Sunday, May 03, 2009

Dammit Spock I'm a doctor not a physicist!

I'm going to write up a short, spoiler-free review of "Star Trek" which my oldest and I were lucky enough to see yesterday at a local critic's screening.

Let's tackle the two big questions right out of the gate. Was the movie any good and was the movie true to the Trek universe that's built up over the last forty years?

The answer to the first question from myself and my daughter is an empathetic "hell yeah, this movie rocks!" This is everything a summer movie should be (action, humor) and more. That "more" is actually character development and personal stakes for each of the principles, which is a rarity is big studio pictures these days.

It was almost shocking to see these real dramatic stakes in a film like this, where Paramount studios has so much riding on the revival of this golden franchise. The safer road would have been to ignore the characters and hope you can fake out the audience by drowning the film in action. To his credit that's not the road JJ Abrams takes here. I've read chatter on movie boards that compare this movie to last summer's "Iron Man" to that extent. It does sort of have that Iron Man vibe where it's a lot "meatier" of a film than you expect.

As to whether the movie is true to the Trek universe, well, you're just going to have to decide for yourself. This is not the Battlestar Galactica-style re-imagining/ reboot of Star Trek that people have been talking about. It's difficult to describe what this is, but it's more along the lines of some sort of surreal dream featuring characters those of us who loved the original Trek are probably a little more than a little familiar with than we should be.

A friend who I love recently shared his dread that this movie would be bad to the feeling he got from "Phantom Menace." After seeing this film I'd say this was a light years better film but I do think there is something that can be gleaned from comparing the two franchises. One of the worst sins of many that Lucas committed with the prequel triology in my estimation was that he took a universe that was as expansive as your imagination, full of limitless possibility and shrunk it down to only a few planets and a few characters who implausibly crossed paths again and again. Lucas made his fictional universe smaller.

The thing I love about this movie is it takes the Star Trek universe, a universe which had become calcified over the last couple of decades, and expands it once again. The stories that can take place after this film are as limitless as the imagination. I love Trek, but Trek canon is choking the universe to death. JJ Abrams and his writers have revived Gene Roddenberry's Trek so that it can breathe again.

And make no mistake about it - Gene Roddenberry's spirit is intertwined through this movie. His optimism, his characters, his humanism and his vision of a future where we can solve problems through sheer force of will are all here. The body may look different but the heart is the same.

Foremost among these are the relationship between Chris Pine's Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto's Spock. Getting this relationship right was probably the most difficult challenge Abrams and company faced. Besides the original show there have been thousands of books, short stories and even slash fiction written about this friendship.

I'm happy to say that they don't only get this relationship right but every other character from the classic series. I expected to like Simon Pegg's Scotty going into the film but was surprised at how much I also enjoyed Anton Yelchin's Chekov and Karl Urban's McCoy (the latter seemed to be channelling DeForest Kelley.) Leanord Nimoy is wonderful, of course.

My biggest criticism of the movie: I hate the new interiors of the new Enterprise. The bridge is ridiculous, especially the touch screen wall computers behind the Captain's chair. It's not a good thing that the bridge reminds me of "Galaxy Quest," even though that movie in itself is wonderful.

Most of all I despise the new engine room with all it's pipes, cooling tanks and gauges. Tell me if you don't feel like they shot these scenes in a brewery. There's a horrible low-budget film called "Space Mutiny" which Mystery Science Theater tore apart a few years back that utilized an abandoned factory doubling as the engine room of a big ship in space. I couldn't get that movie out of my head every time they showed the engine room.

One other minor problem I had with the film was the score. It was probably better than average for an action movie but one thing it didn't do was utilize all of that wonderful music written for the original series by Alexander Courage and other composers. How cool would it have been if that fight music from the show worked it's way into a fist fight, or the weird Vulcan tune played when they showed that planet? The theme music from the series isn't the only memorable tune.

But in the end these are minor quibbles because Abrams gets the characters so right. I can forgive a goofy looking engine room set if it's got a believable Scotty standing in it yelling "I'm giv'n it all she's got, captain!" I can't wait to see this movie again and hope that sequels will be coming. Star Trek is back. It's been away too long.


Don Snabulus said...

Then I shall see it. Great non-spoiler review!

Anonymous said... shower scene?

Ubermilf said...

A shower scene with Simon Pegg????

Lockwood said...

Sounds great! I'm especially heartened by your comments that this made the Star Trek Universe bigger rather than more constricted. I had also wondered about how they would handle the conflict between the primitive and minimalist (to be kind) sets of TOS with a presumably earlier, more primitive Enterprise, set against the demands of modern audiences for sophisticated, high-tech sets. From the engine room comments, I guess this didn't work out so well. But I think this might be a no-win situation.

