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Star Trek

May 17th, 2009 (11:56 pm)

I finally saw Star Trek this evening. I've seen all the previous films in what I suppose is now the old sequence at one time or another, except Nemesis. I was largely impressed; if this was a film straight out of the Hollywood book of mythological archetypes, then it did so faithfully and with some imaginative panache of its own. We are invited to think that it is so very appropriate that Jim Kirk is born in a shuttlecraft while his father sacrifices his own life in a bid to hold back Nero - who turns out not to be a mad Romulan emperor, as one might expect, but a mining engineer doing all he can to avenge his wife and unborn child. There are some stunning visual sequences - the skirmish scene at Nero's drill head, and the dizzying falls, stay in the mind, as do the monsters Kirk faces on Delta Vega. It's oddly satisfying (well, not really - I was always more likely to identify with Spock growing up than I would with Kirk...) to see that this version of Trek doesm't think that Jim Kirk should have a near-monopoly on a sex life, and it is Spock who has the emotional and lasting physical bond with a member of the opposite sex here. Ben Cross's Sarek reminds Zachary Quinto's Spock early on that Vulcans in many ways have deeper emotional lives than humans.

This film often comes across as the hoary old cliché of the crew of misfits thrown together in a crisis who save the day; but it also reminds me of the truth of the adage oft preached by Doctor Who's Terrance Dicks, that clichés are clichés because they work. Some of it reached levels of 'slapstick' (to use an old Doctor Who fan term, mainly used of the series in the late 1970s) that made me wince, such as Scotty's journey through the transparent fluid pipes, which seemed to serve to distance the audience from the predicament in which the character found himself. Indeed, once transferred from Delta Vega to the Enterprise Simon Pegg's Montgomery Scott edged perhaps a little too far away from the frustrated physicist marooned on a hostile planet after dematerializing Admiral (Jonathan) Archer's beagle, and towards the clown. Kirk's bullying of Spock in order to force him out of the captain's chair was uncomfortable, even though Kirk was proved justified and acting under the orders of the older Spock from the old Trek universe, Leonard Nimoy looking serene as the embodiment of many strands of ancient wisdom.

As with the previous films, J.J. Abrams's Star Trek acknowledges the place the series has in popular culture, but honours it with broader strokes, through incorporating stand-up gags such as redshirt fatalities and green women rather than relying on a more detailed knowledge of series lore. The final, very televisual closing title sequence, with the fast moves around planetoids, and the extensive use of Alexander Courage's theme music - a first for the cinema, I think - were all assertions of legitimacy; having Nimoy speak 'Space: the final frontier...' at the end seemed as if it repeated rather than echoed The Wrath of Khan's conclusion, until I remembered that the line "I have always been, and will continue to be, your friend" were spoken by Spock to Kirk when the former died while saving the day during that film. Annoying cute alien performed by Deep Roy and all, this is a careful attempt to reinvent Star Trek as a mass audience family franchise, and the calculations, even without Spock's knack at calculating statistical probabilities, were probably near enough spot on to guarantee this film the revenue that will ensure that this crew live long and prosper.


Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: May 18th, 2009 07:58 am (UTC)

I was a bit disappointed that Scotty degenerated into the comic relief (though never as badly so as Malcolm in Planet of the Dead), but mostly I was overcome by the brilliance of the accent (he even got the right accent; he sounded like people I went to school with, which is exactly right, because Scotty would go to my school - assuming it survived to the 24th century, of course) to care much.

The bullying scene was difficult to watch - canonically, Kirk had employed such tactics on Spock in the other past, but that was (a) not about command (b) from a position of friendship and (c) he didn't humiliate him in front of the bridge crew.

I thought there were enough subtle nods to canon as well as the obvious gags: the 'You lied?' 'I.. implied' conversation between young and old Spock, and of course the importance of the Kobayashi Maru motif and Spock's claim to have learned to cheat from an old friend.

I never saw Nemesis, or Insurrection, though I used to consider myself very much a Trek fan (and I suppose I am, again... if only the series dvds weren't so hideously expensive!)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 18th, 2009 11:26 am (UTC)
Spock annual 1975

The other thing which I intended to mention was that the 'boy racer' Kirk scene seems to deliberately echo the cropduster scene from North by Northwest. I don't know why this should be thought appropriate other than that it defines the vastness of the agricultural Midwest in cinema.

I appreciated the idea that Spock devised the Kobayashi Maru - the scene was well used to sketch in the difference between Kirk and Spock; but I was left wondering whether the Kirk of the old universe would have disregarded the point of the exercise in the same way, and in which case, how did he cheat in the TOS-TNG-DS9-VOY timeline? (Sidelined, but not necessarily erased...)

I've only seen Insurrection because I was given the VHS tape. It made very little impression on me!

Posted by: viala_qilarre (viala_qilarre)
Posted at: May 18th, 2009 02:04 pm (UTC)

I was impressed by the whole thing, but particularly by the new cast (all of them) and by the cleverness with which they've set up a new franchise. At one point I was thinking, as Kirk and Sulu were dangling off the planetary drill, 'yeah yeah, this is going to lack dramatic tension in a major way isn't it, because we know perfectly well that none of these characters are going to die any time soon' - until it clicked that this was now an alternative timeline universe, so the fate of none of the characters is predestined. Clever.

I also liked Spock getting some. Nicely underplayed bit of shippiness.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 18th, 2009 02:49 pm (UTC)
Spock annual 1975

the fate of none of the characters is predestined

Some veteran Spock/Chapel shippers will surely want Uhura out of the way presently...

...but the new cast were all good on the whole, and it was refreshing that several bore little physical resemblance to their predecessors.