Sometime around four months ago, my mom and I stopped into Blockbuster Video, looking for something to pass the time. The problem with Blockbuster Video, at least in my estimation, is that their emphasis on stocking 345 copies of the latest Matthew McConaughey movie really limits their ability to have a good back catalog. That night, there was absolutely nothing to rent, so my mom, indignant that I’d never seen a lick of Star Trek, picked up a copy of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and headed to the counter. On the way home, she described the experience for me:
“When they showed Kirk, the whole movie stopped to allow the people in the theater to cheer,” she said.
“The whole movie?”
“Yes,” she nodded, “and then they did it for Bones, for the ship, for Spock…”
I was very impressed by all of this. As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I understood fandom for specific characters, but even so, not even the cult of Boba Fett could defend his cameo/mugging in the special edition of A New Hope. Trekkies, I surmised, had to be the most dedicated fans there were—dedicated enough to admit their obsession to Stanley Kubrick without a hint of embarrassment.
Boy was I disappointed. While the special effects were great (for 1979), I couldn’t wrap my head around it. About an hour in, my mom had to admit how boring the movie was. At the end, when the dad from 7th Heaven merged with a satellite and some bald chick, even she couldn’t see why everybody thought it was so damned exciting.
“Wrath of Khan is much better,” she assured me.
I never saw Wrath of Khan, but after watching Star Trek, I suspect I will.
I know that this is a reboot (not technically, but it’s still too early for spoilers), so J.J. Abrams’ vision of the franchise should really have no bearing on how I look at the previous 40 years of television, film, books, comics, and merchandise, but it does. To a Trek outsider, this is a perfect introduction.
Abrams’ film, while containing many winks and nods to the original series (a terribly CGI’d green skinned woman, awful accents, the delivery of Bones McCoy’s dialog), goes for spectacle, for speed, for kinetic, frenzied action. It delivers, and, in doing so, marks a departure from a series that was known as much for its cheap rubber suits as its human drama.
The first Trek film’s problem was that it focused on spectacle, trying in vain to compete with Star Wars, which relished in the possibilities presented by different planets and races, but never paused to let the viewer know that this was a different world. Star Trek ignores the issue by going 120 miles an hour from the opening minute—there is little time to stop and marvel at the Enterprise.
If that seems a bit at odds with the original series, well, it is. Chalk it up to this movie being made for the benefit of a new generation who don’t have time for calm, considered plots, captain’s logs, dramatic line readings, or slow-as-molasses fight scenes, but shifting the franchise into full blown space opera mode turns out to be a good decision—the final effort is worth more than the three Star Wars prequels combined.
The movie stumbles at points—I never expected to see Sulu draw a sword, for example, let alone expect him to fight like an expert in kung-fu—but it’s fun, and it gets enough of the old stuff right while moving the franchise in a new direction…one that may make possible a future where sci-fi isn’t a target of sad jokes.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure that Abrams could pull it off. I don’t watch much TV, haven’t seen an episode of Lost or Alias and have walked out from many of his movies (Mission: Impossible 3, Cloverfield) feeling that the hype surrounding him was unwarranted.
While Star Trek is far from perfect, it shows Abrams ability to balance the demands of fandom and the demands of his audience. There is plenty of style on display, and enough substance to keep it going. For every moment he gets wrong, there are plenty of moments where everything feels right. Considering the way many of 2009′s reboots are going, you could do a lot worse.
Star Trek. Directed by J.J. Abrams. With Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Leonard Nimoy (Spock Prime), Eric Bana (Nero), Bruce Greenwood (Pike), Karl Urban (Bones), Zoë Saldana (Uhura), and Simon Pegg (Scotty). Released May 8, 2009, by Paramount Pictures.