May 6, 2009

[Movies] Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek XIIn case you didn't know, my geekdom extends to my being a Trekkie. Don't mistake that for me not liking Star Wars - I'm into many geeky fandoms across the science fiction and fantasy spectrum, but Star Trek will always hold a special place in my heart. Like many geeks before me, I blame my father for this.

Star Trek remains to be one of the most amazing TV series of all time spanning the generations and all its multiple incarnations. It always manages to bring something new to the table and it certainly continues to inspire others to reach for the stars of their dreams, whether this is in terms of their jobs or maybe their desire to break into science fiction writing. It's all about boldly going where no man has gone before.

It was inevitable for Star Trek to break into movies and that has always been met with mixed reactions. There are all these theories around which movies are the best of if there's even a pattern around the potential success of a Star Trek movie - it's just the sort of thing that geeks get into. The generally accepted rule is that odd-numbered Trek movies tend to worse than the even-numbered films. There's a new one the claims that movies that are multiples of five are the worst of them all - think about it a little and you'll understand what they're talking about.

Thus when a new Star Trek movie was announced, I was worried to some extent. It was being positioned as a prequel, and given recent Star Wars history we know how bad prequels can get. Plus by Trek movie count, this is actually the eleventh Star Trek movie , which makes it an odd-numbered film. Oh yes, this definitely did not bode well. And yet like any other fan, I tried to remain optimistic and just put on my uniform and hoped for the best.

My fears turned out to be pointless though.

The premise of the film was straightforward enough - the movie is set in the time before the original series, and thus Kirk is not yet captain of the Enterprise and the Federation is still in its early years. A Romulan by the name of Nero has traveled through time to this period in search of one man and he's willing to destroy anything that gets in the way of his quest. And thus ultimately it's up to the crew of the Enterprise to stop him from achieving his dark designs.

At a spoiler-free synopsis level, it doesn't sound like much. Throw in the element of time travel, and I'm sure you might be just a wee bit worried given how the Trek franchise has really stretched the limits of time travel stories and it's resulted in an extreme range of stories, both good and bad. Don't fret though, the movie is a lot more than that and we have J.J. Abrams to thank for that. The story would sound a lot more enticing if I added more to that summary, but seriously, that would inevitable hit so many spoiler moments that will just blow you away.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 07:  (L-R) Karl Urba...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

First, let's talk casting. At first I was skeptical about their choice of actors - many sort of captured like look of the original characters, take for example Zachary Quinto as Spock, but appearances are hardly enough to base a movie on. Star Trek has always been a drama series at its heart and it has always required very strong ensemble acting on the part of the primary crew. Surprisingly enough though, not only did the actors manage to fulfill the visual aspects of these characters,, but they also did great in terms of capturing the essence of what made these characters work. Chris Pine was just how you'd imagine a very young Kirk, all headstrong and willing to hit on anything female. Karl Urban was AMAZING as Doctor Leonard McCoy given how well he delivered his lines and really embraced the crabby nature of the doctor. Major kudos has to go to the young Anton Yelchin for really getting Chekov down to a tee and even Simon Pegg made sure to get Scotty right without going too over the top with the comedy side of things. And yes, I still acknowledge the performances of Zoe Saldana as Uhura and John Cho as Sulu, too. Heck, even Winona Ryder was surprisingly good as Amanda Grayson, Spock's mother. Yeah, definitely no complaints from me from a casting perspective.

Then comes execution, and here one really has to sing praises to J.J. Abrams. I mean seriously, I'm never been very big on Lost as a series nor did I think Cloverfield was that great as a film but after watching this movie, it really makes me re-think my entire opinion of the man and his productions. Abrams just did a stellar job of capturing the look and feel of Star Trek while still updating it for newer audiences without sacrificing the core fan base. His use of light flares to accent key scenes was just brilliant and his reinterpretation of many fundamental Star Trek elements like transporters and phasers was really interesting.

The true key to the success of this movie is that age-old question that every reboot movie faces - will it please the fans more or will it just cater to new audiences. Normally I'd always concede that it has to be one or the other, but with Star Trek, Abrams threw that book out the window and showed us it's possible to please both.

