Because I’m somewhat of a complete-ist I’m finally going to weigh in on the latest Star Trek film.
So here’s the deal with this film. Good effects. Pretty good recasting. Slightly better production value than the TNG movies BUT a very lazy plot about nothing in particular, just re-hashing old Star Trek bits. In fact, it was a lot like The New Star Wars trilogy which spent close to eight hours belaboring and re-enacting what we already knew from a two minute summary Obi Wan gave Luke in Return of The Jedi about Anakin turning to the Dark Side. I have about as much interest in seeing Kirk as a young cadet as I did Anakin Skywalker as a seven year old boy. And with Star Trek, Shatner and all the past writers have done a fine job of coloring Kirk’s up-bringing, I can use my imagination to fill in the blanks about how he loved pancakes and sausage and played badminton with his Rigelian friends in the academy. The Star Wars Prequels showed me how pointless and tiresome it was to re-enact and flesh out Obi Wan’s summary in Jedi. I don’t need to see how Kirk won the Kobayashi Maru no win scenario (especially in the ham-fisted way JJ Abrams depicted his cheat. It was like, yeah, he simply and very obviously changed the conditions of the test, how did that get him his commendation for original thinking?) . I already know he’ll win. I already know that he’ll knock up Carol Marcus and have a son. There’s not a whole lot more I need to know about Kirk. If one reads Shatner’s Trek Movie Memoirs, Harve Bennett, when describing his 1990 Starfleet Academy script said, (I’m paraphrasing here)”my Starfleet Academy script showed how and why Kirk was unable to love another woman deeply.”
Uh. Well, while that notion is more than what Director JJ Abrams brought to the picture, the problem with this “Let’s go back to the younger years” thinking is that the original show and ST:TMP, without dwelling on it too much, (minus the endlessly long docking scene) already defined just who Kirk’s first love was: his ship. That’s pretty much all we need to know about Kirk going into any story. I personally, don’t need a prequel to show me how Kirk got that way. I really don’t care. I accept him as the ship loving man of action that he is.
And while I am a big fan of Shatner and Nimoy, I have no qualms about re-casting and starting fresh. I just don’t understand how fresh translates into “young and rebellious, before he was a Captain, he was James Freaking Dean!” I payed money to see Captain Kirk, and so, I gather, do JJ Abrams and his team since it took all of ten minutes on a starship for Kirk to achieve command status. The rumor on the internet was that Matt Damon was going to play Captain Kirk and I thought that was brilliant. Matt Damon’s a great actor who could be commanding and still bring a fresh vitality to the role. And yet, that was just a cruel rumor as it turns out. And JJ Abrams rubbed salt on the would by saying Damon was too old.
For one, that argument is illogical. Chris Pine was 28 when cast as Kirk, which makes him too damn young to be Captain and too old to be a cadet. Matt Damon’s like 37-38 which is just the age Shatner was when he was cast as Kirk. And since they were just itching to throw Kirk in the command chair of the Enterprise anyway, why not just have Kirk and Spock at the beginning or end of the five year voyage?
JJ’s only need for Starfleet Academy in the plot was to show Kirk’s cheesy victory of Kobayashi Maru and to show him screwing the green chick and those moments weren’t pertinent to the plot at all. Well, I guess to show how he went from a rebellious bar-brawler to one insanely lucky cadet.
Either the story’s about the academy years or it’s not. But JJ Trek is confused. They’re all young cadets who suddenly get promoted to First Officer and Captain with the snap of the finger. Did Pike leave Earth without a command crew? How did Spock end up as First Officer straight out of the academy?
Why couldn’t the writers simply start the movie off with Kirk in the command chair and it’s Year 4 of the five year mission?
“Captain’s Log: Stardate whatever, after 4 years of toil in outer space we’ve finally replaced the gas gauges on our computers with actual electronics and lens flare prone computer screens, so we’re more than ready to encounter anything that comes our way. And I feel young. Younger than ever. Oh no! Here comes Nero with his drills and missiles. We’re powerless to stop him!”
