Again, I find myself feeling like a traitor, a stranger in a strange land: I’ve seen a franchise film in a franchise that I’ve forever been indifferent to. Star Trek is a franchise I was never really the right age to get into, and prior to JJ Abrams’ latest outing I’d only seen Generations at the cinema and that one where Data swears (that’s really all I remember of that particular title).
I’ve had a rough few weeks at the cinema. I wanted something good that I could watch without wanting to tear somebody’s eyes out. I got precisely that from Star Trek. I was so grateful for the quality of the experience that tears sprang to my eyes a few times. It was just that beautiful.
It was so well done that, after saying “Eric Bana was the villain?”, Raymond was then heard to remark “the characters were good”. They are. Star Trek is essentially a character driven film with a more than working story that effectively sets up a new Trek continuity in a wholly accessible way. I know that a lot of people are going to avoid it by virtue of it being Star Trek, but they’re doing themselves a grave disservice. I’ve ran into so many people who have loved Wolverine, though, that I simply don’t know what to think of society anymore.
Basically: watch Star Trek.
On an escape shuttle, a child is born. As his father dies on the USS Kelvin, the boy is given a name: James Tiberius Kirk. Some years later, Kirk (Chris Pine) is a knockabout fighter who is wasting his intellect. When he’s promised command of a ship on the basis of his aptitude and heritage, Kirk joins Star Fleet, where he constantly runs afoul of Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), a Vulcan/human hybrid devoted to all things logical.
Against their better judgements and against their actual capabilities, the two must team up on the newly launched USS Enterprise to stop the sinister black hole wielding Nero (Eric Bana), hell bent on a revenge neither of them can understand. From there on, it’s destiny all the way.
Star Trek was awesome, purely and simply. It had so much to offer and so little to anger. I would go so far as to say that there is nothing I didn’t like about this film except for the fact that the score sometimes sounds like it could break into “The Final Countdown” at any moment. And who is to say that’s a bad thing anyway? Unlike some other movies I could name, Star Trek does an excellent job of being both a story in itself and an origins film. I can’t honestly tell you if it respects the source material (which is not the same as reflecting it, which would be irrelevant in a case like this), but it certainly feels like it does so, and that’s all that matters to me.
For someone with absolutely no Trek feelings whatsoever except for a certain sorrow at the way its fans – and by extension all SF fans – are represented in society, I was amazed at the level of emotional investment I had in this film. So much of it felt so right. Something that is indicated in the trailer and that I’d read about in interviews is executed so well that it still managed to surprise me. Some of it was so well done, and a certain brand of moving, that tears sprang to my eyes. I am, of course, famous for being overwhelmed with emotion when I first saw The Incredibles, so keep that in mind.
Kirk and Spock are compelling characters who offset each other well, and Zachary Quinto is totally and mercifully free of Sylar in his portrayal of the Vulcan. They each have their own senses of duty and humour, without going too over the top. I’ve read criticisms of Chris Pine’s Kirk as a “douche bag”, but that’s honestly his charm: he’s a jerk who gets results (like William Shatner remains to this day!), and it’s not like he doesn’t care. Spock is repressed but he has emotions nonetheless, and this film effectively deals with his inner turmoils. I wasn’t entirely sold on Nero, but he has credible motivations nonetheless.
As for the support cast, I was positively tickled by all of them, particularly Simon Pegg as Scotty, Karl “Eomer, son of Eomund” Urban as McCoy and Zoe Saldana as Uhura. For some reason I didn’t even mind that Scotty was comic relief and had an unexplained mute alien sidekick. In fact, the only bum note in the way of characters and actors comes in the form of a green-skinned co-ed who exists solely for Kirk to be a cad to. The makeup is unconvincing, and the pandering to the “teaching alien ladies how to love” ideal goes a bit too far. She’s on the screen for less than the duration of a scene, though (which, strangely enough, is the film’s key T&A scene), so I’m not going to hold it against Abrams.
For all the characterisation, though, I can’t ignore that this is science fiction and at least partially an action film. The science was sound enough for me, with a mixture of the digital and analogue technologies that were en vogue in the science fiction of 1967. The Enterprise is brand new and impressive but it features ridiculously outdated features like manually loaded photon torpedoes. So much of it is manual, and a lot of drama arises from the fact that characters improbably have to run from place to place on the ship to ensure that things happen as they are supposed to. It’s a nice nod to the roots of the series, a way of linking it to the original work without being slavish (related: Chekhov remains a semi-ridiculous Cold War Russki caricature). Further, there’s a nice explanation of featured markedly superior technologies as well and, though I have some qualms with Scotty’s warp technology for reasons that I won’t go into, it does a much better job of gelling with whatever continuity it is maintaining than George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy ever did.
I had an argument with my friend Casper after the film about “plot holes”. That was his word, but what he was actually describing was bad science and technology. If a black hole is not supposed to operate as it does in this film that is not a “plot hole”, it is artistic licence applied to the laws of astrophysics, or whatever brand of science you get in space. Whenever we see science fiction, he tries to rip the science to shreds but he only managed to pump out a couple of complaints here. If scientific fidelity is important to you, then you’re probably going to get most of it here … probably.
Action, too, does not disappoint. There’s a confusingly shot barroom brawl but the key to the action is variety: Kirk never does the same thing twice. Even if that leads to ridiculous confrontations with ice bugs, that’s fine: it’s exciting. When first I saw the vacuum of space and it was silent, I felt that the movie was special. I later found out that the silent vacuum is only applied when silence is more dramatic than “The Final Countdown”, but the point still stands. At any rate, there’s not an interminable procession of scenes featuring Kirk and Spock rushing at each other, claws bared. It’s a breath of fresh air, all the more surprising for the fact that it’s spawned from a 42 year old franchise.
I would recommend Star Trek to anyone, but natural prejudices come into play: against Star Trek, against science fiction in general, against the sort of people who would watch such films. I’d like to say that, if intelligent and enjoyable films make money, then more intelligent and enjoyable films get made, but you and I both know that there’s really no correlation except for that time when Watchmen brought the “serious comic book movie” trend to an end (allegedly).
Still, if you give Paramount and JJ Abrams your money, you’ve not made a bad investment. I don’t often comment during a movie that the movie is pretty damn good, but I felt the need to let this be known a couple of times. Star Trek is an exercise in elevation, and raised me above the drudgery of less than mediocre films I’ve had the misfortune to see lately. It’s not the final frontier, but it’s a pretty upper echelon.