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Non-Review Review: Star Trek

I finally caved. I went to see Star Trek and I dragged my girlfriend along for the ride. I was cautious, hearing two separate opinions about the film: the mainstream media’s orgasmic delight at being offered a premium piece of geekdom for their visual pleasure and my work colleagues’ enjoyment of the film, but lament that ‘it just wasn’t Star Trek’. Who was right? Well, they both were.

Like the Enterprise itself, the new Star Trek is a carefully constructed engine that takes a while to build up momentum, but has a phenomenal top speed

Like the Enterprise itself, the new Star Trek is a carefully constructed engine that takes a while to build up momentum, but has a phenomenal top speed

I was pleasantly surprised, as was my better half, who is completely unfamiliar with the world of Trekdom. There’s no doubt about it: JJ Abrams has created a fantastic summer blockbuster that contains more than a few echoes of the two bigger movies of last year.

From Iron Man, it takes the offbeat casting and drives its own engine through characterisation. By the end of the film we know Kirk, Spock and Uhuru quite well. we want to know more about Bones and Scotty. And we’re glad we’ve been reintroduced (forty years too late) to Christopher Pike. The roles are all well cast and well acted, with very competent actors managing to breeze over any of the film’s structural and pacing flaws (like Iron Man, there are a few).

From The Dark Knight it takes the driving, pulsating action – beat after beat in a constant game of one upmanship. Once the film kicks into high gear (about forty minutes in), it never lets up. It keeps doing things bigger and better. You almost forgot how slight the plot is. Of course, it lacks the depth of The Dark Knight, perhaps because JJ Abrams was afraid to load down the film with a preachy subtext.

Of course, the film has some of the weaknesses of its two progenitors. Like Iron Man, its villain is flat. Eric Bana manages to extend the character into two dimensions – and that’s a credit to him – but there just isn’t enough here for him to rank up there with a franchise that has given us Khan (“Ah, Kirk, my old friend. Do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? It is very cold in space.”) and General Chang (“Oh, now, be honest, Captain… warrior to warrior… you do prefer it this way, don’t you? As it was meant to be.”). Still, his interpretation of the franchise’s first working-class Romulan is worth a look. It also borrows the Dark Knight’s tendency to eschew logic when it suits, as well as to leave important scenes mid-development (the interrogation of Pike seems to end rather suddeny and is never mentioned again).

But those are minor quibbles. It is a very well-crafted piece of summer entertainment, I give it that. It gives us possibly one of the best examinations of the Kirk/Spock relationship of any adventure in the franchise’s history. It creates a fully-rounded character from Uhuru (and gives her a first name). It is cheeky, willing to wink at the audience in a way that the original series was willing to. It is a great addition to the film canon, but is it the best Star Trek film, as the media would have you believe? No.

A lot of Trek fans will complain the film is shallow and doesn’t embrace any of the issues that the television shows did. This is true, but the only two films in the franchise to play with these ideas were the slow-but-steady Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The latter is my favourite “original era” movie, if only because it works as an entertaining piece of cinema and as an allegory for the collapse of communism. Star Trek is better than The Motion Picture, but not quite as good as The Undiscovered Country. It’s also better than the other two movies with morals: the ‘conservation is good’ one (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) and the ‘exploitation of other races is bad’ one (Star Trek: Insurrection).

You might suggest that the reason that the mainstream has embraced this film so well is that it is less ‘preachy’ and ‘boring’ than they expect of the franchise. This ignores the fact that the two most pulse-pounding films in the series – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek: First Contact – were equally as stripped down. I would make the case that either film is a stronger film than the new release (due to the maturity of the casts involved – all actors had settled into their roles in those films), but we aren’t here to compare in depth. I will note that those were the second films in each franchise, so I hope to have my mind blown in the summer of 2012 when the sequel arrives.

So, is it Star Trek? I think it is. It does embrace issues – identity, emotion, companionship – in a way befitting the legacy. It doesn’t deal with anything deeper, but handles the basics very well. Furthermore, it is – at its core – an optimistic film. It’s a bright and shiny future where we’ve survived and learned to exist in relative harmony. It’s a world where any of us can acheieve what we are capable of. If the Dark Knight was -as many have suggested – a blockbuster for the Bush administration, this is one for the Obama administration.

Yes it’s flawed. Yes, it is unevenly paced. On the other hand, it is always well acted and well constructed. And I left the cinema with a smile on my face – as did my girlfriend, who was actively ruing seeing a Star Trek film. On the summer blockbuster scale, it’s slightly better than Iron Man and weaker than The Dark Knight. Which is way up there.

Sign me up for the sequel, whatever that may be.

_________________________________________________________________________

Star Trek is a relaunch of the classic science fiction franchise directed by JJ Abrams and starring Chris Pine (Smoking Aces), Zachary Quinto (24, Heroes), Karl Urban (The Bourne Supremecy, Lord of the Rings), Eric Bana (Hulk, Munich), Simon Pegg (Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days) and supporting performances from Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers), Winona Ryder (Girl, Interrupted, Beetlejuice) and Jennifer Morrison (House). It was released worldwide on 8th May 2009.

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14 Responses

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  5. […] of mouth (which must be pretty close to the same thing), long term winners like The Dark Knight or Star Trek or The Hangover emerge. Sure, they don’t necessarily have to blitz on to the screen, but if […]

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  8. […] episodic television shows that have sunk their claws into the cultural zeitgeist. For example the Star Trek franchise or The Simpsons Movie. These films are but extensions of the episodic mayhem that floods […]

  9. […] seen many of the films, I find it hard to believe someone who loved Transformers 2 could hate Star Trek and Up. But that is my opinion of his opinion. I share a widely-held suspicion that White is a […]

  10. […] or The Proposal on the horizon – I’ll keep in mind that adults and women do see movies. Star Trek and Wolverine were solid earners as well, and I was right to spot Night at the Museum 2 and Angels […]

  11. […] of them. In a franchise that gets villains wrong far more often then it gets them right (look at the latest film for an example of a weak villain), these creatures are interesting and […]

  12. […] this with the Imax success of Star Trek, which got into a little bother because technically it wasn’t even Imax. Still, audiences […]

  13. […] quotes from JJ Abrams and Roberto Orci seem to suggest that the sequel to this year’s Star Trek could “reflect the things that we are all dealing with today”. It’s certainly […]

  14. […] I remember the suggestion that The Dark Knight stands as an exploration of the Bush era whereas Star Trek heralds the Obama era, for […]

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