that of classic Trek, the Next Generation and the like. If so, this raises the spectre of re-telling incidents from the original series, up to and including the Trek films with Khan, etc. Which wouldn't be a good idea, but that pressure will always be there.

But yeah, good film. Go see it.

Now Playing: The B-52s Time Capsule

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