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.