I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a Trekkie but I’m not averse to occasionally watching an episode or two of the original Star Trek series. The effects are amazingly awful, there’s Tribbles which I just want to pet all day long and pretty much anything that has William Shatner in is automatically so bad it’s good. Plus my Politics teacher and The West Wing had my convinced that had lofty lefty liberal ideas at its core:
I wasn’t particularly driven to watching the new (well, 2009) film but it seemed like a reasonable thing to stick on while lazing about the other day, especially as we were having trouble agreeing on choosing anything else to see. I wasn’t expecting it to be amazing, I wasn’t even expecting it to all necessarily make perfect sense to me, but I also wasn’t expecting it to be appallingly awful.
It’s some serious Fan Death material. Maybe the fact that it’s directed by JJ Abrams should’ve tipped me off, Miss Barista is suspicious of him with good reason.
First off the film is set in an alternative reality, which I suppose neatly sidesteps the issue of canon consistency, but it’s a reboot, it doesn’t have to mesh perfectly with previous versions. Instead this story- and I suppose the inevitable sequels- seem to exist in a bubble, with no relevance to the original Star Trek and I can’t really understand what the point of it is.
It’s also irritatingly schmaltzy about family. The story starts with James T Kirk’s father, George (Chris Hemsworth), dying heroically as his (very) pregnant wife gives birth. First off this is portrayed in a way that’s obviously supposed to tug at the heartstrings- but since we’ve only just met the characters we have essentially no emotional attachment to them. Secondly his wife is played by Jennifer Morrison (House), possibly the most irritating actress in the entire world who is currently being hated by How I Met Your Mother fans as Zoey. Why is she in things?
Thirdly, George Kirk was apparently only captain of the ship for twelve minutes before the ship explodes- yet his wife has time to give birth after being evacuated, and they have time to discuss names on the phone. I’m not saying that all the science in sci-fi needs to be completely plausible, but it would be nice if there was some plausibility somewhere in the story.
In the same vein Spock (Zachary Quinto) as portrayed as suitably Vulcan in his emotions until someone talks about his momma. The only problem is that Winona Ryder who plays her is a mere six years older than him! Does she look old enough to be playing his mother? And does anyone else want to smack the casting director?
I did think that Quinto was quite good casting for Spock- he does physically resemble a young Leonard Nimoy. However it is rather a challenge to portray a character who is constantly attempting to suppress his emotions, and I do think that Quinto was much more fun as the villainous Sylar in Heroes.
The plot of the film is essentially an origins tale- it’s a story about how the gang gets together. And while I have quite a soft spot for these kind of stories, with the deluge of similar superhero films over the last few years it’s starting to get a bit old. Star Trek had an opportunity to do something different, the characters are already established and familiar and it would have been relatively easy to thrust us straight into a self-contained story.
Instead we are introduced to all the characters, albeit slightly younger than they were in the show. Again this might have been more interesting if it wasn’t an alternative timeline with negligible relation to the familiar versions of the characters. Kirk (Chris Pine) is presented as a James Dean-esque rebel without a cause, which he does pretty well, but it’s nowhere near as fun as Shatner’s hammy version of the character.
We’re introduced to adult Kirk stealing a car which is all fun and games, but the fact that he’s driving a Corvette and listening to the Beastie Boys seems a bit anachronistically jarring given that he’s picked up by a flying police vehicle. After a bar fight Kirk’s convinced to join Starfleet by a rather nebulous argument from Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) about his father’s awesomeness. He becomes besties with McCoy (Karl Urban), who seems to be a doctor-cum-soldier rather than a recent medicine grad about to become a ship’s doctor, which would make more sense. Still, he was probably my favourite thing about the film- even if noone was calling him Bones.
Zoe Saldana (probably the breakout star, as she went on to appear as Neytiri in Avatar) plays Uhura, looking suspiciously ’60s for someone in the year 2233. More ridiculous was her roommate Gaila (Rachel Nichols) who was supposed to be an Orion cadet. She was so obviously painted green that it looked more like some kind of sorority hazing rather than her skin.
Also if you have Rachel Nichols in your movie, you should make use of her and save the badly painted cameos for the Jennifer Morrisons of the world. The team’s rounded off by Sulu played John Cho (American Pie; Harold and Kumar) in a more serious role than usual and Anthony Yelchin with a ridiculous pseudo-Russian accent as Chekhov.
