Sunday, May 10, 2009

J.J. Abrams' Star Trek

Well, this is . . . interesting. Star Trek, the television-turned-multimedia franchise that thoroughly wore out its welcome on all fronts, has been resurrected by two writers and a television director who take continuity — the foundation of sand on which the franchise narrative is based — as their starting point. The movie might as well have begun with a rolling script that said, “Attention Trekkies: You now have a new Kirk, Spock, and McCoy who are markedly different from the ones you grew up with on television. Here is how that happened.

It’s all Back To The Future plotting, which, when scrutinized too closely, raises more questions than it settles. It's also a bizarrely astute strategy for getting Trekkies on side. We argue about this stuff over weekends in convention centers the whole world over. A series writer takes the podium, his trembling hand lifts a glass to his lips, and we preface our questions with, “I know I’m not supposed to take this so seriously, but isn’t it a problem when . . . ?” Groups of us move these discussions to neighborhood pubs where eventually the most ardent of us concede that none of this makes a lick of sense but we still like it anyway. And we LOVE IT whenever writers/directors/producers demonstrate that they’ve been paying attention.

Attention has been paid. Like most of the people in the audience I thought there were moments when the crew members had been updated with appreciable improvement. I was especially fond of Uhura’s* steely, smart-girl impatience, and Chekov’s** nerdy enthusiasm. Chris Pine’s Kirk is still figuring out how to employ his charm for nobler purposes than pantie-removal. He’s clearly got some daddy issues, but boy is he surprised to discover a Vulcan with an even bigger chip on his shoulder....

And so it goes with the rest of the crew. We recognize them, and their actors seem to recognize a few motivations we somehow missed while watching all those repeats. Most of us, including me, want to see more. But unlike most of the audience, I sighed whenever a character’s catch-phrase was trotted out. Was this really what we wanted to rescue from the old universe to dress up the new one?

You’ll notice I haven’t revealed the movie’s plot, or said anything especially profound about character development. There is a plot of sorts, and some basic character development, but nothing that really sticks to the ribs. Abrams & Co. were primarily concerned with enticing a jaded audience back into theaters, and re-launching the franchise. Between revved-up action sequences and deliberately "borrowed" slapstick scenes from Galaxy Quest (a movie I insist you watch if you haven't yet) they pretty much got the job done.

If this was the first episode of a new television series I’d be ecstatic. But as this is the first of a new movie series, I’m afraid I remain reserved. In two or more years we’ll get another Star Trek installment. And in the Star Trek universe, yesterday’s movie is only as good as tomorrow’s.

*Zoe Seldana
**Anton Yelchin


Dave said...

Well I for one loved it... I actually grew weary of the old crew and thought the best Star Trek was next generation....

I actually loved the old lines coming back. Of course I also enjoy a new cover of an old song too... sometime the cover is better, it can never have the originality of the first... but it can be a better interpretation.


Joel said...

Someday, probably a year from now, this will come out on video in Japan, and then I'll chime in with my 2 cents. It's been getting nothing but rave reviews, so I guess that's a good sign.

But you're right: eveything hinges on what they do from here.

Whisky Prajer said...

DZ - I loved the movie, too, which is why I'm such a Nervous Pervis about the franchise future. So we just got one "Action Team" movie that succeeded by peppering our expectations with a little surprise: how much longer can this strategy work? I think most of us now have our appetites whetted for some serious character development -- in all the characters. Just off-hand I can't think of a movie serial that managed that stunt; this is what episodic television does best.

JS - given Japan's fetish for flashy lights, shiny surfaces and gadgets gadgets gadgets, I'm rather surprised to hear that Star Trek is likely to be a straight-to-video experience for you. Tough break.

Joel said...

Actually it does get a theatrical release, I just happen to live 2 hours away from a movie theater. But you never know, if I find myself in the big city I'll take in a movie while I'm there.

yahmdallah said...

Hey, we both noticed the Galaxy Quest stuff.

Cowtown Pattie said...

WE haven't had the chance to go see it, but it's on our gotta do list.

Dave, I am also a huge fan of the Next Generation series. Great cast of actors and excellent scripting. At first I was very skeptical of NG, and almost refused to watch it out of some kind of weird pop culture-y loyalty to the original. Glad I overcame my teenaged-tinted prejudices.

Nothing ever supplants the original, be it a Trekkie series/movie, another recipe version of Dr. Pepper, or Marilyn Monroe.

But, that knowledge doesn't stop us from seeking to recreate those old memories, no?

DarkoV said...

Just saw Alex Proyas' Dark City: Director's Cut last night on DVD. If his Star Trek is anywhere as imaginary and finely filmed, it will be a treat.
A bonus on the DVD is commentary by WP's fav Roger Ebert.

Whisky Prajer said...

DV - is Proyas connected with Star Trek? I'm not getting anything on IMDB. I did like Dark City, though, and have been meaning to listen to the Ebert track (his chatter during Citizen Kane is certainly entertaining and enlightening).

CP - the new recipe is flavored with more than a soup├žon of old memories. It also managed, in our family's case, to generate a whole new level of interest in our own next generation (who think "Watergate" must be a swell splash park). As I've been telling anyone who pretends to listen, it's been amusing to see where they prefer the new to the old, and vice versa. In the matter of Chekov, for instance, both daughters expressed a decided preference for Walter Koenig over the new cutie-pie with the curls (and the real-sounding accent). When I asked why, I was told he wasn't as funny. "He's just not a ham, dad! And the hair's all wrong. It needs to be glued into place!"