Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Next Generation's Star Trek, Take Two

It’s not that I’m a Trekkie, but I did read Stephen E. Whitfield & Gene Roddenberry’s book Making of Star Trek when I was in high school.  I learned spiffy things like how the doors were made to slide open and closed in that swooshing way, and that the phasers were made from salt and pepper shakers.  I watched most (not all) of the spin-offs of the original program (which I own in its original state — no fixing up of those cheesy effects for me).

When, in 2008 or so, I heard that a new movie was coming out with all the original characters in their youth, I said please!  That’s ridiculous.  They didn’t know one another at the beginnings of their careers, every body knows that Chekhov wasn’t even there until the 2nd season, that Bones wasn’t the first doctor on board, and that Spock had ties to his former captain, Christopher Pike.  I was offended at the concept.  Yet somehow, director J.J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman pulled it off.  They came up with a twist that changed the universe as we had known it just enough to throw our beloved original characters — Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Chekhov and Sulu, Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy, and Commander Scott — onto a magnificent starship Enterprise much earlier in their formation than in the former universe, essentially starting the relationships from scratch, with a difference.  And then another twist.  The 2009 Star Trek was a blast.

Bearing in mind that a good film director is a manipulator —Hitchcock manipulated the hell out of us, Spielberg manipulates us to feel fear, anger, hope, joy — the new Star Trek films work despite their holey scripts and bumpy (not edgy) storylines.  J.J. Abrams has manipulated us into ignoring what’s insufficient and remembering the fun.  I’ve got no problem with that.

I have issues with explosions and shoot-outs (the issue is that I'm bored) and making the Star Trek tradition just another special effects in space war movie.  Star Trek is supposed to be about the people and ideas and ideals.  Second time around for this alternate universe, and I was full of dread — according to the trailers, which of course are horrendous advertisements most of the time, and they’re certainly not directed at me — the new Star Trek promised to be overly noisy without enough character interaction.  Nevertheless, they’re trailers, so I would not allow them to stop me from seeing the new Star Trek Into Darkness, with my handy-dandy earplugs at the ready.

Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine (c) 2013 Paramount Pictures.
This second outing, written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof (all based, of course, on Gene Roddenberry’s original ideas) is another triumph of wooing the die-hard fans of the old show while inviting new fans into this new franchise.  Yes, there are explosions, but some are natural.  Yes there are “gunfights,” but they don’t take awfully long before they become interesting in a character-based way.  Characters matter, character growth occurs, relationships mature.  What a delight.  The hardest part of this post will be to avoid spoilers.  I want everyone to have as good a time when they see Star Trek Into Darkness as I had this weekend.

Chris Pine as Jim Kirk with Bruce Greenwood as Christopher Pike.  (c) 2013 Paramount Pictures
The story does still touch on a battle of ideals:  Is Starfleet a scientific organization engaged in exploratory voyages and peacekeeping, always abiding by the Prime Directive, or is it a military organization doing some science on the side?  Unfortunately it only just touches upon these important themes because the director/producer/writers do not trust the audience to live without the explosions long enough to think and question.  We all know the historical and present Kirks have nasty habits of ignoring the Prime Directive when they consider it needful, and Kirk does love to fight.  Orci, Kurtzman, Lindelof and director Abrams are trying to balance the thinking Kirk and the emotional Kirk, allowing him to learn to know himself better, but we’re losing patience with him.

Zoe Saldana as Uhura (c) 2013 Paramount Pictures
The gang from the last film is back, and each of them deserves praise, but particularly Zachary Quinto deepening his interpretation of Spock, Zoe Saldana as tough and tender Uhura, and the warm and wonderful Bruce Greenwood as Admiral Pike.  Simon Pegg’s Scotty is too good and funny and endearing (if a bit too skinny) to leave out, and then there’s the drop-dead gorgeous Karl Urban channeling DeForest Kelley as Bones.  John Cho is a powerful Sulu and Anton Yelchin is constantly on the run as Chekhov (including in one of the most absurd and overly long scenes of chaos).  New characters are Peter Weller as the leader of Starfleet, Admiral Marcus, Alice Eve as Dr. Carol Marcus (ring any bells?), and Noel Clarke (Rose’s sometime boyfriend Mickey in Doctor Who) appears as a Starfleet officer.  Of particular note, of course, is this film’s marvelous villain, Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison, rogue Starfleet operative.  He is lean and limber, wears long coats very well, and has a savagery and intelligence that drives him above and beyond other mere humans.  He’s a fine opponent for both Kirk and Spock, as partners and individually.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Karl Urban (c) 2013 Paramount Pictures
About Kirk, or Chris Pine…. I’m not a fan.  I’m not saying Pine’s not a good actor, I just don’t see him or hear him as James T. Kirk.  The James T. Kirk who grew up with a father in the other universe was running the Starship Enterprise before the age of 34.  This guy couldn’t run a horse at the age of 34.

The thing about this film is that it’s filled with delightful echoes, visual and aural, of the original series I grew up with, not to mention one of the better (although I can’t say “good”) early films. Thing is, I don’t want to give anything away (although we do see a tribble!).  I want each viewer to enjoy the surprises and the nods and the tugs on heartstrings as much as I did.  Go see Star Trek Into Darkness (2-D is just fine) and we’ll talk.

~ Molly Matera, signing off to watch an episode from Star Trek’s first season. No, I won’t tell you which one.

1 comment:

  1. Well done. I'm still trying to figure out what to say that doesn't ruin anything.