Saturday, May 18, 2013

Stubs – Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek (2009) Starring: John Cho, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Winona Ryder, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, Leonard Nimoy. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Screenplay Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Based on Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry. Produced by J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof Time: 126 minutes. U.S. Color. Science Fiction, Action

With summer upon us, summer box office that is, every week there is another “new” must see film opening. Two weeks ago it was Iron Man 3, last week The Great Gatsby and this weekend Star Trek Into Darkness. Not surprisingly, like the first two summer films, this is either a remake or a sequel. In fact Star Trek Into Darkness is the sequel to a remake, or what is fashionably now called a reboot. And, as is our way at Trophy Unlocked, before the sequel we like to look back and reexamine the preceding film.

Star Trek (2009) is the long awaited reboot for the Star Trek franchise which had been a cash cow for Paramount Pictures. While the original 60’s series, Star Trek, had been a bit of a flop, only lasting three seasons on NBC, it subsequently launched 10 films before the reboot and countless TV Series, the most popular of which seems to be Star Trek: The Next Generation which came out 21 years after the original series and ran for 7 seasons and accounts for 4 of the films.

By the time the 10th film, Star Trek: Nemesis came out in 2002, the series and film franchise had seen better days. While I did not make it a habit to follow the various films and TV Series incarnations, I think it is safe to say that by 2002 the whole idea had been wrung pretty dry and the Enterprise was shelved for dry-docking. However, all that changed in 2009, when J.J. Abrams directed Star Trek.

The Enterprise from Star Trek (2009).
For those familiar with the original TV series, Star Trek (2009) provides the back or origin story the series only hints at but doesn’t ever really deliver. Abrams had to know to tread lightly on a mythos that had taken on a life of its own. You can’t leave out a character that anyone might recognize, though you can leave out actors.

Star Trek - Old School.
The movie opens in 2233, aboard the Federation starship USS Kelvin, which is investigating a "lightning storm" in space. From the storm, the Romulan ship, Narada, emerges and attacks the Kelvin. Narada's first officer, Ayel (Clifton Collins, Jr.), demands that the Kelvin's Captain Robau (Faran Tahir) come aboard to negotiate a truce. But once aboard, Robau is questioned about Ambassador Spock, whom he professes not to know. But that is not good enough for the Narada's commander, Nero (Eric Bana), who kills Robau, and continues his attack on the Kelvin. George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth), the Kelvin's first officer, orders the ship's abandonment. Including the evacuation is Kirk’s pregnant wife Winona (Jennifer Morrison). While he steers the Kelvin into a collision course with the Narada. Winona gives birth to their son, James T. Kirk.

The Narada emerging from a space storm.
Fast forward several years, a young Vulcan after his sterile formal education is invited to join the Vulcan Science Academy. But since Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) human mother, Amanda Grayson (an almost unrecognizable Winona Ryder) is considered a disadvantage, he instead joins Starfleet.

Back on Earth, Kirk grows up from a rebellious boy to a reckless adult, a sort of prairie rebel without a cause. One night, Kirk (Chris Pine) goes to a bar frequented by Starfleet cadets and naturally gets drunk and gets into a fight when he tries to pick up Uhura (Zoe Saldana). After the fight, in which Kirk holds his own, but is eventually overwhelmed, he meets Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood). Again, this is a character from the original series, reimagined for the movie. Pike encourages Kirk to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Starfleet Academy. At the last moment, the impetuous Kirk gets on board the shuttle. Once on board, he befriends Doctor McCoy (Karl Urban).

At the Academy, Kirk cheats on the Kobayashi Maru simulation, which if I recall correctly, is what he supposedly did on the TV series, one of those incidents that’s talked about, but never shown. Commander Spock holds a disciplinary hearing, which is interrupted by a distress signal from Vulcan, which finds itself surrounded by a lightning storm. With the primary fleet out of range, the cadets are called into action. Kirk is not allowed to go, but McCoy helps to sneak Kirk on board Pike’s ship, the Enterprise.

Kirk recognizes the storm as similar to one that occurred at the time of his birth and convinces Pike that the distress signal is also a trap. When the Enterprise arrives on Vulcan, they find the fleet is destroyed and the Narada drilling into the core of Vulcan. The Narada attacks the Enterprise and Pike surrenders. He puts Spock in command and promotes Kirk to first officer.

Kirk, Sulu (John Cho) and Chief Engineer Olson (Greg Ellis) go on a space jump to stop the drill. Olson is the designated red shirt and is instantly killed when he can’t control his chute and is sucked into an exhaust flame. Kirk and Sulu fight off Romulan soldiers to stop the drill. However, Nero has already injected “red matter” into the core, setting up a black hole inside the planet which leads to the destruction of Vulcan and all who live on it, but not before Spock returns to the planet to save the high council, which includes his father. His mother is in the party, but the unstable planet swallows her before she can be transported to safety.

