Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Trek

Let's get one thing straight, this ain't your daddy's Star Trek. J.J. Abrams and his team have successfully relaunched a franchise with 2009's Star Trek. What we're given us a fun summer popcorn flick with characters that resemble those from the classic TV-show. However, the film isn't perfect and makes a few too many changes to Trek continuity for my tastes (not all of which can be argued away by the plot's time travel plot). Is it a good Star Trek film? Yes, it's by far the best one the franchise has put out since Star Trek: First Contact. Is it a great Star Trek film? Well...

Let's begin with the contraption by which the entire film hinges. Years in the future Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is involved with an attempt to save Romulus from disaster. The result sends both Spock and the Romulan ship back in time to create havoc and alter the time stream. This basic premise will be used to explain how the film deviates from basic Trek chronology and how Kirk will rise to become Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

As convoluted as it is, as plot point itself I don't have a problem (and it works much better than Generations' Nexus), however the film asks us to believe the death of Kirk's father (hey, it happens in the first ten-minutes so I'm not giving away much here) has a ripple effect not only on Kirk's timeline but on the other Enterprise crew members as well. I'm less able to buy the second than the first. In this film all members of the crew, except for Spock who is only slightly older, are all basically the same age. This Kirk doesn't take control of an Enterprise that was already put together under Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), but one that's pieced together over the course of the film. Does this work for the film? Yes, but it's also a bit of a slap in the face to longtime Trekkies.

Also troubling in this version is the fact that Starfleet seems to be more than a tad shorthanded. When a Federation world is attacked the only ones available are ships largely staffed with fresh recruits? Where is the rest of Starfleet (and can you even call it a star fleet if it's made up of only a half-dozen ships)? And they aren't the only ones as it seems the entire planet of Vulcan (a civilization far more advanced than humans) seems to be without a single craft that can navigate across space. The film has its share of logic holes like this which will nag your throughout and keep it from becoming the film it could have been had a little more care been taken with the plot.

We're also given extremely awkward childhood moments of both Kirk and Spock that give us no new information about the characters. Thankfully once these pass and we catch-up to the characters now grown things get better quick. Chris Pine's Kirk isn't a Shatner clone though he carries many of the characters best qualities. I'm more on the fence with Zachary Quinto as Spock, not so much with his performance which is quite good, but with the attempt to more humanize the character. Sarek as well (played here by Ben Cross) is the most empathetic we've ever seen him portrayed.

The character I liked best in the film is relegated to the shortest screentime. Simon Pegg is brilliant as Scotty, but you'll have to wait well over an hour before he makes an appearance. Rounding out the cast Karl Urban is good, though of all the actors here he (and perhpas Anton Yelchin as Checkov) is the one that seems determined to channel the original character rather than make it his own, John Cho makes a fine (if slightly too acrobatic) Sulu, and Zoe Saldana, who is given a larger role than Nichelle Nichols ever received, hits all the right notes as Uhura.

Pine's Kirk and his lackadaisical attitude (this Kirk isn't driven to become a starship Captain) leads to one of the two biggest groan-worthy moments of the film as J.J. Abrams takes the defining moment of the Kobyashi Maru and turns it into something akin to a fratboy prank. This was one of the few scenes which was so bad it made me squirm in my chair. The other involves a pretty stupid decision by Spock and Kirk's short time on the ice planet of Hoth. The first is actually damaging to the core of the character while second is just inane.

To quickly sum up a few other minor points. I was surprised, and a bit disappointed, that, much like Casino Royale, we are denied the classic theme of the franchise, which would seem appropriate in many scenes, but is relegated to the closing credits. The special effects are good, and I like the new-old-look Enterprise as well as the squid-like Romulan ship. Eric Bana is passable as the film's villain Nero (he's certainly no Khan), but the film realizes he's the least interesting part of the puzzle and thankfully keeps him in the shadows for most of the film.

So to answer my original question, is Star Trek a great Trek movie? Although it's does a good job of relaunching the franchise and infusing some energy and excitement to the proceedings it still has enough problems which prevent me from categorizing it as great. That said, it's still really good, the best damn Trek film in years in fact, and both old and new audiences should be able to find much to enjoy in this newest chapter of Star Trek.

*Note for those who haven't seen the film: many of the comments below do include spoilers. Read at your own risk.

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