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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

To Boldly Go Where We've Already Gone Before Except in a Totally Different Way


Star Trek is a phenomenon. Even those of you who don't know a Cardassian from Talaxian can probably identify that guy with the weird eyebrows and the pointy ears as Spock. You can probably imitate William Shatner's... Kirk... like... dialogue... with its... many pauses....

Despite having been birthed long before the era of any significant ability to do special effects, Star Trek is one of the most popular science fiction universes in history. A dedicated Star Trek fan could probably spend every weekend of the rest of their life going to fan conventions, and they'd have trouble running out of aliens or uniforms to dress up in. And there are no shortage of dedicated fans. I recently watched the movie Trekkies and chuckled, along with the host, Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar), at the dentist who welcomes his patients to his Star Trek themed office, complete with costumed receptionists and a transporter pad. Or take Barbara Adams, who attained mild celebrity status for attending jury duty for the Whitewater scandal in her Star Fleet uniform. A woman who takes her role as Commander of her local Star Trek fan club seriously, Ms. Adams does not leave her house without her phaser or communicator, and even her coworkers refer to her by her rank; commander.

Or even take the example of the Star Trek-themed play I saw last Christmas. It was a take on The Christmas Carol, and the entire thing had been written in Klingon. A made-up language. That some people have actually taken the time to learn.

When you think about it, it is pretty incredible the number of fans and their dedication. Because let's be honest here. Star Trek does have it's not-so-shining moments. First of all, almost all of the series (with the exception perhaps of Enterprise) are old enough where the special effects range from down-right crappy to so-so. Then there's the hokey fight scenes, stiff dialogue and questionable science. All of these things fans have endured because they liked the characters and they liked the drama.

Each series has had its up and downs, but the movies have swung even more wildly from brilliant to gag-worthy. I am a huge fan of Star Trek, but I have only once been subjected to the mess that was Star Trek I and Star Trek V. Let us never speak again of the weird space cloud thing. But the Wrath of Khan? Khan ranks up there with some of the greatest movie villains ever invented, with his plastic-y chest and his mind-controlling ear worms. "Khaaaaan!!!!"

And there is of course, the cinematic brilliance that is First Contact. Thoughtful, action-packed, and genuinely scary, it is Trek story-telling at its best. But ever since then, the Star Trek movies have gone downhill. Insurrection tried to be light-hearted and it did entertain fans. Nemesis tried to be dark and it didn't especially please anyone. Then the remaining series, Enterprise was axed, and the King of Science Fiction was dead, or so it seemed.

Okay, maybe only mostly dead. Because now we have the first Star Trek movie in years with the potential to actually revitalize Star Trek and interest non-fans. When J. J. Abrams was picked to revisit the original crew of the Enterprise, he had two choices: bury the movie under the weight of 40 years worth of canon, or toss it all aside and made up completely new rules. Like Kirk's approach to the no-win scenario of the Kobayashi Maru, J. J. Abrams decided to cheat. He simply worked the space-time continuum until he could make the movie he wanted to make, canon be damned.

Despite the whining of fans, disregarding canon is not only a really good idea, but probably the only thing that could have made this movie worth watching. Because the canon was developed in the 1960's with a shoe-string budget, and slavish attention to the details of the original series would mean men wearing lizard suits posing as aliens.

Instead, we get the original series as the original series wished it could have been. Kirk is Kirk. He's a cocky skirt-chaser whose idea of a plan is to go into every fight with guns blazing. And Zachary Quinto disappears into his role as a young, not as emotionally-controlled Spock. Uhura gets a bigger, sassier role than she ever did in the original series as the significant other of a major character and as one of the skirts Kirk is interested in chasing.

For the actors given the task of interpreting iconic roles, enough room was given to give us the accents and the mannerisms without trying to completely carbon copy. Karl Urban gave us the gruff and gentlemanly Dr. McCoy perfectly, Simon Pegg was comic genius as Scotty, and John Cho got to show us Sulu's badass side.

The biggest overhaul in the movie, is of the Enterprise itself. Fans were skeptical when pictures were first posted online of the new Enterprise, but seriously, watch one of the original series episodes and tell me that the bridge didn't need to look a lot cooler. It's still the Enterprise, just a MUCH cooler Enterprise.

Okay, so the look and feel of this movie be too different from Wrath of Khan for some diehard fans, but what worked best about Trek is still here in spades. And even better, you don't have to understand all of the history of Starfleet to appreciate this action flick. Here's hoping they manage to make a sequel to this one that doesn't suck.


DesLily said...

this movie seems to be a smashing success! Prequels are not the easiest thing to do..though I think I am one of the few that did enjoy "Enterprise" and that's saying a lot since I am not the biggest Scott Backula fan! Something of Trek will always live on..

Oh said...

This was great. I was determined to read it whether or not there were spoilers. Sheesh, you know your stuff! All thumbs up for a fine review. No, I haven't seen the movie yet but certainly plan to!

Alyce said...

I loved the movie! If I had a free babysitter I would go watch it again in the theater. :) I agree that Star Trek V was awful. My husband thinks that Star Trek IV was hokey, but I thought it was just good fun. You and he agree about The Wrath of Khan though. I could never get over the ear bugs. They freaked me out too much.

As for Star Trek I, I don't think it's terrible, but then I always fall asleep during the opening half an hour of music.

As for the changes they made in order to take the new movie where they wanted to, I think they made the right decision. It was a blast to watch.

I tried to watch an original Star Trek episode after watching the movie and William Shatner's Kirk drove me batty. I can't believe it, but I actually prefer the new Kirk. :)

Great review!

Stephanie said...

I've been meaning to come over here and get a real Trekkie's view!! As I've said before, I loved the original show. I used to watch the reruns with my dad all the time. But after suffering through the first Star Trek movie...I really lost my taste for anything Trek related. I have watched not even one of the many Next Generation shows. And I haven't seen any more of the movies, though my husband tells me Khan is great.

That said, I was begging to see this movie. As a huge fan of Heroes (Quinto) and LOST (jj abrams), I was pretty excited about this one. And it totally rocked! I loved this movie!!

I'm thinking I want to see it again.

(By the way, do you like the movie Galaxy Quest? It's one of my all-time favorites, but I've always wondered if a Trekkie would like it or hate it!)

Alice Teh said...

There are so many good movies to catch including this one. It's a greta post and I do miss watching Star Trek in my younger days...

Kim L said...

DesLily-yes, I hope something of Trek will continue to live on, as long as they can make it fresh and interesting.

oh-why thanks! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the movie.

Alyce-the new Kirk is pretty darn good. I mean, William Shatner's incarnation is basically iconic, but he played a different Kirk for a different era. I'm glad you enjoyed the movie so much!

stephanie-I LOVE Galaxy Quest. I think most Trekkies love Galaxy Quest because most people who love a science fiction show have to make a little fun of themselves sometimes. It completely points out the things that were both ridiculous and enjoyable about the series.

Alice Teh-hopefully you will like this movie. Is it out in your neck of the woods yet?

Susan said...

Fabulous review, Kim! I've seen it twice now, and completely agree with your assessment. Wow!

Actually, I secretly want to go see it again! That's how good this movie is, and I guess how desperate we all are/were for something good in the Star Trek universe.

Susan said...

PS I agree with Stephanie and you, I love Galaxy Quest too!!