On Star Trek, or, “The nerdiest post I’ve ever written.”

WARNING: Spoilers and spoiler-text ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and do not wish to have any clue or hint revealed unto you, don’t read this post. To view the spoiler-text, move the mouse cursor over the black marks.

When I first heard that Star Trek was going the way of the re-boot, I had some pretty low expectations. After all, you can easily reboot the Batman and James Bond series because there’ve been so many different actors in so many iterations of those movies. We expect a new Batman every so often and a new James Bond roughly once a decade. But Trek has always been different, because until this year, only one set of actors has ever played those roles.

So giving those roles to new actors was simultaneously risky, thrilling, and brilliant. Risky for obvious reasons. Thrilling because we’re finally getting back to the core of Star Trek for the first time in ages, and it turns out that Abrams knows how to handle the characters. Brilliant because it’s been so long since The Original Series came out that the writers and producers can safely re-use some of the old plots and ides, and most of today’s movie-going audience will be none-the-wiser.

But seeing new actors in those old roles was also a little saddening. I say that because we long-time Trekkies and Trekkers–and I mean the ones who were fans mainly of The Original Series–now have to separate the original actors from the roles. It’s not the adventures of ShatnerKirk and NimoySpock anymore, it’s just Kirk and Spock. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto may be fine actors and seem to play off each other well, but whatever respect/friendship/intellectual jousting they develop will simply never hold a candle to Shatner and Nimoy. And now that I think it’s safe to say that we finally have seen the final appearance of an original castmember–Nimoy in a role too big to call a cameo–a tear comes to the eye (metaphorically speaking, that is, for I have no tear ducts).

Now that all that’s out of the way, I have to say that Star Trek was a fun movie. It broke the curse of the odd-numbered films (at least for now), and exceeded my original expectations by far.

I’ll start with the bad:

First, I hated the scene with young Kirk nearly driving over the cliff and playing “Sabotage” on the radio. It was great for the trailer, but unnecessary for the movie. After all, if you’re going to introduce him as an obnoxious drunk frat-boy type who gets in barfights, then there’s no need for that earlier scene.

Second, the writing in the second half of the movie was weak. There was a little too much coincidence: the Narada just happens to emerge from a black hole at the time and place of Kirk’s birth, the Enterprise just happens to be under construction in Iowa near Kirk’s home, Kirkjust happens to be marooned right next door to Old Spock’s lair, which just happens to be walking distance from where Scotty is stationed. You have a perfectly good plot device to explain why that stuff isn’t coincidence: Old Spock–you know, the guy who knows how everything is supposed to happen, and is smart enough to influence events in that direction. Once I learned that Old Spock would be in this movie, I thought for sure that somehow, he would be thrown even further back in time than he actually was, and then make sure that Kirk, Spock, McCoy et al. were assigned to the Enterprise. Nope. It was all blind luck. I expected better writing.

(And that’s not even addressing the mumbo-jumbo about what happened in the future. That required better elucidation for my tastes.)

Third, and I’ve said this before, hold the damn camera still. I don’t need the shaky-cam, I don’t need the bizarre upside down angles or the spiraling zooms. I need to see what’s going on. Period.

Fourth, I want to watch the Enterprise just f@#$%^g unload on the bad guys. I know there was the order to fire everything at the end, but it just didn’t look nearly as awesome as I hoped.

Now the good:

The best news is that although this was a pretty good flick, there’s still plenty of room to improve and there are plenty of stories to tell. The sequel should be even better, and I can’t wait to see it.

The actors and the direction were good. When Leonard Nimoy comes across as the weak link in the cast, then you’ve done some good casting and good directing. I think they assembled as good a cast as possible for younger versions of the Enterprise crew. The actors did a fine job of acting like younger versions of the original characters–except that they need to find a way to make Quinto a baritone. I liked that they made more use of Uhura than the original series ever did–after Kirk and Spock, she’s the most important crew member in this movie.

The Enterprise looked good. I liked the bridge, I liked the transporter room, I liked the exterior. I didn’t like the engine room much. I liked that when the ship went to warp, it was gone. No stretching out, no major flash of light, no looping all over the place, just BAM. Gone.

To those who complain that this movie violates Trek canon, I would point out that the so-called “canon” was quite fungible and inconsistent at times. Of them I ask, how many times did the age of the Enterprise change? How any different times did Spock “finally” understand what it meant to be human? Why was the bridge crew, Spock included, surprised to see that Romulans resembled Vulcans in “Balance of Terror”? (Note to normal people: no, you didn’t miss anything in the movie; these are references to inconsistencies in The Original Series.)

To those who complain that this movie is too close to being a rip-off of Star Wars, I say: bite me. Gene Roddenberry wrote his stories about an Iowa farmboy zipping around the galaxy long before George Lucas wrote his stories about a Tatooine farmboy zipping around the galaxy. And besides, Star Wars has officially sucked for the last ten years.

I loved the subtle and not-so-subtle references to the original series and original movies. My favorite moment was watching Kirk eating the apple during the Kobayashi Maru. The apple was a perfect hat-tip to the “I don’t like to lose” scene from The Wrath of Khan.

And with that particular reference, I’ll stop. This movie was not as good as Khan–of course, I see no way how any movie in any genre could ever be as good as Khan–but it’s probably second or third. I’ll have to see it four or five more times to tell for sure. The best part of the new Trek movie is that young folks seem to like it enough that they’ll spend a lot of their folks’ cash on it, which means more good Trek films to come. Here’s hoping that J.J. Abrams keeps up the good work.

Go to http://www.cbs.com/classics/star_trek for original Trek episodes from back when commercials were less than 10 minutes per hour instead of 17-18 minutes per hour. Check out “The Menagerie” to see what happened to Christopher Pike in the “original” timeline (I don’t think they have “The Cage,” the original pilot, on-line).

One Comment

Aabrock2187

14 May 2009 11:02 pm

Spoilers follow….maybe Dom can help with inviso-text.

I enjoyed Star Trek (alternate title: “Kirk gets beaten up and almost falls off of things repeatedly”) immensely. There were some large coincidences that I think could have been explained better as Dom mentioned but the energy of this movie pushed all of that aside. Highlights:
– The sensor ‘pings’ that opened the movie
– The entire pre-title sequence
– The overpowering charisma of Chris Pine
– The silence of space
– Spock’s dive-bomb on the Romulan ship and the Enterprise’s assistance
– Christopher Pike
– the fate of Vulcan in general and Amanda in particular

There were some things I wish they had explored a little more…like Spock’s line about how thoroughbreds have to be broken before they reach full potential. Kirk did have the appearance of flying by the seat of his pants the whole movie, hopefully the next movie will show him getting broken and becoming a little more thoughtful. I agree with all of the convenient coincidences that Dom mentions, but I will chalk that up to the inherit limitations of the ‘origin story’ format. The next movie should hit the ground running without any of that baggage. I just hope they stay away from ANY time travel plots for the next few movies.

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