Saturday, May 30, 2009

"Star Trek" ROCKS!

Let me preface this by saying this is coming from someone who has seen every Trek movie and series, is looking at action figures of the TOS crew on her desk right now, has scratch-built Star Trek movie prop-replicas, and - yes - I have a Starfleet Uniform in my closet.

I am exactly the audience this movie wanted to convince, and presumably the most resistant to the new movie's departure from all that came before it. J.J. Abrams - and pretty much everyone involved with the movie - assured fans like me I'd like it, and to just give it a chance. Many fans like me initially bristled at the thought of a Star Trek "reboot" with a CW network-style "pretty kids with problems" cast. To put it bluntly, fandom practically demanded I hate this movie on principle.

You know what? Anyone who refused to see this, that's their loss. I thoroughly enjoyed the new "Star Trek" movie. I went into it skeptical of what sort of bastardization I'd see up on that big screen, and walked away feeling good about it and anticipating the next chapter of a whole NEW Star Trek universe full of possibilities - unbound by the canon which came before it, yet still somehow so familiar.

Ok, for starters I'm going to address one of the biggest things about this movie Trek fans blasted even before the movie was out (because it was in the trailer) - Building the Enterprise on the ground. No, they don't waste any time on screen explaining it but for those who can't accept that it just "is" I've got a potential explanation. That giant canyon in Iowa into which young Kirk sends a classic car isn't explained either, though it looks like some kind of quarry given the straight cuts to the cliff walls.

So, here is as good an explanation as any for building the Enterprise on the ground (courtesy of my brother, who has an Engineering degree and has worked in manufacturing for many years): the materials to build the ship are on Earth - whether we're talking natural resources or manufactured goods and materials used in the construction, that stuff is on Earth. It doesn't make any sense to ship all that materiel into space and construct the ship in orbit. We don't do that today because of the expense in doing so, but you'd also either have to have all the construction workers in space, or be taking construction crews there and back. It makes logistical sense to locate the project on the ground - where the supplies, material, and workers are already available, and what better place to locate such a big project but in the middle of nowhere? Or what we can assume is a central location to the supply lines (which is apparently somewhere in Iowa). What we see is likely a "test fit," and once it's done they'll disassemble it, shuttle all the parts into space, and reassemble it there at an orbiting dock during the portion of the film glossed over with the word "Three Years Later."

As for actual stuff in the movie that matters?

Before seeing the movie I wasn't so sure about Simon Pegg's comic-relief portrayal of Scottie, but now that I've seen the movie I have to say it makes a perverse sort of sense. Scottie is supposed to be a brilliant, and often unorthodox, engineer. He'd argue with his teachers, he'd make enemies of more closed-minded superiors, he'd join Starfleet to get his hands on the inner workings of a starship, but (like a lot of people with an Engineer's or inventor's mindset) he's probably not as good with people. So, in context, the comical, quirky, yet brilliant Scottie worked for me. Zach Quinto was BORN to play Spock, what else can you say? Chris Pine has every ounce of William Shatner's swagger in the role of James T. Kirk. The surprising gem of a performance, though, comes from Karl Ubran as Doctor "Bones" McCoy. He gets to utter at least a couple of DeForest Kelly's classic lines, but he's not mimicing him - somehow he makes Bones his own. Also, the explanation for how Kirk and McCoy end up friends from the academy even though McCoy is obviously older than Kirk now makes sense, as does McCoy's reason or joining Starfleet - even though he doesn't care for space travel or transporters. I know some people expressed disbelief that John Cho (a Korean-American) was cast as Sulu (a Japanese-American), but he does an ok job in the role and gets one good sword fight scene - furthermore George Takei said HE didn't have a problem with Cho playing Sulu because the character represents ALL Asians on the bridge of the Enterprise.

As for misfires with the cast? Only minor things really. I was a bit disappointed with Zoe Saldana as Uhuru, but not through any fault of hers. Her performance was fine, and despite more than one scene extolling her capabilities as an officer, she came off as little more than a sexy woman sleeping her way to the top. I mean, really, what are we to think of her relationship with Spock - especially when she clearly leverages it for favors? Yes, the relationship is supposed to remind us (and Spock) that he's half human, but it just felt out of place. Anton Yelchin as Chekov is the biggest disappointment of this new crew. He's trying to do Walter Koenig's pseudo-Russian accent and it's so labored it's almost painful to listen to it. He'd either best fix his performance before a next movie, recast the character, or they should take a cue from the "Star Trek Phase II" fan-film "To Serve All My Days" and kill him off.

In supporting roles, obviously Leonard Nimoy as the "Spock Prime" was everything you could expect him to be. You actually get quite a ways into the film before you actually get to see him "in person" on screen, but it's a good entrance. As is his exit - the only scene in which he performs with Zach Quinto, also a very satisfying fan moment. Bruce Greenwood makes a great Captain Pike, and though he DOES end up in a wheelchair it isn't that lame one with the light and beeps for "yes" or "no." Assuming they do more movies with this cast I'd look forward to his return as a father-figure/mentor for the young Kirk. Speaking of father-figures, Ben Cross is quite good as Sarek, Spock's father. Cross also had big shoes to fill in a role so very much defined by Mark Lenard. Eric Bana also has to be given props for his job playing the villian, Nero. Unlike a lot of Trek films, where the bad guy gets all the best lines, Nero speaks with his actions more than his words. But when he does speak it's either with a tsunami of anger or a casual and familiar flippancy that betrays the Romulan's non-military background as the Captain of the commercial mining-ship-turned-weapon.

This is a fast-paced, action-packed movie. Those are some things that have been missing from Trek films on the big screen, which more often have opted for pacing similar to (or even slower) than the various television series. All too often in the past we were treated to descriptions of the action in a battle, rather than seeing it on screen. You know, stuff like "sensors show he's turning with us and closing rapidly, Captain." Which is a LOT cheaper to film than actually SHOWING us. Well, if anything this new Star Trek film has the noisy, chaotic CGI battles we've come to expect in any blockbuster sci-fi film. Finally, after all these years of hearing Science Officers and Helmsman narrate the battle while the camera shakes, we get a view from the gallery OUTSIDE the ship.

I walked away from this film anxious for them to make a sequel, convinced the "curse" on odd-numbered Trek films has been countermanded, and with a serious contender which - given time and more viewings - may yet unseat "Wrath of Khan" as my all-time favorite Trek film.

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