Review – Star Trek

Originally Posted at Geek In The City 05/04/09

Overheard Conversation Between a Trekkie and Someone Who Doesn’t Really Care That Much, October 2008:

“I don’t know about this new Star Trek movie. I mean, look at this picture of Spock.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s all wrong. He’s all shiny. He doesn’t look like Spock, he looks like Spock-flavored candy. And the bridge looks like an iPod. The cast looks like an Abercrombie ad. And the warp nacelles are too close together and the secondary hull—“

“Dude, whoa. Stop.”

“What?”

“You’re using words like nacelle, like I have any clue what the fuck that means. Look, last I checked, Star Trek was like, coma-inducing bullshit. But this actually looks fun.”

“That’s another thing, it looks fun. What the hell is THAT all about?”

Things “Star Trek” Needed to Do in Order to Convince People it Wasn’t a Boring, Self-Important Piece of Shit Like Most Other Star Trek Movies:

To look, feel, and move like an honest-to-god film, and not a dry, bloated television episode that stumbled onto a movie-screen by accident.

To take the iconography and characterization that inspired the first example of modern fandom, and divorce it from years of sleepy, pudgy, continuity-choked lameness.

To re-marry that iconography to vibrant, pretty people who don’t know any better than to have fun with the material, as opposed to cautiously revering it to death for the sake of a tired fanbase riding a dilapidated bandwagon.

To conduct that marriage in a way that the people still on that dusty-ass bandwagon can nod and smile approvingly at how right things feel underneath that candy-coated shell.

Number of abovementioned things “Star Trek” succeeded at:

Pretty much all of ‘em.  I don’t know if this is the best Star Trek movie ever made, but it’s damn sure the most fun one.

JJ Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are an unlikely trio of series saviors. JJ has a bit of a reputation as a Lucasian “Idea Man” who might be better off just exec-producing compelling ideas. And Orci/Kurtzman “wrote” the profoundly stupid collection of clichés, groaners and spindly thin plot points that comprised the “Transformers” script.

Michael Bay took that particular pile of pages, put them in a blender with a couple sticks of dynamite and a box of Bionicles, and detonated it. Abrams took a similarly dumb script, but refined it, finding the heart and characterization Orci/Kurtzman hid under on-the-nose dialog, patronizing exposition, and more than a few heaping helpings of blatant fan-service. And then he went out and made the movie of his fucking life.

The pre-credits sequence by itself is the most cinematic thing ever seen in a Star Trek movie, and the key to the film’s potential success. It had to tie the old series and it’s laborious continuity into this movie’s new universe, without becoming tainted by all the negative, hyper-nerdy pretentiousness currently stigmatizing “Star Trek.” It also had to introduce the villain and set in motion the protagonists’ heroic journeys, while simultaneously setting the tone and establishing the feel of this new Star Trek Universe.

Nero (Eric Bana) is a Romulan whose refitted-for-war mining ship has accidentally been sucked through a black hole into the past thanks to Spock (Leonard Nimoy) an aged ambassador  whose attempt to save Nero’s planet goes awry. Nero comes through the other end of the black hole directly in front of the USS Kelvin, whose First Officer is one George Kirk. Nero attacks, hoping to exact some measure of revenge, killing the captain and forcing George to spend his last 12 minutes saving as many people as he can, including his wife, who is delivering their son, James. It’s a thrilling, funny, and legitimately tear-jerking introduction.

From there, the main characters are collected and placed at their respective stations in a manner that must have read rote as hell on the page, but feels fresh and fun thanks to the breezy pace of the film, and the actors finding the keys to the characters they’ve been handed, and re-interpreting them in a very pure, but very different manner than their predecessors.

It’s a good thing the character work and pacing of the film is locked in, because the plot is pretty dumb. Nero doesn’t have a plan so much as a quarter-decade’s worth of patience to let cosmic accidents dump key targets in his lap. With the soothing little nostalgia bath Nimoy’s presence provides comes a lot of really lame exposition and laughably convenient plotting.  Bana tries to give Nero some real weight, but it never sticks, not even when Abrams hands him a Khan-ish moment torturing Pike. The climactic showdown between Kirk and Nero is more of an awkward, one-sided ass-kicking. As a matter of fact, Kirk doesn’t win a single fistfight. He gets into like 30 of ‘em, but he invariably ends them all on his ass, bleeding and grunting.

Plus there’s a handful of goofy moments that just don’t work. Scotty turns into Augustus Gloop in a gag-sequence that recalls the droid factory in Star Wars Episode II. This plays even lamer than it sounds because Abrams previously combined slapstick and suspense in a charming sequence where McCoy half-asses a plan to sneak Kirk onto the Enterprise, only to have Kirk bum-rush the bridge while cycling through a series of space sicknesses.

It’s an example of Abrams successfully taking a risk at breathing life into this series, as is his choice to score preteen Kirk stealing his uncle’s corvette with the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” Your mileage may vary on whether that one works. I think it does, as does the choice to give Scotty an ugly/cute alien sidekick. Not so much the “Always a Bigger Fish” setpiece w/ Kirk on Hoth, nor the hammy, hyper-casual cheating of the Kobayashi Maru w/ Kirk literally chewing scenery.

But by the time the film ends, it’s hard to hold those missteps against the film. The thing might have more lensflares than a Drew Struzan poster, but it’s the prettiest thing to be associated with Star Trek since Jeri Ryan, and it easily puts both the comedy of “The Voyage Home” and the action of “First Contact” to shame. As the ship warps off the screen, just before Michael Giacchino launches into a full re-orchestration of the classic theme, all the key players in their place, a totally clean slate in front of them, I found myself grinning at the prospect of this director steering these actors into a future series of films that might finally capitalize on all the potential that Star Trek has always offered. I finally want to follow this ship where no one in charge of Trek has gone before, because Abrams, with this reboot, sells the idea he might actually go there.

Overheard Conversation Between a Trekkie and Someone Who Didn’t Really Care That Much, Post-Preview Screening:

“I dunno about you, but that was pretty fuckin great.”

“Yes, it was.”

“You still give a shit about the nacelles or whatever the fuck those things are?”

“Not really, no.”

“Are you crying?”

“What? No!”

“Dude, it’s okay, I choked up a little at the beginning, too.”

“Really?”

“No, you fuckin baby. Shit, I wish I could watch this thing again already.”

Published in: on 12/31/2010 at 1:10 am  Comments Off on Review – Star Trek  
%d bloggers like this: