May 16, 2009

Bolding Going Where Trek Has Sucked Before...

So I finally broke down today, and saw the new Star Trek.

I had been reluctant to go for two big reasons. Well one reason and a suspected byproduct of that reason.

J.J. Abrams. I have yet to see a production of his that hasn't infuriated or disappointed me (Trek as you'll see is no exception but it ALMOST wasn't).

Most of the time I get annoyed by his claiming great imagination over his audience, but in reality it is just him not bothering to present key information, and thus we're left with only part of a plot or story (LOST and MI3 for example... "Oh I'm so clever, cause I know the secret and the viewers don't").

I'm sorry, but that is not imagination or cleverness J. J. that is called lazy and hack cheating. A good writer (like Joss Wheadon for example) puts the clever imaginative twist in plain sight, and keeps the audience from seeing it TILL a key moment. Abrams doesn't bothering showing it all typically, leading many (such as myself) to believe he is actually just making it all up as he goes or not knowing at all.

Not only was I worried immediately upon hearing of his attachment to the Trek reboot, but also JJ's declaration that he was not a Trek fan but rather a Wars fan. Now Wars has long been a dead franchise in my eyes, due to the destructive exploits of Lucas in 1999 up to the present. I was really worried Trek was heading down this road too. More to the point I couldn't see why J. J. couldn't just make a new Wars film. Trek and Wars are and should always be very different entities. Diversity is a strength not a weakness.

Well the good news is this was not a total Warsification of Trek.

I in fact nearly enjoyed the film. That is until, funny enough till, they pulled a blunder move of a VERY Trek variety. One that surprised me, but I'll tell you about that when I get there.

So my take on the new Trek movie (don't you love this pic, I had to use it in this post... even if there is no reason other then it is cool as).

On the surface it is shiny and visual stunning movie. Though as they spent 3 times as much making this film as any other single production of Trek, you'd hope it'd look as good or better.

They did succeed on this front, and I was always pleased with the visuals (though my head was hurt by the quality of the effects... but this is normal for a good film... if my head's not hurting that means the effects suck. As I can make them... I'm looking at you The Core!)

As a BIG Starship fan, the majority of the ships were flashy and pretty, and pleased me very greatly.

I loved the new look for the Enterprise, and she is among my favourites of the Enterprise lineage (even if this was a remodelling of the A model). The other Starfleet ships we get to see (sadly usually fleeting shots) were equally pleasing (and very Starfleet Battles). There were even some beautiful Klingon D7s the Kobayashi Maru simulator (though why they called them Klingon warbirds is beyond me?!?), which was my favourite of the little touches.

The interior sets for the Enterprise, Earth, and Vulcan were all perfect and made the Trek universe look as impressive as the previous shows had attempted to imply (with their fraction of a budget).

Sadly Nero and his renegade mining ship didn't quite accomplish this.

They would have fit more in a Star Wars movie, as yes they looked "impressive", but they had no feel of functionality or realism. Something I associate with Star Wars. From the unfathomably complicated spikiness of Narada mining ship, which was so over the top (much like the Reman ship from Nemisis) and couldn't be comphrended when looked at. To its hallow interior connected by railess bridges?!?

One thing about Trek I've always liked is that things tend to feel plausible (even if not really). In Wars it is often the opposite, they solely exist to make for cool action scenes (but if you thought about them would be dangerous in everyday use!)...

The first half of the film was by far the superior, and up until the "jump the [ice] shark" moment, I was starting to dig the new film version, and wondered if I was going to have to admit I was wrong. Sadly I was right in the end, but I'll get there.

The new feel of the Enterprise and Starfleet was very welcome. It was slightly more military, but yet rooted in a Trek philosophy (the quote from the movie "Starfleet serves as a peace keeping, humanitarian, and exploration force of the Federation" struck the right balance I felt).

In fact, it was right on the mark of my teenage favourite incarnation of Trek, Star Fleet Battles. This was a board game created in the dead period of Trek back in the 1970's. They redid the original series universe as a slightly more conflicted and militarized place. One that the new movie mirrored very well, especially during the mobilization of the task force in the beginning of the film.
The character development of many of the mains was fantastic, and long needed. Unlike any other branch of Trek the original series crew never really had their back stories fleshed out (other then in Trek 5, and that's best forgotten). Considering this was supposed to be an altered reality, I thought Kirk's origin in this film as a troubled fatherless kid worked better then, the implication later on in the movie "normal" Shatner Kirk had a loving supportive dad.

The character interaction in the first half were really compelling, and I enjoyed how Kirk didn't really endear himself to anyone but McCoy.

The action in the this first act were also amazing. The crew's entire (mis)adventure around Vulcan was easily the highlight of the movie.

Right after the clear ending of act 1 I sat in my seat thinking "wow this new movie is great!", but sadly the feeling was stripped away from me quickly.

One of the best character interactions of the film sadly concludes with the film falling to pieces. Kirk and Spock have a great argument about how to solve the huge stellar threat. A character confrontation that draws in all the other characters.

This extreme tension between Spock and Kirk had huge potential I thought, and would be fun to see played out and be resolved I thought. Sadly we were delivered a HUGE cheat, but not in a typical Abram's style...
The conclusion of the Kirk vs. Spock argument had me nearly scream like Shatner...

Rather then get a great character driven second half of Kirk and Spock have to work out their differences and learn to be friends... Spock (acting captain over Kirk as acting first officer) orders the crew to "Get him off my ship"... to which you think to the brig right Spock?

