Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Review: Star Trek

Star Trek (2009)

I've never been a Star Trek fan. True, I've seen the original episodes so often that I can recite the dialogue a split second beforehand, but that's only because I grew up in an era that suffered from a sci-fi deficit so severe that I watched anything even tangentially to do with the genre. Since Star Trek seemed to be what the BBC and every other broadcaster fell back on, it was either that or repeats of I Love Lucy. I will admit that I enjoyed the original. It was space opera, derivative of all the other science fiction that came before, and an only recently acknowledged rip-off of Forbidden Planet, but in the 1960s, that was a positive boon. Furthermore, it was the first space opera with a decent budget aimed at a family audience rather than the under-twelve horde. Though the third series stank to high heaven, the first two marked a real high point for American television and the fan reaction had a huge effect on popular culture–a crime for which Roddenberry was never brought to justice.

I've always been very open about the later incarnations; looking forward to each one with a genuine hope that it would recapture the spirit of the original. However, with the exception of the animated series and the second film, they all turned out to be as disappointing as discovering that this month's Playboy centrefold is Gordon Brown. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by the newest film, called simply Star Trek, and must admit that it is a very good popcorn movie. J J Abrams, who ranks as my 378,465th favourite director, had the good sense to essentially jettison the entire franchise to date and start over again with the '60s series updated for modern times with a story about the first gathering of the original Enterprise crew. It was a controversial, but in the end wise decision, since the franchise up until now has been so lumbered with a bulging continuity and the results of two generations of timid writers and producers stamping on anything conducive to good storytelling that making any plot move at more than a snails pace would have involved gelignite.

How much you enjoy Star Trek depends on how forgiving you are, becauseAbrams clearly has no understanding of internal logic, much less plausibility. If you treat the film as a roller coaster ride, you'll enjoy one of the most entertaining action movies of the year. However, after the house lights come up, you have to have a lot of tolerance for what is called "'fridge logic". That's the sort of cinema logic that allows you to accept that Cary Grant is in real danger by being chased across an empty field by a biplane, but when you're getting a snack in the refrigerator at 2 AM the scene comes back to you and you realise how ridiculous it is. That's pretty much this movie. There are plot holes so large that you could shove the Death Star through and Abrams focuses so closely on interpersonal relationships that an act of planet-scale genocide gets kicked to the B list of thing to do against the question of will Kirk and Spock end up friends, but everything moves so fast that you don't get a chance to notice it until a couple of hours after the credits role. I was willing to put up with a bit of science involving a supernova threatening to destroy the galaxy that was so stupid that my brain wouldn't process it. I was even willing to believe that Spock, with the rank of Commander, was having an open affair with Uhura, who is only a cadet, despite the fact that such a liaison is a major court martial offence. However, it's axiomatic that while the impossible can be believed, the implausible cannot, so one of the few bits of rubbish that broke my suspension of disbelief while I was in the cinema was Uhura leaving her post whenever she felt like it. Though I shouldn't be so harsh, since the Star Trek series has always suffered from a maddening lack of understanding or curiosity about how a quasi-naval service would actually work (does no one care what a flagship is?), in sharp contrast to the vastly superior Horatio Hornblower book series and its moving image incarnations that had the good sense to make the exotic life aboard a Royal Navy ship during the Napoleonic wars a major part of its attraction.

But so long as you take it on its own terms, Star Trek is a winner. It looks beautiful, this Kirk can actually act without chewing the Captain's chair to bits, the story telling is very economical with the plot points established in good order, the unlikelihood of so many characters whose ages span from 17 to about the mid-30s all being in the same place is neatly explained without being laboured to death, the dialogue is snappy, the plot moves along nicely with only a couple of sentimental stumbling blocks, and there's even a Red Shirt who meets his inevitable fate.

The cast also does a solid job with Christopher Pine and Zachary Quinto giving a rendition of Kirk and Spock that are true to the characters without imitating the original actors, Karl Urban does a very good McCoy and when he snarls his line explaining how his divorce forced him to become a thirtysomething cadet, you believe it. Zoe Saldana is a credibly sexy Uhura, though, like all the younger cast members, she lacks gravitas. And, not surprisingly, Simon Pegg, carries off Scotty in a perfectly created bit of comic relief that reimagines the wonder engineer as an insane genius forever shouting at his alien sidekick to "Get down off of there!" Oddly enough, the only poor performance is from Leonard Nimoy, whose Mr. Spock seems to have gone to the well once too often.

Not surprsingly, Star Trek has had a good weekend, pulling in $ 75.6 million, which is well above expectations, so a sequel is only going to be prevented by a Klingon invasion. Though apparently, even they seem to have liked it.


Reposted from Ephemeral Isle.

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