Thursday, June 18, 2009

I Liked the New Star Trek Movie

This is my idea of a movie review. When Aviatrix reviews a movie you are fortunate indeed if you get away without a scene-by-scene retelling containing more notes than the original shooting script, and only a few long asides on social relevance. There are always spoilers, so don't read this if you want to see the movie without knowing all about it.

I would pretend that I saved this review until most of you had a chance to see the movie, but really I saw it while I was still on time off and just haven't had time to fit this post in with all the excitement. Movies can keep.

I almost didn't see this one at all. I figured the only correct way to make a movie like that right was to watch every episode of the original series, making detailed notes of every mention and reference to the past history of each character, ship and world. I didn't trust the moviemakers to do this. Even if they did, there would be probably so many continuity errors contained in those very notes that it would be impossible to make anything align with the established past history, let alone an interesting movie. If it couldn't be done right, it shouldn't be done at all, at least not for me to watch, so I resisted. But everyone, including fans, kept saying it was good, so I relented and went.

There was a trailer for a movie that looked like it might actually be interesting, but it was as if two trailers had been intercut: one that had a story and another that consisted mainly of epilepsy-inducing special effects. Perhaps that was a metaphor for the Transformers. Perhaps I'm putting way too much thought into a movie about a cartoon about toys. The next trailer was for essentially the same movie, except in this case the plastic star was G.I. Joe. I hope there's a scene in the movie where he gets it on with Barbie. if you're going to cinematically recreate thousands of 1970s toyboxes you can't just stop the cameras when he puts down the plastic machine gun for the night.

The movie starts off in a battle, on a starship that is not Enterprise. It's your typical Star Trek stuff with the ship going to investigate an anomaly or a distress call, and encountering something that is unlike anything they have ever encountered before. The readings are off the scale; the shields are falling; the ship cannot take it anymore. The captain leaves the ship to negotiate a surrender, and places a young Kirk in command on the bridge. That seemed a little abrupt. Kirk orders an evacuation, during which we discover that his wife is on board, in labour. While everyone evacuates, Kirk sets a direct course for the opposing ship and his son is born seconds before he dies in the ensuing collision. I guess he turned off his transponder to prevent the alien TCAS from providing a resolution advisory.

Just before he dies, Kirk senior has an exchange with his wife about the baby's name. She suggests naming it Tiberius after his father and he rejects that as ridiculous, and says to go with her father's name. That was when I realized that we were looking at the birth of James T. Kirk. That's not a canon origin, but I was willing to grant them poetic licence for it. Even though I think there are canon references to Kirk doing things with his father while growing up, his mother could remarry, and it was appropriately epic, so I was willing to go along with it. They got it right that he grew up in Iowa ("I'm from Iowa. I only work in outer space,") so they weren't completely abandoning the established continuity.

The young Jim Kirk steals and destroys an expensive sports car, almost killing himself in the process. He first meets his mentor, someone who knew his father, after being beaten up in a bar brawl. He's is an uncontrolled reckless maniac, and after a moment's reflection I realize that that is exactly appropriate. The grown up Jim Kirk is an only barely controlled reckless maniac with an approach to dangerous situations that you don't get without long experience with same. You don't win interplanetary bar brawls without having lost a few in your youth. The young Kirk would have had to be like that. In fact as I think about it more, the young Kirk should have been depicted as less of a James Dean loner and more of a gang leader. One of his strongest skills is leading a group of people into and back out of trouble. Where do you get leadership skills ripping around on a motorcycle being cooler than everyone else?

His mentor feels that Starfleet has lost but needs to regain the reckless edge that Kirk senior had, and knows that Kirk junior has it, so advises him to report to the local space shuttle station for transport to Starfleet Academy. Kirk seems to disregard the idea, but after cruising by the under-construction Enterprise (apparently also from Iowa before being shipped to outer space) on his motorcycle he changes his mind and reports for training, tossing his bike keys to the first person who admires it at the dock.

We see a bit of his maverick interactions with his stunned classmates on the transport ship: they have uniforms, he's still in the t-shirt bloodied from the bar brawl. They have probably applied and interviewed and written essays and aptitude tests to get in. He's just turned up because someone who knew his daddy pulled strings. Mercifully, the producers know I didn't want to see much more of this and his academy integration passes with a "Three Years Later" title. Of course three years later he's getting hot and heavy on a bed with a curvaceous woman, and why didn't I see that coming. If Kirk didn't try to shag every female within sensor range it would be a clear violation of his prime directive. The next surprise, which we also should have seen coming, is when the woman in question calls for the lights to come up. She's a green-skinned gal. Very nicely done. She hears her roommate coming and asks Kirk to hide because her roommate is getting ticked off at all the men she keeps inviting over. Kirk's reaction to "all the men" is great, and the roommate turns out to be Uhura, who has already spurned Kirk's advances and is none too pleased to see him there.

