Sunday, May 10, 2009

Movie Review: Star Trek (2009)

I saw my first “big summer movie” this afternoon in the form of the Star Trek reboot, and despite some reservations going in thoroughly enjoyed it. Honestly I hadn’t planned on trekking out to the movie (couldn’t resist), but it opened at the historic Commodore Theatre in Portsmouth and I’m always looking for an excuse to see movies there. Being a little curious about what J. J. Abrams would do with the franchise, it was reason enough to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon on the 2-hour mission to explore what looked like a lackluster new world . . . I was wrong. For the most part the bulk of the critical and fan community called it, and this one is a winner. From the effects, to story twists, to the characters, everything comes together nicely for the most part, making for an enjoyable Trek entry (even if it may not qualify as a classic).

First off let’s get this out of the way – I am not a die hard Trekkie (or Trekker if you prefer). I LOVE the original series. I grew up with Captain Kirk as my hero. Yes there was also Superman and Luke Skywalker/Han Solo, but Kirk was always number one (and I got a kick out of the fact we shared the same name). I was obsessed with it the way most grade school kids were in my day, had the toys, etc. As I grew older I still loved it, but I never got into the minutiae or delved into fandom proper. I simply enjoyed the shows, characters, and adventurous spirit. When the Next Generation came along I watched it now and then, and the later ones not much at all. Those just didn’t have that wild spirit, or the warmth of the character interactions in the original. So I didn’t stay connected to the continuity.

With this in mind, the only baggage I had walking into this thing was that I cared whether they got the spirit of the thing right, and that they didn’t trash the good aspects of the characters. I wasn’t obsessed with continuity details or history. I just wanted to see the central three treated with respect, and be provided with a rousing intro adventure. Mission accomplished! Quinto and Urban nail Spock and McCoy (the latter being downright stunning), and Chris Pine is terrific as Kirk. Is he Shatner? No. But let’s face it that would be a tall order for anyone. Instead he makes this Kirk his own. He still is recognizable as Kirk, but not a pantomime. A wise choice if you ask me. And I must confess, having seen the commercials Pine was my greatest concern. The previews mostly worked, but I thought he came off not so well. Those don’t do him justice, and he did a fine job all around. Furthermore, the chemistry between the central three was solid with room to grow, a factor that is critical to this relaunched franchise working down the road.

Another aspect of the film (ahead there be spoilers) that worked for me was the time travel gimmick. Without going into heavy details, the film involves time travel intervention that basically resets the entire continuity of the series. I had heard about this and groaned, but the way Abrams does it is brilliant in my opinion. Whether it is scientifically accurate I will let you decide, but honestly I don’t care as it means Kirk doesn’t have to have a lame death in Generations by sledding down the side of a mountain on a bridge. If the film accomplished nothing more than that it would be okay in my book. As it stands it does much more. It even has a wonderful role for Leonard Nimoy that should please fans. What could have been a shameless cameo is actually a rather interesting plot thread, and it is great to see Nimoy being used properly rather than given an empty walk-on moment.

What doesn’t work you might ask? Well there are a few things, but mostly they are just minor (in my opinion) details. The inclusion of a Beastie Boys song (which I happen to like, but is woefully out of place here), Simon Pegg’s alien sidekick, the Spock/Uhura relationship, the absence of the classic Enterprise design, etc. These seem like things Abrams thought would be cool, but they just are out of place in an otherwise solid film. That said they are not significant or numerous enough to derail the train. The other thing that is a little weak is the villain Nero played by Eric Bana. He never connects as a great villain, but I can excuse that as the purpose of this film is more to introduce the origins of the characters. Bana is just an excuse to get the ball rolling. Hopefully future entries will give us the likes of Khan, and a bit more in the way of great drama.

Perhaps what’s most interesting of all to me is that Abrams went out of his way to say that this film wasn’t for purists. That is certainly true as it must be, but neither is it a completely accessible by-the-numbers blockbuster. While a newbie is provided with enough quick sketches to understand what is going on, one is far better off knowing a bit of the background of the original series before seeing the film. I read that this has been a barrier to the previous films doing well overseas. To me Abrams didn’t do much in the way of correcting this, and in my mind that’s to his credit. The last thing I would want is something that labored through explaining endless details we have already been presented with over the past 40 years. Abrams gets things out of the way fast (e.g. Vulcan logic), and moves on to the new items we are all interested in (e.g. how Kirk beat the Kobayashi Maru test).

No doubt there will be plenty of folks who aren’t too pleased with this incarnation of the original Trek. I was as ready as anyone to dismiss this film as an empty Hollywood popcorn affair, but it mostly delivers the goods. Yes there are some goofy details I could have done without, but the spirit of the enterprise (again couldn’t resist) is spot on. I am looking forward to seeing the next entry focused on the exploration/hopeful spirit that made the original shine, and continuing to place a priority on the character interactions which were a key to Star Trek’s longevity. Pine and company will never be “my crew,” but they did a fine job of establishing themselves as the cast of a new era.


Nomad said...

The new Star Treck proves yet again why Spock is an ideal officer in Star Fleet -- it is impossible for him to ever be shocked or caught off guard no matter what

Pamela K. Kinney said...

I agree on the Spock/Uhura thing. As was always noted, Spock was more Vulcan than full-blooded Vulcans. he would not kiss Uhura the way he id in the open, unless something happened--like that plant in one ep in the old show. That bugged me immensely.
The rest was explained easily with the change due to time travel by Nero.