5.10.2009

Boldly Go Again

I'm not what you'd call a ”Trekkie”. This is not some protestation in an attempt to seem cool, only a clarification of where I'm coming from. My geek roots are firmly planted in ‘80s toys, cartoons, and comic books, and I have an encyclopedic knowledge of these things that parallels and rivals that of your basic Star Trek fan. In college, I could rattle off specific issue numbers of various comic book plots. And not dressing up for conventions doesn't make me any better than those that do. I'm sure there are plenty of people in costumes or uniforms going home to wives and children while I'm going home to parents and cats. But, as a casual viewer of various Star Trek shows who has only seen four of the movies in theaters, I suspect I liked the new film a lot more than the diehard fans.

I am a fan of J.J. Abrams, and lately his films and television series have really been firing on all cylinders. Star Trek has a rich continuity of interwoven movies and television shows dating back to the sixties, so revisiting the first series with the most recognizable crew was a tricky task. With Star Trek, he manages to tell an engaging story that is both faithful to its roots and forgiving to newcomers. Only once in the film did I find that a scientific explanation of a key plot point was over explained and dumbed down for the audience. In this day and age, special effects have come a long way, so the real challenge in making a good science fiction movie is making the characters interesting. Fans of Lost know that characterization is a strength of Mr. Abrams and Damon Lindelof, and that gave me faith going in.

Zachary Quinto, best known for his role on Heroes, is exceptional in the role of Spock. He does a great job of maintaining a logical exterior while you can literally see his human emotions brewing under the surface, waiting to get out if he drops his guard for one second. Leonard Nimoy should be proud. Quinto captured the essence of the original role yet made it his own. Karl Urban did his best impression of DeForest Kelley as the ship's doctor ”Bones”, but it's so perfect it works, and I found myself smiling in anticipation of his inevitable first “I'm a doctor not a....” line. Chris Pine is reckless and rebellious as a young Jim Kirk, but there's a very good explanation for some of his wilder character traits. At his core he's the same character, a man who doesn't believe in “no-win” scenarios and will bend the rules and do whatever it takes to succeed. The film maintained the womanizing side of Shatner's Kirk as well, and there is the obligatory green woman(played by an unrecognizable Rachel Nichols).

Overall, the casting choices were perfect. The kid playing Chekov may have been the weakest link, overdoing the bad Russian accent and crossing from homage to parody at times, but he did get at least one good laugh out of me in the midst of a crisis scene. Simon Pegg doesn't show up as Scotty until later in the film, but it's worth the wait. He had some of the funniest lines and some of the most crucial contributions. John Cho played a much more serious Sulu, with fencing skills to rival his predecessor. Uhura is played confidently and beautifully by Zoe Saldana, and while she falls on Kirk's radar her affections lie surprisingly elsewhere. I wonder how the fans felt about that eyebrow raising twist.

I won't say too much about the plot, but it does an excellent job of keeping all that has gone before intact while building it's own foundation. There are plenty of Easter eggs and nods in there that I probably missed. I spotted a Redshirt about ten minutes prior to his demise, but I didn't catch that a reference to an admiral's beagle that Scotty used for a transporter experiment belonged to Scott Bakula's Jonathan Archer. Early in the film, I was sure I heard Ethan Phillips' voice over a communicator, only to later read it was actually Abrams' pal and Quinto's Heroes' costar Greg Grunberg. And it wasn't until the credits were rolling that I found out Winona Ryder was playing Spock's mother. Tyler Perry also shows up in a blink-and-you-miss-him role. Bruce Greenwood is probably the best of the non-core characters. His Captain Pike pushes and inspires Kirk in ways the original incarnation never had a chance to, although both arrive at the same fate through different circumstances. And there's an appearance from one original cast member that may or may not be widely known, but it generated insane applause when he appeared during the showing I saw.

In Sean's review, he likened the film to Star Wars, and I could definitely see the parallels. Kirk's bar fight and the surrounding aliens conjured images of the cantina in Mos Eisley. Kirk riding his motorcycle against a sunrise reminded me of some of Luke's contemplative scenes on Tatooine, sans the John Williams score. There's an ice planet like Hoth complete with vicious monsters and a cave shelter, and one awesome little alien that reminded me of a cross between Yoda and Lando's copilot. The ship designs are faithful enough to the television series but definitely have been updated to modern sensibilities. Plenty of things look like Star Wars, but there's no mystical core or sense of a space opera. In spirit, this is still a Star Trek movie, with young cadets and a Fedaration and intergalactic incidents and political situations motivated by irrational revenge.

Overall, it's a nice first movie, a good origin story that establishes this team of characters the way the first X-Men film did, and I hope there will be a sequel. I've read a lot of bashing comments on message boards, ranging from complaints that characters would not have taken certain actions to criticisms of the science, deep explanations of how black holes and super novas actually work. These comments make me glad I'm not a physicist. I think the second word is as important as the first in the term “science fiction”. A science fiction writer's foundation is based in the rules that our scientists know now, with some projections added as to what we will know, but for entertainment and story purposes they bend some rules too, like a certain captain who doesn't believe in no-win situations. All in all, it was a great movie, with the right blend of action, special effects, drama, and humor to make for a worthwhile, and of course BOLD, journey.

2 Comments:

Blogger Lorna said...

I'm not a trekkie, but I am a die-hard fan, and I loved the movie. I'll see it again in IMAX next week, I think.

5/10/2009 8:37 PM  
Blogger Fistful Of Donuts said...

I enjoyed it quite a bit and I am the least Trekkie person I know. I might write a review later. Good post.

5/10/2009 11:42 PM  

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