Thursday, May 07, 2009




well, hurray! star trek the reboot movie was nowhere near as disappointing as i thought it would be. (now, that's some damning with faint praise!)

but seriously, folks ... j.j. abrams's big-screen reimagining of the vaunted franchise (now in theaters) was a lot of fun for this lifelong trekkie (call me a trekker if you must, i don't mind; just don't call me lost in a transporter accident). which perhaps makes "sabotage" an odd title for this post, but i have my reasons. anyway, i saw it last friday at a screening with world-famous film critic andy klein, so i've had a lot of time to think about it. and will now dissect it at length. with SPOILERS!

the main thing to ponder about star trek -- which revisits the 23rd-century era of the original 1960s tv series (aka TOS), telling how the first crew of the starship enterprise came together -- is: is this star trek? well, yes. it has optimism, bravery, self-sacrifice, rationality, compassion, curiosity, and a finely tuned sense of when to follow the rules and when to break them. but that's not much of a feat, as these are the core values of gene roddenberry's creation. so, what abrams has made here is a super-expensive piece of fanfic (except he wasn't ever that big of a fan, according to interviews). not that there's anything wrong with that.

unlike the best trek (from across all permutations), the movie is only about an inch deep, not offering much beyond how everyone must strive to be their very best and work together, and that friends can help you be a better you. ok, sure, there's some stuff about alternate timelines and whatnot, but that's definitely territory to which much trek has gone before. (and anyone who's watching abrams's lost won't even be phasered ... er, fazed.)

eh, but so what? star trek jumps to life immediately with a screen-sweeping battle between the federation starship kelvin and a massive, spiny romulan ship that looks like it was grown, not built. the kelvin, under the command of future hero james t. kirk's soon-to-be-martyred dad, george, gets the worst of that:

the action mostly moves right along, as befits this revved-up take on trek aimed straight at the modern viewer, though it's not as emo as i expected and certainly no gossip girl in space (thank your deity of choice, or none). and yet it wisely leans on and draws from the franchise's history, specifically the parts where star trek most successfully intersected with the mainstream. ("it's not just for geeks anymore" indeed, entertainment weekly.) it has all the things the best and most popular of the previous 10 trek flicks have had -- awesome space sequences, crazy stunts, cool fights, alien sex, brooding villains, campy performances, beloved catch-phrases -- but with a younger, hotter cast.

it also, inevitably, has stuff that's highly likely to make some trekkies/ers go WTF or even WTFF?

hey, i said that a few times myself, but a nice timey-wimey twist sets it up so that this here star trek does not erase anything that came before. so just relax and enjoy, b/c it's only another string ... an alternate universe, in which the characters we know experience their lives differently than they did in the place where spock comes from.

that would be leonard nimoy's spock (aka "spock prime"), whose actions in the far-flung future set in motion a chain of events that allows the bad guy, tattooed romulan mofo nero (eric bana), to exact his revenge on zachary quinto's spock in the now (the now of the movie, that is).

which is all a bit wrath of khan, but that's ok. nimoy-spock explains it all after meeting new kirk (blandly pretty chris pine, who turned out to be quite entertaining) on an icy moon of vulcan (following a sequence that pays obvious homage to abrams's first franchise love, star wars). new kirk and quinto-spock aren't friends yet -- in fact, kirk is in this godforsaken beast-infested place b/c freshly minted captain spock booted the uppity earthling right off his bridge after they clashed. still, despite the freedom to do new stuff, the same-old, same-old happens: spock prime saves kirk's ass. haha!

speaking of kirk's ass, it gets kicked but good several times in this flick: by soon-to-be-fellow starfleet cadets, by snow beasties, by spock (w00t!), by mofo ... i mean, nero ... . even uhura (zoe saldana) gets in her licks.

which brings us to that EW cover shot of chris pine and zoe saldana lookin' all steamy.

guess what? it's a fakeout. kirk doesn't make ANY time with uhura, because SHE'S HOOKING UP WITH SPOCK!!!!

dude. i was totally not spoiled for that, and wowee! my head about exploded for a second. then i sort of liked it ... and sort of didn't. here's kirk, the unstoppable sweet-talking womanizing bastard of legend, getting cut out of the action by a frickin' vulcan. amusing as that is -- and as exciting as the concept of sexay spock is -- i'm disappointed that uhura gets to be more of a person here, but the tradeoff is she has to be romantically hooked up with someone. in the 1960s, uhura wasn't defined by being someone's squeeze. in this movie, her feelings for spock are a big part of who she is. (and of course it isn't the same for spock -- his thing for uhura is part of a bigger personal drama that has nothing to do with her. meanwhile, she runs around going "tell me what you need" and stroking his alien neck soothingly with her lithe, black-fingernailed hands ... an au courant update of the original's flawless french manicure.) so that aspect of it kind of sucks, and makes 1960s uhura MORE FEMINIST than 2009 uhura ... which is, i suppose, just another sad sign of the times.

