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Review: Star Trek

Just some very quick thoughts about the new Star Trek movie, which we saw this past Saturday. I've had three posts in my head for a week or so, and haven't had time to sit down and transcribe them. I suppose that catching up with the things you missed while you were away is the price of vacation. It'd save me a lot of time if I could blog telepathically. :)

Anyway, regarding the movie, I liked it a lot, but did have a few quibbles. I'd probably give it about a 90 out of 100.

Pros:
  • Karl Urban as McCoy. I was pleased when I heard that he had been cast because it seemed like a good choice, but I had no idea he'd be that entertaining. I was especially impressed with his voice work. Hollywood grossly overdoes Southern accents 99% of the time. It's much harder to keep it subtle, but that's just what he did. It's my understanding that he worked with a voice coach, and it shows. New Zealand may be halfway around the world from Ole Miss, but you wouldn't know it from Urban's performance. I also liked Sulu's successor (I totally want that sword, by the way).


  • A few critics, Ebert among them, have cluck-clucked to the effect of, "Star Trek used to be smarter," as a way of criticizing the action-heavy plot. I love reading Ebert's reviews, and I agree that it's important to preserve Roddenberry's vision of philosophical and scientific query, however, we've got to save the franchise first. Paramount won't finance stories like that if there's no one there to watch them. It was time to reinvent Trek, and I think this was a very positive introduction for a new generation, outside of the few minuses listed below. It wasn't ponderous exposition: it did what it needed to do in terms of introducing and establishing the characters without being tedious.


  • Leonard Nimoy. He's 78 years old. If this is his last appearance in his signature role, then he certainly could have done worse. I thought the passing of the torch was handled very gracefully. Passing is only because of the necessity of the human life span. To me, and to many fans, he will always be the true Spock.


Ambivalencies:
  • I'm not 100% sold on Zachary Quinto as Spock. I get what he was doing in the first part of the film as an actor before the transition to a slightly more Nimoy-like Spock after discussing his mother's death with his father, but even after the shift, he seems a more emotional Spock than the cooler Spock of the series. It's not lack of skill as an actor; I can get with his depiction of a younger Spock that doesn't have total mastery over his emotions. He's plenty capable of delivering contained heat, and had clearly thought about what he was doing in trying to deliver a nuanced portrayal. We'll see if he can eventually get to full Vulcan restraint as the performance evolves and the character matures.


  • Speaking of Vulcans, while Ben Cross did just fine, I miss Mark Lenard as Sarek. Yes, I know he's dead and couldn't come back from the grave to play the part. I'm just saying.


Cons:
  • I could have done without Keenser, Scotty's alien companion. The line, "I have been, and always will be, your friend," was touching, and should have been left alone in moving simplicity. I don't need a laugh track on my comedies to tell me when something's funny, and I don't need a Greek chorus to tell me when there's a poignant moment on the screen. Mercifully, Keenser's screen time was brief, and did not turn into Jar-Jar.


  • I am very much WTF on the Spock/Uhura pairing. I realize that this is a reboot, but it seemed gratuitous. If it was a ham-handed attempt to echo Sarek's choice of a human wife, it didn't work well. Completely unnecessary. I'm a casual Trek fan, and out of all the series, I've seen the least of the original, but even I know that such a pairing stomps all over canon.


  • Vulcan. I'm not torn up about this the way that many dedicated fans are, but I do sympathize with them and think their feelings are legitimate. While it sets up a great loss for Spock as a character, as a pragmatist and as a writer, I'm just wondering if they're going to regret taking it out, 'cause then they don't have easy access to it later. Rather than having the entire planet destroyed, couldn't they just have damaged half of it or something? Now, if they want to use it as a resource, they're going to have to do time travel again, or maybe some sort of crystalline archive, and going to that well so many times gets old in a hurry, in my opinion.


  • I think Chekov's successor was the weakest member of the new cast. He looks nothing like Walter Koenig, and it's pretty easy to do an exaggerated Russian accent. I find it hard to believe that this was the best they could do.


Except for the non-canon relationship I mentioned, I really do consider these minor drawbacks. I don't want to sound like I'm being more critical than I actually am -- I came out of the theater in a very buoyant, enthusiastic mood. J.J. Abrams has done a wonderful thing for the franchise -- make no mistake about that. It needed this film badly. It could have weathered another dud, but better to have a reinvigoration of the material that makes it accessible to new audiences. Overall, caveats aside, I'm pleased to say that Star Trek is back. and fully energized. ;)

Side note: CBS has Star Trek: The Original Series online.

Addendum: After I posted this, it occurred to me what may be feeling off to me about Zachary Quinto, and it's not his fault. It's entirely unfair, but I think it's his voice. Leonard Nimoy's baritone is much fuller and richer: I remember his inflections vividly from his days hosting In Search of.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
mumpish
May. 11th, 2009 09:21 pm (UTC)
I completely agree with your summary - it was time for a reboot, and I'm up for as many sequels of this quality they can dream up. Theresa and I came out of the theater quite happy.

I think the Spock/Uhura thing existed mainly to play up their twist on Kirk's womanizing (I *loved* the green roommate, by the way) and give them another minor reason to dislike each other. I'm not so what-the-fuck on it, personally - if Sarek can do it, why not Spock?

