Where No One Has Gone Before: The Successful Reboot
Upon leaving the theatre tonight, I was filled with a sense of awe. That feeling was due mostly in part to the fact that I was astounded at two things: First, that the new Star Trek movie was very well done and epic, and second, that finally a set of filmmakers had succeeded in not completely shitting on my devotion to a franchise.
I’ll say this, the new Star Trek movie is very awesome. I was completely thrilled by what I saw onscreen tonight and thoroughly enjoyed and was immersed in the universe portrayed. The dialogue was true to the characters, there were no major deviations that I considered totally out of line, and for the most part, the story worked. Be warned, spoilers do follow, so if you haven’t seen it, you can’t say I didn’t warn you!
I appreciate the fact that Abrams & Co. stayed as true as they did whilst still injecting some fresh blood into the movie and allowing us to enjoy seeing new actors portray our favorite time honored characters. I wholly enjoyed the aspects retained, such as the McCoy/Kirk camaraderie as well as the eventual McCoy/Spock loathing (as usual, something almost akin to a very sedate lover’s quarrel). The ability for the crew to interact on a level that was unprecedented in earlier films, also led to better cohesiveness and interaction not seen in the original series. In the original series (here on out referred to as TOS), there definitely seemed to be an “A” cast (mostly comprised of Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley portraying Kirk, Spock, and McCoy) and a “B” cast (Mainly Doohan as Scotty, Nichols as Uhura, Takei as Sulu, and Koenig as Chekov).
The B cast was terribly under-utilized during most of TOS, a sad fact that ended up following into most of the movies. Reason being? Well, egos got too inflated and people who were thought to be integral to the film were kowtowed to (I’m looking at you, Denny Crane) thus eliminating a great deal of the B cast’s screen-time. This new film does away with the actors’ egos, and people who are much “bigger” (name-wise) than some of the leads, gracefully take their place alongside, all as equals in this ensemble piece.
This film also has a set pace that never lets up. It’s very frenetic, and never falls prey to overwhelming the audience with too much CGI waste (ala Star Wars) or too much dialogue. Whereas I may not be a complete fan of J.J. Abrams’ filming style (even he himself states that he over used lens flares WAY too much), it never detracted from the film or jarred it to film to a complete stop. No camera tricks to make the action more “real” (the old 40 frames per second trick that became common after Gladiator), nor absurd CGI inserts that could’ve euthanized any real frame of reference that the story was trying to work within.
Designwise, the film was very tight and not distracting at all. The costumes were excellent for an updated version of the 60’s model, and fit in very well with the surroundings, which I will agree with most people in saying that its color palette was based off of Apple Products. It is a much brighter future in Abrams’ 23rd century, and it does justice to the “primary color” future portrayed in TOS at the advent of color TV (which was one of the main reasons for the multiple bright and sometimes garish colors: some people hadn’t made the switch from Black and White sets to color ones).
One major laudable effort I must comment upon, was the work of Karl Urban as Dr. Leonard H. McCoy (or “Bones”, if you’d rather). That man certainly did his homework, and if any of you remember from when they were casting the film, I was pulling for Gary Senise (and apparently a good deal of fans agreed with me). Sadly, Senise turned it down, and I thought we were “stuck” with Urban. Now, my main frame of reference for his acting chops was The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (which he wasn’t terrible in, but not outstanding either) and Doom (the ill fated film co-starring The Rock that basically eliminated all ties to the video game it was supposedly based upon). I was pleasantly surprised. He had Kelly’s mannerisms down to a T, and his accent, body language and “catchphrases”, if you will, made me feel as if De Kelly was being channeled on screen. By all accounts the man should have gotten more screen-time, and it was unfortunate that his involvement wasn’t as intense as De’s used to be in TOS.
I also must note I feel sorry for all the fans of the Enterprise TV show when they find out that Scotty accidentally murdered Admiral Jonathan Archer’s Dog, Porthos. Quite a “fuck you” jab at that show, but funny and sticking with canon nonetheless!
