Friday, May 8, 2009

Film Review: Star Trek

Caution. Here there be spoilers!

I must preface this by saying that I have been a huge Star Trek fan since the tender age of 6. I have complete memories of watching the Animated Series on its first run on NBC in 1973, and thought it was so cool that my favorite show was now a cartoon. So I caught the Trek bug at least as early as 6. Might have been 5. Many's the time I'd watch Trek at 6:00 on channel 11 here in New York, right after Beat the Clock. But I digress. Suffice to say I grew up as a Trek fan, and I am one to this day. I've done the conventions, the clubs, the costumes, the LARP Paintball games, and even the fan-films.

I should also state outright that I am not a fan of "reboots". Planet of the Apes was an appalling dung heap overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable. Ditto Halloween. Superman Returns sucked rubber baby donkey lungs, too (the last couple films in the series sucked, too, but that doesn't excuse a sucktastic reboot). Batman Begins and Dark Knight broke the cycle, but I'm still leery.

Short version; I don't loathe the new Star Trek, but I sure don't love it.

This is by far not the worst Star Trek film out there. That honor belongs, depending on whether I've had Chinese or Italian for dinner that night, to either Star Trek V or Star Trek Nemesis. But it is far far far from the best of the bunch, and it is a seriously flawed film, despite all the hype and the 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

What I Liked

The casting was unbelievably amazing. Every single actor was a one-in-ten-thousand choice for the role. Not only because of physical resemblance (special recognition goes to Karl Urban as McCoy-- his face is so perfect as a young McCoy that it's positively frightening), but also because they all seem to have nailed the attitude of their characters, down to the way they hold their bodies and the cadence in their voices. With the exception of Simon Pegg as Scotty. He was just a manic funnyman, and I didn't care for that characterization. The original Scotty had a pathos that Pegg lacks.

The music was very well done. I especially thought the score during the fight between Kirk and Nero was outstanding; it really seemed to evoke the original series for me. I am somewhat disappointed that they didn't include the original series theme until the ending credits, but I can understand the desire to move away from the original and give the new film legs of its own. But then, why include the original theme at all? But that's a quibble.

The costumes. I must admit, I like the new uniforms a LOT. The cadet uniforms especially; I found them very evocative of the "monster maroon" uniforms from movies II - VI. The regular duty uniforms were also very well-done; I like the sort of hex-mesh fabric, and the fact that the insignia were metal. The quick flash of Pike's admiral uniform at the end was especially reminiscent of Kirk's admiral uniform from ST:TMP (and I am sure the Pike-in-a-wheelchair thing wasn't an accident). The only ones I didn't care for were the Romulans, but since they were explicitly said *not* to be regular military Romulans, I can overlook it.

The special effects. It's difficult to find a genre movie nowadays that doesn't get the SFX right, and Trek does not disappoint. The CGI is flawless, and the suspension of reality was complete for me. I think some of the ship designs seemed almost deliberately clunky-looking, but hey, what do I know about designing warp-capable starships in the 23rd century? (Exception: the Vorlon Planet-Killer Romulan mining ship Narada seemed just unnecessarily weird.)

The pacing. This film is impeccably paced. It never, ever drags, and even those points where exposition is absolutely required seem to fly. I am guessing that's because of JJ Abrams' experience in television. Wherever it comes from, if I could notice it, it was good.

What I Didn't Like

Plot holes big enough to fly a starship through. (1) Ambassador Spock is marooned on Delta Vega, presumably for some time. Why the heck didn't he hie himself to the Starfleet base and warn the Federation about Nero? (2) Kirk just happens to magically land on the same planet, at just the same spot, as Ambassador Spock? That strains my credulity. (3) The penalty for mouthing off to the captain (acting captain) is being marooned on a hostile planet? WTF? Doesn't the new Enterprise have an effing brig? Why didn't Spock just make him walk the plank out an airlock, for crying out loud? (4) Starfleet is so limited in its resources that ALL of its personnel are off in some star system, and they need to empty out Starfleet Academy to come to the aid of Vulcan? And just where the hell did they get the ships for all those freshly-minted cadets to man? (5) And for that matter, if all personnel from Starfleet Academy were called to active duty (including the 17-year-old Chekov), where did all those OTHER cadets come from when Nero is blasting San Francisco Bay and hundreds of cadets come out of their dorms to watch? (6) Why does Nero need the drilling platform in the first place? From the way the "red matter" behaves at the end of the film (and when Vulcan is destroyed, for that matter), it doesn't need to be planted in the planet's core. It just needs to be in contact with regular matter, and the singularity will form. Just fire the red matter torpedo at the planet, and the rest will attend to itself.

