Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Trek

I have this friend who -- rightfully, I think -- fears and despises all things remade, reinvented and rejiggered. Too often, that path leads to dismal failure. Witness, please, every horror film made in the last, oh, three or four years -- they're all awful, unnecessary remakes of *better films*, lacking the original's style, wit and verve in every sense.

Star Trek itself has been the victim of the reimagining/remaking syndrome over the years, and just about every attempt to retool the creaky old vessel has been met with resounding, painful failure. "Next Generation" started good but ended up in the realm of new-age fol-de-rol. "Deep Space Nine" was nifty, but got bogged down with political metaphor and over-seriousness. The less said about "Voyager" the better, and "Enterprise" was only interesting to the geekiest of fangeeks. That's not even to mention the movies -- there's a few ("Khan," of course, and "Undiscovered Country" surprisingly) that still hold up ten, twenty, thirty years down the line, but the rest seem dated, corny, ironic, and at worst, extremely stupid.

That's because along the way over-intellectualizing nerds missed the point of what the show was actually about. "It's about complex geopolitical metaphor," they'd say, or "it's wonderful how in the future, everybody gets along." As a result, there were far too many flakey plots about Big Wars, or Deanna Troi's feelings or how sad it was that Data couldn't express emotion. Meh. The truth is much simpler: the original Star Trek, though it was most certainly awash with metaphor (usually silly ones -- the "Yangs" and the "Komes?" Oh, Yankees and Communists, I get it!), was about two things: the awesome characters (mostly, though not confined to, Kirk, Spock and McCoy) and whipass, plain-and-simple fun. The latter is what's been sorely missing from every Trek movie since forever -- did you have any fun with "Insurrection?" It was more like dental surgery than anything else.

Which is why J.J. Abrams' new Trek film is such a wonder. Despite the fact that his studio, Paramount, hasn't made a decent movie in two hundred years, and is well known for colossally missing the fucking point just about every effort out of the gate, he's managed to distill Trek down to its basic essence. We get the characters -- mostly, though not confined to, Kirk, Spock and McCoy -- and they are, for the first time since Khan, vital, interesting, alive and REAL. And most importantly, we get pure, unmitigated, smile-all-the-way-through-the-film FUN.

The main reason this film works so well is that Abrams took his god-damn sweet ol' time casting this sucker, making sure every single character was not only adequately represented, they were the best possible actor for the role. Which, thankfully, meant that stunt casting was chucked out the window (did anybody really want to see Matt Damon as Kirk? Me neither) and a youthful, vigorous cast of relative unknowns were put in place, all of which somehow managed to drill straight to the heart of each character.

The movie really belongs to two of 'em -- Chris Pine, who plays Kirk the way you've always wanted to see him, as a rules-are-for-pussies maverick that likes to bed green women, and Heroes' Zachary Quinto, who correctly plays Spock as a man in torment, stuck between his feelings and his people. The film's main arc throws the two, intially, into conflict, then into a sort of forced alliance that evolves into a friendship, and it feels, oddly, real -- we've all been there, no? At work or whatever? That person you hate at first but reluctantly have to admit does a damn good job and eventually becomes your friend? Every beat of this feels right and non-forced, and it's really the heart of the Trek films, that Kirk/Spock fanslash friendship.

Of course, the troika wouldn't be complete without the good Doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy, and a youthful DeForest Kelley plays him marvelously. Wait -- I mean Lord of the Rings' Karl Urban, who freakin' channels De Kelley from the grave. Seriously. He's not just doing an SNL impression, either -- he clearly gets the character, but he looks and sounds so much like De that you'll positively swoon when, at a crucial moment, he bellows at Spock, "are you out of your Vulcan mind?" in that gritty southern accent. Trixi and I agreed: Star Trek II better have a hell of a lot more Bones in it.