Three men space jump, but only two will return. Hint the guy in  red is not a main character.
The feud goes back to when Romulus was being threatened by a supernova. Spock tries to save the planet by using the red matter to create a black hole and consume the supernova. But he is too late and Romulus, along with Nero’s family, perished as a result. Spock and the Narada get caught in the black hole and sent back through time. Nero strands Spock on Delta Vega as Nero goes to get his revenge by destroying Vulcan and every other federation planet. Spock then realizes that Nero’s time travel has changed history and created a new reality.

Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime and Chief Exposition Officer.
Kirk and Spock Prime set out for a Starfleet outpost that also happens to be on Delta Vega. Why Spock Prime never went there before is never explained. At the outpost, they encounter Scotty (Simon Pegg), an engineering genius who had been exiled to Delta Vega, along with this alien assistant Keenser (Deep Roy), for beaming an Admiral’s beagle to an unknown location during transporter testing.
Spock knows that Kirk, not himself, should be commanding the Enterprise, so using a mathematical formula devised by an older version of Scotty, called transwarp beaming, Spock sends Scotty and Kirk to the Enterprise so Kirk can take charge. Almost immediately after arriving on board, the two are spotted and taken into custody. On the bridge, Kirk provokes Spock to the point of nearly killing Kirk. Realizing he has gone too far, Spock relieves himself and Kirk takes command of the ship.

Zachary Quinto as Spock.
Chekov (Anton Yelchin), meanwhile, devises a plan that would allow the Enterprise to follow the Narada by hiding in the magnetic field of Saturn. Spock returns to the bridge and endorses Chekov’s plan. He offers to beam over to the Narada and save Pike and the only home he has left, Earth. Kirk accompanies Spock.
Anton Yelchni as Chekov.
Meanwhile, the Narada sets up its drill right over San Francisco. Scotty beams them aboard the enemy ship, but gets the location wrong. There is a brief firefight with Romulan soldiers. Using his mind meld capability, Spock finds the location of the black hole machine and the whereabouts of Pike from an unconscious soldier. Kirk rescues Pike while Spock uses the elder Spock's ship, The Jellyfish, to destroy the drill. Spock leads the Narada away from Earth and then sets his ship to collide with Nero's, igniting the "red matter" and consuming the Narada in a black hole. The Enterprise arrives and beams Kirk, Pike, and Spock aboard.
Back on Earth, Kirk is promoted to the rank of Captain and put in command of the Enterprise, while Pike, who is wheelchair-bound in an homage to the series appearance of the character, is promoted to Rear Admiral. Spock encounters his older self. Having selected a planet for the surviving Vulcans to colonize, Spock Prime persuades his younger self to continue serving Starfleet, instead of doing what’s logical. Spock remains in Starfleet and becomes first officer under Kirk's maiden command.

Chris Pine firmly in command as Captain James T. Kirk.
While I would admit to being skeptical of J.J. Abrams before having seen the film, I do think he pulled it off. The film is faithful to the original series, but it is different enough to stand on its own. Unlike the first Star Trek film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) which monkeyed about with the crew, upping everyone in rank and re-decoing the uniforms, Star Trek (2009) tries to embrace its legacy. The uniforms are back to the gold, blue and red, though modernized, as are the phasers and communicators (the original series being the inspiration for the flip phone.) But this is how it should be, rather than the director throwing us a bone.

All the main characters are back: Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine); Spock (Zachary Quinto); Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban); Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana); Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Simon Pegg); Hikaru Sulu (John Cho); Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin). Even minor characters like Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and Spock’s parents: Sarek (Ben Cross) and Amanda Grayson (Winona Ryder), who appeared in the original series, are brought back. Some new ones are added, such as George Samuel Kirk, Sr. (Chris Hemsworh) who is Kirk’s father. Even the original Spock (Leonard Nimoy) appears as Spock Prime, but the original Kirk (William Shatner) does not. I’ll let you decide for yourself if that’s a good thing or not.

Star Trek crew - New School.
Star Trek has the unenviable task of trying to appease fans of the original series, but also introduce new fans, who might only be drawn to the material because of Abrams’ involvement. And there are definitely Abrams touches throughout that make this film part of his universe. The most obvious of them is the overuse of the lens flares. What no doubt started as a mistake for some director of photography has turned into an Abrams trademark. There are more of them than I care to count or would want to. The film could almost be called Flare Trek.

