Last night, I saw J.J. Abrams’ re-envisioning of Star Trek. It didn’t suck. But I’m not about to stand up and laud the praise that so many others had. I’m not convinced it deserves it (or the #71 ranking in the IMDB’s Top 250), but it’s a vast improvement over some of the shlock that Star Trek movies have been of late.
I went in, admittedly, with higher than normal expectations (press is hard to ignore entirely, and even Wil Wheaton claimed it was awesome). So there is a certain amount of disappointment. But now that I’ve had time to ruminate on the film, the plot, the acting, etc., I’d like to think I’ve got a decent view.
And for those of you who haven’t seen the movie: Beware! Thar be spoilers ahead!
Okay, first off, let’s cover all the stuff that J.J. Abrams + Co. did (very) well:
- Casting was spot-on. Excellent choices, there were the right people doing the right roles. Pine was an excellent young, rebellious, and a sooner-than-TOS captain (read: more brash, more in-your-face). Quinto might as well be Nimoy’s actual son for his ability to look like a young Spock.
- Acting was well-suited. A few people have called out Urban’s portrayal of Bones McCoy as being a bit “odd”, but the more I think about it, the more I actually like his mildly pissed-off, slightly backwater personality. I’m curious to see how he and Spock pit themselves together in successive movies (yes, I’m assuming sequels).
- Special effects done exceptionally well. Gone are the days of models (which I lament), but the CG executed in the movie is very good, almost seamless in some places. The collapsing Vulcan was oustanding.
- Many excellent references to previous movies and series episodes, for those of you paying attention.
- Sulu still fences, but he has a switch-blade katana, and saves Kirk’s life.
- Star Trek finally adopts the “used universe” for its sets. Using a brewery for the inside of a massive ship was a brilliant stroke of genius, as it made the ship look more “real”. (Although because I knew it was a brewery, I couldn’t quite get into the fact that it was supposed to be a starship.)
- The introduction of the alternate reality.
I want to focus on that last point for a moment. This bugged me at first, but then I not only saw the wisdom in this decision, but also came to praise the breaking from pattern that came with it. In the movie (SPOILER ALERT), an event 129 years in the future creates a black hole through which Nero (the bad guy) and the Original Spock (Nimoy) get sucked back in time. This creates an alternate reality (which is actually acknowledged by the characters in the movie) where things do not follow the previous Star Trek canon.
Namely, the planet Vulcan and most of the Vulcan civilisation is destroyed.
In pretty much every previous incarnation of Star Trek, some event occurs in the course of the given episode/movie that allows the regular timeline to be returned to normal. But Abrams and crew deliberately avoided hitting the “Reset Button” (Star Trek: Voyager, I’m looking at you!). Result? Uhuru and Spock are love interests, Vulcan is still destroyed, Kirk is a captain much earlier than in the regular timeline, and the technology is more advanced that it would be normally (though this pattern was started with Star Trek: Enterprise).
What does this mean? It means Abrams (and future Star Trek movie makers) are not tied to the previous canon, and are free to create some of their own. We’ll likely see certain characters return, albeit slightly different, and some characters may never enter the new world (it’s possible we’ll never meet KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!).
The other thing it means is it (mostly) shortcuts all the nitpickers. Trekkies and Trekkers alike are nitpickers. They love tearing apart episodes and movies for continuity errors, plot issues, scientific problems, acting (especially important given the brand new cast), and gaffes. Because of the alternate reality, they can’t start claiming that something isn’t canon, or that a character wouldn’t do X, or that the planet Vulcan was never destroyed.
I say “mostly”. Because there are some problems with the movie, too, that transcend the alternate reality. Remember, I’m a reformed Trekkie, which also makes me a nitpicker.
- Supernovae destroy solar systems, not whole galaxies. That’s a pretty damned big plot hole to have, as it negates the events that lead up to the alternate reality being created in the first place.
- Last I checked, anything — even a speck of dust — that enters a planetary atmosphere will start to heat up from friction (hence shooting stars). Yet Kirk, Sulu, and the ill-fated-red-shirt Olsen all “space dive” without ill effect.
- Kirk is promoted to captain (from an officer cadet with no serving experience) after receiving a commendation for his actions in the movie. Spock, a “distinguished graduate” already holding the rank of Commander, who literally puts his life on the line (was mere heatbeats from colliding the small ship he was piloting into Nero’s ship to stop an attack), is apparently overlooked entirely and made subservient to someone who’s barely graduated the academy. I’m all for the Kirk/Spock relationship thing, but I’m having some trouble with this one.
It’s a new world for Star Trek, and Abrams’ approach to setting up that new world was done (mostly) wisely. For an odd-numbered Star Trek movie, it’s also pretty good (the only other exception being Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, which I like mostly due to Christopher Lloyd’s Kruge). But it definitely doesn’t top the charts for me. I think it sets a good precedent, though, and I am eager to see what they can come up with next.
May the new Trek live long and prosper!