Although, I am enamored with a great deal of the film, being a die hard fan, there is more than a fair share of nitpicking that can be done. I admit there were some things that rubbed me the wrong way, such as the following:
- The promotion of a third year cadet to captain (Kirk had at least 10 years of training under his belt before becoming captain of the Enterprise) would be like handing a 16 year old with a newly minted learner’s permit the keys to a Formula 1 car and saying, “Here, you’re our lead driver for the Grand Prix”. Sure he may be able to possibly do it, but he hasn’t had the benefit of experience tempering his decisions. It seemed more as if it was a “Oops, let’s find a quick way to make him captain, or the next film won’t work…” move.
- There was little to no formulation of “The Big 3” (Kirk, Spock, & McCoy). Whereas I see how they want to get away from the old series and blaze a new trail for themselves, I think that McCoy should’ve been much more involved to retain that grouping which worked so well.
- There a budding love story between Uhura & Spock that REALLY needs to die a quick death. Rule #1 of starship life: Don’t fuck your crewmates. Plain and simple. Plus, it goes against the grain of Spock’s character. He’s supposed to be a solitary, career minded, pillar of the command staff who needs to come to terms with who he is first before letting someone else share his life. Maybe I’m living too much in old canon, but it seemed forced and out of character for him.
- Towards the end of the film, Kirk delivers an ultimatum to Nero informing him that he can rescue the remaining Romulans from the unsalvageable hulk the Narada (the Romulan ship) has become. Of course, in true Romulan fashion, Nero refuses. Kirk accepts his refusal, but then proceeds to tell Sulu to “Fire everything he’s got” at the Narada and ends up destroying it. WTF??? Where’s the evolved sensibility of the humans of the future? If anything, Kirk should’ve at least attempted to rescue the Romulans, even as unwilling captives. Why? Because that’s what Starfleet fucking does! They are merciful and act in the preservation of life, not revenge or malice! If the Romulans refused rescue and prevented a rescue emergency transport, or killed themselves on the Enterprise Transporter pad with their honor blades, then so be it. But by all accounts Kirk more or less murdered those Romulans, and there is no excuse for it. The space battle looked cool, sure, but the ethics and morals befitting a Starfleet officer flew out the window in that scene but, thankfully, it was towards the end so I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable with “homicidal Kirk” for a majority of the film.
- The phasers just look plain silly. Who the hell’s idea was it to paint them Chrome? They should be shot. (See inset picture)
- Who destroys the planet Vulcan? I mean, really: They won’t even do something that stupid in the books. C’mon, that was retarded.
- The general disregard for certain aspects of canon. Things that didn’t fit Abrams’ vision were summarily thrown out the window. We Trekkers know a very different history than that portrayed on screen in this film, and the willy nilly retconning performed to make aspects of this film work, was a mild itch at the back of my mind. It was as if they were saying, “Hey you know Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager? Well, because of ONE thing that Spock does after all those series ended, THEY NEVER FUCKING HAPPENED. Enjoy our new universe, you canon-worshiping jackholes.” It bothers me that the better part of 25 years of Star Trek is now rendered moot to a whole generation on the whims of people who felt a “reboot” was necessary. This is always a sore spot, regardless of who makes a film, especially if filmmakers end up retconning their own work. I mean, the apocrypha is there for a reason: use it. It usually makes a far better story anyway.
Beyond such nitpicky things as those (and I’m sure there are quite a few more that I can’t remember at the moment), there are only three other things that bothered me.
The minor thing is the use of ridiculous humor in certain parts of the film. The point where McCoy injects Kirk with a hypospray, and hands swell up to a ridiculous size was just too much for me. I understand the need to amuse the audience, but not at the expense of a character’s integrity (Kirk’s for looking so ridiculous, or McCoy for being portrayed as utterly incompetent). It was a small thing that I found very prevalent throughout the movie, as opposed to taking a serious slant sometimes where it should have been enforced to give a sense of urgency to the film and show us that this was serious business, a good deal of scenes were ended with a laugh or a very Pigs in Space moment. Kinda disappointing coming from Star Trek. Sure, you can call me a curmudgeon and that the Onion’s review was right, but there’s a time for levity and a time for seriousness, and I think it strayed into the former camp a bit too often. Probably to put younger butts in the seats. Meh, I frankly like my discussions about intergalactic politics and how they affect the quadrant. That’s what the franchise is about, and has always been about. Dealing with real life issues in a futuristic medium. So sue me if what I think is interesting, you find boring.
