Saturday, May 16, 2009

Review: Star Trek

Star Trek ( J. J. Abrams, 2009)

And so yet another prequel/reboot arrives at all, and I mean all of our local multiplexes. What's so special about this one however? Well, this one is more a franchise that was considered to be dead in the water for one thing. So what, they pulled that off with Batman. Well, as an additional bonus, this prequel/reboot features a time travel story element that not only serves as a plotline, but quite literally plays a part in the evolution of the series. Plus the reviews were overwhelmingly positive and it was a wet Sunday, so why not?

Being as far removed from Star Trek as one can be in my culture, which basically means I have some but not a lot of knowledge regarding the franchise, I was a bit hesitant towards seeing the film regardless of the praise it had received. I was promised something that wasn’t ‘my father’s Star Trek’ (which I never really paid attention to anyways) and, evidently from the tv ads and trailers, an action packed popcorn movie for the summer. I’m not sure about the ‘not my father’s Star Trek’ bit, but I definitely got something that looked like an action-packed popcorn movie that tends to be released at this time of year. The story is a simple, with a young James Kirk (played by Chris Pine) and a young Spock (Zachary Quinto) earnings their stripes as members of a new space exploration shuttle, the U.S.S. Enterprise. Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Sulu (John Cho) also make appearances. Of course, a big movie deserves a big guy. Star Trek gets Captain Nero (Eric Bana), certainly a bad guy, but I’m not sure if he’s a big one however.

I won’t go into plot details too much because part of the fun is seeing how exactly the filmmakers use the time travel plotline to put a twist on the supposedly established Star Trek universe and timeline. Even for someone who is as Trek allergic as myself, I found the plot twist to be quite amusing and clever. It even involves a character who…well, no spoilers from me. As ridiculous as the plot is, which involves captain Nero and his band of nasty miners from a race of Romulans who travel back in time to avenge the destruction of their planet, I ultimately forgave the film because it still manages to be quite entertaining.

A case in point is how it treats its characters and their development into the men and women they will ultimately become in the future. Sure, there is James Kirk and Spock who must learn to become leaders and effective crew members, all the while fighting those dastardly Romulans, but through it all the movie is injected with a remarkable amount of comedy. And this wasn’t a bunch of weird Star Trek jokes that would have flown over my head (apparently there were plenty of those too though. I read about a couple and indeed, I have no freaking clue what they mean). Abrams his team of writers took the liberty to make sure the tone never became too serious. In fact, there are plenty of scenes in the movie that are simply downright comedic, nothing more. I don’t know how hard core Trek fans are reacting to this, but I had a blast with many of the Kirk scenes, particularly near the beginning of the film, which featured him as a very brash, overconfident pain in the neck. A lot of it was pretty darn entertaining and funny. Even some of the early Spock scenes had their fare share of laughs, this despite the fact that Spock is supposed to be the most emotionless member of the crew! I cannot say I would have expected a Trek film to offer so many laughs, but on that level at least, the film delivers in spades. The running joke about what Uhura’s first name is was a favourite of mine, and its ultimate conclusion made me laugh pretty hard.

That isn’t to say the film is without some good character moments. When the personalities of Kirk and Spock collide, one can be sure that flares will ignite. We know that in the end they will learn to trust each other and even grow fond of one another. But while there are clearly no surprises as to what the conclusion will be, there is a lot of fun to be had in seeing how this relationship comes to be. Again, a lot of it has to do with the time travel element so I can’t get into the details, but overall I thought the birth of their friendship, which pretty much requires the entire film, was rather neatly done. Scotty, played mostly for laughs by the wonderful Simon Pegg, is also awarded some great little scenes, most notably when he first makes his appearance on the deck of the Enterprise. Special mention should be awarded to the performances of the two leads in the film, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. Both play their roles with the right attitude and range, depending of course on what their characters demand. Quinto has several sharp and funny lines, but because he is the emotionless Spock, they are mostly delivered in a very dry manner, which, in an odd way, makes those lines all the more entertaining. Pine brings the right amount of swagger to his role as Kirk, without ever overdoing or becoming overbearing. There are scenes when he clearly loses or becomes the receiving end of a joke and he plays on those levels accordingly. Bana, as the villainous Nero, is unfortunately rather forgettable even though he is an actor I usually enjoy. His plot is sort of cooky and I never felt his presence even mattered. When a scene involved his character, I was usually longing to return to Kirk, Spock and the rest of the gang.

Many of the reviews have praised the special effects and the action in the film and rightfully so. This was one of the rare big budget action films I had seen the theatre lately during which I was never at a loss when the explosions started. I find a lot of big action movies these days move at a neck breaking pace, which ultimately makes for a frustrating experience. I don’t find ‘being lost in the chaos of the battle’ a fun filmmaking technique (I’m talking to you Quantum of Solace team). Here things felt a bit more controlled than usual, which allows the viewer to savour the moments, to savour the hard work that went into creating these worlds and action set pieces. There were several shots in the film, particularly the exterior shots in space with all the shuttles, friendly or not, that had me gazing in wonder at the screen. There really is a remarkable amount of detail to the effects in the film, which alone is worthy of praise, but because the filmmakers use their camera wisely and with proper pacing and edits, we can really appreciate it all. As a movie goer who enjoys action films with special effects (although one probably wouldn’t know it judging from the kind of films I review at Between the Seats), I can’t possibly stress this enough. The only action sequence which didn’t impress featured Kirk and Sulu fighting off Romulans on some kind of mine digging rig in the sky. A tad unnecessary I felt. Plus, why were they fighting with swords? Doesn’t Star Trek have those lasers that can be set to ‘kill’?

Do I want to start watching Star Trek episodes now? Nope. I’ve seen a handful enough of films and episodes to know what to expect from them. That’s why I stopped watching them in the first place. Did I enjoy this blockbuster summer popcorn version of Star Trek? You bet. The plot is silly, the villain is rather boring, but overall there is a whole lot to like about the film if you are the mood for a good old fashioned summer action film. Fun characters, a healthy dose of comedy and some truly impressive special and visual effects make for a surprisingly fun Star Trek entry.

I can’t believe I just typed that phrase.

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