The other actors are damn fine, too -- special mention must be made of Zoe Saldana's Uhura, who is a) properly gorgeous, b) totally strong, and c) is deservedly a larger part of the plot than she ever was in maybe the entire series. Simon Pegg plays Scotty, as has been mentioned elsewhere, as a Scottish Simon Pegg, which is pretty much what you want to see (if you like Simon Pegg, that is -- I love the guy, and he's hilarious here). John Cho's Sulu swordfights, which rules, and Anton Yelchin's youthful Chekov is the boy genius that Walter Koenig's was supposed to be but wasn't. And there's been mixed emotions on the web about Eric Bana's workingman's villain, Nero -- I dug him, and I liked his "Hello, there, hi" greeting to the bridge crew, it felt like a miner who'd gone off his nut, and that's about what he was supposed to be.

And was it fun? Holy crap, yeah. It was more fun than I remember ever having at the Star Trek Cinema, and that includes "Wrath of Khan" which was good and thrilling but such a downer in the end that it didn't really feel like the kind of pure, unmitigated fun the best episodes of the O.G. Series were. This one's no downer -- it's thrilling from the git-go, completely optimistic in the end, and never, ever dull, not even for a moment. Does the plot make sense? I mean, yeah, if you kind of let them doubletalk you about the time-travel-ness and just accept that such things are possible, the rest of it makes a linear kind of three-act sense, if you view it more as a movie about Kirk's ascendancy and Spock's self-actualization than a Plot About Big Ideas.

I mean, and much like "Spiderman" or "Iron Man," there's a lot of setup involved here -- I can't wait for #2, when we'll get to see Actual Captain Kirk and Actual First Officer Spock in their familiar roles and uniforms kicking ass against someone, but for now, the "origin story" actually works because Abrams never lets the film get bogged down in overexplanation or mawkishness or maudlinity or whatever -- and he never lets it get stupid, either. Any fears about how dumb "Baby Kirk" or "Baby Spock" might be can be erased by the young Spock's snide remark to his Vulcan classmates: "I imagine that you have a new batch of insults for me today," or by Cadet Kirk calmly eating an apple during the Kobayashi Maru test (spoiler: he cheats, and beats the system. Big surprise, eh?)

This could have gone so wrong. I mean, so many people worried that it could become "pretty people in space" or "Trek 90210," and it so easily could have, in the wrong hands. This could have been shallow, hollow and extremely stupid, a reboot designed to draw in the teens but completely alienating anybody who actually gave a shit about Trek in the last forty years. But somehow, magically, Abrams has not only pulled it off but has made an actual good movie for people who dig exciting summer popcorn action films, maybe the best one since "Raiders of the Lost Ark," honestly. Let go your fears. Join with me. Become one. Go check it out. You won't regret it for even a moment.

14 comments:

LAP said...

I'm so excited. Especially since I somehow got Smokin'Aces from Netflix recently and Chris Pine playing one of the Tremor brothers gave me the same light bulb effect of Christian Bale being Batman after seeing American Psycho...

MissTrixi said...

As I've said before - the next one needs to be 'all McCoy, all the time'. Karl Urban was so good at capturing the essence of DeForest without making it a parody performance. **spoiler** I liked how Zachary Quinto was able to deliver a "Live Long and Prosper' as the most perfect 'fuck you' moment. Nice!

To the ladies that are not as geeky as me and dread being 'dragged' to this by their geek boyfriends - there is so much eye candy that you almost get a toothache...in...the um....eye? (stupid mixed metaphors).

There was a wee lad next to me, sitting on the edge of his seat and pounding it in excitement as the movie reached it's grand climatic scene. That was the true testament to this being a 'full of action' movie for all the ages to enjoy.

And for the record - I kinda liked Voyager, if only for it's strong female captain.

xo
Trixi

Jon Hunt said...

Someone was "pounding it" in the seat next to you? Jesus, you should have called security!!!

MissTrixi said...

Ewww....jonny! That's totally gross.

Why would I call security on a little boy when I didn't call them for what YOU were doing?

xo
Trixi

Prince Gomolvilas said...

Nerd.

ashley said...

I've been dying on the inside cause I haven't seen it yet and probably won't be able to until the end of this month when my finals are over. I've been waiting for-fucking-ever and all day I have to listen to my friends talking about how great and amazing it is.

This just made me more anxious to see it. Screw my 30 page paper. There are amazing cinematic experiences to be had.

Anonymous said...

Welcome Back!

I knew there would be some new music or movie that you would have to comment on. And, as usual, you manage to make me want to go see the new Star Trek - right now!

