Star Trek (2009)
Summer’s here!! Having avoided the atrocious looking Wolverine movie (‘conveniently’ leaked to the web eh? how desperate was that?) I took a look at the new ‘Star Trek‘ movie last week in Wood Green to commence 2009’s crop of summer movies and if this prologue is anything to go by we should be in for an entertaining season of big budget excitement. In terms of context let me explain, whilst I’m a big SF fan I’m by no means a Trek fan – not that there’s anything wrong with that I hasten to add – I have no time for the original 60’s series, I did like and have seen 99% of the Next Generation, I never really watched Deep Space Nine, did see all of Voyager (A summer at college working twelve hour video shop shifts in the nineties resulted in me viewing plenty of passable nonsense to fill in the hours) and would occasionally catch the odd ‘Enterprise’ episode if I was at home on Sunday afternoon and had nothing better to do which was when it aired in the UK. Film wise I have a bit of a soft spot for the original Trek movie (directed by the dude who cut Citizen Kane fact fans) as it was a reasonably smart, ‘hard’ SF movie of ideas rather than space opera boredom although I confess I haven’t seen it for quite a few years. When it comes to Khan I’ll agree with the consensus that it’s Trek’s finest hour, I have fond memories of seeing this on screen with my brother whilst on holiday in Skegness back in 1982 and maybe, just maybe I can confess that as a 9 year old this scene may just have had a reaction although perhaps the cinema had accelerated my myriad allergies. Yes, yes that’s my I was weeping and blowing my nose. In the interests of brevity the rest of the movies suck. Let’s move on.
Apparently ‘Star Trek‘ is cool now, that’s what the interwebs says and who am I to argue? The reboot is for the most part an origin story, dividing its focus between the history of the new Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), detailing how these mutually rebellious teenagers meandered their way into Starfleet Command and ultimately aboard the Enterprise as Captain and First Mate – although not necessarily in that order. Kirk’s origin (and we’re talking right back to his birth) is detailed in an impressive opening battle sequence when the USS Kelvin investigates an anomaly rendered by the Narada, a Romulan vessel which swiftly overpowers it’s Federation minnow-class opponent, its unprecedented firepower signalling some time travelling shenanigans. This stalwart Trek convention (if you’ll excuse the pun) provides a convenient break from any possible interference from established Trek ‘canon’ and clears a path for the screenwriters to forge new paths with the characters and universe in which they dwell and explore. George Kirk takes command of the Kelvin and sacrifices himself to enable the crew’s escape, his pregnant wife giving birth amongst the maelstrom to a son: James Tiberius Kirk. On distant Vulcan the teenage Spock is bullied for his mixed race heritage, an overt racism that is replicated by the Council of Elders some years later who praise the young prodigy for overcoming his ‘disabilities’ and offer him a position at the prestigious Vulcan Science Academy. In an amusing scene Spock politely declines, seeking a career with Star Fleet instead, inevitably setting him on a more epic destiny to prevent the destruction of his homeworld by the renegade Romulan Nero (a totally unrecognisable Eric Bana), the time travelling captain of the Narada who has pledged to take revenge on his Vulcan foes and the impudent Federation meddlers who failed to prevent his planets destruction in the distant future.
So while I do know my Ferengi from my Cardassians I haven’t been hyper-ventilating and anxiously counting the days down until release, I was looking forward to some sleek, colourful SF action and was interested to see exactly what approach they’d take to reinventing these pop cultural icons, always a very difficult task. As such I went into the movie blind, I’ve read nothing about it plot wise, I knew it had been warmly received and I’d seen the trailer a couple of times from previous cinema visits but that was it. I think this was a wise move on my part as I was genuinely drawn into the action and one certain high-profile appearance from a certain character was a surprise if not entirely unexpected. Overall I’d say Abrams has pulled it off, by all reports he’s kept the forum dwellers happy and delivered an amiable and entertaining romp that kept the discerning moviegoer such as yours happy with just about the right mixture of bombastic action and fan humour, blended SFX and an accelerating plot which doesn’t leave you enough time to question some of the films easily forgiven plot holes – I left the cinema with grin which was exactly what I wanted. The new incarnations of all the characters are deftly introduced which results in a pretty solid ensemble, where I think they’ve really nailed it though is a pitch perfect re-imagining of both Spock and Kirk, the latter portrayed with just the right volume of arrogant confidence coupled with enough turn of phrase and vocal inflection to remind you of Shatner without degenerating into mere parody, the former confident enough to not simply imitate the green blooded Vulcan but invest in him a little light humour and steely determination which betrays his human ancestry. I’d never even heard of Chris Pine before from anything but I’m pretty sure this has catapulted him into the ‘star’ category.
SPOLIERS – There is some criticism floating around the lack of female characters in the film apart from dead mothers, I would like to know what happened to Kirk’s mum but I guess I must have missed something, some throwaway line of dialogue. I’m also bemused at the stunt casting of Wynona Ryder as Spock’s mother who if memory serves gets roughly three scenes and two lines of dialogue before being despatched, I can only assume that the casting people figured men of a certain age might be lured in to see Wynona in pointy eared garb. I liked the fan-fic inspired (for the record I have never, nor will I ever read, write or entertain fan-fic of any type, Star Trek or otherwise, let me make that PERFECTLY clear) Spock romance with Uhuru, Kirk’s green skinned girlfriend and Simon Pegg’s Scotty was pitch perfect. I think they missed a trick by not with mythologizing the ship itself, ‘The Enterprise’ which is core to the series but they had so much else to cram in I’ll let it slide, no doubt this will emerge in the dozen or so sequels that are bound to follow. The clichéd nameless crew member who is enlisted on a away team mission thus is certain to die meme was included which was good, the villain however was totally unthreatening, it was only after I got home I remembered it was Eric Bana under all that make-up. Normally that would be testament to the actors skills, this time it was more due to his being mostly unmemorable which was more the fault of the writers than Bana. SPOILERS END.
Abrams seems to be inheriting the mantle of his hero Spielberg and can do no wrong, he seems to have a Midas touch with his films and TV series although just to mix my mythical metaphors I’m sure he’ll suffer an Icarus like ‘1941’ fall from grace pretty damn soon. There is one terrible exposition filled scene in the film where the entire time travel laced plot is outlined, I’m surprised that so something so clumsy got through the QC of a man behind such densely plotted work like ‘Lost’ and ‘Alias’. Still, it’s ‘Star Trek’ not Tolstoy so I’m being a little churlish, there’s enough charm and excitement on screen to overpower these complaints. Overall, a pretty good start to the summer season which for me will be nicely tempered with the allegedly ‘challenging’ Synecdoche, New York’ which opens this weekend. Finally I’m not going to treat you to a selection of links to Star Trek related scenes don’t worry, I don’t really have any but in the interests of reboots and remakes here are some links to some 1980’s American SF which I’ve been revisiting recently in light of some high profile announcements on potential new franchises, after the commercial and critical success of Star Trek 2.0 I’m sure many of those long gestating projects will be rejuvenated. I’ve got no objections to any of ‘em but I can’t see what on earth they’re going to do with this.