Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: Star Trek

Star Trek
Dir. JJ Abrams
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 127mins

An overly-stimulated cameraman, dodgy minority politics and an iffy central casting decision do their best to run JJ Abrams' Star Trek into the ground. It doesn't end up totally six feet under, but it's hardly the fresh and altogether vibrant "reboot" of a franchise that I had been vehemently promised. Having never watched more than ten minutes of anything Star Trek branded in my entire life - including TV and film, although the Star Trek: Voyager theme music is one of my most-played tracks on iTunes. Go figure - I came into this movie with only the barest of knowledge. I knew the characters and the actors who originally played them - thank you Futurama episode "Where No Fan Has Gone Before" - although that is all null and void since these characters are played by younger and, more importantly, prettier people. I figured it was Star Wars in an alternate universe and I was aware that there were people with funny-looking ears, but that's about it. What I witnessed wasn't anywhere near interesting enough to convert me into even a casual Trekkie.

The year is 2387 and, apparently, not much has changed at all. Oh sure, humans and aliens now (occasionally) co-exist, but they're still battling wars based on misunderstandings, not even attempting to hide their blatant sexism and treating minorities like they don't actually make up a good portion of the population. But that's a discussion for later on in this review. If you at all care about this movie then you already know the plot so I won't go into it with much depth, but it generally revolves around the crew of the USS Enterprise and the wacky time-travelling shenanigans they get up to. There's James Kirk (Chris Pine, a definitely step up from Just My Luck, no?) the arrogant rebellious son of one of the finest space Captains to ever exist. There's Spock (Zachery Quinto), a Vulcan who has issues. Then there's Uhura (Zoe Saldana - she occupies TWO minorities in one) who doesn't really do that much. Other cast-members include Bruce Greenwood as a kidnapped Captain, Karl Urban as doctor Bones McCoy, John Cho as an Asian, Anton Yelchin as a Russian with a funny voice, Simon Pegg as comic relief aka Scotty and Eric Bana as a bald-headed time-travelling villain who likes pointy things. Fun.

The movie is very flashy, I will give it that, but at some point I think I officially became a grandpa and got severely tired from it all. I just wanted the camera to stop moving for five minutes. There is so much panning and zooming, spinning and swirling, shaking and tumbling, not to mention an over-abundance of flaring and visual trickery that I longed for James Cameron to come along and just yell "ENOUGH!" If your visuals are strong enough, which they arguably are here, then you don't need to amp it up with ridiculously over-the-top camera tricks. Was it necessary for the camera to move around every single time something exploded inside one of the Enterprise's many many corridors?

And while the visual effects are indeed (very) excellent, much like the recent Star Wars movies, they have a tendency to overwhelm the story. A sequence involving the destruction of a famous Star Trek planet is so overdone with effects (and those pesky shaking cameras and rapid-fire editing) that it's like sensory overload and in end becomes a confusing mess. I was a big fan of the movie's art direction - it's so nice to once again see a movie take full advantage of the fact that it's set in the future, am I the only one who's tired of the world becoming a barren apocalyptic wasteland? - but there are some times when I wish they had taken a few moments to show it off instead of instantly cutting or panning away.

That the movie is set some 300 years in the future also means diddly when it comes to the gender/race/sexuality balance, too. Not only do the armies of the future have only one member of each minority (and broad minorities too such as "women", "asians" and "blacks"), but "Don't Ask Don't Tell" is still very much in effect. I know the latter comment is particularly prickly and pedantic, but it bares mentioning. That the only woman (remember, women are minorities to Hollywood) barely does a thing to warrant her a place on the most elite space craft known to man isn't the point. John Cho's Sulu gets a bit more character, but watch as the other crewmen laugh at him as he doesn't know how to work the controls! Watch as the automated computer program can't understand the funny Russian man's accent! Click on this link for a far more detailed and thought-out piece on the topic, but needless to say we're on the same page. I wanted more aliens, too!

And then there is Chris Pine as James Kirk, the man who by film's end will become the most important Captain in the Starfleet... or something. I dunno. I'm not quite sure what to make of him. His early scenes as the arrogant beer-swilling macho man are far from convincing and yet when he's called upon to become the man everyone looks up to it comes off as odd more than anything else. He seems to have become the same dour world-on-his-shoulders archetype that is infiltrating every blockbuster movie known to man (Captain Jack Sparrow not included). Perhaps Chris Hemsworth, who plays Kirk's father, would have been a better choice? I'm not sure, but something just did not feel right.

From the way I'm writing you would be mistaken for thinking I hated the movie. I did not. I just didn't think was at all that special. I wanted more of the unique spirit that I have been lead to believe was in Star Trek's blood. I think the 21st century upgrade may have robbed it of something special and turned it into the sort of movie I've already seen plenty of times before (namely the Star Wars prequels). I hope the sequel gets around to addressing the issues above - maybe they were merely testing the waters before adding a women of actual power into the central cast structure - but until then I can't give this Star Trek anything more than a C.

1 comment:

Ed Howard said...

I was far too bored and disinterested by this movie to write up a review, but if I did it probably would have been something like this. It just seemed so blah, and the constant lens flares did little to distract from the blandness in the plotting and the shallow characterizations. I recently watched all of the original-cast Star Trek movies for a conversation about the series over at the House Next Door, but I'm far from a Trekkie. Still, while I enjoyed the little fan references and nods to the older movies here, sometimes I felt like that was all this new movie had to offer.

And Chekov's accent bothered me tremendously, although I realize he was just trying to imitate the cheesy accent of the original guy.