Thoughts on the new Star Trek movie

Matt Barton's picture

I finally got to see the new Star Trek movie last night and thought I'd post a few thoughts on it while it's all fresh in my head. I'm going to assume you're familiar with the Star Trek mythos here.

The big question I went into the film with was whether J.J. Abrams gave a shite about the canon. My worst fear was that he'd try to "reinvent" it into something like Beverly Hills 90210 in space, but fortunately that didn't happen. The new cast was very well chosen, and it's possible at times to really see these actors as the younger incarnations--particularly McCoy, played by Karl Urban. Urban really did his homework, and his inflections and mannerisms are so spot-on it'll send chills down your spine. Chris Pine as Kirk does a good job as well.

Scotty and Chekhov are little more than comic relief; with Scotty acting like a total loon and Chekhov another Wesley with an severely exaggerated (even offensive) Russian accent. There's even a JarJar like character that follows Scotty around. I heard some 6-year old squeal a few times when the character was on screen, but thankfully they limited his appearances to two brief cameos. Let's hope they keep it that way.

I was wondering what they'd do with Sulu; I was thinking that they might portray him as frankly gay (given Takei's revelation). However, he's played very, uh, straight, without much chance to shine besides a fun fighting sequence. Even that, though, was a bit overdone. I so wanted him to pull out his old rapier and just whip the guy's ass. Of course, though, they have to have some kind of transformer weapons that look straight out of the Matrix.

Spock (Zachary Quinto) struggles the most, mostly because his part was poorly written and shows a surprising lack of understanding of Vulcan culture (at least as it's enshrined in the mythos). In short, they have him liplocking with Uhuru a few minutes after we meet his character, which in my opinion simply isn't Spock. I don't know who this is, but it's not the Spock we all hated and then grew to love in the original series. This Spock is far more emotional; his stoicism here is clearly only a facade and doesn't even make sense given the constraints of the movie itself. I thought one reason the short-lived series Star Trek Enterprise de-railed was precisely the same reason--they screwed up the Vulcans. Vulcans are not, repeat, not supposed to be sexy and/or caring. They are cold, dispassionate, severely unlikeable, and generally serve as foils to people like Kirk and, to a greater extent, McCoy. At least, that's Vulcans as I like to see them.

To wit, in the original series, the audience had to guess whether Spock actually had any feelings or not. Only slowly, over time, did we begin to see glimpses--cracks in the facade--that he wasn't quite as stoic and robotic as he pretended. Part of what makes the ending of Wrath so emotional is precisely that we have Kirk going nuts and Spock appearing to have to try to look concerned. There's just something miserable and pathetic about that scene (in a good way) that always jabs a knife in my heart. That's power. However, that facade shatters into a billion pieces about 5 minutes after we meet Spock in this movie. Poof. Hell, even Spock's dad is shown as an emotional being, admitting that he loved his wife and didn't really marry her because it made logical sense. It's like J.J. set out with a mission "to bring out the humanity in these Vulcans!" without realizing that was self-defeating.

In a nutshell, the entire movie is based on the concept of an "alternate reality," so everything that happens after an early part of Pike's career is now different. My only response to that is...sigh. I guess it's easier just to wipe the slate clean than try to deal with the canon and its enormous history. I'm not a nut when it comes to this stuff (I always think of comic book guy from the Simpsons), but even I thought this was a bit of a cheap copout.

I also felt Will Shatner's absence in this movie. It would have been so much better if Kirk and Spock had been present in their older selves, both going back to try to fix history. At least, that's my opinion. Hearing Leonard Nimoy read a (yet again) revised version of the "to boldly go" speech just didn't resonate with me the way it would have sounded coming from Shatner.

Probably the weakest part of the film is when Kirk crashes onto a planet and, miraculously, ends up within walking distance of a cave where the old Spock (Spock Prime) has been stranded much earlier. I mean, a whole planet....what are the odds? There are also several places where the high-intensity action scenes seem forced at best. I know that car chase scenes and what-not add pep for those with limited attention spans, but...who really gives a shite about those folks anyway? It's not like they're going to give a damn about Star Trek and would just as soon watch the latest Fast and Furious than Wrath of Khan.

Probably the biggest problem with the movie, though, is the villains. As usual, the threat meter is cranked up to 11 and some godlike beings from the future are going around destroying planets and threatening the universe or some such drivel. They are supposed to be Romulans, or at least reject Romulans...Or something. I don't know. I didn't really ever connect to them, and their suicidal quest to destroy Star Fleet was just barely credible. After you meet them for a few seconds, they fit neatly into the "psychopaths out to kill at any cost" and that's the end of their development. I mean, goddamn, didn't anyone learn ANYTHING from Wrath?? To be a really effective villain, you have to have some way to connect to him, even if it's on a sick and demented level. I mean, these guys are tatted up and even wear black trench coats for crying out loud. Stupid.

Overall, though, the movie works well for what it is. I'm more curious at this point about what will happen to the franchise. A new series? Will this prequel get a sequel?

My favorite reviewer remarked that the movie doesn't really get interested until after the climax and just before the credits roll. There's a fun moment after the baddies are destroyed where the crew is looking at themselves in a sort of, "Wow, we did that??? What now?" kind of mood that really worked well on screen. If I were directing the next movie, I'd make it all about bruising those now-inflated egos and making them work much harder for their next victory (or, indeed, showing how they deal with defeat).

