Friday, May 8, 2009

"Star Trek" - spoiler movie review

Seeing a new "Star Trek" movie is like revisiting my past, to the days when I was enough of a Star Trek nut that I went to conventions and such. OK, so it's not like I saw the original crew during its first run, but I used to really be into Star Trek, even before I was into "Star Wars". I was mostly a Next Generation person, but while I've never seen all of the original Star Trek episodes, I've seen (or at least know of) many of them, and I did see all of the films.

Then I heard that Paramount was re-starting the franchise, with J.J. Abrams directing the new movie. I'm not as enamoured of him as a lot of people are - I like a lot of stuff that he's done, but he's also disappointed me, so while I knew I'd probably go see the new film, I was reserving judgement on the entire idea.

And as it got closer to the release date, and then I saw the trailer for the new movie, I got excited again. The trailer looked awesome. And then, everything culminated in deciding to go to a midnight screening on opening night, which we did last night.

This movie was incredible. And as a Star Trek movie, it was an even more incredible movie. I can't think of a better way to reignite the franchise. I think there was enough in the film so that non-Trek people can still really enjoy the movie, and yet there's enough information given so that some of the more important points are still relayed. And really, if you've had any contact with life, even if you don't do Trek, you do know some of the details like the Kirk/Spock/McCoy relationship. But, if you are knowledgeable in the Trek universe, there are so many little things in this film that you can appreciate.

It's a sort of re-imagining of the Star Trek universe, but what's interesting is that it's not like recent franchises that have taken known stories and characters and used them but totally gone against what the original stories and characters did - the "Miami Vice" movie comes to mind. Yes, there are things in this Trek film that are very different than what happened in Trek canon, but the explanation is that this is actually an alternate reality. Because the Romulan ship and Spock were brought to the past by the black hole that enveloped them, things happened differently than they did in the timeline that we already know. So, the events of this film don't contradict or obliterate what's happened in Trek previously - this is actually a completely different timeline.

The opening segment of the film, all even before you see the title card, sets the tone of the rest of the film in being an incredible segment which sets out some of the story points but already jump-starts the action aspect of the film. George Kirk is given command of the Kelvin when the captain goes over to the attacking Romulan ship and is then promptly killed. Kirk has the ship evacuated and expects to join his pregnant-and-in-the-middle-of-labor wife, but when the autopilot fails, he makes the decision to stay with the ship. His wife pleads with him to leave, but he knows that without the Kelvin laying fire cover against the Romulan ship, the little shuttlecrafts have no chance of escape, so Kirk basically decides to sacrifice himself to save the others. He does live long enough to hear his baby boy being born, whom he names Jim after his wife's father, as opposed to Tiberius after his own father. And then the Kelvin, which Kirk had set on a collision course with the Romulan ship, crashes as Kirk is telling his wife he loves her and she sees the explosion outside the shuttle window. O.M.G. Ok, let's start the movie off by making me tear up, shall we?

There's then a short scene of young Jim Kirk joyriding in a car he's absconded with, and then we see Kirk as a young man, hitting on a hot Starfleet Academy cadet named Uhura who adamantly refuses to tell him her first name. Circumstances (and Christopher Pike) end up convincing a reluctant Kirk to join Starfleet.

Simultaneously on the planet Vulcan, a young Spock is already being tormented for his half-Vulcan/half-human heritage. He is offered admission to the Vulcan Science Academy, but he shocks them by declining and joining Starfleet instead.

One by one, the well-known crew of the Enterprise make their way to the ship, and more action and story happens.

Random notes:

The design of the Romulan ship was really odd. OK, so that's supposed to be in the future, but other than being jagged, it didn't really scream Romulan to me. It mostly looked like a giant jagged metal vegetable flying through space. It didn't look nearly as elegant as a warbird, though, yeah, I know, it was supposed to be a freighter and not a war ship.

I didn't catch the reference myself, but the husband did when Montgomery Scott was explaining why he'd been assigned to the equivalent of Siberia because of his messing around with transporting technology, and he references Admiral Archer's beagle. Well, that would be Jonathan Archer from the TV show "Enterprise", and the beagle would be Porthos. Awww, poor Porthos.

I noticed Chekov's use of "away team" to describe the team dropped off on Earth to stop the drilling. That term was actually developed during Next Generation. In the original series, I think they just used "landing party". And, in subtle Star Trek tradition, the non-recognizable dude is the one who dies - and he happens to have a red suit/parachute.

Why did Sarek have a British accent? Other than that, he was one of the characters that was very different for me. I loved Sarek, but he was always depicted as having been very stern and strict and disapproving of Spock because of his half-human heritage, but this Sarek seemed much softer than that.

Yeah, the Kobayashi Maru segment was just too frickin' hilarious if you already knew the outcome, and then there was the amazing confrontation between Spock and Kirk in the Academy hall.

They always have the obligatory "reveal" shot of the Enterprise, but it still works every time.

First movie out of the chute, and they not only kill Spock's mother, but they also destroy the planet Vulcan and mostly decimate the race. That surprised me. I thought that somehow, the recreation of another black hole that entraps the Romulan ship or something like that would end up resulting in another time travel thing that reverses everything that happened, but that never came to pass.

Chris Pine was really incredible as James Kirk. He has looks similiar to William Shatner during the original series, but he didn't have the staccato talking that most people make fun of Shatner for. He was definitely a terrific leading actor. But his name is so confusing - if you just change one letter of his last name...