Kirk the buffoon. For pretty much the first half of the film, Kirk is not only a bad-boy renegade. I can deal with that; it's a good choice to go with for the character. But he is played for laughs; the slapstick with him and McCoy when they first come on the Enterprise was painful to watch. Giving Kirk an injection to make him appear sick to get him on the ship I can absolutely see. But shot after shot after shot, with ever-more-humorous results... the swollen hands, the numb tongue so he can't talk... ugh. Awful, gratutious, and distracting. Plus, they way overplay the "Kirk as ladies' man" angle. Fine, we get it. But one or two fewer scenes of him ogling the female crewmen would have been quite welcome. He was close to Benny Hill in places. File the goofy Scotty under this category as well.

Spock and Uhura. Let's set aside for the moment the whole "Starfleet Academy has no directory where you can find someone's name after three years of trying" thing. But where the hell did the whole Spock-Uhura love angle come from? We are given NO inkling of it prior to the awkward scene in the turbo-lift, and then on the transporter pad Spock seems quite unconcerned with his flagrant PDA in front of Kirk, Scotty, et al. Maybe-- just maybe-- I can see it between them in the turbo-lift alone. But in the transporter room? Completely uncharacteristic, just within the framework of this film, setting aside the rest of what we know about Spock.

The Time Travel MacGuffin. One can go two ways with a "reboot" such as this. The first is to completely ignore what has gone before and just start from scratch. Planet of the Apes did this with disasterous effects, and Batman Begins did it very effectively. The other is to try to think of some excuse for changes. Time travel! Alternate timelines! Brilliant! Ummm... no. The changes they have effected here are simply beyond the scope of whatever changes introducing Nero 25 someodd years in the past would have caused. The technology is totally different. Planets have completely moved (Delta Vega has moved from the edge of the galaxy to being, apparently, one of Vulcan's moons, and gone from scrub desert to frozen waste in the process). The characters seem to have morphed in terms of age; Sulu, Kirk, Chekov, Uhura, etc. are all contemporaries in the Academy. It only makes sense for Spock to be there, as he is presented as a Commander and an Academy instructor. Etc. etc. etc.

Nonsensical regulations (though this could be placed under the "plot holes" category, too). Spock is emotionally distraught because of the destruction of his home planet and the death of his mother, so he loses his brevet promotion to captain of the Enterprise forever? What the hell kind of regulation is that? And Kirk gets a medal, so as a Junior in the Academy, he gets bumped from cadet to captain? What the hell sense does that make?

The unfortunate self-references. Ummm... a giant Romulan ship that is unstoppable and kills entire planets? Where have we heard that before? Oh, yeah. Star Trek: Nemesis. Not a good omen.

Conclusion

On the whole, this film has a lot going for it, but unfortunately it has some fundamental flaws that ruined the effect for me and had me actively groaning at points. Still, it's not a complete disaster, and if some of the characterizations can be tightened up a bit, and the silliness tamped down a bit, the sequel to this could be one for the books.

13 comments:

arminath said...

I had to give this a thumb up and a thumb down. Pacing, actors, and adhering to the general plot (even if at times stretched thin) was all good. The Spock love interest puts a twist since now he probably won't meet his future wife, with Vulcan gone. Scotty as, um, well he could have been alot lighter-hearted as a lad...maybe. The McCoy hypo-needle shtick got old quick, once, twice it was funny, but not after.

Major Complaint: Why the hell does every Star Trek that needs to break its own rules do the Trek Time Travel??? Every series, half of the movies have an element of time travel in them.

AzaLiN said...

I loved the first half of the movie, being hilarious and serious at the same time, the incoherent plot taking a sideline to the spectacle: the weaknesses just weren't important enough to affect my enjoyment, even the random sword fight on the drill- sword fight??? Ridiculous, but so classy i had to love it.

However, when kirk hits the ice planet and meets spock, the movie can't justify itself any longer. Then he meets scotty who can teleport him convienently back to the ship... and so on, I would have been happy to not see the last half of the film, but given the first half 10/10.

ladymuttly1 said...

Haven't seen it and now I'm not sure I want to.

Spock love interest? The most interesting thing about Spock is the fact that he struggles to become "more human" for a tv series and umpteen movies.

Also-I love a good hero and Kirk for all his womanizing is one. Your review makes him sound like a buffoon.

ladymuttly1 said...