Hmm when's the next showing?

Jeremy Gibbens said...

First off, I make no apologies for it -- I have a soft spot for Voyager, too. In fact, I would go as far as to say it might be my favorite Trek series.

Either way, I agree that the movie totally kicked some ass. I just wish I hadn't bought that hot tub-sized Diet Coke at the concession stand. I spent the last half of the movie tearfully crossing my legs. Given that distraction and the fact that I loved the film, I plan on seeing it again, this time at the Imax.

By the way, and it was nice meeting the both of you last night. My incestuous online-offline circle is nearly complete.

belsum said...

1) I hate "The Omega Glory" with a passion.

2) DS9 is so the best of the serieses and absolutely did not get bogged down.

3) This movie ruled for all of the reasons you already listed out. Plus? Sabotage!

Beques said...

OK saw it last night and as you know Jonny, I'm as hard core a Trekkie as one can get. A Trekkie short on time, so here goes:

1. I didn't think McCoy was all that great, to be honest. I mean, he was good, but I thought the actor was really only EMULATING DeForest, not CHANNELING him. It was like a simulation, not a sincere imitation. He seemed to dutifully pull off the requisite Bones-isms but he just wasn't quite crusty enough, not country doctor enough.

2. Now, Simon Pegg channeled the FUCK out of Scotty, with a vengence. Far and away the best, and a scene-stealer to boot. They way you say this Chekov was the boy genius Walter Koenig's Chekov was supposed to be? (Right on, I agree) This Scotty was the mad scientist James Doohickey's really was deep down inside.

3. Hottest: Sulu

4. I did not like these new Romulans. It looked like Jim Rose's Circus stage show at Lollapalooza circa 1994. They looked as though they should be wearing Throbbing Gristle t-shirts under their armor. Even renegade Romulans would have more militaristic honor than this.

5. HOLY FUCK, did Sarek not look EXACTLY like Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens? The girlfriend I saw the film with is also a Go-B's fan and we giggled uncontrollably for 10 solid minutes at this realization. I started imagining him solemnly speaking lyrics from "Before Hollywood" to Spock in several scenes. I love when my pop culture Venn diagrams overlap in this manner!

6. Major points for Kirk and the green girl, and not going too far into the Spock/Uhura thing.

"Spock, Vulcan prophecy says that a Bad Debt Follows You into the Core of a Flame, when one has a Head Full of Steam."

Superbadfriend said...

Welcome baaaaaack!

I've been dying to talk to you both about ST. Ah. So glad you posted something about it.

Our showing had a standing ovation. I love Spock more than ever and Bones was fucking awesome. Fantastic casting.

Trix, we can be geeks together.

xo

ashley said...

I just came back from watching it. FINALLY! See, I figured, coming into this as a Trekkie who already knew the story, that I'd probably enjoy it, but not necessarily be extremely engaged in it.

10 minutes into the movie I was crying like a bitch. What Abrams did so well was make me care about these characters again, maybe more so than I ever did.

I agree with Beques' comment about the new Romulans. That was my one real complaint. If not for that, I'd call it perfection.

My favorites were definitely Simon Pegg (but that could be 'cause I'm partial to anything Simon Pegg) and Chekov!

I felt a great deal of Trekkie pride after it was all done. There was a fire behind it that'd been missing for years. I got my little brother and sis to say they loved Star Trek, and THATwas a huge task. I get told Star Trek is lame by people all the time. This is my chance to say "fuck you."

I can't wait to see more. Without a doubt, Abrams has taken this to a magical place--where Trekkies and non Trekkie's alike can agree that they are watching a truly beautiful tale unfold. It's opened up the door to a new generation of Trekkie's without isolating the tried and true.

Ashley, out.

Adoresixtyfour said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kenn said...

I actually watched the original Star
Trek when it was first on ..so of
course that means I'm old.

But I agree completely with your assessment of the new movie. I was apprehensive about JJ Abrams doing it because he hit with Lost and struck out with "Fringe"
In fact his casting on Fringe was horrible and near perfect on Trek.

I enjoyed the movie immenselyoh, and also your singing at The Legion