Friday, May 08, 2009

Movie Review: Star Trek

I could have also subtitled this
The Franchise Reloaded
Portrait of a Starship Captain as a Young Man
or simply
The new Star Trek is a really great movie. If you like action-adventure science fiction movies with a touch of humor and maybe a little romance thrown in, you can safely like this film without ever having been a "Trekker" or "Trekkie." This movie will make Star Trek fandom socially acceptable.

I am, unsurprisingly, a full-blown Trekker--not someone so far gone as to wear Vulcan ears to the premiere, but someone who has watched enough of the series to catch three "continuity" errors in the very first trailer--that is, technical details that didn't match the official Star Trek history (or, as some might call it, the catechism). There are all sorts of things for the nitpicking fan to go after, if they so chose. The starship Enterprise is both more and less "modern" than the 1960s TV show ship. The characters, costumes, and situations both are and are not of Gene Roddenberry's "world." And yes, there are some serious time-travel issues here that will drive purists nuts.

None of it bothered me. I just loved this movie.

Here's why I liked it, as a fan and a writer: I finally understood the character of James T. Kirk, the take-charge, womanizing, @$$-whupping ball of testosterone who commanded his crew of well-mannered, multicultural misfits. It took a good actor to bring it all together for me, the new-to-me actor Chris Pine. What Pine does is make you understand how Kirk became the "living legend." He's brash, he's fearless, he's not above taking a cheap shot at some guy or making a pass at some girl. He goes after what he wants, and you believe him.

Don't misunderstand me, I've enjoyed William Shatner's Kirk, but the mensch never quite seemed real to me because Shatner tried to do it all at once--the tough guy stuff I've already mentioned--but also be the officer and gentleman with a hint of easy charm about him. Pine isn't like that. He's brash top to bottom, with the uniform barely containing the wild spirit that drives him to be a leader of men. He reminds me of some of my military buddies. They're all kind of wild, and the service never quite tamed them. And what makes Pine's Jim Kirk so cool is that you can almost understand why he got to be captain: it's got to be hell to be the smartest, toughest, most impressive guy in the room, and know it. It's that undeniable sense of confident ego that makes you see what propels him. The little continuity changes they make to Kirk's "official history" bothered me not at all.

Next we might turn to Zachary Quinto, a near dead-ringer for the young Leonard Nimoy, in face and stance, if not voice. Quinto has a bit of edge to him as well. The human half of this Vulcan-human hybrid is not nearly so well contained as it was in the old show. But, again, I believed him. As with Kirk's reimagined past, the movie gives a brief glimpse into Spock's childhood and youth, and how he turned his back on logic and the Vulcan way to become a Starfleet officer. Winona Ryder takes a turn as a middle-aged Amanda Grayson and is somehow prettier than she's been in some of her more glamorous, youthful roles.

And lastly I'll touch on Karl Urban as Leonard "Bones" McCoy," who doesn't get nearly enough screen time, in my humble estimation. DeForest Kelley, the charming, middle-aged country doctor, had moments of irascibility, but that couldn't quite cover the obvious decency beneath. The curmudgeonly comments seemed more like a pose. Urban's McCoy is more of a pessimist. He's got Kelley's soft drawl nailed, and throws in a little extra helping of complaining snarkiness to animate his McCoy in a way Kelley never did. You can feel the edge and the hurt in the man's voice, and you can understand what drives him.

Perhaps it's that edge again, which the old series often lacked. Roddenberry was trying to show humanity as better in the future, more capable, and still likeable and believable. It's a restrained, rather square kind of believable, though, which can prevent some viewers from understanding why these otherwise mild-mannered people would dare go out into space with each other. Urban's McCoy, along with the reimagined Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, Scotty, and even Captain Christopher Pike, all have a certain restlessness about them, a little impatience and desire for action that makes you believe that they're adventurers. As Kirk said in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, "Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, Doctor." This is an awful lot of character analysis for a two-hour-plus film, but the acting really got to me, probably because I was ready to accept a re-interpreted Star Trek. These are not stiff-upper-lip, officers-and-gentlemen sorts of characters, but more like (original) Star Wars heroes: balls and bravado, high-energy players.

What about the story? Well, it's actually pretty standard Star Trek fare: a little time travel, a villain hell-bent on destruction, a lot of danger, and more than a few nods to previous incarnations of the series. The movie does a lot, including give most of the major characters their own small moments to shine, and still manages to tell a science fiction story with a minimum of "technobabble," a recurring sin of the later Star Trek franchises. The point of this review isn't to slice and dice the story, though it moves forward well enough, making sure not to leave too many unsolved mysteries or dangling plotlines. Given my commentary to this point, it should be no great surprise that I highly recommend this movie. There are many reasons to like it, even--no, especially--if you're a fan of the original series.


Coffee Nomad said...

this new Star Trek installment was so good that I will now start remembering the name "J.J. Abrams" and look out for anything else he might have made

Amy J said...

Exactly what I would say! But, of course, you are like family (the part of the family I like)!