Sunday, May 24, 2009

Star Trek

I barely recall viewing the original Star Trek during the series' first run on television. Being less than five years old at that time, I was most likely tucked tightly in bed when Gene Roddenberry's show was first broadcast. My initiation with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and the Enterprise came a bit later, when episodes were syndicated. I was fascinated by the series: the characters were larger than life, the stories addressed modern day issues I related to, and each story was told in a self-contained manner that was satisfying to the audience.

Technology in the late 60's didn't have the pizazz of modern television, and couldn't be relied upon to tell a story visually. The sci-fi aspect of the original series, then, always seemed to take a back seat to the story being told. Phasers set to stun, wireless communicators, medical equipment designed to diagnose by scanning and transporter beams were awesome ideas, but the technology level of the time still made each seem just a little cheesy.

But those stories! Complex, often socially relevant stories about humanity. Stories about the
duality of our personalities, racism, and religion.

Sure, there were Tribbles too. But everyone needs some fun once in while.

Right?

I didn't care that much for Capt. Kirk. He was stubborn, sometimes whimsical and seemed full of himself. I was much more interested in Mr. Spock; watching Spock explore his humanity and learn to embrace his emotions made him a terrific role model for a early-teen male coming of age. Like Spock, I had TNT-like emotions buried beneath my surface, and I struggled with keeping them in check. I understood Spock, and identified with him.

Save for the ears.

It was with this perspective that I viewed J.J. Abrams new Star Trek. The prequel, an amped-up technical bonanza, tells the story of how Kirk, Spock, Bones McCoy and other major characters meet and develop relationships at Star Fleet Academy. Near the end of their training, Star Fleet detects a distress call from the planet Vulcan, and the Enterprise, lead by Captain Pike, is dispatched to assist.

What Pike and crew discover changes everything. Literally.

(Near-spoiler: You might check out the work of Hugh Everett before watching this movie.)

Abrams' take on the characters, and how they are portrayed by the actors, is pretty good. There's a hint of Shatner in Chris Pine, and Zachary Quinto seems to channel Mr. Spock. Abrams adds a bit of humor here and there to offset the kick-ass action, but works too hard to make all the characters fit into the puzzle early. The plot felt a bit hurried, and a little too contrived.

I always viewed Star Trek TV sequels and movies as morality plays, and judged each by how well the stories addressed a modern social theme. Just as the original tackled important issues of its day, the best of those that followed did the same.

This is the missing key ingredient in the new Abrams version.

Terrific characters, an interesting twist, a great villain, incredible action and unbelievable technical scenes make for a pretty good story. But pretty good doesn't quite cut it if one wants to make a Star Trek flick. The movie's theme, "an all-consuming thirst for revenge will destroy all" is fine, but it's nothing more than that. Just "fine."

And for the Star Trek franchise, that's not good enough.

11 comments:

Read Me said...

Great review. You told me exactly what I wanted to know about the movie without giving it all away. You're better than rotten tomatoes, better than the previews, better even than Siskel and whoever else he's worked with. You should have your own show.

Chris James said...

I'll take it that it isn't as good as 2 or 4, but is it better than 1 or 5?

The Film Geek said...

Thanks, Read Me! :)

Chris: I think it's along the lines of the less memorable movies in the series. I don't think people will be talking about this movie in a couple of years like they do 2 (or even 3).

Paul Higginbotham said...

Great review. That is the exact impression I got of this movie when the previews came out. Roger Ebert said something very similar:

"The Gene Roddenberry years, when stories might play with questions of science, ideals or philosophy, have been replaced by stories reduced to loud and colorful action."

Sigh...

primalscreamx said...

Completely don't agree, dude. The main problem with Star Trek as a series was that it got bogged down in endless sermons. It was like they picked a message out of a hat and gave it to the writers to work with. This week, Captain Picard discovers the importance of being kind to school crossing guards. Next week, Spock finds out about good oral hygiene. It was relentless.

And the theme for this movie seemed to me less about revenge and more about finding your way back on your path after you've lost your way one way or another --a decent lesson given the last 8 years and one that applies to a movie/tv franchise that was officially circling the drain.

It's not the end-all-be-all Star Trek movie. It's rushed. They try to squeeze in the whole crew with colorful bits to name check and that was a mistake. In the series, how long was it until anybody even knew who the hell Scotty, Sulu and Chekov even were? I look it as a decent start -a pilot, if you will. Among the other films, I'd rank it a solid 3rd -behind 2 and 6, but well ahead of 5, 1 and 4 --which I loathe, but still like better than the entire Next Generation collection of films.

The Film Geek said...

Thanks, Paul. And I still hope you get to see it. As I said, it's pretty good. Just now what I consider great.

Bill: I hear ya, but for me, it WAS the preaching that made Star Trek enjoyable. That really was more important to me than any other aspect of the show. Sometimes that aspect was over-or under done, but it was to me the key part.

primalscreamx said...

I dig it. I liked the general vibe (still hate the whales), appreciated the optimism and liked a lot of the storytelling, particularly the Borg stories from Next Gen and Voyager, the last two seasons of Enterprise and tons of the TOS stuff.
No love for Deep Space Nine.
I suspect an excommunication may be coming my way.

The Film Geek said...

I'm re-thinking the message aspect of the movie based on your "righting the path" perspective, Bill. I don't think I saw that during the movie because, well, a re-telling to me isn't righting the path as much as it is re-doing the past. And I was annoyed at the re-doing that took place. Maybe too annoyed to pick up on that. I'm gonna reconsider it.

Muze Euterpe said...

Hmm. Well you have confirmed that I will wait till it comes out on DVD before seeing it.

I hate when "people" produce something for the money, and move away from the originator's intent. There was a reason the original Star Trek was popular. And it wasn't the awesome special effects.

PS - Great job on the Paul & Spike show.

The Film Geek said...

Let me know what you think when you do see it, Muze. And thanks! Hope to hear you on there soon.

Elvis Drinkmo said...

OK, I'm late and back from a hiatus.

I haven't seen the movie because frankly I can't afford it. After I wrecked my truck and a multitude of other bills came piling in..... well, you all know the story.

Anyway, having not seen it, but got a pretty good rundown from a step-son who is every bit as Trekie geek as me (and it makes me proud)- I have this to offer.

Along the lines of what Bill was saying (no excommunication from the First Church, Bill), Star Trek did have a moral storyline that reflected the times, but it's important to bear in mind that according to Trek mythos- Kirk and crew existed in the 23rd century which was much different than that of Picard, Janeway, and Sisko's 24th. The Federation did have those lofty ideals in Kirk's time, but even in the original series it should be noted that the Federation had highly advanced, hostile enemies on all their borders and Kirk cut corners and violated those morals (like the covert action of stealing a Romulan cloaking device by violating Romulan space under false pretenses ordered by Starfleet Command and carried out by Captian Kirk, himself, along with Mr. Spock in "The Enterprise Incident") in order to to survive. The luxury of moralizing every situation wasn't as free. The Prime Directive was more a matter of convenience, rather than a Golden Rule.

Whereas, by the 24th century in Picard's time, the Klingons had all but surrendered and became allies. The Romulans and Cardassians didn't pose much of threat. The Federation was like the only superpower in the general region. They had room to respect rank and file of command and the Prime Directive. The 24th century was much more favorable for the Federation than the 23rd.

Anyway, that's how I'm going into this movie when I finally get a chance to see it. And by God, at least the franchise has been resurrected after the abject failure of the TV series Enterprise. That alone will allow me to take in whatever this movie has to offer and enjoy it- no matter how bad they've twisted the cannon.