Why the he l l did they blow up Vulcan? Isn't there about a million good episodes that have now been destroyed? Crap

Robert Lupia said...

Just my $0.02 (also playing a little devil's advocate):

"(1) Ambassador Spock is marooned on Delta Vega, presumably for some time. Why the heck didn't he hie himself to the Starfleet base and warn the Federation about Nero?"

From what I remember, Spock was marooned and then Nero immediately blew up Vulcan. there was nothing in the movie, that I saw, that said any time passed between the two events beyond the battle with the Enterprise. Also, does Spock know that there is a Federation base there? Kirk (and the audience) know this because the pod tells him, but Spock is ~160 years old, so I think his memory of obscure Starfleet bases might just be failing.

"(2) Kirk just happens to magically land on the same planet, at just the same spot, as Ambassador Spock? That strains my credulity."

Yes, it is a bit far fetched, but we must assume 2 things. 1) Nero wanted Spock to live with the knowledge that Vulcan was destroyed for a good, long time. So, he dropped him near the Federation base, but not near enough to do anything before the planet was destroyed. (He probably detected the life readings there, hence how he know.) 2) The Enterprise wouldn't drop Kirk on the opposite side of the planet from the base, that they know is there. They would set him on a course where he could reach it with the supplies he had. With these two points, it is logical to assume that the two parties would be within a certain radius of the base and that it is possible they would be along the vector.

"(3) The penalty for mouthing off to the captain (acting captain) is being marooned on a hostile planet? WTF? Doesn't the new Enterprise have an effing brig? Why didn't Spock just make him walk the plank out an airlock, for crying out loud?"

Let's back up for a minute. We're talking about a highly motivated person who had just, that same week, hacked into a program that Spock himself had programed. Logically, if you wanted to ensure that this person would not be able to escape the brig and take over the ship by reprogramming it's command from a remote location, what would you do? Answer: Get him off the ship.

"(4) Starfleet is so limited in its resources that ALL of its personnel are off in some star system, and they need to empty out Starfleet Academy to come to the aid of Vulcan? And just where the hell did they get the ships for all those freshly-minted cadets to man?"

It seems to me that this was towards the end of the school year, which means that you would have ships returning to Earth to pick up new crewmen (aka graduates) and those cadets doing their cruise for the year. Not only that, there should be a ship or two in Earth orbit to act as a defense.

"(5) And for that matter, if all personnel from Starfleet Academy were called to active duty (including the 17-year-old Chekov), where did all those OTHER cadets come from when Nero is blasting San Francisco Bay and hundreds of cadets come out of their dorms to watch?"

It is normal, in times of great emergency, to only take the top class of cadets. Those left would have been the underclassmen that would do more harm than good on a Starship. "Hey, you, fresh off the bus. You get to pilot this mammoth ship even though you have no idea how to do it." Um, no.

"(6) Why does Nero need the drilling platform in the first place? From the way the "red matter" behaves at the end of the film (and when Vulcan is destroyed, for that matter), it doesn't need to be planted in the planet's core. It just needs to be in contact with regular matter, and the singularity will form. Just fire the red matter torpedo at the planet, and the rest will attend to itself."

Ah, but if you notice, the black hole at the end was made using the entire amount of Red Matter, and it was no bigger than what a drop created at a planet's core. It seems to me (enter technobabble) that the superheated core of a planet, or a supernova, is needed to created a singularity out of a small amount. A much larger amount, possible the entire supply, would be needed to destroy a planet using just a torpedo. And we know that Nero's goal was to make black holes out of all the Federation planets, so he couldn't risk using the whole thing just on Vulcan.

"Kirk the buffoon. For pretty much the first half of the film, Kirk is not only a bad-boy renegade. I can deal with that; it's a good choice to go with for the character."

Agreed.

"But he is played for laughs; the slapstick with him and McCoy when they first come on the Enterprise was painful to watch. Giving Kirk an injection to make him appear sick to get him on the ship I can absolutely see. But shot after shot after shot, with ever-more-humorous results... the swollen hands, the numb tongue so he can't talk... ugh. Awful, gratutious, and distracting."

I agree, we could have used with a little less of that. It was pretty amusing, though, at least with McCoy's reactions.

"Plus, they way overplay the "Kirk as ladies' man" angle. Fine, we get it. But one or two fewer scenes of him ogling the female crewmen would have been quite welcome. He was close to Benny Hill in places. File the goofy Scotty under this category as well."

