Mon 25 May 2009
Confession time: I am a Trekkie. When I was a kid, Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG) was still being aired live, and my parents were not only fans, but felt that it was good, clean family entertainment. (Close enough.) I’ve seen enough episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series (ST:TOS) to know what’s going on; I’ve probably seen all of them at one point or another, but it’s been fifteen years on many of them. I don’t, however, have the sentimental attachment to ST:TOS that I do to ST:TNG, and that’s obviously coloring my observations on the movie — which, by the way, was directed by J. J. Abrams of Alias and Lost fame, and starred Zachary Quinto (of Heroes infamy) as Spock, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, and Chris Pine as James T. Kirk. (Also Leonard Nimoy [Spock, also] and Bruce Greenwood [Capt. Pike], with appearances by Winona Ryder [Amanda], John Cho [Sulu], Simon Pegg [Scotty], Anton Yelchin [Chekhov], Karl Urban [McCoy], and Eric Bana [Nero].)
In the beginning, there was a brave young first officer named Kirk — George Kirk, thank you very much — who realized that he was in a no-win situation, and ordered the entire ship evacuated, including his wife who was pretty much in the process of giving birth at the time. Fast forward to twelve years later, and we see the baby — James Tiberius Kirk, after his grandfathers — has already started a life of rebellion and general James Deanishness. Eight or ten years later, after a bar fight, a Starfleet officer named Pike convinces the young Jim Kirk to join the academy. Three years later, while there, Kirk is on the verge of getting thrown out when a situation requires a good deal of the cadets to be used on ships, and via subterfuge, he gets onto the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701). Will they survive this situation?
Trekkies would already know by the time the first ten minutes of the movie are over that this is an alternate universe, being that in the regular timeline, Kirk’s father did not die at that time. Everything that happens after that is therefore a new canon, and the standard complaints about how the phasers didn’t match don’t so much apply. (Although I hardly think that will keep people from commenting.) Some things are different, although most remain pretty damn similar. I think the alternate-universe idea was dragged in just in case there were little differences that they had not foreseen — well, and also to allow the deaths of a couple characters that couldn’t happen in the original timeline. Otherwise, so much of the story could be said to be explicating the story that was behind the original five-year mission.
For example: the Spock/Uhura romance (which, of course, is the talk of the town) was, according to many, hinted at in ST:TOS (he teaches her to play the Vulcan lyre at some point, I guess) but that Spock is somewhat more reserved than new!Spock. (I liked it a lot, by the way. It felt believable, given that new!Uhura was intended to be the brainiest character there, other than Spock himself.) So many of the other characters have exactly the same personality — especially the ones we see in only one or two scenes (Scotty and Sulu, for example). Even Kirk is essentially the same, despite having grown up without a father (he does have a stepdad, though). He and Dr. McCoy become friends on the shuttle launch off to Starfleet Academy, and within a very short period of time, McCoy has managed to say, “Damnit, I’m a doctor, not a ___!”
Regarding the acting, I thought that Zachary Quinto did a marvelous job as Spock, as did Zoe Saldana as Uhura. Those two, as well as Simon Pegg, thoroughly managed to inhabit their characters and remake them anew. Some other actors didn’t do as good a job; I do not know whether it was because of the script or their general acting ability. Occasionally McCoy, as much as I loved him, appeared as if he were playing DeForrest Kelly playing McCoy, rather than just playing McCoy. John Cho didn’t show up enough for me to be able to differentiate him from George Takei (other than, you know, being Korean instead of Japanese), but his scene with the sword was pretty damn awesome. Kirk, I must say, was probably my least favorite character in the movie. Chris Pine didn’t have the charisma that William Shatner has — say what you will about his acting ability, but the man has charisma — and the script didn’t allow for anything particularly lovable about Kirk. Without the charisma, he’s basically a bad-boy slacker with a pretty face and no other redeeming qualities, and that didn’t particularly engage me. In some ways, I felt the story could have been a little more explicitly about Spock (put the Spock-birth scene back in, please!) and it would have been a better movie.
There were a few things about the movie that bothered me. Why on earth did Pike make Kirk first officer, if he’d basically been brought aboard the ship illicitly and was about two seconds from getting kicked out of the academy? Even if his father had been the subject of Pike’s dissertation (also, apparently it’s Dr. Capt. Pike), that doesn’t mean that Kirk should have been first officer. Second — spoilers ahoy — why did they give Kirk captain status at the end of the movie? I would think he would deserve not to get kicked out of the academy, primarily, and perhaps a lieutenant status if they were feeling particularly generous (i.e., skipping ensign). Third, there was a scene with a smallish, Ewok-like alien who was actually a full member of Starfleet, but the humans around him kept treating him like, well, an Ewok, or cross between a child and a dog. Considering that in order to have that insignia on his uniform the small alien dude would have had to graduate the Starfleet Academy, same as the rest of them — oh, right, Kirk hadn’t even graduated yet — why were they treating him so poorly? It implied a sort of racism with which I was not comfortable at all.
Overall, though, I loved it. I’m really looking forward to future installments — I’d like to see how the actors can grow in their roles. So many parts of the movie were put in to establish the new actors as the characters we all know and love — the catchphrases and the miniskirts, for example — and I’m very much expecting that they can lose those trappings in the next film. Hopefully these new actors and the new franchise will be able to grow into their own branch of the Star Trek tree. 3.5/5 stars.