“Making Star Trek Cool Again”. Was one of the marketing phrases used by this film. Which i honestly found to be bizarre and a little condescending; when was Star Trek ever cool? Star Wars is cool i guess, as there are far more normal people who have at least watched one movie in the franchise. But Star Trek? Nope.
I let that sink in a bit, as i waited for the movie to come out. How i felt about that tag line more or less mirrors how i feel about this film. At first i was excited to find out about a new Star Trek film, one that featured the original crew and had that poster with that iconic font, but then i thought about that tag line and while my thoughts didn’t turn into worrisome ones, i most certainly adjusted my expectations.
The most crucial of tasks facing the film makers of this new series was the casting. To get the casting wrong with this film would be disastrous, as so much of the original series’ timeless charm came from their charisma and character interactions. I have to say they pulled a minor miracle off and managed to get just about everyone right, Chris Pine plays the now fatherless Kirk with just the right amount of necessary douchiness, Karl Urban despite being a younger McCoy spouts off his “Dammit Jim…” lines with all of the same world-weary impatience that DeForest Kelly had while managing to keep it from becoming a bad impression, it is however Zachary Quinto that comes out as the best choice made for the franchise; his Spock is youthful and troubled and the fact that he is just about a dead ringer to Leonard Nimoy completes my full acceptance of him to the role. The rest of the cast is also more or less, nicely chosen with at least to me no occasions of stunt casting or jarring unnecessary cameos which could’ve ruined the film.
The production design is also for the most part quite good, with a notable improvement being the redesign of the engineering sections of the ship. I’ve never been impressed with the engineering sections of any of the ships in the Star Trek franchise, in the original the only thing it had to distinguish itself from the bridge is that it had more open space, more dangerous looking rectangles, and a cage. In all of the other series’ ships, engineering was so domesticated that it didn’t look like any hard or potentially dangerous work was being done in it at all. That’s always been a sore spot for my believability of the franchise, but here in Star Trek engineering actually looks like a place where anti-matter is being contained, and finally feels like the bowels of the ship that i feel it should be.
All of the elements of the production from the design, to Dan Mindel’s bright cinematography (yes those lens flares were indeed obnoxious), Abrams fast paced direction, and Michael Giacchino spectacular score, all help to inject some much-needed life into a film series that desperately needed some new blood at the helm.
I hate to say this, but where to start?
I can nit pick this thing for just about any and every shot in the movie. This is the strangest thing as i wouldn’t call myself a hardcore Star Trek fan, I believe i inhabit a strange nether zone between casual and a serious fan. While i have watched my fair share of episodes across the franchise I have not watched every episode in those series’ runs, while i do have a signed copy of First Contact, i don’t go out of my way to attend Calgary Expo (even when they managed to re-unite the entire crew), i don’t even have seasons of the show on disc (i have those fan collectives as i don’t have the time or patience to give to watch a whole television series). So the film has a better chance winning me over than one of those “Old Guard” types, but it just barely does so.
Lets start with Nero for giggles. I quite like Eric Banna as an actor, in fact i absolutely adore him in something like Munich, but he is unfortunately dreadful here and has the added handicap of been given the absolute worst Star Trek villain in the film series. Yes, worse than Sybok in Final Frontier, worse than Ru’afo in Insurrection, and yes worse than Kruge in Search for Spock (just barely). This is mostly because he is such a massive disappointment that is schizophrenic in his characterisation; when he does speak he trades between silent grimace, to homicidal maniac, to occasionally smarmy ass-hole. This is a man who watched his planet be destroyed and lost everything, this is man patient enough to sit in the void for 25 years waiting for Spock, this is the framework for a fantastic villain as he can be equal parts tortured and ruthless. But they don’t give him enough screen time, good scenes, or enough consistency to become what the movie makes him out to be, one of the most important and pivotal figures in the series’ history.
While the story during its opening scenes does a great and clever job of setting up an alternate time line, bringing together some of the principles (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura), and setting up their motivations. The dynamic duo of coincidences and contrivances of bad writing ultimately rears their ugly faces for the remainder of the movie however; the Federation just so happens to send all of their cadets off to real duty as their fleet just so happens to be elsewhere, Sulu and Chekov just so happen to land spots as bridge officers, the ship’s doctor just so happens to get killed letting Bones take command (how? He’s a cadet, not an officer. There isn’t another officer in sick bay?), the Enterprise’s communications officer just so happens to not be qualified to be a communications officer on the flagship of the entire Federation fleet leading to Uhura taking his place, and i can go on and on about this.