No suddenly Kirk is shot out of the ship in an escape pod (no explanation... straight from the 'get off my ship" line. to a Enterprise floating in space shot with a pod suddenly shooting off the side). Here the pod crash lands in the middle of... well essentially Hoth... and Kirk has to wander 14kms to an "outpost". Is that cool with the regulations Spock? Ironic as the argument was Kirk not wanting to follow the rules...
A minute into his wandering the snowy abyss suddenly he is chased by a Wampa... er sorry a... 4 legged 4 eyed subspecies of Wampa which within seconds is eaten by a red ice monster (why red?!?)... which I shall call the Ice Shark. At which point the film jumps the shark (literally once if I recall correctly. Kirk tumbles over it at one point).

Kirk in the end is saved by none other then Leonard Nimoy, and this is where the movie begins to ROYALLY SUCK!
Now based on everyone I talked to, and a few reviews it was Nero and his villainous plot that were the weak link in the film. However in reality it is Leonard Nimoy as future Spock who really kills the film
Sure Nero is pretty cardboard, and a lame rehash of the Voyager 2 parter Year of Hell (one of the few good episodes of Voyager), but he in the end served the purpose of being a problem for the Enterprise to stomp on.
Nimoy on the other hand is a film wrecker. The brilliant Kirk Spock conflict proceeds to be resolved by future Spock basically telling them they have to kiss and make up because that's how it has always been... KHANNNN... no wait... SPOCKKKKKKK!
Seriously the second half of the film ends up being future Spock centric (despite his only being in 10 minutes of the film really) with everything revolving around future Spock and his future ship. This was bad enough, but Nimoy's presence destroys all the potential beautiful subtle highlights of the latter end of the film. Including stealing the triumph from Scotty's triumphant debut, due to Nimoy ending up becoming the miracle and Scotty merely his worker.
Though that said Simone Pegg as Scotty is the highlight of act 2. However I was furious that all the great Scotty trademark talents in this new "alternate" reality are now just things future Spock tells him to do. Not even in a clever way, like Spock cluing Scotty into his potential, Nimoy just blatantly tells him "this is how my Scotty did it".

This didn't just infuriate me, but it boggled my mind. Didn't Paramount fire the previous head of the Trek franchise, Rick Berman, to give the series a fresh new start and feel? The way Abrams disappointed me, and cheated creatively, felt more like an old Berman style move.
Berman had an unhealthy obsession with time travel. One that would eventually do in his last Trek show Enterprise. In the first 3 seasons of this show the characters would constantly be exposed to things in the future, that we the audience already knew about, and thus result in the characters have unreal reactions to these things in their own time.
It defeated the whole purpose of seeing the "early days" of the Trek universe as key first encounters would have characters say "ah yes the [insert key alien or event], I heard about that in the future." Why bother having a show set around these first encounters if you're going to cheat the characters (and thus us the audience) of the dramatic and situational thrill of that first encounter.
The key character moments of this film are stolen through this. Kirk and Spock don't naturally resolve their conflict. They only do so because Kirk is told in the future he is Spock's friend, and that's what he should do now. What the hell was the point of this Kirk meets Spock story then?!?
I seriously felt cheated out of what had the set up to be a great movie. So much so that, in the end send off of the film with Kirk returning to the Enterprise to lead the crew into their next adventure, I sat there seriously yearning to follow them on THIS adventure... Why did I sit through the waste of time about future Spock's adventure? I didn't want to see his resolution, I wanted to see the new Enterprise crew do stuff!
Time travel aside (which should never be mixed with Space epics anyways! It should only be used for Dinosaur movies or those featuring DeLoreans) the other problem with the film was the big bad format.
Ever since Star Trek 2 writers of Trek films have insisted on having singular central villains for the Enterprise crews to take on. In Wraith of Khan this worked, Khan was a very memorable and effective counterpoint of Kirk. It was also a story that let most of the crew have a purpose.
However ever since Trek 2 and Khan none of the villains have really stood up well, and most weren't any good. Yet the writers seemed to think this was what made for a good Trek movie...
Which misses the point. Good Star Trek TV series episodes have central problems that might involve a villainous character, but they are merely a part of it. This means that though a character or two might have a personal investment in defeating the villain, the rest of the crew have something to do. More to the point often there is no personal investment, and those villains serve as an opposing crew (or in essence an evil Enterprise). This lack of one on one confrontations often lead to Trek's best stories and moments.
Trek 6 was the most brilliant incarnation of this (and in a movie) where there are several villain characters scattered throughout the plot, but they are not set up on a big bad pedestal. They are merely there to be overcome.
This new Trek film collapses as the end fight and confrontation end up being 90% Kirk and Spock trying to take down Nero, while the rest of the crew hide on the Enterprise behind Saturn. I seriously cheered at the Enterprises 1 minute intervention in the end of this battle, as I wanted to see the Enterprise and her crew win the day. Not the two star actors running around the bad guys ship...
Instead of Nero and his ship Narada flying around destroying planets, I would have much rather seen a feature film version of the classic Trek episode "The Planet Killer". You can even see how they could have simply used Nero's ship for an updated planet killer (planet killer being this thing here and the Narada being the Thorn bush in space above).
In this format we would have had an epic problem, a similar setup for Kirk and Spock being put in command earlier then they should have(if you went with Captain Pike pulling a Commodore Decker), getting in a big personal scrap over command style, and coming together using their own and the crews' talents to save the day and the universe. In other words a great Trek story.
Instead we had this hijacked midway through, to rehash one of the worst Trek conventions around. Resulting in my feeling shafted.

Because again, I didn't leave the theatre hating the new Enterprise or her crew. Rather I desperately wanted to see where they were flying off to next at the end of the film, and what they were going to do.
Hopefully next time I'll get that.

1 comment:

Dinorider d'Andoandor said...

Abrams said he was inspired by Hoth, by the initial A New Hope sequence, etc, etc. He even put R2D2 on a Trek movie!!! O_o

BTW There was a contest for finding R2!