The first time I ever cried in front of Kellie was because of Star Trek.
It always resonated with me that one of the preconditions of Roddenberry’s great adventure was that humanity had not only united when faced with the discovery of intelligent alien life, but that our better qualities had come to the fore. We became peaceful explorers and builders, not warriors or conquerers.
I grew up watching Captain Jean-Luc Picard courageously explore the stars, steadfastly maintaining his (and by extension, humanity’s) integrity; consistently doing what was right in the face of insurmountable odds, never just what what was easy. Discussing this with Kellie one day, I simply burst into tears at the beautiful simplicity of Roddenberry’s vision of what we could can become.
So, going to see J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the classic franchise, I wanted more than just star ships, space battles, sci-fi gadgetry, alien oddities, and the original crew. I wanted to see that stalwart and uncompromisingly brave vision of humanity.
A sprawling, well-told war story, Abrams wisely shies away from the Star Wars method of occasionally taking breaks from telling the story to rub your face in the ‘spaceyness’ of the future. Abrams’ universe is instead subtly enabled by it’s science-fiction setting. His nods to the cannon will both satisfy and entertain avid, if not rabid Trekkies.
The art direction is amazing and the attention to detail really immersed me in the film, from the entirely alien feeling architecture on the homeworld of Vulcan to the green-bloodied cuts and scrapes on a wounded Spock.
The look of the film is rightly iconic; I think director of photography Daniel Mindell is a genius who must have had an incredible amount of fun lighting this movie. I haven’t seen light play such an interesting role in a film since Jordan Cronenweth’s work on Blade Runner.
The space battles are spectacular and visceral and the new Enterprise is sleek and elegant. Unlike any Enterprise before it actually looks like a real ship, instead of a stationary model being filmed by a tracking camera. It shoots through the void as if it’s being piloted by an actual human being. The scenes in the engineering level really shows off the ‘guts’ of the ship as they’ve never been seen before.
The New Crew
The new cast preforms admirably, and the writing is true not just to the character themselves, but to the relationships they have with each other. And lets be honest, that is what made the original Star Trek a classic.
Karl Urban is absolutely fantastic as my personal favourite character, Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy; his surlyness and speech patterns evoke DeForest Kelly as if he’s channeling the man’s spirit. Anton Yelchin is simply adorable as the lovable Russian whiz-kid Pavel Chekov. I was very happy to see John Cho turn up as Hikaru Sulu, although his performance didn’t strike me as particularly ‘Sulu-y’; I want more of that winning George Takei grin next time, John! Kellie quite rightly observed that while Zoe Saldana does an excellent job of making Nyota Uhura a strong but sympathetic female role, the character itself could have done with a bit more rounding out earlier in the film. Despite the role nearly going to a Canadian for the second time, this time around the lovable engineer ‘Scotty’ is played by actual Scotsman Simon Pegg, and while his performance is wonderful I’m a little worried he’s going to be relegated to the role of comedic relief in future films. My reservations about Zachary Quinto‘s ability to portray the beloved Spock were proven unfounded, and Abrams deals with the issue of the half-human Spock’s emotionality to my satisfaction.
There are some fun casting surprise as well. Winona Ryder, for instance. And see if you can spot Dr. Cameron from television’s ‘House: MD’. And full marks to my Australian countryman Eric Bana, who absolutely disappears into his role. It took me 3/4 of the movie to realize it was him. Perhaps this masterful performance will finally undo the damage done to his career by Ang Lee’s ‘Hulk’.
For even more subtle casting choices and surprises, check out the MTV Movie Blog.
The only facet of the movie I was not entirely satisfied by was Kirk. I feel for Chris Pine, I really do. He has impossibly large shoes to fill. For the most part he does well, portraying the cocky young Starfleet officer full of bravado, but I left the theater wondering why his Kirk felt somewhat… flat.
I always thought of Kirk as James Bond, with a spaceship instead of an Austin Martin. He gallivants around seducing anything vaguely female, taking on death defying odds and making daring escapes with the use of his ingenuity and ultra-cool gadgets. Kirk was so bad-ass, he was practically Macgyver as well.
But the original Kirk was more than that. Brashness, cunning, and bravado are all very well, but it wass the easy-going devil-may-care attitude that made William Shatner’s Kirk so … Kirk.
While Pine’s Kirk is more than the standard cookie-cutter, John Wayne-esque American movie hero, the cavalier attitude rarely makes it’s appearance outside scenes deliberately constructed to demonstrate that characteristic to the audience; it never seems to become the consistent personality trait we love Kirk for.
In the end, I think it comes down to the fact that the original Kirk was played by a Canadian. William Shatner is one of our own, and that devil-may-care attitude is fed by our own Canadian stoicism and the relaxed attitude towards life that our nationality’s distinctive sense of humour brings; that way of never taking things too seriously, whether you’ve lost your tricorder or are about take on the entire Klingon armada single-handedly.
However, this is only the first film of the new franchise and I’m willing to wait and see what he can do given the time to develop the character.
My Alien Encounter
One of the things we love about our local theater is they have a great sense of fun. As we entered the theater, we realized that all the staff had donned uniforms for the night’s event.
As we were leaving after the film I was speaking to Kellie and not watching where I was going. I very nearly bumped into a small girl in a red uniform. As she turned an impassive, emotionless face up at me I suddenly realized she had pointy ears! Surprised, I quickly stammered an apology. After all, logically I should have been watching where I was going.
Aside from one or two gaping plot holes [Spoiler] namely, if Kirk and Sulu can shut down the planet-drill simply by shooting it up with rifles, why was there not a single ship or transport or shuttle craft on the entire Vulcan home-world that could have been flown into the thing to blow it up? [/End Spoiler], the story is solid and entertaining.
As for Roddenberry’s vision of the best of humanity, the bravery and daring are certainly front and center for most of the film. However, I couldn’t help but feel that Abrams didn’t quite get the point. While I was impressed that Kirk offers aid to a dying enemy ship which becomes ensnared in a black hole, I felt it was entirely ungentlemanly to open fire on them when they refused the offered help; Picard would have just simply left.
I look forward to more screen time going to the interactions between our favourite characters in the next few films; I’d make the writers write for the old cast and then make the new cast live up to it. And I do hope you are wise enough, Paramount Pictures, to keep the director and productive team on for as many of the next few movies as they’ll stay for.
In the end, it’s a summer blockbuster. The action is rollicking good fun, the characters enjoyable and relatable, and the story well enough told to be entertaining and make total sense until you get home and start thinking about it. Still, the story functions well and the movie stands up to repeated rewatchings. I have to admit, I’ve been to see it a second time since, and it was just as much fun!