Uhura is depicted in the series as actually African, not African-American, with a native language of Swahili, in a Starfleet where her race is a minority. We see green-skinned people rarely enough that we have to realize that the Orion in San Francisco is a member of a very small minority, too. The roommate pairing reminds me of a pilot friend who has just accepted a dispatch job in a community just south of the 60th parallel. She knows that her assigned roommate is a woman who immigrated from Nigeria: they have already met at a training course. My friend doesn't have green skin, but she isn't white either and is from another culture. I'm not sure if they are the only women at their base, in which case it only makes sense, but it's not uncommon for the "different" to be teamed together. I think it will be good for my friend to live with someone who shares her outsider status. I doubt that the writers had Starfleet put the sexy colourful babes together out of either racism or empathy, but just did that because you can't make a Star Trek movie without Kirk getting naked with a green-skinned alien, and if the roommate is going to walk in, you just make it the funniest possible roommate, and they did.

They picked up on a lot of things that were just hinted at in the original series dialogue: McCoy's marital history and dislike of space travel, Uhura's coolness to Jim and her connection to Spock. I'm willing to believe someone did watch the whole series with a notebook. They even have Kirk cheat at the Kobayashi Maru as it was established he did in an earlier movie. He gets in trouble for that, but just as his punishment is about to be handed out, an overused "the fleet is overextended, but no one else can go, so we'll have to take the graduating class" scenario breaks out. I let them get away with it in Top Gun, so I roll my eyes and let them get away with it here. Kirk is told he is under academic suspension pending the outcome of his interrupted hearing, so has no ship assignment, but McCoy uses medical trickery to get him on board, where we meet more of the original crew.

Sulu forgets to release the parking brake before leaving spacedock. Poor guy can never get a break. Chekov still has a Polish accent. The actor and director knew that the "nuclear wessels" schtick wasn't in keeping with a Russian accent, but decided to keep it for continuity. Perhaps by the 23rd century there has been a great consonant shift in Russian, leaving the V-sound unfashionable and completely replaced with the W. They didn't however, follow the retro continuity of the exterior appearance of the ship. The shape of the nacelles on NCC-1701 are wrong.

Kirk lounges in the captain's chair on the bridge in just the way his Shatner-portrayed older self does--and then is yelled at to get out of the chair. The Enterprise promptly encounters an alien distress call near Vulcan, which our young Kirk is uniquely situated to recognize as a trick. It duplicates what happened to his father, plus he has some information most of the others don't, overheard when Uhura was speaking to her roommates about something they heard from the Klingons while in the radio lab. The audience didn't pay much attention to the dialogue at that point, as Uhura was taking off her clothes, but here's where Kirk's experience comes in, because he synthesizes the data to realize what is happening. When the communications officer admits an inability to distinguish between spoken Romulan and Vulcan, Uhura is plausibly installed at that station, on account of being conversant in more than one dialect of Romulan. Kirk, however, is given a completely implausible field promotion to First Officer. Or maybe that's just me jealous of countries where new grads are dropped in the right seats of heavy airliners. McCoy also gets a field promotion when the ship's doctor is killed in the inevitable Romulan attack.

I was disappointed when the Romulan bad guy appears on screen, because part of the plot of one of the original series episodes was that while the Federation has communicated with Romulans, no one knows what they look like, and it was a moment of stunning revelation when they turned out to look just like Spock. Later series wrecked this by giving the Romulans funky foreheads, and I have to give this production credit for nodding to both sorts of Romulans: the bad guys have elaborate forehead tattoos that make them look like the Next Generation foreheaded Romulans without it being a racial characteristic.

Kirk, Sulu and another guy (did he have a red shirt?) parachute onto a drilling platform in space. Of course the redshirt dies and the other two save each other's lives a couple of times, then Chekov gets to save them both with his video-game honed transporter skills. I think the implication is that Chekov is very very good at Russian-invented Tetris. Or they just wanted to give him something heroic to do.

Christopher Pike, the original Enterprise captain from the original series is present. They place him in danger, but I watch smugly because I know he has to live to maintain continuity. And then they kill Amanda Grayson (Spock's mother) and implode the entire planet of Vulcan. The timing of the next part is perfect, giving just enough time to think, "they can't do that" before the nature of the enemy weapon is revealed, making me realize this is a time travel story. So this is going to get fixed somehow, I reason. And then they did one better.