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Matt Barton
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I just saw a tailer for an

I just saw a tailer for an upcoming Sherlock Holmes movie where they did the same thing--ratchet up the action to 11, leave only vestiges of the cerebral stuff that made the original so compelling in the first place. Again, it's not that I detested or disliked the new Star Trek movie. If you have to "reboot" it into something that looks and feels like 99% of the other Hollywood blockbusters out there, so be it. But it didn't boldly go where no one has gone before. Not by a lightyear.

Here's the bottom line: "smart" doesn't sell, "smart" isn't sexy. Sex and stuff blowing up does sell. Joe Blow can't process anything that doesn't have a boob bouncing or a bomb blasting every few minutes, so that's what we end up with. I, for one, actually enjoyed those long, reverent shots of the Enterprise in the first movie. I didn't spazz out and start going into hysterics during the docking sequence in 2001. Then again, my attention span is measurable. :)

Addendum: "OMFG, if we don't diffuse this bomb in 10 nanoseconds the universe will blow up in a ginormous f*** explosion!! So, we gotta put our clothes back on, baby, and diffuse this...oh, what the hell." Kerrrbloooommmmmm. (We'll save the ! for the sequel.)

Just to raise a point, though...James Dean leaned up against a post and people thought it was incredibly cool. The new guys have to blow up the galaxy to get attention.

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Rowdy Rob
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ADD movies
Matt Barton wrote:

I just saw a tailer for an upcoming Sherlock Holmes movie where they did the same thing--ratchet up the action to 11, leave only vestiges of the cerebral stuff that made the original so compelling in the first place.

You're kidding. Sherlock Holmes: action hero?!?!? Next you'll tell me he fights off bad guys with Kung Fu! I think this is a sign of the Apocalypse.

Matt Barton wrote:

Again, it's not that I detested or disliked the new Star Trek movie. If you have to "reboot" it into something that looks and feels like 99% of the other Hollywood blockbusters out there, so be it. But it didn't boldly go where no one has gone before. Not by a lightyear.

I think we came away with basically the same impression of the new movie. We didn't detest it, and appreciated what it was trying to do, but it wasn't the brain-flexing, character-driven Trek that we all loved in the past. The new movie had wall-to-wall CGI special effects, but the old movies and series had a much better special effect: William Shatner. He just leaped off the screen and into your mind as the ultimate hero. (At least in my opinion.)

I went to see the new "Trek" with a group of friends who weren't Trekkies. They all loved it, and thought it was cool. Suddenly, I was cool by association, because I knew all about "Trek" and its history. "You mean the planet Vulcan wasn't destroyed in the original Trek???" "Nope." One good thing about the new "Trek" movie is that it seemed to spur interest in the original series and movies with the uninitiated, as if for the first time they wondered what it was they were missing out on all this time.

Matt Barton wrote:

Here's the bottom line: "smart" doesn't sell, "smart" isn't sexy. Sex and stuff blowing up does sell. Joe Blow can't process anything that doesn't have a boob bouncing or a bomb blasting every few minutes, so that's what we end up with.

Oh, I don't know about that. Didn't you see "Crank 2," "Wolverine," "The House Bunny," "Transporter 3," "Epic Movie," or countless other brainy movies released recently? You're just being an ass, because the movies I listed are A-1 high-IQ movies. With explosions. And bouncy boobs. Oh, never mind. ;-)

Matt Barton wrote:

Just to raise a point, though...James Dean leaned up against a post and people thought it was incredibly cool. The new guys have to blow up the galaxy to get attention.

It might just be a sign of the times. You had movies in the past that were very representative of that era, yet hold up well. Look at the 70's "Rocky" movie, then look at the 80's "Rocky" movies, then look at the recent "Rocky Balboa" movie (which I greatly enjoyed!). Since they can do so much with CGI now, they are going over-the-top to "nokyersoxoff" in that department, but maybe that will calm down eventually when people decide that there's nothing more to see CGI-wise, and maybe they'll try to throw some story and intelligence in there somewhere.

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Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
CGI Sucks
Rowdy Rob wrote:

It might just be a sign of the times. You had movies in the past that were very representative of that era, yet hold up well. Look at the 70's "Rocky" movie, then look at the 80's "Rocky" movies, then look at the recent "Rocky Balboa" movie (which I greatly enjoyed!). Since they can do so much with CGI now, they are going over-the-top to "nokyersoxoff" in that department, but maybe that will calm down eventually when people decide that there's nothing more to see CGI-wise, and maybe they'll try to throw some story and intelligence in there somewhere.

CGI has ruined cinema. There, I said it.

I was struck by this fact recently because I've been watching a lot of older films, especially the old Universal Studios horror flicks or even old Clint Eastwood films. Watch the epic battle at the end of Two Mules for Sister Sarah, for instance. Even though there's zero CGI, that thing looks awesome and far more realistic than almost any recent gun battle I can think of. There's something to be said for getting hundreds (thousands??) of real extras on the set, dressing them up in period costumes, and letting them have at it. Nowadays, of course, you'd just CGI all that and have bigger but less realistic explosions. Back then, if you wanted to blow up a building, you blew up a building. Now you do the whole thing in 3D and it always obvious (to me, at least) that it's a computer doing it.

It sounds bizarre to say it, but movies have actually gotten LESS realistic with CGI. I hated Gollum in the Ring movies for that reason--so fake!! Hell, a Henson-era muppet would have looked more convincing. Am I the only one bothered by this?

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