A more major issue I have is with Eric Bana. He was my “Malin Ackerman” for this movie. I made a comment to a friend during the film: “This movie only reinforces my belief that Eric Bana is a terrible actor”. Which I believe is totally justified. Most Romulans are of a regal bearing, honorable creatures that think highly of themselves as a species and proceed as if everyone else should think the same. None of this was seen in Bana’s performance. Whereas his character, Nero, is supposed to be from a lower class and was originally a space ore miner, his presence and the way in which he was presented to the audience was less than stellar. I also don’t understand why he went with an American accent either. It was so poorly emphasized, different emotions were conveyed when even speaking the most basic phrases. Mocking congeniality when supposed to be sinister, pensiveness when supposed to be fuming rage, and the list goes on. I can think of a whole host of actors that could’ve portrayed Nero with much more gusto, would’ve been much more sinister, and would’ve made the bad guy the key antagonist, rather than clashing personalities of the Enterprise crew which usurped Bana as “key villain” in the film. I also fault the scriptwriters for not fleshing out the back story well enough. Sure, there was the Star Trek: Countdown comic released months before the movie, but I can see how some people might be understandably confused about Nero’s presence, Spock’s little bit of Time Travel, and the creation of this whole alternate universe if they hadn’t read it beforehand. Background Exposition was definitely something that needed to be illuminated far more, or else there’s no reason or motive behind anything Nero does, so we don’t really see why he’s the villain. I wish he would’ve been more tragic, frankly. The film briefly touched on how he could’ve been portrayed that way when he mentions how his wife and child were killed when Romulus was destroyed in the future, but it was almost thrown in as an afterthought. If it was his real driving force, and it permeated his character, we’d empathize more with him and find him convincing. Alas, there was no such development, and for it I blame Bana and the fact that he didn’t work more with the writers to make his character more three dimensional.
Lastly, I am non-plussed by how this movie’s script was so generic that it didn’t need to be Star Trek, it could’ve had any other name on it and it would’ve been a passable film on its own. Now maybe that allows more people to enjoy the film, but it almost seems as if there was some Space Opera script floating around Hollywood that somebody decided to add a few familiar characters and facts, and slap the name Star Trek on it. I guess I shouldn’t expect too much from Orci & Kurtzman (they did pen Michael Bay’s ridiculous 2007 Transformers, after all), but from their many protestations of how close they were sticking to cannon, I did expect more from them. Again, proving the Onion’s review a bit true, there wasn’t as much of the spirit of Star Trek that I hoped for in this film. There wasn’t as much “exploring strange new worlds” or “seeking out new life forms and new civilizations” as there was “Let’s blow shit up with phasers and get into a whole bunch of fist fights”. There was a whole generation of people that grew up to be scientists, astronauts, college professors, and academics because of TOS and its message of a better humanity through wisdom, whereas if they would’ve seen this Trek back then it wouldn’t have had quite the same kind of impact. It would’ve been just another space shoot em’ up. And that makes me a bit sad. The movie is a fun romp, I’ll admit that, but the message of Star Trek was a bit lost in the muddle, I think.
All in all, I would highly recommend going and seeing Star Trek if you haven’t by the time you read this. By all accounts it’s an excellent film, and unless you’re a purist like me, those issues I bulleted won’t bother you at all (except for “Kirk the Murderer”, that’s just completely out of character and out of line). Here’s hoping it’ll do well enough to light a few new everlasting fires for Trek, and keep it’s torch burning for at least another 40 years.