I don't remember the exact details of how Kirk ended up in an escape pod on the surface of a frozen ice planet, but he ignored the computer's warning that the environment is unsuitable and tries to walk to a nearby outpost. He's pursued into a cave by a monster than looks like one of the Transformers from the trailer, and there he is saved by none other than Spock. Not the young Spock whom he doesn't get along with at all, but the old Spock who has been Kirk's friend and first officer for many many years. At first I thought that Kirk had time-travelled into the original series episode where a planet's sun is about to go nova and the entire population escaped into the planet's past, with Spock ending up in the ice age where he ate red meat because he was in tune with his ancestors of that time. It seemed a pretty wacky episode to mine for plot, but before I remembered how they got out of that one in the original series, Old Spock explains what is really going on.

When the vengeance-seeking, time-travelling Romulan killed Kirk's father in the opening sequence of the film, he created a parallel universe. The death of Kirk's father, the destruction of Vulcan, the face-to-face meeting with a Romulan and hey, even the nacelles being wrong can all be attributed to them being in a parallel universe.

Needless to say, Kirk saves the day and life goes on. Everyone got to say their signature lines, except that Uhura never said "Hailing frequencies open." One question remains: isn't navigation in Earth's solar system going to be a little tricky what with that new black hole they made just by Saturn? Also Kirk gets a medal instead of getting in trouble and they make him captain of the Enterprise. That's just a little stupid. I'm willing to buy making someone with enormous potential a first officer right off, but there are parts of being captain that you don't learn in three years of the academy nor by crashing expensive sports cars in the desert. They should have assigned him a position on a good ship with a good captain, both recognizable from the original series. I guess one problem is that most of the captains on the original series were horribly ineffective, in order to make Kirk's guns-blazing leadership style look good.

So yeah, I liked the movie, and I think if you like funny action movies that someone already told you about, you should go and see it, whether or not you like Star Trek itself. Plus there are a few bits I didn't tell you about (like Scotty!) and probably lots of bits I got wrong.


Capt. Schmoe said...

Thankfully, I had already seen the movie before reading this post. It appears that you are indeed a trekker, and it was refreshing to hear your perspective of the film.

I am not a trekker, had seen the TV series as a kid, but was not enthralled. I think I may have seen one of the movies about 15-20 yrs ago. As a result, I had no expectations.

I dug this flick. It was highly entertaining, the visuals were excellent and, although it came close a few times, was not overly corny. It kind of reminded me of the original Star Wars. Definitely worth the 11 bucks we each had to pay to see it.

Thanks for the post.

silver horde said...

I liked Scotty.

Aviatrix said...

Sorry for the lack of proofreading on this originally. I must have uploaded a draft and not saved the proper copy. This should be better now.

Sarah said...

Wow, I guess you did like Star Trek. No one could write such a fact and spoiler laden review without a deep understanding of the "canon". Well done!

The only part you missed was that J. T. Kirk got in that escape pod because Spock put him in it. He ejected him onto the planet to get rid of him! That didn't seem quite right to me, nor did the magical appearance of the elder Spock. But I forgave the writers, just because it was so cool.

Kirk, however, is given a completely implausible field promotion to First Officer. Or maybe that's just me jealous of countries where new grads are dropped in the right seats of heavy airliners.

Yeah, the whole Baby Trek aspect with plot implausibility bothered me a little. But I let it go. And maybe it's just me, who is finding people like police, company management & yes, airline captains distressingly young these days.

The continuity with the original series that Nimoy gave the film was invaluable. I hope he got a bucket of money for the gravitas he gave the "Space ... the Final Frontier" voice over introduction alone.

In fact, the part I was most impressed by was the casting and writing which really captured the essence of the original cast. Zachary Quinto was very good, smoldering with suppressed emotion. Also fun was Karl Urban, who cannot replace DeForest Kelley but dammit, he's an actor not a doctor. They are all so very young in this movie, and seeing stills cannot prepare you for the shock of recognition of the characters. Very, very impressive!

Thanks for the review. I'm hoping for an actual plot rather than a "villain of the day" to hang the next movie on, but for this one the character intros were enough.

Live long and Prosper

ps LOL on the GI Joe + Barbie reference. What an image.

Unknown said...

HMMMM......Green skin, green hair..... Something you want to tell us?

Barbie and GI Joe......brings a whole new meaning to "injection-Moulding"

great post,my kids are trekkies and will be astounded that i'm "up to speed" on the film :-)

Thanks for the bright start to my day!

