Thursday, July 9, 2009

Star Trek Movie Review

Star Trek
Father: *** 1/2 Son: ****

William the Younger:

Yup, we saw Star Trek. Of course we would, dad and I are BIG Trekkies, so we went and saw this on opening day, and I can't say that we were disappointed.

The opening of this movie is set in the year 2233, and most of the movie is set in the year 2258. This is about the plot: Nero, the Romulan villain of this movie, is from the future. In the future were Nero is from, a star has gone supernova, and threatens to destroy Romulus. The future Spock has decided to help the Romulans by manning a ship called "The Jellyfish," which is equipped with "red matter" that, if shot into the supernova, would create a quantum singularity that would consume the supernova.

But Spock is to late and Romulus is destroyed. Nero, enraged that Spock did not save his world, promises that he will destroy all of the worlds that have anything to do with the Federation.

That's about it. I can't tell you anymore, otherwise I will spoil all of the awesome things in this film, and we wouldn't want that. Anyway, the acting in this is amazing, specifically Zachary Quinto who plays the younger Spock.

My dad thinks that Bruce Greenwood, who plays Captain Christopher Pike was the best, but that's besides the point. Chris Pine, who plays Kirk was great, and just about everyone else. Even Chekov, who has some hilarious Russian stereotypical scenes like pronouncing Vulcan "Wulcan." The special effects are life like, and the action is spot-on.

And I have to mention that the score is just awesome!! This film is just so amazing because it is beautifully written, and superbly directed. So if you're into awesome special effects, great adventure, a superb cast, big explosions, Star Trek, and amazing storytelling like I am, you should see this.

William the Elder:

As a Trek-Dork of long standing I have made it a policy -- nay, a law as insurmountable as the decrees of the Medes and Persians -- that I must see each new Star Trek film at the first available showing.

This means, of course, that I've been front-row center at the unveiling of some epochal cinematic debacles, such as "Star Trek V: The One that Sucked," and "Star Trek: Cure for Insomnia" (aka "Insurrection," a title that pioneered new territory in the practice of bombastic overkill).

Star Trek (2009) is considered to be a reboot/origin story akin to "Batman Begins" (the best of that genre) or "Casino Royale" (which is a respectable second). It is actually an alternative history for the established series, branching off at a tangent from the familiar "time-line" established in the classic 1960s TV show (aka The One True Trek). This approach offers some intriguing dramatic possibilities, since it will allow the custodians of the franchise to put the characters into peril in ways the series had avoided until now. And as the events of the current film illustrate, there is no "reset button" in the new continuity. Cool.

Trek '09 is blessed with an astonishingly good pre-credit teaser sequence that is the most riveting 10-15 minutes I've ever experienced in a Star Trek film. The first act is nearly flawless as well, sketching out the main characters in bold strokes and (with one critical exception) some depth -- particularly Spock.

There is an abundance of honestly earned laughs solidly rooted in character, and a few silly but effective bits of near-slapstick. When the crisis descends, however, the laughs are savagely silenced by a catastrophe that is shocking on both personal and cosmic levels.

The second act loses both narrative momentum and emotional resonance, and the third builds to a pretty standard -- albeit exceptionally well-produced -- action-movie gotterdammerung: Lotsa stuff gets blowed up reeeeeeeeeeal good, the Bad Guy gets to bellow that he should have killed one of the Good Guys when he "had the chance," the skies alight with phaser and torpedo fire -- all of that good stuff.

We're even treated to the sight of huge cracks carving themselves into the Enterprise and fissures spider-webbing their way across the Bridge viewport (which is actually a large window in this version) as, for the first time, Scotty's Caledonian brogue rends the air with the soon-to-be familiar exclamation, "I'm givin' her all I can, Captain!"

As I said, this is all very entertaining, albeit rather heavy on cinematic empty calories.

You've probably noticed that I've said nothing about the plot. That's entirely intentional, I assure you. The story rests a bit too heavily on coincidence and exceptionally unsound pseudo-science. The biggest weakness in this vastly entertaining film, however, is the thinness of one characterization in particular, and it just happens to be the central one -- James T. Kirk.

Chris Pine is a splendid actor who does a heroic job taking a one-dimensional cari-Kirk-ture (sorry; I should have, but couldn't, resist) and making it likeable. He clearly has studied Shatner's work, and his performance displays consistency with Shatner's posture, body language, and subtle (yes, I used that word in proximity to "Shatner") eye movements.

There is one sequence in particular in which Pine seems to be channeling Shatner in a way that is neither caricature nor homage; it's simply a case of a talented young actor nailing a role. The problems with Kirk in this film are not Pine's fault; they all lie on the written page.

In writing Kirk, the people responsible for the screenplay seem to have had their keyboards set permanently to "cocky."

Sure, Kirk is both very impressive and quite impressed with himself. But he was also capable of profound self-doubt, which is why McCoy was so important to him. Yes, Kirk had a Hall-of-Fame batting average with the ladies; in this film, however, he suffers from something akin to Satyriasis. He's a horndog of such relentless appetites that we see him making a pass when he's got one foot in the grave -- and on another occasion, trying to hit on Uhura immediately after making out with her Academy roommate. This sort of behavior might have struck Bill Clinton as a bit improper.

Near the end of the film -- I won't say where, but if you see the film, you'll know where it is -- there's a huge missed opportunity for a truly Kirkian moment. What distinguished Kirk from other action heroes of his vintage was his principled commitment to peaceful solutions where possible, and humane treatment of defeated enemies where conflict is irrepressible. There is a feint in this direction in Trek '09, but the writers apparently decided to go for the high-yield "Ka-BOOM!" approach over an ending that would have been more dramatically satisfying and truer to Trek's worldview.

Pine's Kirk is engaging and a lot of fun, but it's hard to say that he -- unlike Spock, for instance -- was changed by the events of this story. He started out as a charismatic, cocky, talented, sometimes obnoxious young man, and ended the story as a charismatic, cocky, talented, sometimes obnoxious young man with greater responsibilities. Comparisons to Tom Cruise's character in "Top Gun" suggest themselves, but I think Lord Flasheart from the Blackadder series offers a better comparison.

Zachary Quinto's Spock is both written and acted splendidly. Karl Urban as McCoy was terrifyingly good; as was the case with his performance in "Comanche Moon," in which he played a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones' Capt. Woodrow Call, Urban simply inhabits this role.

A word or several must be said about the best performance in this film, which was offered by Bruce Greenwood as Christopher Pike. He plays a very different Pike from the one seen in "The Cage"; the earlier version was a young, grim, driven captain tormented by self-doubt and eager to escape the responsibilities of command.

Here, Greenwood plays Pike as an older, wiser captain who radiates confidence, competence, and calm courage. He has only a few brief moments at the helm of the Enterprise but Greenwood uses them to depict someone who belongs in the center seat -- someone to whom command authority comes naturally.

The characters are all in place at the end of the film, and the ensemble has signed on for two sequels. In case anyone connected to Paramount reads this review, I'm making it known that I've already written a treatment for a sequel; c'mon, won't you give a middle-aged Trek Dork a shot?

(Father & Son Reviews uses the four-star rating system, not the five-star or anything like that.)

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