Saturday, May 9, 2009

Star Trek Goes Boldly




Star Trek gets going quickly with a gripping sequence in which a vast Romulan ship that looks like a cross between a squid and a metallic porcupine threatens a Starfleet ship captained by George Kirk, father of James T. Kirk. Fast cuts and frames filled with detail pump up the excitement, as the Starfleet crew members, including George’s wife in the process of delivering her son, abandon ship, and George buys time for the refugees by piloting his ship on a collision course – just as you would expect Jim Kirk’s dad to do.

After an over-loud, brash musical fanfare accompanying a gigantic main title hewn out of metal floating in space, the film jumps ahead to a scene in which James T., as a long-haired bad boy, takes a car on a high-speed joy ride, eludes police, and sends the vehicle flying off a cliff. This is James T. Kirk who, in the plot’s next leap forward, is a rude, brawling, randy womanizer who is encouraged by Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) to channel his hot dog drive toward Starfleet Academy. Once James T. (Chris Pine) is in that familiar uniform, he quickly meets Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Sulu (John Cho), and Chekhov (Anton Yelchin) and gets involved in a mission to stop that massive Romulan squid/porcupine from demolishing Earth.

Star Trek is a no-nonsense sci-fi action film that entertains successfully and is the best film spawned by the famous T.V. series because it includes cleverly evoked portrayals of the famous characters in their youths without wasting time for inordinate veneration of the T.V. show’s iconic elements. Kirk is just a young hotshot vying for greatness. Spock is just a conflicted half-breed Vulcan looking for his place in the world. The Enterprise is just a big ship that elicits a terse "Wow!" The transporter is just a quirky piece of machinery. The Romulans, led by their smoldering leader Nero (Eric Bana), are just bad guys. But all this combines to make Star Trek one of the most entertaining films of the year because it resists ponderous adherence to or fawning over source material.

You’ll have to forgive the film a few head-scratching conundrums such as that inscrutable red liquid (what was that?) and the always mind-blowing sci-fi paradox when a guy goes back in time and meets himself. (Now how does that work?) And if you’re a faithful fan, you’ll have to chill when the film kills off a character and destroys a planet that are supposed to appear in “later” episodes – though that might be set-up for a sequel in which all discrepancies are mended by a little time-travel repair work.

Watching Star Trek with its light tone and fast pacing, I found myself thinking of 1930s adventure films, especially Gunga Din (1939) with its triad of quarreling but loyal comrades who boldly set out on impossible adventures. In Star Trek, as in Gunga Din, you’ve got your charming characters, your snappy action, your rapid dialogue, your comic relief, your daring adventures – and it’s all packaged and edited expeditiously, never allowing the story to get bogged down by excess, pretension, or self-awareness. It comes off as a big film – but it is a big film with all the fat trimmed away – and it makes me wonder what J.J. Abrams could have done with bloated behemoths like the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean or Spielberg’s latest, pathetic Indiana Jones film.

So I’m not left worrying about what the hell ancient Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is doing in the future while he’s lingering with a younger version of himself in the past, or that Scottie (Simon Pegg) isn’t portrayed as the anal worry-wart he is in the episodes, or that the transporter beams spiraled instead of pixellated. I’m left feeling exhilarated by a smartly edited adventure film and hoping that the rest of this year’s summer blockbusters are just as tightly constructed – though having seen some of the previews I have a feeling they’re not.

5 comments:

E said...

I agree--this is the best incarnation of "Star Trek" since the original series. I'm shocked, given that I hadn't even expected to like it! Honestly, I felt like I was 12 years old again, sitting in the family living room and enjoying the TV series from childhood. They captured it as close to perfectly as is possisble.

By the way, re: the transporter--what is "spiraled instead of pixellated"? I totally don't get that, which must mean it's some guy thing vs. girl thing. . .

E

hokahey said...

E -

Thanks very much for the comment and I'm glad the film transported you back to your youth. That's always great when a film can do that.

As for the transporter beam - perhaps I just didn't describe that clearly enough. I just always remember from the T.V. series that when people transported somewhere they appeared or disappeared in a snow of pixels or dots. In the film, the beam definitely spiraled - not that I cared - it was just different.

A great thing about this movie is that even though it altered some of the elements of the T.V. series, it didn't matter because the characters were so faithfully evoked.

Jason Bellamy said...

Hokahey: Great review!

"Star Trek is a no-nonsense sci-fi action film that entertains successfully and is the best film spawned by the famous T.V. series because it includes cleverly evoked portrayals of the famous characters in their youths without wasting time for inordinate veneration of the T.V. show’s iconic elements ... All this combines to make Star Trek one of the most entertaining films of the year because it resists ponderous adherence to or fawning over source material."

Me thinks that "no-nonsense sci-fi action film" is probably an oxymoron, if not an outright contradiction, but I know what you mean.

I can't call this the best Star Trek film. I think Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country are better.

Sure, it's nice that Abrams doesn't waste time fawning over Star Trek rituals and detritus. I'm with you there. Then again, without those signature elements, what makes Star Trek original? I'm saddened that so much of the action has to do with beaming people from one place to another, which is about as exciting as watching someone type quickly.

I'm interested to see where the series goes, and I'm optimistic yet skeptical. I don't think anyone can overstate the degree to which this film generates enjoyment by scattering character catchphrases and quirks like Easter eggs. But that's done now. Which means that the next episode had better have a more interesting plot, or they'll need to find a way to explore the evolution of the crew's relationships without seeming to cover old ground. That's gonna be tricky. Some of the great elements of this film won't be so special in a sequel.

We'll see...

hokahey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hokahey said...

I guess "no-nonsense sci-fi action film" is an oxymoron - I should have said that if the film resorts to nonsense, it's minimal and doesn't drag the movie down.

Story - yes, not much of one. But to me the exhilaration of this film came from the actors' effortless portrayal of such iconic characters. I think those portrayals moved the story along fluidly and prevented boredom.

The Wrath of Khan I like. But I'm going to say something very shocking - I really liked Pine and Quinto as Kirk and Spock in this film better than Shatner and Nimoy in any of the other movies. Oh, my God, did I say that? My argument is that Pine and Quinto tied me closer to the episodes than Shatner or Nimoy ever could in the other films. Star Trek captured the fun of some of the best episodes.