Star Trek (2009), or To Boldly Go (Or Not?)

7 05 2009

Every review on this movie is going to start off with a fondly-remembered story about the reviewer’s first experience watching the original Star Trek television series, what it meant to them, and how they are changing it up for this 2009 re-imagining by J.J. Abrams. Well, here’s my story: I loved the original series, really liked The Next Generation, loved Deep Space Nine, disliked Voyager, and barely paid attention to Enterprise. The movies, for the most part, were passing, although I recall liking some that most others didn’t (Part V). What attracted me to the series were the unusually deep and mature concepts introduced in the scripts that were above and beyond anything I ever saw on television. They explored philosophy, difficult moral quandaries, and the limits of science, man, and even God. What I hated about the series was that they also had a lot of throw-away episodes that relied too much on technobabble, action sequences, singular-episode character development, and (URGH) forced comedic situations. There were so many of these, in fact, that they ended up choking the franchise to death with them. Today’s feature, the shiny and taciturn new Star Trek entry from J.J. Abrams, has a script resembling that of a fifth-rate Trek episode and enough plot-padding to fill up a completely new movie with unrelated information, but manages to remain afloat due to the willingness of the peripheral cast members to go the extra mile and give noteworthy performances and the sheer power of $100 million special effects. If this is the evolution of a series, I’m a little confused on how this would have been different if they had just chucked 9 figures at the cast and crew of Enterprise.

For this re-tooling of the series, we go ALLLLLL the way back to the beginning, with a re-telling of the history of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s first crew as they face their first crisis together. An evil and mysterious Romulan named Nero has caused untold devastation on and around the planet Vulcan, and it’s up to the young and sexy crew of the newly-christened Enterprise to discover his motives and a means to stop him. Along the way they form relationships, feuds, and friendships together as officer-in-training James T. Kirk takes the reins of his destiny and begins to discover his innate ability to lead and inspire. Oh, and be a jerk.

This all sounds fine on paper, and I admit being taken with the visuals and the chance of revisiting some of my favorite characters at the beginning, albeit with more lithe bodies and taut skin than I recalled. But not too far into the movie, perhaps 30 minutes or so, I began to get the sneaking suspicion that the film was taking a MAJOR downturn. And, much to my chagrin, it was. The plot, around 45 minutes in, takes such a nose-dive that oxygen masks deployed in the theater and I was forced to use my chair as a flotation device. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but let me just warn anyone that thinks that time travel of any kind is an unforgivable plot construct to stay far away from this movie. It’s unbelievably padded, with ironically only enough plot to fill an hour-long episode being stretched out to 120 minutes.

It’s entertaining and visually arresting, I’ll give it that. When it wants to, this film can really knock you off your socks. The Enterprise looks very real, fleshed-out for the first time on such a grand scale, and in the space battles she finds herself in she attention to detail is astonishing. Space is exciting here, not the merciless cold void of Solaris but the raucous and action-filled fun-zone of Star Wars. The graphics depicting astral phenomena have a $100 million feel to them, and even I can appreciate that. Surrounding all this computer-generated wonderment, though, is a lot of excitement and some well-choreographed fight scenes that put the other films to shame. If you’re an action-oriented fellow, you could definitely do worse than seeing this new Star Trek. It will keep your attention the entire time, and I never found myself bored with the affair, whatever that is worth.

The actors were a mixed bag. Chris Pine plays the new Captain Kirk, and he is a real jerk. I don’t remember Kirk being such an incorrigible punk beyond redemption, but what do I know? He seems very thirsty for the position that is promised to him by destiny, and he seems to relish the moments where power is given to him a little too much. That is not what I want in a captain, especially not the captain of a ship I currently reside in. Zachary Quinto shines as Spock. He has very unique features, and that adds greatly to his alien appearance and the projection of his personality. I would have liked to see more of him in the film, as he is over-shadowed by that mongrel of a captain, and if they make a sequel to this re-imagining, I would like to see much more focus more on him. And kudos to Simon Pegg for playing Scotty. He doesn’t really play Scotty as much as he does Simon Pegg with a Scottish accent, but I can’t really fault him for that. He makes the audience laugh, and with all the heavy space stuff going on, I’m afraid we all need a bit more comic relief than Spock saying something “human”.

It would be an inappropriate blanket statement to say that fans of the show will not like this movie and that people who are new to the franchise will. What I will say is that this film would most likely be easier to engage with if you have never seen the show, because this isn’t a film for Trekkies or followers of the canon. It’s a film made for a younger audience using a familiar and recognizable franchise that was made to attract the largest number of people possible, and in that I’m sure they succeeded. But fans of the series might be put off, as I was, by the flagrant disregard for anything resembling canon and the lower-tier script that could have been passed for an episode of Enterprise. Lousy plot+mixed acting results+great visuals+engaging action=a little better than average, but is only a little better than average worth your time? That’s your call. I give Star Trek 5 1/2 shiny Enterprises out of 10. Make it so, Number 1.

Come back tomorrow for the PSA! I’ll be watching a little film called Pootie Tang, and… well… it’s a reader request, that’s all I’ll say. Until then!!!!