Different reality, different factors on the personality. I'm going to let this go, mainly because Kirk didn't have his father, or Sam, as a moderating influence. Besides, look at TOS. The other Kirk had a lady in every port. How do you think he got them? They didn't just throw themselves at him on sight.

"Spock and Uhura. Let's set aside for the moment the whole "Starfleet Academy has no directory where you can find someone's name after three years of trying" thing."

Ahem ... Efrosian Captain? Maybe it was withheld from files for religious, or other personal, reasons.

"But where the hell did the whole Spock-Uhura love angle come from? We are given NO inkling of it prior to the awkward scene in the turbo-lift, and then on the transporter pad Spock seems quite unconcerned with his flagrant PDA in front of Kirk, Scotty, et al. Maybe-- just maybe-- I can see it between them in the turbo-lift alone. But in the transporter room? Completely uncharacteristic, just within the framework of this film, setting aside the rest of what we know about Spock."

What about the interaction between them before boarding the shuttles? "Might show favoritism?" For a good student? Nope, that wouldn't fly. there was something else going on there, especially with how he gave in to her so easily. And what, precisely, do we know about Spock? The Spock who beat up two characters, that we know of, because they brought up his mother? The Spock who just watched his planet, and beloved mother, die before his eyes? What do we really know about the character that would make that kiss so uncharacteristic?

"The Time Travel MacGuffin. One can go two ways with a "reboot" such as this. The first is to completely ignore what has gone before and just start from scratch. Planet of the Apes did this with disasterous effects, and Batman Begins did it very effectively. The other is to try to think of some excuse for changes. Time travel! Alternate timelines! Brilliant! Ummm... no. The changes they have effected here are simply beyond the scope of whatever changes introducing Nero 25 someodd years in the past would have caused."

Done a lot of experiments to know that? Ever hear of the Butterfly Effect? ;-)

"The technology is totally different."

As it was in the Mirror Universe in TOS, but everyone wholey believes that without question.

"Planets have completely moved (Delta Vega has moved from the edge of the galaxy to being, apparently, one of Vulcan's moons, and gone from scrub desert to frozen waste in the process)."

Was it the same planet? I don't know about you, but I've seen maps, just of our world, where people named two different places the same thing. Or even the same place two different things. Why is it not possible that there are two Delta Vegas?

"The characters seem to have morphed in terms of age; Sulu, Kirk, Chekov, Uhura, etc. are all contemporaries in the Academy."

All of whom were born AFTER Kirk and, therefore, AFTER the alternate reality begins, thus possibly changing when they were actually born.

"It only makes sense for Spock to be there, as he is presented as a Commander and an Academy instructor. Etc. etc. etc."

And instructor, I should point out, that is only a few years older than Kirk himself. And already a Commander! (See below for more on that point.)

"Nonsensical regulations (though this could be placed under the "plot holes" category, too). Spock is emotionally distraught because of the destruction of his home planet and the death of his mother, so he loses his brevet promotion to captain of the Enterprise forever?"

Forever? Where does the regulation say that? Spock resigned the post, not his commission as an officer. It was Kirk that said he resigned his commission and I believe that it was meant in regard to the position only.

"What the hell kind of regulation is that? And Kirk gets a medal, so as a Junior in the Academy, he gets bumped from cadet to captain? What the hell sense does that make?"

And yet you didn't have a problem with Spock being a Commander, even though he's only a year or two out of the Academy himself. And, let's not forget Kirk's boast before leaving. I believe that he was a Senior at the time, due to this, and ready to graduate anyway. But let's look at this the other way. Do you think that Starfleet, who has just lost HOW MANY ships and crews, will allow a qualified and proven commander to start at Ensign and work his way up to the position they want him at anyway? Yes, it's unusual, but not improbable under the circumstances.

"The unfortunate self-references."

And if they weren't there, would you, honestly now, have complained that they weren't there?

"Ummm... a giant Romulan ship that is unstoppable and kills entire planets?" Where have we heard that before? Oh, yeah. Star Trek: Nemesis. Not a good omen."

Let's not forget that the Romulan ship that could kill planets was doing it with Vulcan technology. ;-)

Joseph said...

Robert, the very fact that you have to come up with such rationalizations for some of these items speaks volumes. One can rationalize anything, of course; Trekkies have been making a hobby of that for decades, myself included.

One thing...

Do you think that Starfleet, who has just lost HOW MANY ships and crewsSix, if I recall correctly. The bulk of the fleet was at some other star system or other on some unspecified mission. Starfleet had plenty of personnel. It wasn't exactly the Battle of Wolf 359...