A large part of the movie is an homage to the original series that started it all. The actors were truly "in-character" and did their best to capture the spirits of the original actors who started the franchise. Key lines from the original TV show had been scattered across the film tastefully and artfully such that it didn't seem too campy or out of place to have these characters reciting classic lines to please the older fans. The music was very well selected and it certainly touched on the same themes and music used to drive the original series into our collective social memory. There just so many little things that were inserted that made the film that much more enjoyable for the Trekkies in the theater.

But at the same time it was not the same Trek as before - it's a new Star Trek that anyone can get involved in, with or without a background in forensic science education or anything technical like that. It's definitely a reboot of the series but not the kind of reboot that offends the fans or disregards the decades of history that has come before it. It's an acceptable reinterpretation or re-imagining of the series that still remains logically acceptable to the core fan base given the effective use of time travel to re-shape the Star Trek universe.

In a nutshell, this movie reminds me of the Kobayashi Maru, touted as the "no-win scenario" in the Star Trek universe. Based on the books, Kirk was the only man to defeat the simulation and he did this by re-writing the code of the program so that the artificial Klingons would acknowledge Kirk as an amazing warrior and thus they would choose not to fight him. Essentially, it was cheating the test but it was the kind of cheating that was actually rewarded as creative thinking on Kirk's part and definitely a solution that fit well with who Kirk was.

That's how I see this movie - it's J.J. Abrams' Kobayashi Maru. He was presented with the challenge of creating a new Star Trek movie despite all the bad history around such endeavors of the franchise. He had to create a film that would not anger the thousands of Trekkies around the world and yet still somehow get new audiences involved in a show that is often thought to be "too geeky" given it tends to be hard core science fiction. In order to accomplish this, Abrams decided to change the rules of the game. He didn't try to create a movie within the confines of the preexisting Star Trek universe - he choose to forge a new path and create a new version of things. And he did this without totally giving up on all that had come before - he found a solution that, while far-fetched, was still plausible enough for fans to accept.

This is how reboots should be done. This deserves to become a film school case study of how to masterfully execute the series reboot while pleasing new and old fans of the series. This is how you give an aging franchise new life and ultimately get everyone excited about revisiting this universe and seeing how they too can let loose their creative energies into expanding and exploring the new universe Abrams has created.

This may be the best Star Trek movie of them all because it does what Gene Roddenberry aimed to do - to make science fiction universally acceptable across audience clusters and social types. It's a movie that presents a vision of a future that is both amazingly interesting because of its differences and yet comfortably familiar because of those common themes that survive across the years. This may not be your father's Star Trek, but it doesn't mean he can't involved or that he won't like it.

This is a must-see movie for anyone who loves a good story, who has been craving for a really good movie to see and is tired of the market researched derived fluff that Hollywood has been trying to pass off as entertainment. Go see it in the theaters at full price! Get in line for tickets right away! Catch on one of those break-taking IMAX screens! See the movie for the first time and feel like you've already seen it all before. I cannot stress this enough - you cannot let this one pass you by.

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  1. Nice review, Rocky!

    When you mentioned "This is not your father's Star Trek", I suddenly remembered Ricky and got all sentimental. But I'm sure he's seen it, wherever he is, heck, he might've been at the Hollywood premiere. LOL.

    I have a question about the Kobayashi Maru... so in the movie, Kirk also re-wrote the code, as in the books? How did he do the re-writing thing? (Sorry, I really haven't seen a single episode of TOS or read any of the books. I'm a TNG baby. :p )

  2. @yvaine28

    Yeah, the review (and TOS in general) had me thinking of Ricky to some extent. I'm sure he enjoyed the film, too. =)

    In the book, it was established that he hacked the simulator code but it's never clearly explained how he did it. It just happens in the night and the next day when he repeats the simulation, the Klingons are in total adoration, haha.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the review - I put a lot of effort into it and I still feel I missed out on stuff. The movie was just THAT good.

  3. Ah, I see! Thanks for the info.

    So that's why in some of the fan reviews I read, people commented that it was great that we finally see what really went down during the test. I loved that sequence in the movie. :)

  4. I dare say this new Capt. James T. Kirk does a better job than the first one at embodying all that is Capt. James T. Kirk

  5. @Coffee Maker:
    that statement does seem a tad ironic, but I know EXACTLY what you mean! LOL