Star Trek (2009)

May 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

Star Trek is the cockroach of science-fiction. I don’t mean for that to sound negative, I’m actually something of a fan. It’s just that if any science-fiction franchise is guaranteed to emerge again even if it hasn’t been seen for a while, it’s Trek, and the results over the years have been quite mixed.

As a child, I was so excited one of my favourite, very colourful shows was coming to the big screen with Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) that I typed up some details about it, glued on a photo of William Shatner, and stuck it to the fridge, compelled to make my own small contribution to marketing. Star Trek hadn’t been seen in ten years, since the cancellation of the original TV series, and the entire cast was reuniting for the film. I was a little confused by what I eventually saw, a film that looked great, had an impressive soundtrack, but told a slow-moving, carefully crafted story about growth. The invading entity wasn’t destroyed at the end, as much as helped along an evolutionary path, and Spock finds himself, finally balancing his two conflicting human and Vulcan sides, even going so far as to press Kirk’s hand and state “logic and knowledge are not enough.”  The man from a culture that finds displays of emotion distasteful finally learns that it isn’t about repression, it’s about balance, and there are appropriate and logical times to be expressive. During the TV series, Nimoy had portrayed the character as barely able to speak about personal matters, but in the next Trek film he’d portray the character as much more comfortable in his own skin.

The film has a five minute sequence of Kirk admiring the newly redesigned Enterprise, as well as several long sequences of the Enterprise pushing through the invading entity, yet remains one of the higher grossing Trek films, because people were so curious to see Trek reborn, and that’s a tremendous advantage. It’s a good film if you accept that it unfolds like some kind space opera: it looks and sounds great, but is also fairly static.

Stop reading here if you don’t want any spoilers or plot details on the new Trek film.

Thirty years later in 2009 (and of course, after various spin-offs to original Trek have all exhausted themselves), a 78 year old Leonard Nimoy is the only original cast member who returns in the reboot of the franchise. The casting choices are excellent, the action sequences and effects impressive, but I do think the old characters are tossed out the airlock in favour of the high-powered entertainment on offer here. The young Spock beats the living daylights out of not one but two people, and doesn’t seem to mind kissing Uhura in front of at least three others. Kirk is confidence personified, when a frontier commander would undoubtedly require other qualities like diplomacy. Scotty is relentlessly chipper, and hangs out with something left over from a Star Wars film that’s fond of crouching on the equipment. Oddly, only a couple of the minor characters who traditionally had little to do emerge as more interesting: Sulu is both smart and capable, and Uhura seems like a remarkable woman who is smart, capable and compassionate. It’s all so relentlessly entertaining it’s easy to forget it isn’t actually about anything — the plot involves a Romulan from the future who rewrites history in his quest for vengeance, so that Kirk doesn’t need to be a character who quickly moves up through the ranks in a variety of assignments, he just needs to kick ass his first time out in space. Even the bridge of the Enterprise is as white as a tennis shoe, as if to emphasize the fresh new start.

I know what you’re thinking — it’s a summer film, and I’m missing the point. Probably true. I’m actually sincerely glad it has been a success, because we’ll get to see more, and hopefully something with a little more substance (I can almost see Leonard Nimoy watching this first film and saying “Well, this is what the kids want these days”), but I do wonder how successful the next film will be with that curiousity factor gone (everyone has already seen what these new actors are like in the roles) and I wonder what they’ll do, given that they’ve provided the two main characters with tidy new origin stories that don’t seem to require a whole lot more. Spock is a tortured and lonely character — no wait, he’s smooching with Uhura! Finally, the next film will have to actually be about something, or it’s simply more of the same. This is probably the irreverent, smashingly exciting rebirth the franchise needed, and I enjoyed seeing these beloved characters given a new lease on life — I just hope it’s a reborn franchise that manages to eventually have something to say.


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