May 7, 2009

Star Trek (05/07/09)

Lettergrade: B-

I'm not really a hardcore Trek fanatic, but I've seen all 10 of the features that were made prior to this one. I must admit that I thought at least half of them were, well, kinda shitty. The 4 or 5 good ones understood that while it is important not to weigh the audience down with with a lot of bullshit cumbersome Trek lore, there is also a lot of satisfaction to be had from picking up on threads from the previous episodes and letting them play out as part of a continuous story-line.

J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movie understands this perfectly. Despite all the ads which proclaim that it is "not your father's Star Trek," I was actually surprised (and satisfied) by how much the movie really has in common with the original six Shatner flicks, right down to the fact that -- unlike the less successful Next Generation movies which followed -- it is largely enjoyable, well-written, and reasonably exciting.

Although a Trek reboot featuring a young Kirk and Spock had been rumored since the late 80s, the finished movie probably owes its existence to the success of Batman Begins four years ago more than anything else. Trek's approach is actually more like that of Bryan Singer's Superman Returns in that it pays heavy homage to the earlier films in the series (In this case, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, which pretty much all the later films have drawn inspiration from). Unlike Singer, though, Abrams was smart enough to give the picture a clear, new identity, and not let his hard-on for the earlier flicks get in the way of making this one appealing to people outside of the fan base. The story even has a built-in device which signals that this Star Trek exists in a slightly different reality than the other Trek incarnations. I like that: The Shatner adventures are what they are, but the sequels that are made to this movie will be doing their own thing, which is how it should be.

Chris Pine takes over the Shatner role, and he is fantastic. Cocky, self-assured, womanzing... he simply feels right at home in the part. Same goes for Karl Urban, who is excellent as Dr. McCoy and Zachary Quinto, who takes over the role of the younger Spock (also played by Leonard Nimoy, who reprises the character later in the film). All in all, the film is fantastically well-cast. I'm glad they went for actors they felt would do well in the parts, rather than people who resembled the originals (which was another open ditch that Superman Returns drove right into).

The bad guy in this one is Nero, a genetically enhanced Romulan from the future, who plans to dominate the galaxy by inventing a popular line of self-titled CD burning software, and forcing it come pre-installed on all Windows operating systems. It's sort of a thankless role, but Eric Bana fills it ably.

I won't say much else, but the one thing that bothered me a bit was that a lot of alien species that are encountered in the movie look really stupid. Consider an early scene where Pine tries to pick up the chick playing Uhura in a space bar. There's an alien sitting between them... I don't know if he was a dude in a mask or a computer creation or what, but whomever was responsible for him should be ashamed by how cheap and crappy the end result looks. This galaxy is populated by several other discount aliens as well, but fortunately the story works to the point where they're a mild distraction rather than anything else. And hey, the original series had a lot of crappy looking creatures as well, so maybe it's all part of the homage?

I've never been able to make it through an episode of the original Shatner series from the 60s. I've enjoyed episodes of the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine series whenever I've happened to catch them, but while I've tried to watch episodes of Voyager and Enterprise, the sheer dullness of those shows usually put me to sleep within minutes. The producer responsible for all those series (except the original) was Rick Berman. The man was a serious cancer on the franchise, and the fact that he has nothing to do with this movie whatsoever was my first indication that it had a fighting chance of being good.

Still, though, I think Paramount Pictures is thinking that this film will have more mass appeal than it probably will. Despite the fact that it is an entertaining, exciting, well-made movie, Star Trek is still on the marquee, and for many people I know, women especially, that's the deal-breaker. I don't know if it's the best movie in the series, but it's a good one, and that's more than you could say for any other Trek project in recent history.

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