Star Trek

>> Sunday, May 10, 2009

Friday night, I went with a gaggle of friends to see the new Star Trek movie in IMAX. In short: it's very, very good and everyone in our little party liked it a lot. It has a few bits that are "good-movie good" and a lot more that's "good-in-terms-of-Star Trek-movies good," which of course says a lot less since saying a movie is better than Nemesis or The Final Frontier is really kind of redundant (those two movies fail on every level except, perhaps, minimal competence--I don't remember seeing the boom mic in either of them).

I don't want to say too much about the movie's plot or who's in it: Star Trek is wily enough to have some things that would be spoilers and--better yet--for some things that you expect to come off as really cool; e.g. McCoy's first appearance on screen is something where you know who he is as soon as you see him, but there's still a little thrill when the introductions get underway.

It's a fun ride. The great or terrible news about it, depending on how you feel about this sort of thing, is that it's Trek in full-blown space opera mode. Finding the "science" part of the "science fiction" label in the new movie is about as easy as finding a Higgs boson with a pair of pliers; personally, I call this a very good thing indeed, because the occasionally-vaunted "science" you find in the earlier movies and TV episodes consists of somebody saying something nonsensical about tachyons followed by a wizard casting a spell that wraps up the previous forty-three minutes in about thirty-five seconds. (One has to wonder what can't be solved by using the emitter array to generate a beam inverting the polarity of the tachyon flow.) No, as far as I'm concerned, Trek is far better when it's Horatio Hornblower or The Enemy Below in space.

There was a time when something like J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot would have been offensive to me on some primal level. I think there are two things that primed me for acceptance, though, beyond just mellowing out in my advancing age and caring a lot less about dumb things that don't matter very much and I have no control over anyway. The first is that, quite frankly, recent official entries in the Trekverse have simply sucked; Enterprise was so utterly unwatchable it doesn't even merit an IMDB link. The second is that unofficial entries--specifically New Voyages (now re-dubbed Star Trek: Phase Two--have been surprisingly good.

New Voyages or Phase II isn't necessarily great, mind you, but it's been good and getting better; a group of Trek obsessives decided to make the "lost" fourth and fifth seasons of the original series (canceled three years into the Enterprise's famous "five year mission"), but with a bit more wherewithal than most: enough to draw in a list of actors and writers that's included Walter Koenig, George Takei, Grace Lee Whitney, the late Majel Barrett-Roddenberry herself, D.C. Fontana and David Gerrold. The last couple of episodes were better than anything I ever saw Enterprise offer up, not that that's really saying anything. But the point is: I think I was sort of used to the idea of other people playing Kirk and Spock and the gang well before going in to see the Abrams Trek.

The new cast acquits itself well, and the really cool thing is that they don't just do the obvious thing and do imitations of the original actors, which would make the whole thing a parody of itself. The nearest thing to an impersonation you see in the new cast is Simon Pegg's Scotty, and Pegg somehow pulls off the neat trick of out-Scotty-ing James Doohan (nothing against the late Doohan, who was a decent actor and apparently a really genuinely awesome human being; no, really it's that the character was always sort of a cartoon-Scotsman to begin with). The weakest link might be Chris Pine's Kirk, but that's possibly due more to the movie's plot more than anything else. The writers' conception of the character is solid, Pine's portrayal is well-thought-out and suitably recognizable yet different--think of Daniel Craig's riff on James Bond as a f'r'instance, with a swagger recalling Sean Connery's version of the character and yet it's not really anything like Connery at all--that's sort of what Pine manages with his take on Kirk; no, the problem is that the movie's plot only has 126 minutes to get Kirk from A-to-C and there's some whiplash involved--but you should see that for yourself.

One of the things I was also really impressed by was the way Abrams managed to pull off a kind of neo-retro look for the franchise. Star Trek: The Motion Picture put everybody in pastels and The Wrath Of Khan introduced those dignified burgundy uniforms, and then there was a decade-or-two of color-coded jumpsuits; Abrams puts everyone back into the original color-coded overshirts (men) and miniskirts (women) from the original 1960's series, and damned if it doesn't work for some reason and actually looks cool. The Enterprise looks like a mashup between the original series ship with its tubes and curves and an iMac, and somehow perfectly captures the vibe and aesthetic of the original series without looking old and dated (well, almost, and this is interesting: actually the iMac look is a little dated already, but that ends up being a good choice in that it sort of uses the '90s to equalize pressure between '67 and '09, if that makes any sense).

(Also on that note: after the movie, I pointed out that one of the things I learned from Star Trek is that apparently Steve Jobs takes over the world at some point in the future. To which a friend responded I was wrong, or it would have been called the iFederation. Heh. Maybe you had to be there.)

And I was grooving on the props: the Type-2 phasers look like Type-2 phasers, the medical instruments look like salt shakers--only cool, futuristic, high-tech salt-shakers that also cure cancer and detect herpes. Abrams' "reboot" really is a reboot, going back to what was kind of cool and interesting about the first television show and amplifying it. One of Paramount's taglines--"This isn't your father's Star Trek"--is an utter lie. It is your father's Star Trek, only much, much shinier.

So it's awesome. And that's the best place to leave it for now, because saying much more about what's great (and a few things about what's admittedly not-as-great) really would get into things that will be more fun for you to see for yourselves.

So have some fun and go see it already!


Kathy Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 10:18:00 AM EDT  

"...about as easy as finding a Higgs boson with a pair of pliers" made me laugh out loud. I'm going to use that (if I can only remember it when it will be apt).

I like my science fiction lite on the science, so I'm very excited about seeing this movie--and I was a big fan of the old series as a kid (um, and teenager, and adult). I think I'll be sneaking out of work early tomorrow for a matinee. I'm also going to check out Phase II. Somehow, I had not heard of that. I guess I'm not as much of a geek as I sometimes claim to be.

Eric Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 11:36:00 AM EDT  

The George Takei episode of New Voyages/Phase II was surprisingly solid, I thought. The episode with Walter Koenig was surprisingly tedious despite a script (IIRC) by D.C. Fontana herself. One of the biggest problems in the earliest episodes is a tendency of the cast to try to impersonate the originals, but over the course of just a few episodes they've started to grow into the characters and bring in some of their own things, which has been neat to watch.

In addition to the folks I mentioned in the post, the NV/P2 folks have had some under the table support from some of the FX guys who were working on Voyager and Enterprise (Paramount's policy is apparently fairly tolerant on that kind of thing--a willingness to look the other way as long as the contributions aren't too public or overt). They've also managed to rope in some of the one-episode supporting cast members like William Windom for the odd appearance.

Anyway, it's worth a gander.

neurondoc Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 10:27:00 PM EDT  

TheHusband is interested in seeing the movie, so I suspect we will be going on Saturday (provided we can find a babysitter). Yay!

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