Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rants on Star Trek (2009)

I am not a Trekkie. Never have been, never will be. Throughout my childhood, my parents constantly watched Star Trek on TV: the one with Patrick Stewart, the guy with the huge, wrinkly forehead and the other guy with the light-up visor over his eyes. Being the odd child I was, instead of heading to my bedroom to watch something with my brother, I would sit with them and watch it, hating every minute of it. Maybe it was just because I was too young to understand any of what was going on, but those memories of watching countless hours of this show has not only turned me off toward Star Trek but also any other space-themed sci-fi show/film that is being hailed as the best thing around (i.e. why I never bothered with Battlestar Galactica or Firefly). When I heard that TV megaman J.J. Abrams was planning a franchise reboot, I'm pretty sure I rolled my eyes and lamented, as usual, about the death of original ideas in Hollywood, especially since this was Star Trek, that boring show from my childhood.

But then the previews came out and the film looked, dare I say it, not bad. And the more and more I was flooded with trailers and stories about the film, the more and more I wanted to see it. I didn't want to go during opening weekend because, frankly, I didn't want to run into the hardcore Trekkies who would either be cheering at every twist and turn like those annoying Twilight girls or would spend the whole movie discussing how the movie differs from the seventh episode of season two on The Next Generation. I waited until the next week and went with another friend (hey Kelli!) who also knew nothing about Star Trek but thought that the previews looked awesome. I went in with low expectations for two reasons: (1) Star Trek is, quite obviously, a big budget action blockbuster and I'm normally highly allergic to them and (2) the film has been getting outstanding reviews and normally whenever one of these types of films gets great reviews (Iron Man, Spider-Man, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), I end up hating them just as much as the crap that doesn't get those reviews. Surprisingly, the film impressed me with how much it earned every one of those stellar notices.

The thing I appreciated the most about Abrams' Star Trek is the fact that there aren't the usual idiotic subplots and themes that come attached to most summer blockbusters. There are no awkward and clichéd love triangles, no gooey, overly sentimental or otherwise painful dialogue that makes you roll your eyes and no attempt to philosophize some meaningless drivel about man's place in the world or some crap like that. Instead, he stuck to the two things the film does exceedingly well--comedy and action sequences. More than anything, I was surprised at just how funny Star Trek was. What could have been a dry excursion into space mythology and exploding planets is saved by a humorous script and an exquisite ensemble with nary a weak link in sight. I was most impressed by the extremely charismatic Chris Pine's ability to handle a lot more than just looking pretty, especially his comedic chops during the scene where he keeps on getting stabbed by Karl Urban's needle. Who knew that deep inside the beautiful creature is a comedic hoofer buried deep inside there? I also need to give props to Anton Yelchin, whose accent, at first, sounded completely ridiculous and over the top but, by the time he started running through the spaceship screaming, "I can do it! I can do it!" I was completely in love with that ridiculousness.

Star Trek, in addition to being one of the lightest, funniest films of the year thusfar, is also a marvel of visual beauty. The action sequences, while maybe a bit too slavishly devoted to the Bourne style of editing, are exciting and invigorating without overtaking the whole movie. While I enjoyed the numerous scenes of exploding spaceships and planets being engulfed by black holes, often accompanied by Michael Giacchino's excellent, winking-at-the-audience, bombastic score, the best parts of the movie were the moments where the soundtrack completely cuts out for an extended period of time and all the audience has to rely on is their sense of sight. Most directors would be afraid to let up the deafening roar of guns and explosions for even a few precious seconds, Abrams takes a risk and lets the visuals tell the story (and that shouldn't even be a risk since, as you all know, film is a visual medium).

My only big problem with the movie was the fact that the whole "Spock as an old man" subplot made absolutely no sense. I couldn't have been the only one scratching my head at that nonsense...


Oh well, that shit was bananas. My friend tried to explain it to me but after awhile she gave up and I still have very little idea what happened. All I know is that it was even more confusing than the concept of Hannah Montana.

This gripe, however, is very minor in comparison to what the film gets right. Who knew that a summer blockbuster whose sole mission to entertain could actually be so entertaining? I never would have guessed it in a million years. And this brings me to one final point: why is this film any less of a "good" film than The Dark Knight? I've talked to a couple of people about the movie and, while they liked Star Trek, they didn't think it was as good as The Dark Knight or even a real piece of art since it wasn't about "serious" issues. First of all, comparing these two films is almost futile because, even though they are part of the same genre, their missions are completely different; it would be like comparing a silly Astaire & Rogers vehicle such as Top Hat to a Fosse musical like Cabaret or All That Jazz. Secondly, since when does a serious subject matter automatically make a film better? When did we start thinking like the Academy? I liked both of these films equally, but to suggest that The Dark Knight is worthy of "art" while Star Trek is ludicrous. Star Trek's main goal was to revive a dying franchise and entertain us with well choreographed action sequences and a lot of raillery. Goal accomplished, successful film, end of story. B


Adam M. said...

I try to approach each film I watch without any sort of preconceptions or expectations. That is, I try not to determine a film's merits based on anything aside from what occurs while I'm watching the film, both on the screen and as I react to what is on the screen. (That said, I do acknowledge the origins of the story or characters in the film. For example, I obviously wouldn't give J.J. Abrams credit for developing the characters of Star Trek.)

TDK was better than Star Trek because it was much more penetrative. It was able to evoke a much more potent mix of emotions and posed many more questions that felt immediate and relevant. Not to mention it was entertaining as hell from start to finish. Star Trek was a fun ride, yes. But for me at least, the bubbles and breezes of "fun" are nothing compared to the thick and messy exasperation that comes from truly being moved. Star Trek didn't move. The Dark Knight did.

You say that Star Trek was successful considering what it was meant to do or be. I say that films aren't meant to do or be anything. It is how we experience and react to them that determines their value or achievement. At least, that is how I see things.

A few other quick notes:

1. I agree that the Old Spock/Young Spock subplot was confusing, but I think this was because they did not spend enough time digging deep and explaining the events that had happened for this to occur. In fact, I felt like a lot of the film skimmed the surface of what were clearly more "meaty" stories as to not confuse the audience or stray from a goal of entertaining and appealing to the masses. For me, it felt like a cop-out.

2. I think it's funny that pretty much every review of Star Trek out there either starts with "I'm not a Trekkie in any way" or "I am the biggest Trekkie in the universe." My own review included (I'm the former!). Interesting how Trekkies proudly fly their flags while the rest of us non-Trekkies curtail association.

3. The stop-the-music-during-the-height-of-the-action device was actually way, way too reminiscent of Peter Jackson's work in the Lord of the Rings movies. (But you wouldn't know! Pssh...) So for me, it felt more rip-off-ish than refreshing.

Great review as usual, James :P

(Though I wouldn't quite call the ensemble "exquisite." I think if anything that credit belongs to Gene Roddenberry.)

Vera said...

I loved the original Star Trek which was rerun every day after school when I was a child, but I can't say I was a trekkie, or trekker or whatever you are supposed to call them. I've seen most of the movies, but I think this one was the best at capturing the humor and feel of the original. I don't know if it was any more or less a piece of art than The Dark Knight, which was elevated greatly by Heath Ledger's amazing performance, but I do know that I enjoyed myself more at Star Trek and left the theatre feeling buoyant, and that's good enough for me.

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