Emily said...

Holy heck, a Canadian aviation blog with a Star Trek review. Something is going right with the universe today!

Callsign Echo said...

I couldn't get over Zachary Quinto. In fact, I thought both Spocks stole the show. Quinto with his I'm-totally-angsty-but-I'm-not-going-to-show-it stoicism is the perfect and "logical" precursor to Nimoy's more "human" Spock, who seems to look at his younger self with both humor and a sort of fatalistic empathy.

It's rather like when I look at pics of my younger self, knowing that the struggle that girl will suffer may seem avoidable to me now, but it is necessary all the same.

dpierce said...

I thought Kirk getting ejected was a contrived way to advance the story. The Enterprise doesn't have a brig? Heck, you usually get "confined to quarters" in Star Trek. I'm also tired of sci-fi's over-reliance on time travel and time paradoxes.

That said, I thought it was a very fun action movie, and a nice change of pace.

Aviatrix said...

As you can see from my description of the movie, I dealt with the silly plot advancement by simply erasing it from my memory. I guess the idea was supposed to be that Spock too furious to be logical.

It's true that Star Trek and science fiction in general go to time travel and paradoxes a lot, but as a way to keep the old characters but not be bound to the old continuity, this was a really slick. I like it because it gives them an unlimited future to write new stories in, not just until it catches up to the original series.

I prefer it being time travel to it being completely unexplained, and I was pleased with how much research they did to preserve continuity despite their "out."

And it was waaaay better than Star Trek: The Motion[less] Picture. I don't think I noticed the special effects once in this movie, which is how it should be. A viewer shouldn't ever be thinking "oh, cool effect!" They should be thinking "Oh no, the planet just imploded!"

Sarah said...

Yeah, I'll give 'em the time line change this time. It makes for a clean break, and otherwise limits what can happen too much. But they'd better not feel they have to destroy a home planet or two each movie. Time travel is too much like the ending cheat "and then he woke up from the dream".

I don't think I noticed the special effects once in this movie, which is how it should be. A viewer shouldn't ever be thinking "oh, cool effect!"

True... but I did have one moment when I thought "*Oh My God* that's cool, effect or otherwise". The image of the big E coming out of Titan's atmosphere... Saturn will be a tourist destination like no other someday. I've been gobsmacked looking at Cassini images.

Dagny said...

I loved it.

It made me happy. :D

dpierce said...

Well, I guess if I'm going to dip into nerd mode, I might as well dive all the way in.

Granted, it's a slick way to setup a new franchise, and yes, I'll give them a pass "this once", but it does make me groan. Even Doctor Who, a whole show based on a (now mostly extinct) race of time travellers, breaks their butts to ensure it's not used as a crutch. There are straightforward ways other than time travel to split off a new continuity within the same "canon universe".

I actually enjoyed "TMP", simply because it had a big-movie feel, and a sense of wonder. But it did get a little Kubrick in parts. It was a story that could've been told in an hour, and had a little too much big-movie atmosphere, perhaps.

The essential quality of Star Trek is that the stories revolve around a "big idea" of philosophy, morality, or ethics. The new offering is straight action. No navel gazing. And I'm not complaining -- it rocks. I did not expect Sulu with a high-tech katana performing Matrix-style flips moments after rebounding from a rough para-drop.

And as long as I'm nerding out, the sets for the Enterprise's engineering decks made my head hurt. Some of them looked recycled from the new Willy Wonka movie, and others could've been any old factory floor from a manufacturing plant.

Oh yeah -- They can catch a guy in atmospheric free-fall with the transporter, but they can't hold on to a person the transporter has already locked onto and is starting to slip off a cliff?

Seriously, tho. I loved the movie. I'm just being a whining nerd. I'll shut up now ...

A Squared said...

I hope there's a scene in the movie where he gets it on with Barbie. Bet you loved Team America

Scott Johnson said...

Allison and I saw this at an entirely appropriate location this past weekend -- at the Imax theater at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy center, adjacent to Dulles Airport (KIAD).

We both absolutely loved it and thought the plot and the casting in particular were pure genius. They seemed to capture the very essence of each of the original series characters without denying each new actor his or her own identity.

The photography was incredible with lots of shallow-field close-ups. Photography geek that I am, I couldn't help noticing the weird shape of the bokeh, presumably caused by the amorphic lenses used by Imax.

I don't recall seeing any Klingons, though. That's got to be disappointing for you!

Anonymous said...

They dont have a black hole near saturn. Spock warped out from that area to a place far out of this solar system and the romulans followed him there. That's where spock crashed his ship into the romulan ship.