OTOH, it makes total sense that spock would fall for a human. (and why not uhura? she's smart, tough, and cute.) like father, like son. zachary "sylar from heroes" quinto had some big shoes (ears?) to fill, but he handles both sides of spock pretty well, showing him to also be his father's son in his fierce intelligence and mastery of vulcan science/culture. but he gets to delve into spock's human aspect (an immutable part of him, after all) in ways nimoy certainly never got to do. and quinto's the only one who has to go up against his original incarnation -- an icon of the franchise, for many fans the most fascinating character of all. anyway, zach does have the look of spock, although he's a bit rounder at the edges than the angular nimoy, and not as elegant. his voice seemed a bit squeaky at times -- not the deep, soothing mr. spock voice i love -- but he held his own against nimoy, who was just a joy to behold.

let's face it -- a big reason i rolled with this movie was b/c it's a total spockfest. we even get to see our human/vulcan half-breed as a grade-schooler, who endures a bunch of insults from his pureblood peers ... then beats the shit out of one who's twice his size. go, spocklet!

spock's pop, sarek (ben cross, a fine substitute for the late mark lenard), lectures the lad kindly -- this sarek is somewhat less of an asshole to spock, and i liked his compassion for his son. spock's mom, amanda, is played by winona ryder -- i didn't even recognize her. she was understanding and self-sacrificing, like a good mommy should be (blech) ... and sacrifice was truly the nature of her character, since j.j. killed her off later in the story. which led to my head exploding again, b/c spock the motherless babe-in-the-identity-woods is just so frakkin' disney-esque: his mommy dies so he can finally embrace his humanity. PUKE!! i mean, fuck off. seriously. (yes, her death is the result of a way more cataclysmic event ... which is also very OMFGWTF? ... but his central self-revelation revolves around him processing the loss of his mother.)

meanwhile (or whatever), kirk gets to be a badass tween, stealing his stepdad's antique bitchen corvette (like, 1960s-era) and escaping in a billowing cloud of iowa farm-road dust while the stepdad (voiced by greg grunberg, currently starring in tv's heroes but a longtime actor-touchstone/pal of abrams) threatens him over the comm (this was the most blatant product placement i noticed ... uh, not grunberg, but the name on the phone). but jimmy the kid just punches on the tunes, and out blares the beastie boys' "sabotage." hahaHA! talk about classic rock!

then comes the first of many scenes of kirk dangling above a dizzyingly steep drop, yowling and hanging on for dear life before scrambling determinedly back on top. this is as close as the movie gets to a motif, and i'm not sure it really is one.

backstories dispatched, we're plunged into the main drama, starting with life at starfleet academy, where spock is already an established hotshot (and looks damn hot in his uniform).

kirk joins pretty much on a dare from captain christopher pike (the noble bruce greenwood) -- who studied and admired the short-but-heroic career of george kirk -- but if this movie was ever supposed to be about kirk's journey from brawling punk to dashing officer, it doesn't show much; he just follows the trail, growing up and stepping up as needed. 'cause, as noted, this is really spock's flick. his conflict is more interesting, his experiences are more tragic, his struggle to define himself is harder, and his angst is more ... angsty.

uh, yeah. anyway ...

the supporting perfs ranged from angling toward reinvention to totally reveling in caricature/imitation, which was a bit head-spinning. anton yelchin as chekov was almost painfully adorable and probably the most OTT (seriously, his chekov accent was even more exaggerated than walter koenig's), but simon "shaun of the dead" pegg's scotty and karl "eomer" urban's mccoy were wonderful close seconds. john "harold" cho's sulu was more subtle, but he did get to do some fierce close combat with romulans alongside kirk, after a heart-stopping plunge out of a shuttle, which they're gearing up for here:

yeah, the razzle-dazzle was fantastic, but star trek did not lodge itself firmly in the culture because of its awesome special effects. while i did feel a twinge of wanting something more thoughtful, i appreciated some of the smaller touches (which were thoughtful in their own meta way), like the bleepy-bloopy sounds recalling the ambience of TOS woven into the soundtrack. there's a red-shirt moment, kirk gets to use his awesome powers of persuasion, and the movie is just shamelessly campy at points. but, hey, that's trek.

it made me want to see what they'll do with the next one, and it also got me thinking about star trek in the same way that james cawley and jack marshall's fanvid undertaking new voyages (now known as phase II) did. the success of that labor of fankind love proved how much devotees want to keep the story alive, and how many stories there are left to tell. on a way bigger scale, the reboot has also proven how star trek's mythology endures through the generations. what is happening now has happened before and will happen again. oh, sorry. wrong franchise!

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