A Star Trek Review
Let me say with a complete lack of humility that I am uniquely qualified to review “Star Trek” for the following reason. It was the first television program I ever watched. “Star Trek” was imprinted on me like a baby duck gets imprinted on its mother. I watched the show during its original run, via an antenna on a small trailer pointed vaguely toward Buffalo. I watched it with my grandfather. Something about the show was different and I was different after watching it.
I will spare you excessive sentimentality. I am confident you get the point. Just let me say that James Kirk is number one on my list of fictional role models and I’m proud to say it.
I went to see “Star Trek” at my local IMAX on Thursday, May 8th. I went two and a half hours early. There were people dressed in Star Fleet uniforms. There were people dressed as Vulcans and Klingons. I felt completely at home.
The “Star Trek” franchise had gone completely stale. Whatever magic had existed after the original had bled out over the years. Way too much talking. Too many silly aliens with ridged nose bones. Too many scripts that assumed the audience wasn’t paying attention. I got the feeling, as I did in the recent horrible Star Wars trilogy, that the people making the movies and the series had forgotten what it was that made the original special, or had never known.
So along comes J.J. Abrams. Not a Star Trek fan he says. A Star Wars guy. J.J. Abrams first and foremost wanted to make a good movie. In previous attempts at series and movies, Star Trek had been swallowed up by the rules. J.J. Abrams didn’t know the rules. He looked at the original series with a fresh eye to see what had made it great. He was mercifully spared the years upon years of mediocre tv and films, slaved to canon and cloned so repeatedly from the original ideas that errors in replication had made the newer work virtually unrecognizable from the source.
J.J. Abrams has made a hybrid movie. It is Star Trek and it is also Star Wars. The new Trek is fast and has a strikingly industrial look that it never had before. Gone away is the sterile world of latter day Trek. The new Trek has an Enterprise that looks like it works. There are fluids and pipes, vats and values. The new Trek reminds us, from the start, that the crew of the Enterprise come from places where there is dirt and fields and rock. The original Star Wars was a romantic epic grounded in a kid from a dusty place that had dreams and was uplifted. Kirk is an angry Luke, born in a similar place but aware from the start of his origins and paralyzed by his history.
The new Trek focuses on what made the original great. Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest had a life and presence to them that is maybe unprecedented in television. Their relationships were adult and complex. The actors that played the crew took excellent writing and magnified it with a special character that made the show unforgettable, even after years of bad copies and neglect. J.J. has taken those special characters and relationships and made them go, go, go. No bad science chatter. No standing around. It’s a busy Starfleet. Ships go fast. People run again. The good guys get bloody, wet and swollen and like in Star Wars and regular life, technology you need to work isn’t always reliable.
Star Trek’s plot is a little thin and the nerd that I am was puzzled about a few things. How can an ensign get promoted to Captain in a day? Are there no senior officers aboard the Enterprise besides Capt Pike? Couldn’t Spock just have had Kirk thrown in the brig? I’m nitpicking I know but the ice planet meeting of Kirk, Spock and Scotty was lazy writing.
Chris Pine, Zackary Quinto and the rest of the cast did a fantastic job I thought. Something old, something new. They were brave and they were bold. Zack reminds us how difficult a task it is to have a job displaying emotion and playing a character that cannot express it. Chris Pine is a star. He could not out Shatner Shatner. It is physically impossible. He did his own thing. He is Kirk 2. New and vital but recognizable. Special mention goes out to Karl Urban and Simon Pegg for really bringing the juice to Bones and Scotty. I wish we had seen more of Eric Bana and seen more of his tragic back story. A missed dramatic opportunity.
I loved Star Trek. I was frankly more than just a little nervous before going to see it. I paced. I kept looking at the clock. I was desperate that it be good and that the original series and then therefore Endy would not be mocked. I left the theatre in a kind of culture shock. My old heroes had changed. Star Trek had been fast forwarded, energized and also grounded. I was not sure what I thought of it. After a half nights sleep I’ve decided it’s ok to be a little sensitive. I hope there is a little Kirk and Spock in me still, after all those years since the trailer with my grandfather up on the roof, adjusting the antenna, doing all he could do so some little kid from Canada could sit mesmerized at a tiny black and white television and have his mind pryed open for the first time. Change can be hard but it can also be uplifting.