Zachary Quinto did a terrific job as Spock, though I will admit that I kept waiting for Sylar to show up. I stopped watching "Heroes", but that doesn't mean I've forgotten how terrifying he was in that role. When Spock is being offered entrance into the Vulcan Science Academy despite his "disadvantage", and he asks them to explain what that means and they mentioned his human mother, I totally expected him to just kill the lot of them (except his father) on the spot. I'm sure all of the actors were feeling the pressure of recreating characters that are very well known and beloved, but how much more pressure was there for Quinto to play Spock while Leonard was there watching him?

Speaking of which, it was really terrific seeing Leonard Nimoy in this film. Yeah, I knew he was going to be in it, but I didn't know how that was going to work (I'm glad I managed to avoid spoilers), and I think they made the time-travel thing work really well. When he ends up meeting his younger self, I loved Spock's line about his general signoff ("live long and prosper") not really working in that situation since it would be self-serving.

Eric Bana was really terrific as Nero, the villain of the story. I'd heard how awful he was in "Hulk", but I thought he was terrific in "The Other Boleyn Girl", so this is the second film I've seen him in where I've really liked him.

Bruce Greenwood is someone I recognize but can't necessarily pinpoint what he's been in, but I do know that I always like him, and I loved that he was playing Christopher Pike. He played the perfect mentor to Kirk.

I don't know how they found Karl Urban, but I want to know how much of his performance was him and how much was him completely channeling DeForest Kelley. He was really remarkable, not doing an imitation of McCoy but actually being a young McCoy, being as irrascible as ever.

Zoe Saldana played Uhura, and she was good. I had no idea whe played the Haitian lady in the last two "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies - I liked her *much* better in this film. So instead of the whole "first interracial kiss" thing with Kirk, she ends up having a romance with Spock. Wonder how that's going to play out in the next film. I can't remember Uhura's heritage - was she from Earth too or another planet?

Simon Pegg was really funny as Scotty. The accent was good, but it wasn't just a generic Scottish accent - he did a pretty good job of being Scotty.

John Cho was fine as Sulu - I had forgotten Sulu's thing with fencing, so that was cool. I heard one of the people after the movie complain that he looked too Korean and not Japanese. Ummm, yeah, that's because he IS Korean. And what's the big deal with the name? After all, Jean-Luc Picard has a British accent.

I actually found Anton Yelchin as Chekov to be very distracting with his Russian accent, though I was amused when Chekov had to give a passcode to the computer that included "Victor", and his pronunciation of the "v" as a "w" made the computer not grant him access.

Now that I've seen the film, I'm very surprised at the casting of Winona Ryder as Amanda Grayson, Spock's mother. It's a fairly iconic character in Trek history, but her role in this movie was mostly a throw-away. I don't know that it would have mattered that much who was cast as long as they were decent in the one scene where she reassures Spock that she will always be proud of him.

A friend alerted me to the fact that the voice of Kirk's stepfather that comes over the car he's stolen is voiced by Greg Grunberg. I'll have to listen closer next time to see if I recognize his voice.

The music is very nicely done by Michael Giacchino, good use of themes we know and new music that goes great with the action on screen.

In addition to applauding at various other credits, we also applauded when Ben Burtt's credit came on screen.

And then, of course, the dedication credit at the very end to Gene and Majel Barrett Roddenberry was lovely and elicited much applause. What a nice touch.


AVP said...

For B5 fans, the Romulan ship looked *entirely* too much like a Shadow. Between that and the "Hoth" sequence, it became a game of "what movie are we riffing on now?" for much of the film. And yes, I cringed every time Spock reached towards someone's face, fully expecting their foreheads to begin bleeding...

Sherry said...

Sorry, I guess I've not had any contact with life, because I did NOT know about the Kirk/Spock/McCoy relationship. That is, I didn't really know about McCoy's role in the series until I saw this movie. Linda had to explain some of it to me afterward. Oh, and ask her about Bruce Greenwood: she's had some kind of crush on him since a long time ago.

Cindy said...

Some time after I posted the review, it occurred to me that I probably should have left McCoy off the list. The triumvirate is actually quite important in the overall story (and plays a huge role in a few very specific story points in the episodes and movies), but I don't think it gets as much play out of Trekdom. Focus is usually on the Kirk/Spock relationship, partly because William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were better known and more outgoing and did more publicity whereas DeForest Kelley (who played Scotty) was a much quieter, easy-going guy. D (or maybe that's De - I know he was referred to by that nickname, but I never saw it written out) was much beloved by the fans, and the original cast is usually divided into the three leads (Kirk, Spock and McCoy) and then the four "supporting" players (Sulu, Scotty, Uhura and Chekov), but I think even that division of the three is done in more Trek-related circles, whether fans or production. Again, I don't think "the three musketeers" aspect gets nearly the play it should outside of Trekdom.

I *know* you know who Kirk and Spock are.

Linda said...

Ditto, ditto, ditto! on everything you said in your review! And Bones totally belongs in the mix, as I feel that they should keep that triumvirate intact even in an alternate reality/timeline version! Karl Urban is so perfect -- certainly channeling De Kelley in a way that I never imagined he could. Only saw him as Eomer in LOTR trilogy, so didn't have enough to go on.
And, to elaborate on Sherry's post, my Bruce Greenwood crush dates back to St. Elsewhere days.
Have not seen any JJ Abrams stuff, so didn't know what to expect. I was especially pleased that they got the sense of humor right!