1. I found the already infamous Onion headline about Star Trek — Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As “Fun, Watchable” — hilarious, and a little sad. There was a time when we appreciated that history was written by the fringe obsessives, the sad driven loners who grasped ideas and rode them either to their logical conclusion: Insanity, invention or both. We’re much more moderate now: The only thing we’re obsessive about anymore is being logical and rational. (Vulcan, even!) Trekkies were hardly grand visionaries, obviously, but they were something who cared very deeply about one particular thing and were uncompromising about it. This new film is a rousing entertainment and a direct refutation of Trekkie loyalism and devotion. That’s great for you and me, considering we are not Trekkies (probably), but it seems odd to heap all this adulation on J.J. Abrams and company for taking a nerdish, intense subculture and scrubbing it so it’s palatable for everyone in the mainstream. This is a big, enjoyable piece of Hollywood moviemaking. That’s great. But we used to boo people for this. We used to call it selling out. Now we call it “rebooting.”
2. I say all this because, as much fun as Star Trek is, I think it has a little bit of a hollow center. As an origin story, it inherently is shackled with a lot of melodramatic exposition — Kirk has Daddy issues, Spock has Mommy issues — and, once they’re established and dispatched, there isn’t much time left for anything other than a whizbang climax. The foundation of the Star Trek franchise (and for most great science fiction in general) has been allegories about how we live now, stories that touch on the philosophical, the moral, the spiritual. This movie doesn’t have time for that: This is basically a movie about how two driven, smart guys became best friends zipping around the galaxy on a kickass ship. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But just know that’s all you’re getting.
3. Abrams and his crew (including Lost head honcho Damon Lindelof) have found the perfect actors to take on the iconic roles, particularly Zachary Quinto as Spock, who is just ponderous and disciplined enough to suggest the human screaming for air behind every time Spock tries to contain his emotion. (I was also struck by how physical this Spock is: There’s no doubt he’d take out any other Enterprise crew member in a fight.) Chris Pine is steady and cocksure as Kirk, and I like that they’ve generally beefed up the roles: Everyone’s a lot more hefty and prominent than I remember the roles. (Sulu could totally kick my ass.) Eric Bana huffs and puffs a lot as the evil Romulan, but his backstory is flimsy and seems cut straight fromthe Villain Instigating Incident 101 cloth. I’ll say that the cathartic pleasure of seeing Leonard Nimoy return as Future Spock outweighs, barely, the fact that he’s getting a little too old to do much heavy lifting anymore. Oh, and the film also features one of the biggest, most reliable box office stars in the country in a bit part, though I highly doubt most Star Trek viewers recognized Tyler Perry as a Starfleet commander, or are even more than vaguely aware of who he is.
4. The plot, saddled as it is by the need for all that backstory, works well enough after a knockout pre-title sequence, though I think trying to fit in a time-travel storyline was pushing it and seems to exist only to give Leonard Nimoy a role. (Again, a nod to those nerds they’re stiffing.) But let’s not kid ourselves: Once you get past the Oedipal and Elektra complexes from our main two characters, this is a bromance straight out of I Love You, Man. The most truly moving moments involve the slowly thawing tension between Kirk and Spock, and you can expect that to be the centerpiece of the inevitable sequels. This is, essentially, a buddy cop flick with spaceships.
5. It’s also a work of considerable technical expertise and workmanlike efficiency: It’s uncanny how it hits every little pop culture note anyone could possibly expect from it. (Every old Star Trek curio, from “Beam Me Up, Scotty” to the Vulcan neck pinch, is referenced, and they even have some fun with the old “redshirt” idea of the poor extra who has to accompany Kirk and Sulu on a mission and inevitably be killed.) It hits all the right notes. But there’s something dispassionate about it: This is merely meant to be entertainment. Perhaps the sequels will touch on some of the deeper metaphysical themes that only great science fiction can provide, and the original series dabbled in from time to time. But this is not a Dark Knight-esque reinvention. It’s just a fun exercise in expertly made pop. That’s great. No issues with that at all. But the extensive praise the film is receiving says less about its artistry, and more about the lowering of our own expectations. These films used to shoot for the stars. Now, they’re just a well-done exploration of our own atmosphere. Star Trek doesn’t do anything boldly, and it doesn’t go anywhere we haven’t been many, many times before.
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