After a long wait, I got my rental copy of Star Trek (2009) this weekend. The special effects in movies these days are so good that I’m willing to give any science-fiction movie a chance. Star Trek wasn’t that great a movie but it was worth watching. I probably would have given it an “ok” rating if it weren’t for the amateurish and annoying cinematography tricks. More on that below.
Many people have been talking about Paramount Pictures’ attempt to restart the Star Trek movie franchise. Next Generation had four movies but it looks like that line has ended. Personally, I skipped Next Generation’s last two movies because the first two just didn’t cut it for me. I guess I wasn’t the only person with that opinion. Instead of making movies out of other Star Trek titles like Deep Space Nine or Voyager, Paramount decided to go back to the era of the first Star Trek story. I can’t blame them as it was certainly my favorite slice of the Star Trek timeline. However, rather than taking a moderate risk and telling a new story in that era with new characters, they decided to go right back to the old familiar faces: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, etc. But what to do when the original actors are too old? Get new actors and try to pass them off as the originals!
This was a poor decision on several levels. For more than forty years each of the characters from the first Star Trek has only had one actor. After a three season TV show and six movies the actors defined the characters. Trying to have a non-Shatner Kirk or a non-Nimoy Spock just doesn’t work. It also isn’t fair to the new actors. Rather than being free to create their own characters for the audience, they have to perpetually exist in the shadows of the actors who went before. Actors who, it should be noted, are well-loved all around the world and have been for more than forty years. Paramount really should have grown a spine before making the movie and taken the risk of making new characters.
But enough about Paramount’s decisions. I tried to push aside those considerations when I sat down to watch the new movie. I’m not a major Star Trek nut and I don’t even remember watching the Star Trek episodes so many years ago so it wasn’t hard to start with a relatively clean slate. The movie was more-or-less ok. I wanted to like the movie. Any movie with space ships gets me excited. The special effects were great and the plot wasn’t terrible. It seemed to move along at a decent pace and the actors were competent. I’d like to think of something particularly cool about the movie but nothing comes to mind.
The plot revolved around time travel conundrums. I really dislike stories that involve time travel. They always seem to layer on so many complications that no one can reasonably be expected to understand. Plus they give the writer easy ways to escape writing a coherent plot. Not only were the time travel elements annoying but they gave the writers a sneaky way to distinguish the new Star Trek movies from the old. Yes, folks, the new Star Trek movie takes place in an alternate universe from the Star Trek TV show and movies you’ve come to love. This means the writers are off the hook from keeping continuity with old Star Trek material but they can still borrow any parts and pieces they please.
There was almost no space ship combat in the movie. Almost all action was on a personal level which might succeed better with audiences that lack imagination but it left me feeling cheated. I expect grand stories from something as galaxy-spanning as Star Trek. Instead, this movie deals with a nutcase from over a hundred years in the future who commandeers a mining ship and (somehow) gets ahold of advanced military equipment like planetary super drilling machines. This nutcase decides to exact revenge on the Federation for something the Federation had nothing to do with. The heroes have to figure out the time travel foul-ups in time to stop the nutcase and save the Earth from being destroyed. I hope they can do better in the inevitable sequel.
The new Enterprises design was pretty nice. I was concerned the production crew would radically redesign the Enterprise but the slightly updated classic design showed good taste on their part.
The director, J. J. Abrams, and other Paramount people talked about how they wanted to respect the original Star Trek and bring it into the present. This is all well and good as long as they understood Star Trek. Unfortunately, it appears they didn’t. They did a pretty good job of updating the look of the original Star Trek but as far as content, well, better luck next time. The new Kirk doesn’t have the same quality of the old. Granted, it isn’t fair to Chris Pine but it was Paramount that forced this comparison. The new Kirk is brash, rebellious, handsome… Everything that makes for an easy sell to modern audiences. The old Kirk had an air of command, a man in control of himself, that didn’t even occur to the writers of the new movie. The old Star Trek had a sense of wonder as new places were discovered and new ideas confronted. The new Star Trek doesn’t even bat an eyelash at the new phenomenon of time travel when it takes center stage.
J. J. Abrams doesn’t strike me as much of a director. Throughout the movie I wondered if Abrams wanted to tell a story or establish his own personal style within the cinematography industry. Constant, annoying lense flares and shaky cameras detracted from many scenes.
The new cast for this movie didn’t give off the same friendly, warm feeling that I got from watching the orginal Star Trek episodes and movies. It might have been the director’s fault and it might have been the actors. It’s hard to tell. It only helps emphasize why the original Star Trek is still very popular more than 40 years after it began.
To sum up, even though I wanted to like the new Star Trek but couldn’t, I won’t give it a thumbs down. I remain hopeful that the sequel can set things straight. If you have a chance to rent it, give it a try – a cautious try.