Monday, May 25, 2009

Trek Review


I enjoyed the new Star Trek film, though not as much as I thought I would. I used to be a pretty big fan of Trek. I loved Next Gen and DS9, but have largely hated all the TV spinoffs since them. I liked most of the original series cast movies, and the middle two Next Gen cast movies until Star Trek Nemesis succeeded in burning away any vestiges of personal investment I had in the characters, as well as any faith I had in the people running the film franchise.

Until a few weeks ago, I was pretty ambivalent about the new film, too. The early teaser trailers I saw for it didn't give me much hope; the 12 year old Kirk looking into the camera and declaring "I'm James Tiberius Kirk" came off as a forced and not especially well-acted moment and sounded warning bells in my head that were similar in tone to those than rang with all of Anakin Skywallker's dialogue in Phantom Menace--and, for that matter, the other two Wars prequels. I was pretty sure the new Trek movie would be nothing more than the realization of the Starfleet Academy concept that Paramount's been threatening to do for the last 20 years. I've never given a wet crap about how young Kirk, Spock and McCoy met in school, a storyline that would no doubt quickly degenerate into a series of ironic moments and yet more opportunities for the franchise to trample previously established continuity for the sake of convenience.

The inclusion of Nimoy in the new film, playing Old Cripsy Spock to Sylar's Young Fresh Spock, intrigued me, though, so I didn't write it off completely. The closer the release date became the more buzz from early screenings I heard--including from people whose opinion of geek matters I trust, such as Patton Oswalt--the more interested I became in it. To date, I've not seen a bad review of it, which was something I expected to see, considering the usual passionate nature of the Trekkie/Trekker crowd. All the reviews I read, however, noted how respectful it was of the original series, even as it updated the look and feel of the original for a new century. So for the past three weeks or so, I've really been stoked to see it.

I think my expectations may have been a lot higher going in than they should have been. Don't get me wrong, I had a blast watching it, but did so with a far more critical eye than I'd expected to have to employ.

Overall, my main criticism was some of the unnecessary silliness (two words: inflatable hands; two more words: Scottie's Oompaloompa) layered into the story for the sake of... I dunno, laughs, I guess. But actual well-crafted jokes would have served the story better than things like the two minute sequence of Bones repeatedly stabbing Kirk with a hypo, resulting eventually in said inflatable hands. (The only other reason I can think of for the inclusion of that scene was to give McCoy some semblance of medical work to do, because damn if he did any on camera for the rest of the movie.) Still, the film had far fewer silly sequences than one might expect from the screenwriters of Transformers and at least the "Starfleet Academy" scenes were largely skipped across.

The story also held a few too many convenient coincidences in its execution. Take the matter of how Kirk meets Old Cripsy Spock. I mean, leaving aside the matter of Kirk first being launched out of the Enterprise in an escape pod on the orders of Young Fresh Acting-Captain Spock--who illogically commands this be done in an effort to keep Kirk from questioning his decisions as well as being something of a Class-M Douchebag (what, they don't have a BRIG on yer fancy new ship?)--the fact that he lands on one of Vulcan's ice moons and it just happens to be the one Nero had stowed Cripsy Spock on in order to torture him by making him watch the destruction of his home planet (which I guess Nero must have timed out just right so that Cripsy's new ice-cave had a planet-side view of Vulcan and wasn't 180 degrees turned the wrong way) and Kirk lands pretty much in Cripsy Spock's back yard and then the two of them dash around the corner to a Starfleet Ice-Station Zebra which just happens to be run by Mr. Scott and his Oompaloompa, seems a bit much to ask audiences to suspend disbelief over. I'm of the opinion that there had to be a far smoother way to accomplish the plot points they wanted to touch on without resorting to heavy coincidences and the inclusion of Oompaloompas.