How would that plot be in any way different from what was presented? And we wouldn’t have wasted an entire hour sitting through back story that explained absolutely nothing about Kirk and Spock. “Oooh. So that’s how they met. At a trial that lasted five minutes before they were rushed into outer space for the mission of their lives where they proved themselves by just being at the right place at the right time and not by actually demonstrating any skill at solving problems.” (Hey, Spock my big rescue plan is for just the two of us to beam onto the Romulan ship and start shooting. BRILLIANT!” Let’s not use the life tracker thingy from the beginning of our own movie to see if Pike is alive. Let’s not use the whiz kid Chekov to beam him out even though he can beam up people in free fall about to slam into rocks, let’s just settle for the usual boring shoot outs, fisticuffs and implausibility. The big crusher from Kirk when he’s about to die at the hands of a Romulan. “I took your gun!” Zapppp! Very clever.)
I was like, “What’s the point of this? And are non-fans following? Or caring.” And it gets you sad that the non-fans did flock to the film and for whatever reason, liked it. And I’m thinking, “Couldn’t you goons just watch the old Star Trek and not be such ageists?” Because the old show was much better than this.
Speaking of what doesn’t work…the PLOT! So, this Romulan, a miner no less, not a military man, mind you, with what looks to be a perfectly beatable set of drills and missiles — especially when one factors in Starfleet’s warp drives and photon torpedoes– devastates half the fleet and destroys Vulcan. Um. That’s kinda convenient, isn’t it? And why again? Because Spock Prime (Ha! )couldn’t save his planet in time? So even though Spock gave our Romulan villain this time traveling red matter, our stupid villain can’t figure out how to use it? I’ve already picked on that crappy Star Trek Insurrection film where F. Murray Abraham’s big motivation to kill everyone was because he needed a facelift. I thought that was pretty weak. But in JJ Trek the villain is a REALLY REALLY under-motivated moron. He has the ability to travel through time. All he has to do is go forward in time himself and warn his planet of its impending doom and the movie is OVER!! (Oh, yes, sure, dorks, argue about how in the longer version, he ends up on the Klingon prison planet and all that, but again, once he gets his ship back, all he has to do is go forward in time with his Time Machine! — oh, but he can’t know when he’ll end up in time. Fine, then he waits for Spock and they’re best buddies so Spock can teach him how to manipulate time. But why is he mad at Spock? Spock’s trying to help him! I come from the school of thought that says, your villain has to be at least as smart as your heroes in order to be interesting. It’s not good writing to have someone act mean and crazy and stupid just for the heck of it.
A minor disappointment of the film was the musical score. I had high hopes that Michael Giacchino would bring the same 60’s sensibility that he brought to The Incredibles. He’s a very good composer and his scores for Incredibles, Ratatouille and Up are top notch. My hope was that he would adapt more of the old 60’s Star Trek music, not just the main theme, but Spock’s groovy Vulcan bass theme and any number of Enterprise themes, but for whatever reason, he wrote a main title theme that sounded to me like music for the death of Kirk’s Dad or long lost love, but didn’t capture the epic, adventurous nature of the character or series. And it didn’t mesh well with Alexander Courage’s theme at the end. That was surprising given the coolness and timelessness of his Incredibles score.
And, this film has the glaring fault that all the Star Trek movies have– except Wrath of Khan. Despite the advancements in CGI and make up technology, there are of cheesy aliens everywhere in corny make up. I really wish they’d just leave it at Vulcans and Romulans and Klingons. All other attempts are completely slapdash and gloopy looking and I always roll my eyes when they appear. TNG was the worst offender, but JJ Trek still had some dumb-looking aliens. Really, who thought of that irritating Ewok thingy for Scotty? That has to be an all time low.
Lastly, my biggest gripe was the film was yet another Star Trek film about Star Trek. That’s actually been the trend since Undiscovered Country, where the film maker’s pepper the film with various nods to the series and characters but don’t really write an original totally awesome Science fiction adventure. This film doesn’t just nod to the series it rests. It piggybacks. Nearly all the good lines are from other episodes and movies. And like I said before, I was surprised that the film was such a big hit with non-fans since it didn’t really offer anything all that different from the other ho-hum Star Trek movies.The movie had the veneer of being good and different, but it was just more of the same. If you’re going to do a “reboot” for the lovers of all things shiny, make the movie stand on its own without all the references to material that we’ve already seen. Otherwise, it’s hardly a reboot. It’s a redundancy.