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I Have Been, and Always Shall Be, Your Trek. Kinda. 09.05.2009

Posted by Yeoman Nacelle Envy in Uncategorized.
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The Famed USS Franklin Mint

The Famed USS Franklin Mint

My last entry gave nothing away but this here puppy is full of spoilers.    I mean it, there be dragons ahead.   If you haven’t seen the movie yet I REALLY would advise you not to read the following.  Consider yourselves warned.

The bottom line?  With all this hoopla and fan sturm und drang, I was assuming the film would be REALLY bad or REALLY good.  It never occurred to me it might be neither.   I wasn’t prepared for it to be, um, just fun.  A zippy, enjoyable, popcorny summer flick.  Not great, not horrible — but a fun two hours at the movies.  On a “Spinal Tappy” scale of one to eleven?  I give it a solid seven-and-a-half.

Ironically, after all the worries about whether the hardcore fans would take to it since it was supposedly geared to a “universal” audience, to me it actually seemed to be designed FOR the fans more than the huddled masses.  In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone who’s not at least reasonably familiar with the show and its history enjoying this film in the least.  I saw it in a packed house full of obvious Trek Peeps and the entire film was punctuated with applause, cheers, hoots, sighs, and laughs for each “inside” reference.  And those happened pretty frequently.  The Trekkies seemed to have a good time.   (But like I said: I can’t imagine a person who didn’t know the show could have kept up with it.)

But down to the details.  Time to pick a few nits.

First: I have to admit, they had me at hello.  The “pre-credit” sequence with Kirk’s dad sacrificing himself to save newborn Kirk was a cheesy fanboy weeper.  Come on: it’d be hard to hate any film after that wonderfully sappy, operatic opening.

Overall the plot certainly had its share of holes and contrivances. It’s one of those movies you enjoy at the time and then the next day start picking apart.  For example: Old Spock just happens to be stranded on the same planet Kirk gets dumped on?  Okay, no biggie.  But Spock’s hanging out doing his Sudoku in the exact same CAVE that Kirk dashes into?   Hmmm.  How ‘bout we write a good reason they wind up in the exact same spot?  Not that tricky, folks.  (And was I the only guy who half expected the Wampa from “Empire” to show up in that cave?)

Speaking of this “Hoth” sequence: Lemme get this straight.  Kirk irritates people on the bridge and so is knocked out and dumped on a dangerous planet?  Really?  The Enterprise doesn’t have a brig or something to pop him into?  Pair of spare handcuffs, maybe?  Just asking.  Seems a bit “un-starfleety.”

And while were on the subject of the ice planet, that thrilling monster snow chase was damn cool, but it would have been cooler if it didn’t feel so “tacked on”–  almost like it was from another film.  It was as if they shoehorned it into the script just to prove they could do nifty CG monsters.  Something for the trailers, I suppose.  Fair enough.  But a more legit plot-driven reason for it to happen would have been more satisfying.

The deus ex machina “Perils of Pauline” rescue at the end was a little annoying too.  “They’ve all blown up and died!  No, wait, they’ve all been transported simultaneously by the amazing Scotty.”  At least in the old show they would have set up the possibility of rescue by cutting back and forth to Scotty wrestling with the finicky transporter.

As for the new cast, I have mixed feelings.  The big surprise for me was Quinto.  I was the first guy out there who squealed like a schoolgirl when I learned Zack Quito was playing Spock.  When they first announced it, I plotzed about the perfect casting.  I even blogged about Quinto repeatedly below.  To me when I watched him on Heroes it seemed he looked like Spock, moved like him, sounded like him, even smelled like him.  Then last night I finally saw him up there on the massive silver screen in his Spock haircut, Spock ears, Spock eyebrows and Spock blue shirt.    And my first reaction was:  Oh.  Hey, wait.  He doesn’t really look much like Spock.  Or sound like Spock.  Or even…. 

But he grew on me during the course of the film and by the end I was okay with it.   Not perfect, but pretty okay.

Chris Pine: A Bit Out of Focus?

Chris Pine: A Bit Out of Focus?

On the other hand Chris Pine as Kirk was about what I expected. My hopes were low.  Pine is a perfectly fine, attractive young actor.  And they gave him lots of fun Kirky stuff to say and do.  But I never really got that special vibe I wanted.  In fact, in his very last few moments on screen they have him say his final lines with a slight Shatner cadence.  At that moment I dearly wished he’d been doing subtle touches of that the entire time.  Sigh.

To my surprise, my favorite cast members were Karl Urban as Bones and Simon Pegg as a wonderfully comical Scotty.  They both looked perfect for their roles, and both did a great job of capturing the essence of their characters without doing outright impressions.  And both Pegg as Scotty and Anton Yelchin as the curly-haired Chekov actually had a far more authentic accents than our beloved original performers did. 

(Strange Fanboy Disconnect Moment: it threw me when Old Spock “recognized” his pals young Kirk and young Scotty.  I found myself thinking: “Huh?  How can you recognize them?   They AREN’T your Kirk and Scotty, Leonard!)  