The main thrust of the story is that Kirk’s disciplinary for cheating at Spock’s test is interrupted by a distress call from Vulcan. The way the scene happens makes it obvious that Kirk’s going to come back a hero and be lauded by the exact same people now attacking him. He sneaks onto the Enterprise with McCoy’s help (and poison) and the gang take to the skies with the same Captain Pike who convinced him to join Starfleet.
Kirk realises that the electrical storms the Vulcans are reporting are the same as the one that occurred before his father’s death, it seems a bit odd that noone else- including Pike- put this together. Anyway he manages to prevent Pike walking unarmed into the same trap as the one that led Captain Robau (Faran Tahir), captain of the ship his father briefly captained and then died on, to his demise. It’s literally the same trap- because it’s the same Romulan, Nero (Eric Bana). You can tell he’s the bad guy, he looks shifty and has facial tattoos.
Anyway Pike surrenders himself, Spock assumes charge, Vulcan is destroyed and Kirk ends up marooned on an icy planet for disobeying Spock. Whilst abandoned he meets a Mysterious Stranger who assures him that he and Spock should be friends. Unsurprisingly this anonymous Vulcan turns out to future-Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy). He and Nero were caught up in a blackhole and travelled through time. I don’t want to dwell on the preposterous science or the ridiculous nature of Nero’s villainy (MY WIFE DIED, SO I HAVE TO RUIN THE LIVES OF EVERYONE IN THE PAST, SHUT UP THAT’S TOTALLY A VALID MOTIVATION).
My main gripe is with the way in which the audience is cheated out of the actual development of friendship between Kirk and Spock. Instead of seeing them learn to stop antagonising each other and work together, future-Spock acts as a Deus ex machina. He tells Kirk that they have to work together, so they do. It’s incredibly unsatisfying. Their relationship is one of the important tenets of the original television series, Spock’s emphasis on logic a counterpoint to Kirk’s impulsiveness. They balance each other out nicely and always look out for each other. Hell, Kirk/Spock fanfiction is heralded as the genesis of slash fiction, it’s clearly an important relationship! In addition to the woeful lack of meaningful interaction between the two, Spock actually appears to be dating Uhura- a decidedly uncharacteristic move.
Kirk and future-Spock helpfully stumble across Scotty (Simon Pegg). Pegg’s performance was relatively enjoyable- if a little over the top- but his weird alien helper seemed completely pointless. Scotty manages to beam them all to the Enterprise- except the alien Keenser who nevertheless turns up later onboard. Kirk does what future-Spock ordered him to do- instead of imparting any of his useful knowledge he goads Spock into a fight and gets him to declare himself too emotional to function. Everything works out fine, they rescue Captain Pike, destroy Nero’s ship and so forth, and return home for Kirk to be predictably lauded.
It turns out that all of future-Spock’s waffling about how Kirk can’t tell now-Spock about his presence was complete nonsense too. And future-Spock doesn’t even attempt to return to his proper time, just sticks around to colonise a new planet for the displaced Vulcans (which if you ask me sounds like a political nightmare, think post-World War II Israel). To top it all off, Spock seems completely happy with volunteering to be Kirk’s second in command, which seems pretty unlikely. The whole plot makes very little sense- and the time travel on top of the alternative timeline premise seems downright ridiculous. What’s more the fact that it’s not the world of the television show (precisely because it’s an alterna-reality) makes it harder to care. Kirk’s dad didn’t really die, Vulcan didn’t really blow up, Leonard Nimoy didn’t really age that badly- this is all just a thought experiment. And the fact that it takes the entire bloody film for anyone to get around to the “where no man has gone before” monologue which was normally at the beginning of every episode is a perfect illustration of how pointless the film is. It’s a essentially a prequel that doesn’t bother to concern itself with canon. If there are sequels are they merely going to be an alternative version of the show with more silly plotting? (WE TIME TRAVELLED COS OF A BLACKHOLE. FURTHER EXPLANATION IS FOR PUSSIES.)
I only wish the part where I watched this film was an alternative timeline that I could forget. I’m going to go listen to some William Shatner to cheer myself up.