I’m tempted to nitpick, really really tempted. Stuff like how the Enterprise’s nacelles are too long for my liking, or how Nero’s ship looks like a bunch of spikes glued together and looks like crap, or how Spock Prime somehow was surprised when Romulus was destroyed, or how the Spock’s theme in the score is overly sappy, and how all of this stuff is really fickle but snowballs on itself until it just can’t be ignored.
The worst offence is that this movie doesn’t bring very much new to the table, more appropriately it doesn’t bring anything interesting. Just look at The Motion Picture as an example of what ideas and concepts this series has tackled: Trans-Humanism and Nano Technology are still relevant and calling out for this series to explore. But instead here in Star Trek, we have a time travel mechanic that has already been done twice before on film, and alternate universes have been done many more times within the various television series. Even worse it’s not like all of this talk about irrevocable change amounts to anything either, as ultimately the crew of the Enterprise is the same as it was before.
After watching my first viewing of Star Trek i will admit to being quite exhilarated. It was fun, it was exciting, and those two strengths are enough for me to accept this new series on the grounds that it is just starting and is indeed meant not as a replacement to the original universe but as an addition to it.
However its is very clear that the chosen film makers had only the barest of ideas about what made Star Trek so iconic that ultimately the best parts of the franchise used it as a franchise for ideas of what the future might hold for humanity. How the problems of today may indeed still be the problems of tomorrow and that we will be strong enough not just technologically but also in character to deal with them. Here in Star Trek we get a vision of the future that is indeed just laser beams and light speed and while that is OK for a start, it had better start shaping up and joining in with the best entries of the series that i sincerely believe it has a chance to.
RATING AS A PART OF THE NEW SERIES: *** OUT OF FIVE
RATING WITHIN THE STAR TREK FRANCHISE ** 1/2 OUT OF FIVE
I’m gonna digress a bit here, to elaborate on something that i found personally disturbing while watching this film. It’s completely and utterly subjective to me (i will admit to it being a bit of nerd rage) but it stains my viewings and opinions of the film enough to merit mention. I also use some rather severe language here so i do apologise if anyone reading this is offended, but my level of disgust simply cannot be expressed with civilised words.
I liked this movie enough to see it a second time by myself, which is honestly something i rarely do. So i bought my ticket early, got my choice of seat, and was ready to enjoy the movie for the light show it is. But then something happened, as the theatre filled up, two other guys came in and chose the seats next to me. It was clear that one of them had talked the other into seeing the movie as he stated that he watched it already. To put it lightly these are people who i would never have cause or desire to ever talk to unless it was my job to do so. To put it harshly they were grade A, popped collar, douche bags.
They commented throughout the entire movie, made explosion gestures and sound effects during the explosions, obnoxiously bobbed their heads when the Beastie Boys started playing (i fucking hate the Beastie Boys), and during the scene where Uhura is trying to comfort Spock after his Mother and home planet have been destroyed, one of them whispered (i am not making this up by the way) “Tell me, he fucks her right here man”, and he was honestly being serious about it too, as he was clearly disappointed that his wish wasn’t granted. When the movie was over, they were clearly very impressed with what they had seen, and the one that had been talked into seeing it by his friend left with what i could tell was a pleasantly surprised opinion that he could have been.
I know i’m being judgemental here, but i guarantee these are the types of people who beat up and/or otherwise bullied the “nerds” they encountered while in school. I guarantee they are the types of people who yell out “FAGGOT”! when people who dress up for Calgary Expo walk by their rusted up, beat to shit Mustangs, or who also just happen to offend their hateful sensibilities. And I guarantee they are the types of people who would also reply with similar hateful remarks to anyone trying to explain to them concepts such as singularities, or the implausibility of faster than light travel all of which was splattered on that 50 foot screen that they so eagerly watched and made explosion sounds to.
I will allow the thought that i may be completely wrong about them, that maybe they volunteer their spare time bathing dying cancer patients, or help little old ladies cross the street, or also that what we know about evolution is completely and utterly wrong, or that planes really are spraying us with chemicals and not just disturbing the atmosphere normally. But in the end, I’m angry that, i now have to share Star Trek with them. I’m angry that the producers succeeded in making Star Trek “cool” enough that those two “bros” and other people like them can watch this and not be embarrassed by it, and i resent the fact that this movie was clearly made with those people in mind. This is most certainly not “your daddy’s Star Trek” and it is dangerously close to not even being my Star Trek.
I don’t mean to come off as elitist, and i most certainly don’t resent any otherwise normal and decent person who was enticed into the universe by this new movie, and is now curious as to what the rest of the series is about (i gladly welcome you!), or even people who just wanted to kill some time at the theatre. But i unapologetically draw the line at those people mentioned above.