Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Star Trek

(warning: mild spoilers)

I enjoyed Star Trek. Watching the endless previews, I expected a big dumb summer blockbuster, full of explosions as hollow as the film's meaning, one that would abandon the rich subtext and ambitious social dialogue that the original series often (but not always) aspired to. And that's pretty much what Star Trek is, but it is so well done that I didn't care.

I liked The Next Generation, couldn't care less about Deep Space Nine, avoided Voyager, and was bored by Enterprise, but I've never considered any of them a worthy successor to the Original Series. Whereas TOS was a space western where JFK-like figures civilized the final frontier with equal parts brain and brawn, TNG and the others were tech-obsessed project managers solving the problem of the week by sitting around a conference table and technobabbling the episode to a conclusion. These shows shared in Roddenberry's vision of the future as a secular utopia, but they were bloodless and had none of the vibrant earthiness of TOS. As an origin story, Star Trek has yet to show that it heeds to Roddenberry's ethos, but it certainly brought back the gutsy bravado of TOS.

Now, the movie is far from perfect, though I think the reviews have made a little too much of the plot holes supposedly endemic to the plot. It makes sense for the narrative for certain characters to be placed in certain situation, but it takes a big suspension-of-disbelief for the narrative to flow the way it does. That said, the weakest part for me was that which so many folks (including my wife) enjoyed the most: all the connections between TOS and the movie. The quotes throwing back to the old days got a bit cheesy, and the appearances of Leonard Nimoy as Old-Spock did more to jar the story than to really connect it back to anything positive.

The film was really going to stand-or-fall on its cast, and both Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto delivered hard as Kirk and Spock. Quinto made me remember why I liked him as Sylar in the first season of Heroes (and thus forget how much I've loathed him in every season since), and Pine perfectly captured the likeability and swagger of the smirking Kirk. What Pine didn't capture was the hypercompetent masculinity of the serious Kirk, which can be forgiven this time as the whole film is about how rebel alt-Kirk grows back into the Kirk of TOS. It won't be forgiven if that growth isn't complete when Star Trek 2 rolls into theaters some future summer, nor will it be kosher if the sequel(s) don't move beyond the subtext-free nature of the origin story and start to explore the future while melding Roddenberry's ethos with modern storytelling.

Star Trek is nowhere near the best Star Trek film ever made, a nod that goes to Wrath of Khan, but then it simply can't be, as Khan had years of dramatic background that earned its story. We're just getting introduced to these characters in Star Trek, so there's no such background to call upon. Yet, that Abrams and crew made me feel that these characters were that new is an accomplishment in its own right. Star Trek is fun and exciting, but it is also a fresh start, and I am very interested to see where it's going to go from here.

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