Acting wise, I really dug most of the performances. Chris Pine played a good, if still douchebaggy Kirk (had the Kirk punch, and everything). Sylar was good as Spock, though I still take issue with some of his scripted decision-making skills. Karl Urban was unrecognizable as Bones, at least as far as his usual look is concerned. Despite his Oompaloompa and some needless slapstick action sequences, Simon Pegg was perfect for Scotty, taking the role in a new direction while remaining true to its essence. And Anton Yelchin--an actor I didn't remember having seen in anything previous, yet still seemed real familiar until I looked him up later and found he was the little kid from Hearts in Atlantis--was a good choice for Chekov (though I'm still not sure why the character had SO MUCH to do).

Despite my complaints, I was pretty surprised and impressed by a lot of the film. It had the sac to stomp on some pretty major Trek staples and the even bigger sac to then not find a convenient way to return things to the status quo in the end, as Trek so often does. It also found a way to set off in its own direction that is not beholden to anything we've seen on Trek before. At first I was both impressed yet also annoyed by this, because it seemed to me that in so violently altering the history of the Trek universe, this film effectively shits all over every previous form of Star Trek, negating them to a large extent. I thought: So now when we're enjoying a rerun of Next Gen on SciFi, particularly one set on Vulcan, we're supposed to stop and think, "Heh, funny thing about it... this is now an imaginary story. Whee!" However, from what I've heard from J.J. Abrams in interviews, and how it can be interpreted from the film itself, the new shiny Trek universe presented in the film is something of an alternate universe unto itself--sort of like the Mirror Universe of Classic Trek and DS9 was an alternate reality that diverged from that of the established shows' at some point in its own past.

This brings me to a major complaint I and a number of my friends have had with a previous movie that I think could have been done correctly in this one: Kirk should have had a better death and Spock should have died again. Let me back up...

In the first Next Gen movie, Generations, Cap'n Kirk gets pulled into the future through the plot device of the big timey wimey wave (I can't be bothered with details such as its actual name, as I only saw it the one time due to it being so substandard a tale, IMLTHO) and then gets killed fighting Malcolm McDowell by being crushed by a bridge. To me, that has to go down as one of the lamest deaths of a heroic character of all time. Here you have Kirk, you're going to kill him off, why not let him go out like he should: battling Klingons? The movie already had some evil Klingons on hand which they were going to kill off anyway. Similarly, they were already going to destroy the Enterprise D. So why not let Kirk take over the battle-bridge of the lower section of the ship and go out fighting?

Similarly, in the new film I thought it would have been nice for audiences to be shown the ultimate fate of classic Spock, allowing him to yet again sacrifice himself for the greater good and go out piloting the Red Matter ship as it rams into Nero's big ass pointy ship, (which, by the way, looked more like a Shadow ship from Babylon 5 than the Shadow ships from Babylon 5 did). I mean, really, how many more years does Nimoy have on the earth that we needed to save him at the end? Sure, we wouldn't have had the nice moment at the end with Old Cripsy meeting Young Fresh, but was that scene absolutely necessary?

The major trade off, I guess, is that his living does give a bit of gravitas to his "Space, the final frontier..." voice over at the end. Then again, he gave exactly the same v/o after the first time he died.

In the end, I liked the new movie well enough as is and thought it was a valid new update to a classic set of characters.

1 comment:

crsunlimited said...

Timey wimey! lol

Question: How do you tell your a true Doctor Who fan?

Answer: You use vocabulary like Timey Wimey when describing anything that distorts time, or time travels.

Now I look even more forward to seeing the new Star Trek movie. Although I must say I did enjoy all of the Next Generations except for Nemesis.

I agree that Kirk should have died better. However I feel that he died when he hit the ribbon, and this whole "him dying under the bridge" ordeal was bonus time after the fact. So if you look at it like that he did in fact go out saving the entire crew of the Enterprise.

What really bothered me about that whole movie is the ribbon itself. Supposedly you could relive, or do anything you wanted to in it. So you could argue that Picard never left the ribbon and continued to live his life inside it.

I hate when they use huge plot altering devices like that. lol