Saturday, May 16, 2009

It Should Be Called Star Trek: Resurrection. A Review of Star Trek (2009)



STAR TREK (2009)

There are four rules to be an Official Nerd. 1.) You must know a routine from a Monty Python film/program. 2.) You must be able to sing a song from The Simpsons. 3.) You must have read comic books on a regular basis. 4.) You must have followed a science-fiction television/film series. Since I didn't read comics as a child or teen, I do not qualify as a Nerd. (I will admit to experimenting briefly in my early 20s with the Blue Beetle comic book series, but since I still can't tell the difference between DC and Marvel I don't feel I've reached full Nerd status). For many, that sci-fi TV series was Star Trek (mine was/is Doctor Who, which is still running--take that, Trekkies!)

I start with a confession: I have never seen a complete episode of ANY version of Star Trek--not the original series, not Next Generation, not Deep Space Nine, not Voyager, not Enterprise (though I can sing the chorus to Enterprise's theme song). I've seen clips, but my only point of reference to the mythology has been the films. Ask me to name all ten actors who've played the Doctor: you got it. Ask me to describe the difference between the Prime Directive and the Prime Meridian, and I'm lost. All this time, I thought his name was Zulu, like in Shaka.

So far, I've seen seven Star Trek films (the first six and this one). While I can't say that Star Trek is the Citizen Kane of Trek films (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan holds that title), it does rank up in the Top Three, with only the former and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock ranking higher.

Call it a reboot.
Call it a remake.
Just call it good.

We start in space, when a previous version of the Enterprise is attacked. Among the passengers fleeing the ship is the mother of the future James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) (side note--I always thought Tiberius was a stupid name. Did they not know what a horrible Emperor he was?) We balance his early years with scenes of the half-human/half-Vulcan Spock (Zachary Quinto), a being who is more cerebral than emotional but who struggles to find his place within either civilization.

Kirk is almost always all action, Spock is almost always thought. However, they seem to be two sides of the same coin. Both want away from their respective worlds, one where their abilities and talents can be used. In other words, they want to find their place in the galaxy. They come in conflict at Starfleet Academy, but an attack by Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan who blames the future (or alternate) Spock for the destruction of his home planet, forces them to work together.

For those people who have no idea who these characters are, what is great about Star Trek is that you WON'T be lost. You get introduced to our two leads, as well as the supporting cast: Dr. McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Scott--they all get their moment.

Simon Pegg as Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, still speaks with a Scottish accent but adds a frenetic and comic manner to the character (side note: I've never had an answer as to WHY a character with the last name of Scott has a Scottish accent--it would be like having a Mr. Español speak with a Spanish accent). John Cho as Sulu made him what I never saw in the films...an action hero. Karl Urban, already a Nerd Legend from The Lord of the Rings, brings a delightful comedic touch to Dr. McCoy. Zoe Saldaña honors Nichelle Nichols' interpretation by following her example of making Uhura both intelligent and beautiful. Even the smaller roles are cast with respected actors: Ben Cross as Spock's father, Sarek, and Winona Ryder as Spock's mother. Her role was so small that I didn't realize it was her until she literally falls off a cliff, but her brief appearance still left an impact.

Eric Bana, who has had a bad run in films (Troy, Lucky You, The Hulk), has finally found a role that shows he CAN act. His Nero is not a clichéd villain but a character with motivation for his rage. This Star Trek villain is the only one in recent memory to give Ricardo Montalban's Khan a run for his money.

The greatest praise should be reserved for the leads. Chris Pine remakes Captain Kirk as the cocky kid who still has a lot to learn. He doesn't do a parody of William Shatner but you can imagine the character of Kirk becoming what Shatner brought to the role: a man who has confidence in his abilities to lead. Zachary Quinto, who has assured himself a place at Comic-Con-type events as Sylar from Heroes, brings intelligence and vulnerability to his Spock. We think about how he struggled with his dual heritage.


Because the story takes place in an alternate universe, he is able to share the screen with one who was billed as Spock Prime. It may not make exact sense (how a person can meet his future/alternate self is open to debate). However, Leonard Nimoy's appearance wasn't just a clever cameo, but actually relevant to the plot (although I joked that when Nimoy and Pine's Kirk met, it was on Hoth--see the movie and you might understand).

The film also plays tribute to some of the traditions from the series: Kirk's notoriously long pauses before finishing his line, Dr. McCoy's infamous "I'm a doctor, Jim, not a..." lines, Chekov's inability to pronounce the letter "w" (side note: I wasn't bothered by Anton Yelchin's accent: given he is Russian, I'll cut him some slack) , even Kirk's predilection for bedding beautiful aliens. They are not done to make fun of the material, but to wink to the fan base.

That is one of the qualities of the film: it takes the material seriously. It cast good actors in their roles. It told an original story. It wasn't effect-heavy but managed to have them serve the story instead of overwhelm it. The only thing that I had bit of a problem with was the suggestion of a romance between Spock and Uhura. This might not exactly be blasphemy to the Trekkie faithful, but I do find it...odd. The most rational of the Enterprise's crew getting it on with anyone is, curious, to use a Vulcan phrase.

Overall, this Star Trek did take us where few Star Treks have taken us before: to a good film. Fans of the original series will be satisfied with how the material was handled: with respect and a bit of humor. Those unfamiliar with the series will be taken in by the story and the performances. May this regeneration (to use a Doctor Who term).

Live Long and Prosper.

6 comments:

  1. What's the weird obsession with Citizen Kane? Everything is Citizen Kane this, Citizen Kane that. At least now maybe you'll watch the tv show.

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  2. Great review big bro, I give it the same rating. I did like the comment of Spock Prime and Kirk meeting on "The Hoth System." For me, it was great I was glad I hyped myself up for this one and left the theater happy and expected the movie to be what I thought it would be. I do recommend it to the people who are not trekkies. This would be something that I would buy the first day it hit shelves for blue ray and DVD, and for my dad being a former trekkie himself, I would like to watch it with him. Overall, it was great and I can't wait till it comes out to take home and add to my movie collection.

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  3. anybody who watches Dr Who, is a nerd, trumps all four of your four rules,, moves you up to mega nerd status,, Dr Who is still running, WHY,

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  4. The Daleks are better villains than the Klygons and the Borg are just rip-offs of the Cybermen. Doctor Who is still on because unlike other sci-fi shows he can travel through both space AND time, so he can go into the past or the future as well as to other worlds. The special effects, a bit weak in the original series, are better now, and the stories are (mostly) better. Adhering to one rule does not trump them all merely because one doesn't like a certain television program.

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  5. if recalled correctly,, stated moves you up to meage nerd status for watching dr. Who.. the only who" most know is "The Who" talking about my generation,, and besides, where is one movie of dr.who?

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  6. Yes, I know of The Who--thanks to all the CSIs that are on the air. There have been TWO Doctor Who films: Dr. Who & The Daleks and Doctor Who: Dalek Invasion Earth. Both starred Peter Cushing as Doctor Who and are available on DVD. They aren't the Citizen Kane of sci-fi films, but a fan might enjoy them. Again, you should watch the new Doctor Who with either Christopher Eccleston or David Tennant as The Doctor. You'll find they are quite good.

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Thank you.