Badelaire said...

::Shrug::

I've got all three seasons of TOS, I have no interest in TNG, DS9, Voyager, or Enterprise and am at best lukewarm on any ST movies other than II and VI.

But I thought this movie rocked. Plot wholes Schmot Holes - who gives a crap, really. 90% of ST plots are held together by the merest of threads anyhow.

I thought it was more "Star Trek" the way I think of Star Trek - Fist fights, alien babes, techno-babble solutions to plot challenges, and lots of just out and out nuttiness - than any of the later series and most of the movies. I don't watch anything Star Trek to see a tight-woven plot; I go for a rollicking good adventure, and yesterday I wasn't disappointed.

And I'll be going to see it again tomorrow, actually.

Tim said...

Enjoyed reading your review. You have many of the same comments I was discussing with people after seeing the movie myself.

I liked the characters, especially McCoy. However, it's difficult for me to see a young Kirk without discipline. Or a young Spock with emotion. I don't really think I saw enough about the other characters to really come to any conclusions.

Kirk had not father growing up, so he ended up a rebellious risk taker. Ok, but I would have liked a little more about his decision process when deciding to join Starfleet. First he seems completely uninterested, and the next thing you see is him driving up to the shuttle. Huh?

Then, "three years later", he acts just a juvenile and pigheaded as he did before he entered the academy. After everything we heard about "The Academy", I would expect anyone to graduates to mature, at least a little.

The Kobyashi Maru scenario was stupid! I don't care how confident he was, that was just not what I would expect to see of someone who apparently graduated ahead of the normal 4 years... as suggested by Pike. Also, it seems to me that McCoy and maybe others graduated from the academy after three years also. I thought Kirk had always accomplished something special by graduating quickly. Would have liked a little more story about what happened in the academy.

In the original series, Spock was always more interested in Science. He never desired a command of his own. How did he end up being a commander as everyone else was just getting out of the academy? It was already mentioned, but the notion of Kirk taking the captains chair away from Spock didn't make sense. There was absolutely no military protocol at all in this movie.

The older Spock was probably my least favorite character. Was he altered by the silly time shift too? The Spock I know would have done everything in his power to return things to the way they should be. I got the impression we watching Leonard Nimoy, and not Spock. And boy did he look OLD!!

Overall, I didn't hate the movie. I would place this one ahead of "The Final Frontier", but *far* behind The "Wrath of Kahn" or even "First Contact".

I'm glad to hear the movie did well.. but I don't really understand why. What they maybe did with this movie, is succeed in introducing some interesting characters for the next movie.

LLAP

Coffee Maker said...

it would seem that Chris Pine's Capt. Kirk encapsulates all that Capt. Kirk was meant to be more than William Shatner's version

AzaLiN said...

"it would seem that Chris Pine's Capt. Kirk encapsulates all that Capt. Kirk was meant to be more than William Shatner's version"

Hang on: with Gene Roddenberry having passed on, I'm not sure that you can make a comparison like that. It seems more likely that the original Kirk would have had more of his influence, him having some leverage in the matter at the time- more than he could have now, for example- but in any case, I think Next Generation best represents what he wanted Star Trek to really be, not conflicting versions of Kirk.

I would have liked the movie about twice as much if it hadn't used characters from the existing star trek canon- as a stand alone movie it would have been a far better star trek movie; including old spock was just marketing and fan service, and the needs of continuity wouldn't ahve needed to intrude on the plot.

Noelle said...

Haven't seen it yet, but I do have to point out that without this movie, we wouldn't have gotten Kingons :)

http://www.whenkingonsattack.com/

Joseph said...

Oh by all that's holy...

I hated those Burger King commercials before. Now my loathing bears the intensity of a million white-hot suns...

Badmike said...

So far the very few I've met who disliked the movies are rabid Trekkies; which is ok with me, as I rabidly dislike rabid Trekkies! Nothing better than having them piss and moan, much as the LOTR faithful did the very same for years as we were treated to the best and most epic fantasy trilogy ever presented on screen. The fact is this was a more than competent, respectful reboot of a dead in the water franchise desparately in need of new ideas.

The main point is that the franchise, at it's nadir after so many years of success, has gotten a successful shot in the arm and should now entertain an entire new generation of kids, who might actually decide to buy a ST:OS DVD someday.

Also, I find the parallels between the older Trekkie fans and their reaction to the movie and old school gamers and their reactions to anything D&D published after 1989---fascinating! :)