[Star Trek (2009), released on DVD and Blu-Ray. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Written by Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman. This is a post-viewing review containing multiple spoilers, if for this movie, they can be called that.]
This movie, Star Trek, the 2009 remake, or new universe, or whatever. It’s not a very good movie. As the kids say, a lot of it sucks, especially the story. It’s fakey, lame. But it’s fun. I’ve watched it a half-dozen times. Sigh.
Nobody does trashy science fiction like Hollywood, although I’ll qualify that – television comes close, especially programs such as “Fringe.” Oh, wait – that’s a show created by Messrs. Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman. Same team of guys on this version of Star Trek. More on this as we go along.
Star Trek, the 2009 movie was released on DVD/Blu- Ray November 17, 2011 (in the USA), so I snapped up a copy and watched it twice. I first saw the movie in a theater when it came out. Back then I thought it was fun, mostly. I’ve never been a hard-core Trekker, but I know the canon. So I’m aware that there were probably two audiences for this movie – the old fans like me, and a new generation that hasn’t seen much more than Star Trek re-runs, if anything. That awareness makes it possible for me to understand why this movie’s prime makers – J.J. Abrams the director, and the two writers Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman – felt they had a mission to fulfill. It was not make both audiences happy, but to update the look and feel of Star Trek to match ‘modern expectations.’ In short, to make it more like Star Wars (or Fringe).
They say this explicitly in the ‘making-of’ short that’s included in the DVD. If the short is at all accurate, it reveals a high level of adulation for the auteur-director and a near fanatical obsession with the visuals of the movie. It’s easy to believe that story and character were located near the hind-tit of attention. Fortunately, the Star Trek creators are gifted and not stupid. This saves the movie from falling into the mindless boy’s twaddle of action movies like The Transformers and GI Joe.
Does this Star Trek make old fans happy? It does not. A quick trip into the Star Trek comments at IMDb reveals a consistent and striking level of vitriol, which can be summarized by: “This is a travesty!” (I’m using polite language.) Still, at IMDb the movie rates a very high 8.3 out of 10, so all those negative comments don’t seem to be dragging down the rating very much.
What is it about this remodeling of Star Trek that some people find so infuriating, and others don’t care or just flat out enjoy? Here’s a description from a couple of pivotal scenes:
Spock (Zachary Quinto), as acting Captain of the Enterprise, and Cadet Kirk (Chris Pine) have a disagreement that comes to violence about how to deal with the baddie of the story (a rogue Romulan named Nero, played by Eric Bana, who comes off like a talky Darth Maul). Kirk says go after him. Spock wants to rejoin the fleet. This is a young Spock, still obviously conflicted by being human-vulcan, so he reveals emotions. Spock orders Kirk, not to be put in the brig, but to be put off the ship. There is a nearby ice-moon with a Federation outpost on it; but Kirk isn’t transported to it. No, he’s launched in a pod-craft to crash land on the icy surface. Why? (You can already hear Trekkers muttering WTF?)
The icy surface looks like the ice-planet Hoth (from Star Wars); and there are two creatures that suddenly attack Kirk. One looks like the ice-world beast from Star Wars. The other is a big bright-red crab looking thing which makes a lot of threats with its enormous flapping mouth. No way could a huge exoskeleton creature exist on an ice-moon, but hey, science is also not a priority. Kirk runs into a convenient ice cave and is just about to be speared by the crab thing, when he is saved…by Spock, who happens to have a burning torch and scares off the creature.
No, not the young Spock, but Spock Prime. That’s the Mr. Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy, who has come back in time 129 years and happens to be in this ice cave with a warm fire and enough time to explain the whole scenario for the second half of the movie. Now one of the things most reviled by Trekkers, if not by science fiction aficionados in general, is time travel. All too often time travel is a mere plotting mechanism for lazy writers. In this case, it sets up an ‘alternate timeline’ – making it possible for the writers of this Star Trek to take the story and characters in just about any direction they damn well please. Right. Perhaps you can see why traditional Trekkers are offended, but new audiences might not find a problem.
I guess some folks have forgotten that the original Star Trek episodes (and most of the movies) have more than a few sloppy plots and implausible science. Nevertheless, this version of Star Trek has its story problems. The whole alternate timeline thing will probably confuse many people, and it makes the motivations of the time-traveling villain unclear to the point that even though Nero destroys the planet Vulcan, he’s not very compelling.
Forget the story (and yes, it is mostly forgettable). What counts most in this Star Trek are the visuals. They are, in a phrase, flaring phantasmagorical. Mere pyrotechnics doesn’t begin to cover the look of the many battle scenes. By using hand-held cameras (that shake all the time) and deliberately including optical flares at every opportunity, the look of Star Trek is about as swift and flashy as they come. The look will give some people a headache; but it’s definitely modern, outdoing even the prequel trilogy Star Wars. Much of the pacing is also dictated by the camera work, especially in the endless battle scenes leading to the end of the movie. Too much bombast for me, but then I’m an old fart.
For me, as a Trekker type, and old-school I-like-real-characters in movies, this version of Star Trek hovers near the edge of far too much style and too little substance. It gets saved by some attractive performances by Chris Pine (as Kirk), Zachary Quinto (as Spock), and Karl Urban (as Dr. McCoy). They anchor the emotional center of the movie, and though many of their lines too obviously echo their predecessors (Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley), they make the characters their own. I look forward to seeing what they can do in the sequel(s).
I have to admit it. Though this Star Trek is hardly a great movie; it’s no hardship to see it several times. Heck, it’s overdone, but it’s fun.
It’s easy to criticize the ‘science’ in this version of Star Trek (or any version for that matter) and many people do criticize by pointing out inconsistencies or downright goofy science – such as macrocosmic “red matter” that people extract with a hypodermic syringe. However, I think point by point criticism misses the mark.
As I’ve mentioned, the creators of this Star Trek were the main creative team behind “Fringe,” which if you’re not familiar with the series, was a long running Fox Network show that threw into the playbook every possible abnormal science from parallel universes to parapsychology. Similar to the X-Files before it, Fringe revels in weird, gore, eew factor and a vast compendium of pseudoscientific gobbledygook, in a wrapper with white lab coats and high technology.
What Fringe demonstrated, and is obviously carried into the Star Trek project, is the primacy of a dramatic and entertainment narrative. The three creators, obviously professional and at times inspired, really get off by stringing together a series of ‘science related’ events, most of them freakish. For the most part, they like a good story, with interesting characters and occasionally a patina of ‘meaning.’ Science is set dressing, at best. In fact, when building their stories with a scientific background, they just make shit up.
In the new Star Trek, there are many examples, but the most obvious is creating an alternate timeline, through a disturbance made by time travel (using a black hole). The alternate timeline, like the alternate universe in Fringe gives the storytellers license include to just about anything. As I mentioned, it can also make for lazy plotting, and for that, this version of Star Trek is a bad omen.
In any case, Star Trek (2009) has even less to do with science than the original series. Don’t look to this movie (or probably a series of movies) for scientific accuracy or inspiration. Even Star Wars and the original Star Treks inspired some scientists, because some of the science fiction was at least plausible. In this movie, and in the way the Abrams’ team goes about their storytelling, anything like real or even plausible science is a moot point. That, is pretty close to the ultimate science spoiler.