Friday, July 16, 2010

“I like this ship! You know, it's exciting!”

Regarding Science Fiction, it’s hard to ignore a franchise like Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry’s baby dates back to 1966 and spans six television series and eleven motion pictures (of varying quality). At some point, I would love to go through the movies in proper order, but for the time being, I’ll settle with the most recent one, 2009’s sequel/reboot (it gets complicated), the simply titled Star Trek.

So in Stardate 2233, the United Federation of Planets Starfleet ship USS Kelvin encounters a big storm in space from which emerges a gigantic ship crewed by Romulans that are really pissed off at Ambassador Spock. Long story short, the Kelvin gets destroyed but the survivors, including a newborn James Kirk manage to escape. Some time later, on the planet Vulcan, a young Spock gets made fun of at school for being a half-breed Vulcan/Human and he punches some bitches out for it.

Fast forward to some even more time later and Kirk is now a troubled youth living in Iowa and stealing his foster-dad’s Corvette, listening to the Beastie Boys, getting chased by cops and getting into bar fights. A Starfleet captain recognizes him and challenges him to live up to his father’s legacy and join Starfleet. Not having much else to do, Kirk does so.

Still later, the Romulan ship returns and the bulk of Starfleet goes to investigate and get seriously wrecked. Since it was running late to the battle because of the rookie crew, the USS Enterprise quickly becomes the Federation’s last, best hope against a really pissed off time traveling Romulan. As you can tell, there’s a lot of ADVENTURE!

James Tiberius Kirk: Chris Pine plays the Kirk as a brilliant but directionless young man who’s not so much pissed at the world but more looking for a place to shine. Turns out Starfleet is exactly where his brash bravado and two-fisted approach to “conflict resolution” are a perfect fit. The only problem is he doesn’t have much use/respect for the appropriate chain of command, which pisses off all kinds of people throughout the film, including Spock.

Spock: Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy (it’s complicated) both play Spock. Nimoy is Ambassador Spock, from the future (it’s Star Trek, get used to time travel). Young Spock is a promising young Starfleet cadet who is a brilliant science officer and quickly rising up the ranks. And then about midway through the movie something serious and spoilery happens that really strains his ability to keep his cool, logical self in control.

Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy: Karl Urban plays Dr. McCoy as a cantankerous and ornery doctor who signed up with Starfleet to get away from an ex-wife. Grumpy enough to be comedic, but Bones is no mere sidekick and instrumental to getting Kirk aboard the Enterprise.

Nyota Uhura: Zoe Saldana plays the Enterprise’s communications officer and kind of has a thing going on with Spock.

Hikaru Sulu: John Cho doesn’t get a whole lot to do as the helmsman Sulu, but he does get a badass fencing scene with a telescoping sword.

Pavel Chekov: Anton Yelchin plays the very young navigator. Not in the movie much, but he does get some good jokes with the Chekov tendency to swap ‘v’s with ‘w’s.

Montgomery “Scotty” Scott: Simon Pegg (who’s done some awesome things that I would love to write about here eventually) is a latecomer to the ship, but Scotty is a hell of a lot of fun in the movie and gets some great lines.

Nero: Eric Bana plays our Villain. A Romulan from the future, he’s really mad because his homeworld (in the future) was destroyed, and he blames Spock for it. He’s got a giant mining spaceship, a crew of likeminded Romulans and a doomsday weapon that he intends to systematically destroy Federation worlds with. Not the most complicated villain out there, but Bana does well with the material, chewing scenery furiously.

Captain Christopher Pike: Bruce Greenwood plays the first captain of the Enterprise (which is a great continuity nod to the original pilot episode). He’s also the guy who’s pulling for Kirk to join Starfleet. He gets some good moments.

George Samuel Kirk: Chris Hemsworth (who will be Marvel’s Thor) is only in the movie at the beginning, but damn does he make an impression. After the captain of the Kelvin is killed, George Kirk gets a really fast promotion and evacuates the crew, including his wife who is going into labor. He then proceeds to take the much smaller and damaged Kelvin on a suicide run at Nero’s ship (which apparently causes enough damage that Nero’s unable to do any rampaging for almost twenty years) to cover the escaping shuttles. And what does he do on this last ride? He’s talking to his wife and they’re agreeing on a name for their son. That is BAD ASS and a serious contender for one of the manliest death scenes of the decade.

And there’s a cameo by Tyler Perry (yep, that one) as a high ranking Starfleet officer.

Directed by J.J. Abrams (and I’ll admit that his stuff is kind of hit-&-miss for me. I have never had any desire to see Lost but I rather like Fringe, so go figure) with Daniel Mindel as director of photography and the wizards at Industrial Light And Magic as the primary effects guys. Visually, the movie really goes to town. Action and character development are key here and there’s not a lot of downtime because the villain wants to destroy planets and he can do so in a matter of minutes. The cast works well together and the action sequences are damn entertaining, and there’s a lot of them. A freewheeling spirit of ADVENTURE! abounds.

Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry with this script by frequent Abrams collaborators Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, and they nail a fantastic balance between a straightforward Sci-Fi ADVENTURE! yarn and throwing in a ton of Star Trek continuity nods that show they’ve done their homework. Dialogue is great, the pace is spry and they throw an interesting spin on familiar characters. And the time travel storytelling device? That’s nothing new. Something like a third of the Trek movies used it. Here they use it to justify the new continuity of the reboot, which is another nice touch.

Original score by another frequent Abrams collaborator, the very reliable Michael Giacchino and also integrating at the end the original Star Trek theme by Alex North, which was a fantastic touch.
Sound effects supervised by Ben Burtt, so you know the movie sounds fantastic.

Considering the rocky history of Star Trek films (and the fact that the last few were just plain not good) the reboot could have very easily gone into “bad fan fiction” territory. Happily, Star Trek does not, and while yes, it looks to the original Star Wars movies for that spirit of ADVENTURE!, that’s not a bad thing, especially since the Prequels certainly didn’t. Totally recommended.

And simply because it amuses me:

You are now freaking out. Manually.

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