Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Friday, May 08, 2009

Star Trek: First Impressions

What can I say?

It works.

J.J. Abrams and his collaborators have pulled off something remarkable – make that astounding and perhaps unprecedented – a reboot that not only respects the continuity of the franchise, but still comes up with a way to throw it all out the airlock without actually compromising it.

I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but I will mention some plot points, so if you want to see the movie completely fresh, you may want to wait and read this after you've seen the film.

Here's the big spoiler, and the only one that I plan to reveal, because it's necessary, if I'm to discuss my reactions to the story overall: the whole plot hinges on one of the classic Trek tropes – time travel and the dangers of changing the past through one's actions. But this time the cast doesn't – and cannot – fix everything by the end of the episode. This creates a whole new Trek timeline, an alternate universe where the original characters can have all new adventures and the future is unwritten. It also introduces to the series the concept of Fate with a capital "F"– that this particular group of characters are meant to be together, and that even when history is changed and their paths are different, that somehow, the bridge crew of the Enterprise is destined to adventure together.

Now, "fate" and "destiny" aren't very Gene Roddenberry-esque concepts, but they are appealing (at least in a fictional context), and solve the filmmaker's biggest challenge – making a new Star Trek that will appeal to a wider, more mainstream audience, without pissing all over the loyal fanbase that kept the franchise alive for forty years.

For this to work, the film does have to trot out a few scenes that, upon reflection, are almost ludicrously contrived, but, they are handled so well and fly by so quickly, that they don't hurt the film at all.

And there are some surprises here, BIG ones, things that will knock old school Trekkies for a bit of a loop. I know, I'm one of them. This is absolutely a new continuity, and nothing is set in stone. At the same time, there are numerous call-outs to various past Trek adventures, subtle and not-so-subtle references designed to warm fan's hearts.

Star Trek is a fast-paced, almost fully satisfying adventure story that is not only recognizably Trek, but Trek with a scope and budget and filmmaking acumen that we've never seen before. This one does not look like a two-hour TV episode. It's loud, bright, sexy and funny – like the original show was before all the spin-offs and sequels bled away the humanity. Like TOS, these characters get angry, get drunk, get laid, and take incredible risks and make giant leaps of faith. There's no sitting around conference tables endlessly debating courses of action, no retreats, no surrenders. Our hero may look different and his path to the center seat may be considerably different, but in the end, he's still James Tiberius Fuckin' Kirk.

And that brings me to the elephant on the bridge; how do the new guys live up to the legends? For the most part, very well. Chris Pine doesn't imitate Shatner (wisely), but he's got much of the swagger, the humor, the sly glint in the eye. Zachary Quinto doesn't have the gravitas of Nimoy, but then, he gets to play a slightly different Spock than the one we're used to. This is a young Spock, still struggling with the emotions seething within him, and Quinto handles the role well.

In fact, almost everyone plays their roles well. I think Zoe Salanada's Uhura is too skinny, but she gets considerably more to do with the role than Nichelle Nichols ever did. John Cho's Sulu is suitably professional – and delightfully swashbuckling, when required. Simon Pegg is a bit more Simon Pegg than Montgomery Scott, but he's fun to watch. Unfortunately, Ben Cross and Winona Ryder, as Spock's parents, didn't quite do it for me. Cross is no Mark Lenard, and Ryder is definitely no Jane Wyman. I was also underwhelmed (as usual) with Eric Bana as Nero, the villain/plot device that drives the story. He simply doesn't play it "big" enough. He's just sorta there.

The real standouts among the players are Karl Urban as Doctor McCoy, and Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime. With Urban, he's so perfectly Leonard McCoy that it's almost as if he's been temporarily possessed by the spirit of the late DeForest Kelly. And Nimoy is the heart and soul of the picture, the one who makes it all hang together and assures us longtime Trekkies that this is, indeed, truly Trek. If the real Spock recognizes these kids as his friends, then, really, who are we to argue?

Any complaints? Well, I don't like the interior Enterprise sets at all, but it didn't ruin the movie for me. I do have a few minor quibbles with the story, but no deal breakers... and, well, that's about it.

Oh yeah, the effects work is pretty spectacular; Industrial Light and Magic really pull out all the stops, and give us outer space as we've never really seen it before in Trek. Even though the Enterprise has been slicked up, I still got that warm feeling in my gut when we get our first good look at it – she's still the most beautiful starship around.

I haven't seen a movie more than once in the theater in years, but I'm going to make every effort to see this one again as soon as I can. It's good. Maybe great.

Star Trek lives!


Charles Gramlich said...

Can't read it yet. Going to see the movie monday.

Martin Powell said...

I can't read the review yet either. Going to see the movie...someday.

Martin Powell said...

I just learned that Chris Pine, the new Kirk, is the grandson of red-haired starlet Anne Gwynne, of HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, WEIRD WOMAN, and RIDE 'EM COWBOY fame, one of my favorite actresses from the 190s. She sure was a cutie as Tess Trueheart in DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME, too.

Had there been a DOC SAVAGE serial, I've always thought that Anne would have been a fabulous Pat Savage.

Badelaire said...

Skipped out of work for three hours to see it Friday, am going to see it tomorrow at a matinee again.

Totally fucking awesome.

I really do not care about "plot holes" or how the Enterprise now looks like an Apple store. This movie is more "Star Trek" than anything I've seen since TOS and ST II & VI, the only movies that, I think, really hang on to the true spirit of the original series. Fist fights, drinking, screwing alien babes, configuring the whatzidoodle to do some weird shit in order to get out of the peril of the moment - and a dash of snarky by-play. No effin' Earl Grey tea to be found here...

Christopher Mills said...

Well, the more time I have to reflect on it, the more problems I have with the script, the plot holes, and even the internal logic – or lack thereof – in the story.

But – it was so entertaining, and worked so well as a "let's get the band back together" event, that I'm still cutting it a lot of slack.