In preparation for discussions of the new Star Trek movie, CultureGeek offers you the four-part review of the 2009 reboot, which I dubbed Star Trek 2.0. This is part one.
May 14, 2009
To sum up: Star Trek is more fun than a boxful of tribbles on cordrazine and dumber than a collection of Janusian rocks.
I freely admit I had huge reservations about this series reboot. As the second of three generations of unabashed Trek fans, canon is all. In any system this complex, continuity becomes its own religion. Simply erasing the board and starting over seemed at best disrespectful to 40 years of history, and at worst a bastardization of a cultural phenomenon.
Surprisingly, that was not my problem with the movie.
There will be separate posts later on CultureGeek, one that details the many spoilerrific aspects of this movie, probably ad nauseum. See above re: continuity as a religion. But for now, let me say that they gave us a reason for the reboot, and it makes a modicum of sense, which is far better than I expected from otherwise-brilliant creators who made it a point to declare to everyone with a microphone that they weren't really Trek fans.
That said, blogger TheFerrett was right when he called the plot "dumber than a box of hammers." Granted, Trek fans will kill you on the science alone, but I personally belong to the Heisenberg Compensator School of Science Fiction: Just hand'wave at the laws of physics and we'll go with you.
The problem is, director J.J. Abrams doesn't even bother to hand-wave. He tosses around concepts like "black hole" and "singularity" and pays no attention to what those words actually mean. Hey, you like to use a big red ball in your movies? That's fine. After all, nobody doubts that adamantium is unbreakable by any force known to humans, and The Core won my love (briefly) by calling its mythical substance "unobtanium."
But you can go around creating black holes where planets and suns used to be, and you can't put a canyon in Iowa even if you dress it up to halfway look like a quarry, and you can't build a starship on the ground (oh shut up, it was in the trailers). Sorry, I get that some of this was explained in the Countdown comic, but a movie needs to stand alone without homework.
We can forgive a lot. There is no sound in space either, but we let the weapons go pew-pew-pew and the ships go whoosh because it's more entertaining that way. But pile enough impossibilium on top of your red matter and the eye-rolling starts to make you spacesick.
So forget the story and the many issues with Starfleet incompetence and convenient plot devices I will detail later. Instead, enjoy this alternate-universe Kirk and Co., because the plot is just there to see that the gang gets together. Fortunately, that's where the movie becomes strong.
I have to give Zachary Quinto major props, and not just for taking on a role beloved by millions of fans. I have never really dug the Sylar love, but Quinto absolutely nails Spock in a way that makes me understand how he and Leonard Nimoy have become friends. I don't even mind a Spock with a few rough edges, because I've seen Trek Prime's early episodes and even "The Cage," so I know that Spock of this time is pretty rough. It's a long way from Talos IV to Kolinahr and back again.
Close behind him is Karl Urban, who slides into DeForest Kelley's voice and mannerisms well enough that when Spock and McCoy have their inaugural bickering - "My God, man!" - it almost seems like the real thing. Almost.
Chris Pine as Kirk has to carry the movie, though, and he almost manages it. He plays a James Kirk who grew up without a father, and he pulls it off. He's a ladykiller - naturally - but he's got that touch of smarts and diplomacy hiding underneath the brash exterior that shows he would eventually become the Captain Kirk we knew. Unfortunately, this Kirk grew up far more rebellious - bratty, even - and that needs to be rubbed off a lot faster if we're going to buy Captain Kirk and not Ensign Kirk. The blame for this problem, though, should be laid at the feet of the writers, not Pine.
I guess I was vaguely dissatisfied, but not because it's a bad movie. It's not. It's great fun, I saw it twice and I'd see it again. But Trek has always been better suited for TV than movies, because Trek is brain food. It remained popular when other 1960s sci-fi vanished without the love because it is allegory, it is philosophy, it is stories about people and ideas, all those "nerd" things that have been relentlessly mocked over the last few weeks because Hollywood and the blogosphere seem to think you can't have a smart movie that's also entertaining.
I beg to differ.
This movie was intended to revitalize the franchise, bring in new fans and rocket us to a whole new line of movies in J.J. Abrams' alternate-universe Star Trek. It succeeded, blowing expectations out of the stars and earning fantastic buzz that I predict will demolish Angels & Demons this weekend. Much of that buzz is deserved - as a big summer action movie, it delivers. You'll laugh and ride the rollercoaster and at the end of the day, it was a good time. If you don't think too much along the way.
Coming up soon: The Nitpicker's Guide to the New Star Trek, with apologies to Phil Farrand. Spoilers off the starboard bow, starboard bow, starboard bow...