A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 332 – Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek (2009) – January 26th, 2011

I have been thinking about this movie all day long. After we watched Wrath of Khan we put this in just because we wanted to see it. We’ve watched it several times. We saw it twice in the theaters. We took my mother to see it. We gave it as a gift. It was so much fun to watch tonight that if it wasn’t so late I’d start it again. And while we have three more movies in our two weeks of Trek, I feel like this is a particularly good way to end the true Star Trek feature films. It’s a great place to be sitting and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel. I like that. I like having something to look forward to.

On my review of Nemesis a friend of ours commented about not being ready to say goodbye to the TNG crew at that point and wanting them to live on in his imagination instead of getting such a “lackluster” send-off. And it got me thinking about how TNG ended with an episode planned to be a finale, and that episode leaves us with a possible future trajectory for the crew. And then the TNG movies just veered in another direction altogether after we’d really already been given our goodbye. So really, a reboot of the entire franchise is a fascinating direction to take here. It’s a transition, really, like what I was looking for in Nemesis and obviously wouldn’t have found. Using Leonard Nimoy’s Spock and an alternate timeline creation plot, there is a clear transition here from the old timeline to the new. It’s a transition on a grander scale than just changing over the crew. It’s changing the history. Letting us begin again. And while I do hope do eventually see a nod or two to TNG, I think the reboot of the original crew has plenty of mileage left before we get there.

I will admit, when I heard about the reboot I was nervous. After all, this is my childhood here. This was my introduction to science fiction – something I love dearly. This wasn’t casual for me. This was risky. And every casting decision made me arch a brow, Spock style, somewhat hesitant and more than a little skeptical. Much as I like Karl Urban and Simon Pegg, I had a hard time picturing them pulling off McCoy and Scotty. I enjoyed Zachary Quinto in the early episodes of Heroes but Spock? A superficial likeness wasn’t enough. Okay, I was totally on board for Zoe Saldana because she rocks and I knew she’d make Uhura just as kick-ass as she needed to be. But I was uncertain. And then in the bar near the beginning Chris Pine as Kirk patted a wall-o-muscle cadet on the cheek and called him cupcake and I was sold. Urban’s speech on the shuttle had me staring at him in awe and well, I should have known Simon Pegg would make Scotty his own. All John Cho had to do to convince me he was Sulu was pull out that sword and oh, Anton Yelchin as Chekhov is so earnest, I can’t help but like him. And then there’s Quinto. I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to not see Sylar. And instead I think were I to go back and watch Heroes I wouldn’t be able to not see Spock (and yes, that is a bizarre concept in my head). The cast is brilliant. They are everything I could want and nothing that I expected (except Saldana, of course).

And really, that’s the heart of the movie. The plot is a little ridiculous but the cast carries it all off effortlessly, so I’m willing to buy every single thing they’re selling. So what if the red matter is ridiculously overpowered? Who cares if Romulan mining ships could apparently totally annihilate the entire Federation if the Romulans ever sent them out instead of war ships? I find myself thoroughly ignoring all of that. It’s a combination of the cast being perfect and the writing working them in together as a team so that they’re all able to play off each other perfectly. If they’d been more split up, had less time on screen together, not been working as a crew, I don’t know if it would have felt right and without the right tone the whole thing might well have fallen apart. After all, this movie had to capture the spirit of the original show and movies with a great deal changed between them and it. There had to be a unifying tone to it all that kept it together. And with the fantastic interactions between Kirk, McCoy and Spock, plus Uhura and Kirk, Uhura and Spock (I’ll get to that too), Scotty showing up and immediately working with Kirk, Sulu and Chekhov slotting themselves right into the team, with all of that? It is a thing of beauty to watch.

But okay, I’ve waxed rhapsodic about the cast enough now. Let’s talk plot, because there are some key elements here that play into the reboot-as-transition thing I mentioned. Some time in the regular timeline, a sun near Romulus goes supernova and threatens the planet. Spock vows to try to save it using something called red matter which can apparently create black holes. But he fails, arriving too late to save the planet. Angered by the loss of his planet (and wife), Romulan miner Nero attacks Spock and both his ship and Spock’s ship end up going through a black hole and ending up in a new timeline. By arriving in the past and destroying the ship James Kirk’s father is on, Nero alters history. He vows revenge on Spock and on the Federation and plots to steal Spock’s ship when it appears and use the red matter to destroy every Federation planet, one by one, starting with Vulcan. Now, the changes here end up meaning that Kirk grows up without his father, which alters his course significantly. But things still come back. Pike captains the Enterprise. Kirk cheats the Kobayashi Maru test. Spock is first mate on the Enterprise. Uhura is there along with Sulu and Chekhov (who is only 17 at the time). Things all line back up. The timeline is trying to re-assert itself. There are tons of little callbacks and references (spot the tribble on Scotty’s desk when Kirk and Spock meet him) and Spock says ‘fascinating’ and Bones talks about being a doctor and Sulu’s got a sword and it’s all just so well choreographed without being a copy.