Arkonbey said...

universe... full of limitless possibility and shrunk it down to only a few planets and a few characters who implausibly crossed paths again and againcall me strange, but that is the deal breaker for me. The USCG has only 38,000 people. Some guys from boot camp accompanied me to my first unit and then I never saw them again. I later met only one other friend from that first unit, but he was on a ship based near my airsta.

The Federation would, in theory, have many, many, many times more personnel and units. Spock and Kirk may have been able to cross paths. I could certainly accept taht, but the ENTIRE FLIPPING TOS 'HERO' CREW? I can accept warp drive, I can even accept Cdr. Riker turning down a command (and destroying his career) to serve with Picard, but that is a deal-breaker for me. Maybe on a rent-two-get-one-free night at the video store.

Mauigirl said...

Great review, thanks so much for allaying my fears. Of course I was going to go see it anyway but now I can go with a light heart and no dread! That was what I was most worried about - that the Gene Roddenberry vision would not be there. And it sounds as if, if anything, it's more "there" than it was in some of the more recent series. The other piece is the relationships - so glad those are right too. I can live with a cheesy or unrealistic set - isn't that what TOS had anyway? ;-)

As for the coincidence of them all meeting up - remember, there is a theory, that time has currents and a river...and the currents in time can bring people together! (poorly misquoted from "City on the Edge of Forever").

ladybug said...

That's great...I always had a good feeling about the movie (from the few trailers I saw) and now I know why!

We'll definitely be seeing this movie!

Dean Wormer said...


Thanks. Let me know what you think.


Alas, that remains the province of Starship Troopers.


Sorry, Simon doesn't get nekkid. But he does steal every scene he's in.


Yeah, that was on my mind as well. It may not bug other people as much as it did me. Maybe it was the chrome finish on the tanks, I dunno. It was clear that a decision was made to make the sets inside the ship BIG, it's just what they filled those big empty spaces with that's annoying.


Essentially they're all in Starfleet Academy together (Spock is an instructor) so it's not that unbelievable that they wind up together when called into service. As I mentioned this new universe is the same, yet different in subtle and not so subtle ways but the one thing they decided not to mess with (wisely in my estimation) was the crew.


I would love to hear what you think of this flick when you see it.

The thing with the sets that bugged me was that they weren't cheesy enough, if that makes sense. They tried to make them look realistic.

As for "City on the Edge of Forever" that's a great quote. There's a message in that episode of classic Trek for those Trek fans who are resisting change.


Let me know what you think.

Arkonbey said...

I don't have a problem with them being together in this film (it does make sense). It's just the odds of them ALL serving together later (TOS) are, if you'll pardon me, astronomical.

Post-New Caprica BSG, JJA's Star Trek, what can we disagree on next? "Moon"? "District 9"?

mwb said...

"The bridge is ridiculous, especially the touch screen wall computers behind the Captain's chair."

So it's the new iEnterprise from Apple? ;-)

I'm probably going to wait to see it, but I will see it.

And, yes I've returned from my exile from all things 'net. *waves*

Dean Wormer said...


Fair enough.

How about the new Doctor Who? That kid with the hair looks ridiculous. :-)

District 9 looks interesting if not somewhat of a ripoff of Alien Nation. I enjoyed that movie and show quite a bit.

Also - what do you think of Moon?


Welcome back. I must away to your site, forthwith.

Arkonbey said...

Haven't seen the new Doctor. Don't have cable so I mooch off of a friend.

It does look like an AN rip. I wonder if they can pull it off. I'll rent it as the "Frontline episode' feel would play better on the small screen.

I am SO seeing moon. It's the first sci-fi film in a long time that feels like a golden age short tory.

btw. Just read a review where they quoted Mr. Nimoy as liking it. Who am I to doubt Spock?

Randal Graves said...

I now feel much better since your spot-on critique of Lucas's shrinking world is what I was afraid of with this. Since that isn't a problem, I can now stimulate the economy with ticket purchases.

Dean Wormer said...


I'm actually in on both of those flicks as well. Moon looks really freaky/ interesting.

Was that Nimoy quote for "Moon?"


I think it's worth the $

Arkonbey said...

oh. not the Nimoy quote was for Star Trek. Sorry, I was writing quickly at work ;)

Dr. Zaius said...

I like your usage of the word "calcified". Very descriptive of what has become Star Trek Dogma.

Were there any Gorns in it? I like Gorns.

Dean Wormer said...


Ah, well of couse he liked it. He was in the darn thing.


No gorns but there may be a tribble. I missed it but it's supposedly visible in one of the first scenes with Scotty.

Unknown said...

I agree about the engine rooms, and yeah, actually, it WAS filmed in a brewery. For real. Budweiser's, I think.