Hope you like lens flare.
Where the film differs from the series, it is sometimes hard to take. The logical and emotionless TV Spock is now involved in a hot and heavy relationship with Uhura. The Star Trek series broke interracial ground when Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) kissed Captain Kirk (Shatner) on the show, but the affair between Uhura and Spock, especially given his Kolinahr upbringing, seems, well, illogical. Not to mention that Saldana and Quinto seem to have zero on-screen chemistry. But you got to mix things up when you’re making someone else’s mythos your own. This twist seems to have been added only because it was so different from what happened in the series.

Not buying this.
The movie plays fast and loose with its own pseudo-science. Cadets are called into duty because the main fleet is out of range, but travelling faster than the speed of light would probably mitigate that. And if I’m not mistaken, the Enterprise creates a black hole which consumes the Romulan Narada, but its proximity to Earth might present a clear and present danger to the planet. But that is all forgotten by closing credits. And the red matter, the Brylcreem of molecules, as a little dap is enough to create a planet crushing black hole. One wonders why the writers couldn’t have come up with something other than a name that describes the color of the matter. The name sadly reminds me of Avatar’s unobtainium, a name which was roasted for its unimaginativeness.

Red Matter by any other name would be just as destructive.
Also with all the faster than light crafts at their disposal, why did the Federation send Spock in what looks like a space bicycle to save Romulus. You would have thought an Enterprise-style vessel could have gotten there quicker.

And on Delta Vega some of the indigenous life forms seem ill-equipped to survive the cold let alone dominate. I’m thinking specifically of the son of the Cloverfield monster that chases Kirk over the icy cliff.

Does this look like a creature built for cold weather?
I think the story sort of derails on Delta Vega, a mysterious winter planet that is full of both coincidence and exposition. It’s too convenient that Kirk is marooned on the same planet that Spock Prime had been left on by Nero. In both cases if you want to get rid of someone, why put them on a planet with a Federation outpost, where Scotty is stationed? The sequence starts with Spock kicking his First Officer not only off the bridge but off the ship. That has to be against Federation regulations. Then there is the convenience that Spock Prime is there to save Kirk from the Cloverfield monster and later Spock Prime reminds Scotty of the right mathematical formula, which Scotty will only later discover, that allows them to transport to the Enterprise. And let’s not forget the juicy exposition that Spock Prime lays on Kirk via the mind meld in the icy cave. Too much of the movie relies on the confluence of these characters being in the same place at the same time. It’s not good writing.

The Star Trek chain of command is also fast and loose. Not only does a stowaway become the First Officer and ultimately the Captain, because he’s supposed to be Captain, but it would scare me that Scotty would become the chief engineer onboard the Enterprise. Not only has he never been on the brand new ship before, but wouldn’t the ship already have a chief engineer before it left the docks? For a newbie, Scotty is really familiar with the workings of the anti-matter engines. We’re told he really knows transporting, but that’s a long way from running the engine room.

The planet Vulcan, which is destroyed during the movie, seems to be both the most logical and bigoted planet in the Universe. Spock’s human half is considered a handicap of sorts and Vulcans love to tout their superior make-up compared to that of humans. Talk about racism on a species scale. But oddly enough, Spock’s Earth mother is one of those entrusted with preserving Vulcan culture. The choice doesn’t seem logical.

Young Spock (Jacob Kogan) about to be bullied for being different.
The casting is pretty good for the most part. Pine is a good fit for the unflappable Kirk and Quinto makes a very believable Spock. But of the big three characters I think Urban really nails “Bones” McCoy. More than the others, he really seems to channel the spirit of his TV predecessor, DeForrest Kelley. Simon Pegg also brings humor and fun to the Scotty character. While James Doohan’s original portrayal was an obvious roadmap, Pegg infuses Scotty with his own sense of humor. I thought Eric Bana did a good job as Nero, the overzealous Romulan who wants to destroy the Federation in order to save his own planet. His revenge/prevention method is illogical, since with time travel he could prevent the destruction of Romulus, but I’m just getting picky.

Eric Bana as Nero, a Romulan with a chip on his shoulder the size of Vulcan.
In the end, Star Trek is really a summer blockbuster, relying on well-developed characters, the foundations for which were laid decades ago. Take that away and the story is good, but not great, the love interest seems tacked on and special effects are there to save the day. While I liked the movie overall, there is a little too much J.J. Abrams throughout. The movie is not so much a Star Trek movie as an Abrams reimagining of a TV show from his youth. Star Trek covers a lot of ground, but the storytelling is flawed, something I’ve come to expect from Abrams projects. While I have concerns about the next Star Trek movie, which I already understand is Flare Trek 2, I can’t imagine what Star Wars VII will look like under this director’s helm. If anything, he’ll be treading on more sacred ground and perhaps less forgiving fans.

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