After all, there was no Uhura and Spock romance in the original series, but I love how it was done here and I think it adds some necessary character development for Spock and a little more material for Uhura to work with (plus it means Kirk so isn’t getting the girl in the end). Chekhov wasn’t on the ship at the beginning, but he’s right there in this movie and I think he belongs there. It’s good to see him right from the start. Kirk doesn’t start out as captain, Scotty needs to be retrieved from snowy exile after a wee transporter accident and by the end of the movie there are two Spocks and no Vulcan. And it’s that original Spock who makes this the transition. Ushering in a new era while simultaneously returning us to everything that was fantastic about the old one. It is a wonderful way to end the movies. For now.

January 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Star Trek (2009)

January 26, 2011

Star Trek (2009)

This movie is flat out amazing. J.J. Abrams has performed a miracle with this, his brilliant re-imagining and reboot of the Star Trek franchise. We saw this at least twice in the theaters and have seen it many times since it came out on DVD. Indeed we actually threw it in to watch last week just for the fun of it after reviewing Star Trek II.

You know from the first ten minutes of this movie what a wonderful ride you’re on. The very first shot in the film is a gritty up close flyby of a starfleet ship which introduces us to the aesthetic of the new movie. It’s got an ultra-realistic look to the special effects (complete with condensation on the lens of the camera) which draws you right into the action. There’s the infamous glare throughout this film which, in combination with a lot of hand-held camera work lends an almost documentary feel to things at times. It is the emotional impact of the start of the film which awes me though. After more then ten viewings over the last year those first ten minutes still never fail to leave me in tears. If you haven’t seen the movie yet then I don’t want to spoil it for you, and honestly I think you are poorer for not having had the chance to watch one of the greatest first ten minutes in action history.

I’m willing to forgive a lot after that opening. Abrams has me by the heart-strings and I’m along for the ride from that point on. I have quibbles about parts of the movie. For example I don’t particularly like the cavernous industrial design of the engine rooms in this movie. (They remind me of the MST3K episode Space Mutiny – where Mike and the Bots wonder if these boilers and septic systems don’t make the ship a little bottom-heavy.) There’s a chase on an alien plantet where CGI monsters pursue Kirk which reminds me of the “always a bigger fish” journey through the planet’s core in Star Wars I: The Phantom Crappiness. And I don’t particularly like the deus-ex-machina trans-warp-beaming trick that is used to get Kirk onto the Enterprise at one point. If you introduce magic tech like that you risk ruining the tension of future stories – it makes it too easy for people to get around. But all this pales in comparison to that first ten minutes. And in comparison with all the other things in this movie that are done so right.

Much has been radically changed in this new Trek universe, but part of what makes this movie so much fun is that there are so many things that are so true to the source material. We get to see Kirk take the Kobayashi Maru test as alluded to in Wrath of Khan. We get to see Pike in command of the Enterprise as in The Cage and in his wheelchair as in The Menagerie. We get to see a red-suited member of an away team meet his inevitable fate. Sulu with his sword, Kirk with his womanizing, Spock with his logic, Chekov with his accent – it’s all so perfectly reminiscent of the original series. From the very first shot of the movie we know this is Star Trek, even if it is radically new, just from the familiar pinging of the instruments on a Star Trek starship bridge.

Abrams and his crew understand something important about Star Trek – that at its core it is not about space battles or time travel or aliens. Sure those things are in a good Star Trek story, but that’s not really the heart of Star Trek. The heart of Star Trek – any Star Trek – is the crew. The crew of the Enterprise (or of DS-9 or Voyager for that matter) are family. For nerds like my wife and myself they are our family. The greatest miracle of this movie is that we get to see our old friends Kirk and Bones and Spock and Chekov and Scotty and Uhura and Sulu having another grand adventure.

It was a tremendous risk – to have new young actors portraying these iconic and oh so familiar characters. This movie’s greatest success is that in absolutely every case the performances we see here not only ring true but are able to bring new life to these characters. Chris Pine doesn’t allow himself to do a Shatner impersonation (except a single syllable line near the end of the movie) and instead shows us the young, brash, impulsive and charismatic Kirk we remember from way back in the original series. Zachary Quinto (who in my first few viewings of this movie I only saw as Sylar with pointy ears) actually does a spectacular job portraying the little quirks of Nimoy’s Spock – so well that in a scene where the two of them actually have a conversation with each other I could really believe that they were both the same character. Karl Urban channels DeForest Kelley so well that it’s absolutely eerie. The rest of the crew are slightly more radical interpretations. John Cho as Sulu is not so much based on George Takai’s Sulu as it is a re-interpretation of the same basic character. Anton Yelchin’s Chekov has the advantage of beiing performed by an actual Russian. Simon Pegg’s Scotty is played mostly for laughs (which was often true of Doohan’s Scotty as well) and is a joy to watch – overblown accent and all. Most impressive is Zoe Saldana’s Uhura. She’s a much expanded character given a lot more to work with than Nichelle ever was, and Saldana is an extremely accomplished actress, so it is a joy to watch her at work. (And thankfully not a fan dance in sight.)

This movie single-handedly resurrected a dead franchise. Now I find myself in a state I haven’t been since the eighties – eagerly awaiting the next Star Trek sequel and wondering just what adventures Kirk and his crew will have next. Sometime next year we’ll find out the answer to that question.

January 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments