Thursday, May 07, 2009
10 Things I Liked About Star Trek, and 5 Things I Didn't
I got a sneak peek of Star Trek last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are many things about the movie that I will praise Abrams and the cast and crew for, but I will voice a couple of my (hopefully not overly fan-boy sounding) complaints. I'm going to try and avoid any MAJOR SPOILERS but if you want to go into the movie completely without expectations (or with the expectations you have now) I guess you should read another one of our WONDERFUL articles. I should also mention that I'm not a trekie. I'm not a huge fan of TOS. I like DS9 and TNG, but I'm by no means a big fan who's going to know and or complain that Kirk has always had an issue with holding a phaser in his left hand as made abundantly clear in S1Ep8, so I won't be giving a detailed breakdown of everything they did right or wrong, just what I liked and didn't. So here we go:
1. The visuals and fx were great. Up on a big screen the fx look wonderful and the shooting is frenetic without being dizzying. For the most part, the set design, specifically the Enterprise/Starfleet ships was well done. The bridge and ship has been updated without feeling like it was only done to showcase a big budget. Much of the set felt like what the sets would have looked like if Roddenberry had created the original series with today's set design and special effects. Less redesign and more "better looking, more functional, or updated equipment and sets." The ships have a lot of work, but many other sets stay simple; things might be in the future but that doesn't mean every room has to have a giant computer and flashy cgi. Additionally, the sound was great. There is some of that old "sound in space" issue, but it's countered with a nice couple nods to the fact that in reality there isn't any sound. Overall, the sound really pulled me in, though the sound system at the theater was also excellent. Sound design over all was well done and while I could have done with a couple less over-the-top impact sfx with some of the punches and kicks, the sound worked well with the visuals making an exciting and yet not over-the-top/unbelievable environment.
2. I really appreciated the pacing of the film. That said, it does get everybody from childhood to the ship quite fast, but let's be honest, JJ wasn't out to make a movie for Trekkie know-it-alls to drool over, he gets to the action, because that's really where we get to see the characters do their thing. The film moves along with lots of action and tension, but there are a few breaths and emotional moments that give you a chance to relax.
3. The opening. Man what a sequence. They really jump right into the action and I was frankly sucked in. I didn't come into the film expecting much, it didn't look that great in the trailers I had seen. But in the first couple minutes I was hooked.
[Minor Spoiler Warning]
4. The villain. Nero, (Eric Bana) was frankly a well-conceived villain. He wasn't insane, he didn't want to control the world or become rich or powerful, and he didn't have a maniacal laugh. He's a very upset miner who took his crew and went out to kill the man that he (and frankly his whole crew probably) blamed for an enormous loss. His master plan is only hatched after 25 years of built-up anger waiting for the guy he hates to show up, and his master plot is almost entirely a plan of happenstance. I don't want to give too much away about the plot, but things culminate in him having an evil plan, originally he just sets out for revenge. He's not overly dramatic or diabolical. He's direct and to the point, he's got a mission and if you get in his way, he's just going to blow you up and move on. Sure his revenge scheme goes maybe a TAD bit far, but given the circumstances, you can really see how he got there. He's not a professional bad guy, but he's what you expect a really pissed off average guy with access to a lot of firepower might act.
[Minor Spoiler Warning]
5. The time travel involved in the film. Often (but not always) I think time travel is either convoluted or just a silly plot device, used to make a story possible. In this case, it's neither. While it does provide leeway with some of the origin stories in the film, it doesn't seem written just for the sake of allowing changes in canon. It's believable (as believable as time travel can be) and basically an accident. Nor is does it feel like a way for them to write in an unnecessary cameo. In fact, the use of it in the film is overall quite tragic, as every event that unfolds from the point of the initial travel is a diversion from what could have been (and in fact what was or may have been in TOS canon). It also traps the villain in a time where the tragedy he's experienced hasn't yet taken place, but he's most likely unable to stop it.
6. JJ and the writers had a number of nods to ST:TOS. From certain tricorder and phaser designs, to characters and random ST trivia. Captain Pike heads the Enterprise as it goes out on it's inaugural mission, a character some fans may know as the original captain of the Enterprise from the TOS pilot. Aliens you may recognize, though you'll have to look hard to find the tribble, and lots of Vulcan culture. The necessary lines are all there, and there's some nice little character background pieces, like McCoy's nickname.
7. The humor. The movie was actually pretty funny at times, but steered well clear of getting at all campy. I find that remakes have a tendency to make fun of the quirks or issues originals had, and end up making stupid groaner jokes. Kirk doesn't get his shirt torn or fight a lizard man, but there is a green skinned lady and some red shirt fun. The jokes are well timed and don't break the flow of the movie, something I was concerned about going in. Even when someone is facing a life threatening situation there's still time for a joke without ruining the moment (see the chase on Delta Vega).
8. The acting. Man I know maybe this should have come earlier, but everyone was quite good. I was expecting goofy or poorly attempted impersonations of the original actors (see: Brandon Routh in Superman). The main cast was really good, and we got to see them all as early unrefined versions of the characters that they eventually grow into. There are some just okay performances by some of the supporting cast, but the crew and Nero do a very good job.
9. The Score. Not much I'm going to say here, but the music worked really well. Obviously we weren't going to get a straight remake of the original theme, but I still got the sense that the music belonged in a Star Trek picture.
10. The make-up of and operation of Starfleet. I felt like they really tried to stay true to the TOS world of Starfleet. There's enough aliens to remind you that they're a part of the framework of earth, Starfleet, and the Federation, but not so many that you get the feeling that they wanted to go back and "correct" the lack of non-humans. Starfleet is based on Earth and it's going to have a majority human membership for that reason. It's enough like the military without being overwhelmingly bootcamp. It's really a peacekeeping force that's there to assist and protect the Federation, but TOS seems a little more rough and tumble than TNG or DS9.
Five things I didn't like:
1. Why are all the Vulcans British? Why is that? Is that supposed to make them sound smart and emotionless just like actual English people or something? It just comes off like when a film set in Germany has actors with British accents because "all European accents sound British."
2. Sulu's samurai ninja skillz. Seriously, Sulu was a great character because he was specifically not an asian stereotype. Well, have no fear, JJ Abrams is going to give him a space katana and have him karate chop around the screen, regardless of the fact that he states that he only has training in fencing (which could include kendo, but wouldn't include flying kicks). It's just blowing off an important aspect of a character to show some cool fight sequence. I know it's not a huge deal, but that's Sulu's largest portion of the movie, and they pushed him back into an asian stereotype.
3. Lens Flares. Seriously JJ Abrams there were like 400 lens flares in this movie. He makes the bridge seem like there's spotlights shooting from all of the surfaces. It starts to get distracting after a while, when a flare fills up the entire visual for a second or so as the camera moves. It's not necessary and it's added in for...some reason that I don't understand. THINGS ARE SO FUCKING BRIGHT IN THE FUTURE!
4. Transporters. I'll be honest, it's not a big deal, but I was not a fan of the way the transporter beams looked. It looked more like getting resurrected by a bunch of tiny fairies swirling around you as opposed to a matter transporter that copies all of the atoms in your body and then reassembles them at another location. Don't get me wrong, the sfx looked nice, but it didn't really feel like a transporter from the series, or what I would think of when transporting matter at all. It had a very anime-esque quality to it. More Dragonball Z than ST.
5. The crazy ass decisions that get made to move the plot along. Frankly it didn't happen very often, but there were a couple of times I raised an eyebrow, such as all of the cadets from Starfleet being sent out on ships when they hadn't finished their training. Sure I guess armies might fast track recruits in a time of war, and the main young crew members seem pretty proficient, but those were the stars. Think about how many cadet crew members were screwing up their orders because they hadn't had the final in Practical Dilithium Crystal Engine Mechanics yet. There's also a decision young Spock makes that seems, frankly, a little over the top. Ships have a brig for a reason you know. No need to throw someone into a potentially life-threatening situation just because you think they're a douche. Talk about being ruled by your emotion, there's nothing logical about that.
So those were my thoughts. I'd definitely recommend seeing the movie. I saw it for free, but knowing what I know now, I would pay to see it. And really, you'll probably have less continuity/canon issues with it than you will with Wolverine you big nerds.
Bonus: They did a prequel comic for the movie. Go check it for some nice backstory for the villain et al.