That leaves Uhura and Sulu.  Oy.  I’m not accusing anyone or being INTENTIONALLY racist, but Zoe Saldana as  “Nyota” Uhura and John Cho as Sulu seemed to have been cast totally because of their ethnicity.  Neither one looked, sounded, or “felt” like the original actors in any way, shape, or form.  It was like the producers said: “Go get me a really hot black chick and some Asian guy.  Hey, how about that dude from Harold & Kumar?  He’s Asian, right?”

Annoying.

As for the villain, Eric Bana was fine, but there wasn’t enough scenery-chewing for my taste.  Like they say, a movie is only as good as its bad guy is bad.  I think it would have helped to have a more “Khan-like” charismatic, over-the-top villain.  (Much like Khan, this Nero fella is an obsessed dude who holds serious grudges.   Do NOT get on his bad side.)

Speaking of “un-starfleety” behavior, I had no problem at the end when Nero stubbornly refused to be rescued as his ship disintegrates around him, but did we REALLY have to THEN fire all phaser banks at it?  The thing was already falling apart.  Kinda nasty, that.

But, I admit, even that part LOOKED great.   The special effects are all truly lovely.   Wow.  It’s hands-down the most big-budget-looking, spectacular Trek film ever made.

And that new Enterprise looks terrific.  The “beauty shots” of the ship as it rises up from the “mists” of Saturn’s rings or when we first see it in its full naked glory out the shuttle window are just breathtaking.   The music swells, the ship proudly displays her updated-yet-still-familiar sexy form, my eyes mist up.  Fanboy porn.

And a very nice thing they did with the ship — which has never been fully exploited before — is to finally mess with the idea that there’s no “up” or “down” in space. It was really fun to occasionally see the Enterprise upside-down or at some cool, unexpected angle.

Loved the nifty planet-drilling barbed-wire space-needle dangly thingy, loved the tendril/vortex transporter effect, loved the MacGuffin-y “red matter” (ha!), and loved that intricate phaser pistol stuff.  (Dunno quite WHAT was happening with the flip-around phaser dealie and recharging indicator lights but it was super cool.  Gonna have to get the DVD when it comes out and slow-mo that all down.)

The “updated” sound effects (red alert, transporter sound, ambient bridge beeps & tweets) actually seemed to my ear a little LESS realistic and more “old fashioned” than the original stuff.   Weird.   And I’m a big fan of composer Michael Giacchino, but I felt, though his workmanlike score got the job done, it wasn’t fantastic.  Plus I sure would have loved more soundtrack references to the old themes.  (I only caught one music cue “joke,” during that final Finnigan-ish fistfight between Kirk and the Romulan.)  Of course, that said, the music in the closing credits was bliss.  Sheer geek bliss.   Got chills, dude.

My biggest pet peeve visually was the bridge.  I’m not a fan of the new bridge’s over-bright “everything’s a source light” Sephora look.   The “I’m inside a glowstick” design is all so very late Oughties, you know?  So very 2009.   Mark my words: that Apple-Store-style is gonna look dated about five minutes from now.  I wish they’d at least thrown in some design elements to make the bridge look like it just might possibly be the precursor to the set we know & love.  Some hard angles, some accents of black and deep red, or perhaps a primitive version of Spock’s viewer in the background?    Throw a few set-design bones for us nerds, would ya?  The wardrobe people did great by us.

And finally, the irony of this controversial Star Trek film is it turns out that the whole “alternate reality” time travel thing — which allows all kinds of canon-breaking stuff  — really isn’t all THAT pivotal after all.  There was no pressing need IMHO.  The conceit theoretically offers the writers all kinds of freedom to reinvent Trek history from scratch, but they don’t really use it in any important, pivotal way.  (Not to downplay the deaths of all those poor Vulcans, RIP.)

Screenplay-wise, they could easily have written another draft where everything winds up set to rights in the end.  Hell, that’s how time travel episodes WORK.   And frankly that would have been enormously satisfying to those of us fanboys who were eager to consider this our formal “Star Trek Origins” story.    Instead we’re left stranded in a semi, sort-of, quasi, pseudo Star Trek universe for all future films.  And for no compelling reason that I could see. 

Okay.  To wrap up: what could they have done to make this film better?  Well, a better bridge design for a start.   And maybe a different Kirk (sorry Chris, you tried).  But mostly just a new draft of the script.  Run it through the typewriter a few more times.  Lose the alternate reality deal, lose the holes and contrivances and cheats, keep the old canon intact, and, while you’re at it, get rid of poor Lenny Nimoy’s awkward “plot exposition” speeches (show, don’t tell, remember?  Screenwriting 101?)

But, like I said, overall not too darn bad.  Quite fun.   7.5 of 11.   (Bottom line is I had a big stupid grin on my face for most of the two hours.  And yeah, I admit I squeezed out a tear or two.)

Oh, wait — one more thing before I sign off.   I forgot the best part.   The finest, coolest thing about this film was… the ears.   I’m not kidding.  The best pointy ears of any Star Trek film or TV show.  From Quinto’s shapely ones, to Nimoy’s wrinkly gnarled ones, to Nero’s half-chewed-off ones, to baby Spock’s adorable pinkish ones, to Sarek’s slightly fuzzy ones — them pointy ears stole the show.  Most realistic, well-designed ears in Trek history.  Kudos to the makeup artists.

Okay, I’m finally done praising nits and picking them.  Shutting the eff up now.

I eagerly await YOUR perspective, good Commodore!

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