Thursday, June 6, 2013

Star Trek

STAR TREK               B               
USA   (127 mi)  2009  ‘Scope  d:  J.J. Abrams

One aspect of Star Trek that has been missing in the movie versions is an understanding for why the TV show clicked, namely the interrelations between the characters who couldn’t have been more different from one another, where the racial and intergalactic diversity expressed each week literally raised the bar in viewer social awareness.  The show interestingly maintained a healthy dose of personal barbs between the characters that created distinct personalities at work in otherwise cramped, claustrophobic quarters, where from time to time they amusingly got on each others nerves and would take verbal swipes at one another.  Some of the legendary cracks between Medical Officer McCoy raising his suspicions about half Vulcan, half human Spock’s overly rational brain reflecting the side of him that wasn’t human became part of the running dialogue on the ship, and was consistently used not only in the heat of battle but especially in the final few seconds of each show’s epilogue to show that no matter what their differences, all’s well that end’s well, as they survived another adventure together.  That is the one attribute that this Star Trek movie pays particular attention to and it feels like a welcoming home of the characters themselves, as each is once more carefully defined by a certain aspect of their character that is wonderfully appealing.  Add to this an astounding degree of physical resemblance to the original crew that is simply extraordinary.  What’s fun about this version is that it comes before the regular crew of the Starship Enterprise was formed, where each hadn’t yet developed into their now familiar roles.  The back stories, bearing a Smallville Superman, the early years resemblance, offers unique insight, even when it becomes hammy and so deliciously exaggerated to the point of being operatic.  The film does an excellent job pin-pointing and merging the early years for both Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) on their respective planets, one in Iowa, the other on planet Vulcan, also providing an early action sequence that reveals how Kirk’s father was a Starship captain for a mere handful of seconds, yet in a heroic effort saved hundreds of lives in the process, including his wife and newborn. 

One of the criticisms of the Star Trek movies overall is their over-reliance on special effects, where they love to show off where so much of the money goes, and this film is no different.  It gets carried away with the same adrenaline rushes that fellow big budget Hollywood director Michael Bay is known for, also supported by wailing voices and plenty of pounding percussion.  The difference here is that the characters are intriguing from the outset.  When Kirk recklessly races cars as a kid or Spock is subjected to relentless torment from fellow Vulcans about his half human side, their personalities are being formed by the way they overcompensate from what’s missing in their lives, Kirk missing a father while Spock’s mother is not Vulcan.  Kirk’s testy fight in the bar sequence and his relentless approach to seducing any and all women he sees is laughably over the top, but who would have thought Spock could be taunted into fisticuffs on his home planet?  There’s a familiar ring to all of this, as Zoë Saldana’s sexy, but warmhearted Uhura is actually romantically partnered with Spock here, not Kirk, amusingly seen giving last minute kisses in the transportation deck.  Karl Urban is drop dead hilarious as Dr. McCoy injecting Kirk with a virus to gain him access to an otherwise off limits Starship, following with a succession of more injections due to his unforeseen symptoms, all while Kirk is challenging a Captain’s decision and making perhaps the biggest decision in his as yet undeveloped career.  John Cho’s fencing expertise as Sulu early on saves Kirk’s life, and Anton Yelchin’s verbal mugging of the English language as the brilliant 17-year old thickly Russian accented Chekov is exquisite.  Simon Pegg as the drink happy Chief Engineer Scott is deliriously happy at discovering transporting can take place at warp speeds, not to mention that he invented the scientific equation.  And Leonard Nimoy makes not just an appearance, but plays a significant role in what this movie is about, that it’s not all accolades and successes of a rewarding career, but life is all about the journey along the way.  

One major beef, however, is that it follows of the same formula that big Hollywood productions seem destined to follow, which is to accentuate meaningless battle sequences with plenty of explosions, including innumerable space ships, with objects hurled through space, bodies flying, where death and destruction is a major pattern to follow, as if that’s what holds an audience’s attention.  No doubt for some, that’s the bottom line:  was it exciting?  Eric Bana is really very good as the rogue Romulan outlaw Nero, whose brutal interrogation methods are Neanderthal, but his mind is intensely psychological, scarred himself from losing his own planet.  Little by little the main characters move their way into their familiar positions, predictably overcoming all obstacles.  Unfortunately, this is a male heavy cast with few opportunities other than Uhura and Spock’s mother to even have speaking roles, so for a film that features as one of its goals to lead the way in presenting a diversified view of a utopian future society, they certainly failed in this opportunity.  Very few creatures from other galaxies played any significant role as well, so this was largely seen as the typical white man’s battle to save the universe.  Spock’s performance in particular is impressive, especially because he is so full of doubt while also being the smartest guy in the room, while Kirk is a gung ho thrill seeker from the outset, the guy who routinely takes the greatest risks, yet whose self-centered arrogance is more a trait of actor William Shatner, the original Kirk, whose gargantuan ego preceded him wherever he went, as opposed to Pine who spends most of the film engaged in fights, oftentimes on the losing end, whose first response tendency toward reckless behavior does not exactly bode well for ship morale.  But as a blockbuster action thriller costing $150 million, this at least goes for the tone and charming character references of the original TV series.

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