I thought Quinto was clearly the best actor of this new crop, regardless of your reservations about where he took the character. Checkhov was a throw-away, but the one I'm most surprised by so far is Pegg - I like him, but he's not sold me that he's Scotty. I thought Pine did a surprisingly good job with Kirk, under the circumstances.

My main issue with the entire story is this: young Spock just happens to abandon Kirk on the same moon where Nero abandoned old Spock, and through a series of completely random events Kirk winds up in *exactly the same cave* that old Spock has fetched up in? They couldn't lock the writers in a room for half a day and tell them they have to come up with something better than that? I can give you two - since both are aware of Scotty's outpost, have them freakin' meet there, or if you want to preserve the whole monsters on an ice planet, ice cave scene (haven't I seen that movie before?) then have Spock already at the outpost, monitoring the situation, and he goes out to fetch Kirk. Either of those would work better. Can I get a writer's credit?

quandry
May. 13th, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)
I think the Spock/Uhura thing happened because they figured they needed some romantic sexual tension (and they are hoping to ratchet that up with some kind of love triangle in the future - remember that Kirk and Uhura had the first interracial tv kiss, back in the day). I don't really like it, but I see it as the price that has to be paid to have Hollywood take a serious interest in the franchise again. They need a fuckable female to get fucked by a lead, Uhura's the only chick on the bridge, so there you go. That being said, I'm glad they went with Spock instead of Kirk (seeing as it obviously had to be one of the two leads) as it makes *slightly* more sense that way. Don't worry though - the rules of serial Hollywood storytelling mean that as sure as night follows day, the relationship will have to be in trouble somehow and will probably be a major animus of the next movie.

Aside from that, I really enjoyed Quinto's Spock, though yes, I would expect for him to get more contained as story-based time goes by.

Winona Ryder as Amanda Grayson though... seriously? Why in the world did they make that choice. She was pretty blah and looked awkward in the age makeup they had to slather her in. Why not choose an age-appropriate actress?

I'm okay with Chekov. He wasn't great, but he wasn't bad.

I agree with you that Scotty left me wanting. Pegg got all the humor, but none of the weight.

But most of all, I'm so happy that McCoy was perfect... he was the character I always identified with as a kid.

As for Vulcan... well, I'm don't want to start, but the rant can't be stopped. Big, big mistake that proves that on some level, they really don't give a damn about Trek, they're just pumping out a movie. In the Trek universe, the characters spend as much time on Vulcan as they do on Earth. They might as well have destroyed Earth to make a point - Vulcan was just as much the heart of the Federation. And, as Pointedview notes, storywise, they will regret it later. As a longtime fan, I'm just crushed, and I can't believe that they did it just for a minor plot point. (Oooh, this guy Nero is bad - lookee, he offed Vulcan!) They didn't even bother to show onscreen what a tragedy it was - everyone pretty much shrugged and got on with their lives. The enormity of what the writers threw away to make their piddling little point is just ridiculous. Ugh.

I don't think I will *ever* get over what the writers did to Vulcan though - and that's a major failure on their part. I'm not mourning within the parameters of the story arc, instead I'm actively pissed at Abrams, and that's a sign of poor writing right there. I'm not even saying that it couldn't have been done - if Joss Whedon had offed Vulcan, he wouldn't have done it on a lark, and it would have carried the emotional weight that it needed to.


All in all though, excepting the Vulcan issue, it was a good movie and I'm glad that it will ensure another generation of fans. For that, I'm grateful.
jasondemotte
May. 12th, 2009 02:57 am (UTC)
My problem with Qunto as Spock as I kept picturing him as Sylar, especially when he got emotional. I kept expecting him to unzip someone's forehead with telekinesis or something.

That said I pretty much agree with you in entirety. Especially regarding how wonderful Karl Urban was and the tragic lack of Mark Lenard. I could accept all the new actors more or less, but for some reason that one stood out to me.

As for Chekov, I think my biggest issue was that, and maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, but I don't recall them playing up the pronouncing V's as W's quite so much in the original series. Yes we all fondly remember "Nucleur Wessels" from Star Trek IV and it's not like Koening's accent was ever subtle, but I think here they drove it a bit into the ground long before the third time he said "Wulcan".
pointedview
May. 13th, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC)
Yes on the Sylar-opening-someone's-head vibe! I didn't write this in my original post, just because I felt like it was an awkward explanation (hey, I knew what I meant :) ), but while I have no idea whether Quinto has a hot temper or not in real life, but he projects a very hot presence on-screen. I don't mean hot like physically attractive (because I don't find him so), but that he often comes across as seething. It's like if you were representing people's mood temperatures with color, he'd be red, while one might paint Clint Eastwood in cooler tones, if that makes sense.

I'm not sure if Quinto can overcome something that seems to be part of his actual aura, for lack of a better term, but then again, a lot of people had doubts about Heath Ledger playing the Joker, and look how that turned out. :) We'll see if he can achieve a calmer, more serene Spock.

Totally agreed about driving it into the ground on Chekov's accent. As you say, they were never understated about it with the original cast, but this was way over the top.

Edited at 2009-05-13 02:27 pm (UTC)
lsbd33
May. 15th, 2009 12:39 am (UTC)
i didn't read your pros and cons b/c i want to see it and i haven't yet! :)
pointedview
May. 18th, 2009 06:45 pm (UTC)
Well, hey, you! Welcome back to LJ! Let me know when you do, and we can discuss it. Speaking of movies, just saw Angels & Demons this past weekend. It wasn't terrible, but you've seen better.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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