Thursday, September 29, 2011

Flashback: Star Trek (2009)

Time to add another entry to my flashback series, and I'm going with J.J. Abrams' 2009 reboot of Star Trek I've seen every episode of The Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine, every movie and decent amount of the Original Series (though I haven't actually sat down and watched every episode, yet), but even though it's blasphemous to die-hard fans, the newest film is my personal favorite. The biggest reason for that is the amount of storytelling that takes place in this film. True, it lacks much of the socio-political and cultural commentary that made Star Trek what it is, but unlike the other series that had years to develop their characters and find a mix that worked (goodbye Tasha Yar, hello Seven of Nine), the new film had two hours and 122 pages to do the same amount of work. True, it had some audience recognition on its side, but a quick look at the box office numbers will show just how far this film outstripped the previous entries in the franchise. There're good reasons for that, and I'll take a look at them after the break.

Making the familiar new

There is no denying the fact that audiences had some familiarity with the characters and story helped this film. However, that recognition can hurt a story as often as it helps. Fan reaction to the way X-Men: The Last Stand handled characters they loved hurt the film far more than poor critical reviews. Abrams gave us the (basically) same Enterprise and the same crew, with just enough differences and updates to make it work. I know some of you might argue that Star Trek didn't need updating, but take a good look at the modern cell phone and compare it to the tech from TOS. I hate to say it, but my Android phone can do things beyond the technology the Enterprise carried in TOS. Plus, a crewmember whose primary function is to be a woman on the bridge doesn't really make much sense when you think about, so now thankfully Uhura gets a specialty that can make an important part of the team.

Skydiving and Vulcan rage

Every Star Trek movie has tried to up the action from the TV series, which apart from a few moments on DS9 never really picked up the action. First Contact managed to pull it off, but Insurrection and Nemesis didn't do so well. However, the new film opens with fairly awesome space battle and features one of the better action sequences in recent films with the skydiving/drill battle. Sulu gets to whip out his fencing skills, a red-shirt dies, and we get (re)introduced to the transporter. Sure, the ice planet scene feels like it belongs in Star Wars, but we also get to see Spock kick Kirk's ass, and that makes up for the short-comings.

The characters

Of course, the thing that ultimately makes the film is the characters. First off should be Chris Pine's take on James T. Kirk. Pine actually has a tough job being a jerk that the audience can still relate to, he pulls it off well and never seems like he's imitating Shatner's performance. Zachary Quinto's Spock doesn't have quite the calm logic that Leonard Nimoy, brought to the role, but Nimoy himself appears and the differences in their portrayals of the character are a strong plot point rather than a failure of acting or writing.

I already mentioned how I approved of Uhura's expanded role, and it's also cool that the heroic farmboy Kirk totally fails to get the girl. The other crew members don't get much time, but they are all given strong introductions and moments to shine. We have Sulu, with his status as backup helmsman and aforementioned fencing skills. Next is Russian wiz-kid Chekov who can't say "Victor" and can perform the math the beam a free-falling Kirk and Sulu to safety. Finally, there's the scene-stealing Simon Pegg as Scotty, who beamed a beagle to oblivion and "gives her all she's got."

Also worthy of mention are Nero and Captain Pike. I'm actually a fan of Eric Bana, but honestly his Romulan villain Nero is the weakest part of the film. Red matter lacked the traditional pseudo-science I expect from Star Trek. Nero seems a little to crazy to be a serious villain. On the other hand, Bruce Greenwood brings appropriate gravitas to the original Enterprise Captain Pike, basically this film's Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Star Wars

I mentioned Star Wars a few times so I might as well not avoid the fact that writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have said they looked to George Lucas's films. Now, the Trek/Wars debate has a long history among fans, but it's worth noting that the Star Wars films have a far more successful history. The problem with most previous Trek films was that it felt like the writers were trying to stretch a 45-minute idea into a two-hour movie. The new Trek picks up a more epic scope with the origins of the crew and the destruction of planets. So the new Trek ads sword fights, snow monsters, and a farmboy origin, but I think they've borrowed from the best of Star Wars, (aka The Original One) and not the worst (aka Jar Jar Binks). Now as long as Kirk's father stays dead and doesn't turned as a cyborg villain, we'll be fine.

So there you have it

That's a few standout reasons that J.J. Abrams's take on Trek makes my favorite movies list and is one of the films climbing steadily up my most-watched films list.

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